The concept of service is complicated. Anyone who would tell you that service is easy is selling you something. Acts of service are rarely cut and dried. They are rarely simple. I will explain that later on.
In this multi-part address on service I will explain why I believe service is not easy, why it is something we have to study, learn about, and grow into. I will also give you extensive quotes on service by six General Authorities, chosen at random. That means that as good as some of these quotes are, there are other, even better quotes, still floating around in Conference talks and elsewhere that I haven’t gathered for this present purpose. I encourage you to go hunt them down. The quotes begin in the next article in the series.
My goal here is to explore the nature of service, the demands of service, and the expectations of that service. Service never leaves us unscathed. The act of service changes us just as much as acts of hate or acts of love change a person. Service is a powerful agent for change, and we need to understand that and use it to our benefit.
Like most of God’s children, He and I sometimes don’t see eye to eye. We do this dance where I spout off about something or someone, because I am sure I know the score. I pass summary judgment and loudly proclaim in my sure knowledge of the subject that so and so is wrong and needs to change or repent.
The next step is a period of time in which the Lord sets up his teaching moment. The ducks are put into alignment, and the day arrives when he demonstrates to me that I was a fool, and I go home having eaten a healthy serving of crow.
This has been the pattern of my adult life. Life seems so simple to me. Something either is a certain way or it is not. I have a difficult time allowing certain factors to influence the outcome of a situation. It makes life too messy.
My most recent round of humility assessment came in my current calling. There was this Sunday School teacher who was a snowbird, living half the year here in town and the other half down south during the winter. My wife had wanted to live the same way, but no, I was too intractable. Someone not being available to fulfill a calling absolutely every Sunday of the year makes one unreliable and evidently somehow frivolous about life and their commitment to the gospel of Christ.
So we bought a home and settled in. We both received our callings and discovered that in our area people tend to double and triple call people to a single position. I had never seen this before and it caused me great consternation.
I’ve always had between four and eight callings at a time. My whole adult life has been this way. The callings come in cycles. When I get burned out by my eight plus callings I talk to the Bishop. He releases me from almost everything. I sit in the congregation week after week and feel unwanted after a while, but gradually I am called to a new position, then another, and another until I am back up to eight or so and am heading back in to see the Bishop. That has been my experience in the Church.
So seeing people who only teach a class every two to three weeks or only teach their class every other month seemed so wasteful to me. I went back into the Bishop to discuss the way the classes were being taught in the ward, and that is when I got schooled.
Speaking of this snowbird the Bishop listened patiently to me make cutting comments about how I needed people who were committed to being there each week, not someone who thought playing was more important than their church calling. The Bishop’s response was kind, but pointed.
He told me that this particular couple were very concerned about keeping up their health. They needed to stay active so they didn’t lose what agility and dexterity they had. Plus, being active brought joy into their lives. It wasn’t that they were slackers in the ward. They had served a couple mission, they had performed countless acts of service for ward members, had fulfilled all manner of callings in the ward and stake faithfully for many years. But right now, at this time of their lives, they needed to stay active for their own sake.
I remembered that it was this very couple that had come over to our home when we first moved in and had helped us with a project that was way above my ability to accomplish. It was done with no thought of repayment or expectation other than from the pure joy of serving someone in a way they were able to serve.
Suddenly I was embarrassed at my own narrow-mindedness. I had never conceived of this particular scenario. I just assumed that being a snowbird meant you were not serious about the gospel, your commitments, and that because you weren’t there the whole year you were of no use to your ward. That made you, by default, a selfish individual. I was wrong. I ate my allotted serving of crow (humble pie) and crawled home with my tail between my legs.
One more lesson
But my service lesson wasn’t yet complete. I was complaining to my wife – and yes, she is very patient with me – about a teacher who seems to feel that teaching more than once or twice in a month’s time is too great a hardship. I used to teach back to back lessons twice a month in church, and that was on top of all my other callings and responsibilities in the ward. Teaching a class on the spur of the moment was commonplace, and I often felt like a one man show.
It wasn’t until my wife and I had a long talk about my frustrations with service and my obviously high expectations of others that I began to realize that for some people, whether old or young, teaching wasn’t easy. For some people teaching is a source of great stress, even duress. They invest so much time and energy into their preparations that to rob them of their needed preparation time would be to cause them to feel unprepared. This can cause panic and a loss of the Spirit. It would be like calling on someone during a meeting who believes they cannot sing to come up and sing a solo with no preparation time. It wreaks havoc on the psyche and soul.
Another round of humble pie for Brother Merrill please. I don’t see this dish leaving my home anytime soon. No matter how long I try to go between servings, the recipe keeps making a reappearance at my dinner table.
This is why I say that service is not easy. Acts of service are not simple. They are often times hard to accept, and sometimes service is forced upon us, or we are pressured into service, or are even loath to perform the service.
Sometimes the people being served really need the help, and they want the help, but their circumstances, personality, or whatever it may be, won’t let them be kind about accepting the help. I have known of people who came out and yelled at and accused the people of performing service of all kinds of atrocities. They still performed the service, and eventually the person was grateful, but there was never a kind word uttered for the service rendered.
Yes, service is vital in the kingdom. It changes our lives and creates people who walk, act, and think more like Christ and our Father in Heaven. But that doesn’t mean it is a simple thing to do. In the next part of the series I will look at the principles behind service, and why it is so important.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.