In a church that focuses so heavily on serving others, many of us find it difficult to be on the receiving rather than the giving side of service. Yet, at some point in our lives, we may have to look outside ourselves to have our needs met. How do we ask for service and how do we graciously receive it?
None of us likes to admit that we are unable to help ourselves. Usually the need for help comes in times of crisis or change in our lives. The changes may be brief or long lasting, but they require an adjustment that makes it difficult or impossible to fulfill our responsibilities. These are the times when we ask for help.
I had to spend the greater portion of two pregnancies in bed. In addition to being uncomfortable, I was completely overwhelmed at the thought of being dependent on others. During the first pregnancy, I refused most of the help that was offered and spent a good deal of time crying over my perceived inadequacies. Thankfully, I was a little more insightful the next time around. I learned that there are gentle steps that can be taken toward relieving some burdens.
Most people who offer to help sincerely want to help, yet they don’t know what you feel would be most appropriate for them to do. If you turn them away, they may feel even more timid about offering help in the future. Assess your own needs and comfort level, and decide where you need help the most. Your laundry will need to be done, whether you like the way someone else starches your collars or not, but some things just need to be ignored. Create a list of things that must be done and of things that can wait, both small, occasional needs and large, consistent ones. Then, when a well-meaning person asks “What can I do to help?” you will have an answer.
Small Tasks, Large Tasks
Begin with the small things that mean the most to your well-being. Perhaps you will feel better if someone at church talks with you about the lessons or tells you when members of your ward or branch receive new callings. Could you use a new book to read or a few wildflowers to brighten your room? It might be something as small as having someone clean the window by your bed so that you have a clear view. Consider what things can be done by family members and what will require outside help.
There will also be larger tasks that should be brought to the attention of your priesthood and Relief Society leaders. Where appropriate, ask your leaders to work with you on a comfortable plan to meet your needs. Be honest about things that can be problematic. For example, long visits and strong perfumes caused me discomfort during my pregnancies. I also had to specify dietary needs.
Most important, your spiritual well-being cannot be sacrificed, so don’t hesitate to ask for help in that area also. We need to keep our spiritual reservoir full in order to deal with our challenges. For example, you might ask if the sacrament can be administered in your home. I had never had the sacrament brought to my home before and I was tempted to say “No, thank you” when the elders offered. I felt it was an imposition on their time, and the effort of getting out of bed and being presentable for them and for the ordinance seemed beyond me. Thankfully, they insisted. Partaking of the bread and water meant so much to me. The sacrament ordinance on Sundays gave me strength to make it through difficult times.
Looking Beyond Burdens
How do we accept service from others? Sometimes it is a matter of changing our perspective and realizing that although we may not be able to give physical service back to those who help us, we can offer service of a spiritual nature. When we allow others to serve us, we can invite the Spirit by asking Heavenly Father to help us grow closer to the individuals serving us. Be personable; learn to feel of their spirit and love and then give it back to them. This spiritual service is expressed in our attitude.
On the other hand, pushing the Spirit away with our discomfort and discouragement in our own abilities is not the Savior’s way. When we decline needed service, we are more focused on our own problems than we are on the people around us. We are succumbing to pride rather than being humble. Remember the Lord’s counsel in Ether 12:27: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” This verse does not promise that we will be instantly healed or conquer our trials and weaknesses. It asks for humility and faith so that the Lord may show us where our strengths lie.
Though illness and other trials may hinder our abilities, they don’t take away our love for others. If the Holy Ghost is present when people come to serve you, they will feel peace and acceptance of their actions. As you come to know them better, you will have a greater capacity to bless their lives.
By accepting help from others, we gain strength to express love and give service back to them. We can bless the life of the sister cleaning your home by having her small child curl up beside us to share a picture book. We can bless the lives of other members who bring us a meal or mow our lawn simply by asking about their welfare. We can bless lives with thank-you notes, cards that say “I thought of you today,” or by picking up the phone and sharing our thoughts and being a good listener in return.
Accepting service and giving service back lightens our own load, and, in turn, lifts those who serve us. Everyone is blessed as we strive to listen to the Spirit and do things as the Lord would have us do them.