We read in the book of Matthew that when the Son of Man shall come in his glory, all the nations of the earth shall be gathered before him and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. Those on his right hand shall be blessed and shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. (See Matt. 25:31–34.) And the King shall say unto them:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer, … Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer, … Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:35–40.)
Almost every day we have the opportunity to feed the hungry, to visit the sick, to help bear one another’s burdens, even as the Savior taught. Sometimes the service is given to our family, our children, our husbands or wives, our parents, our loved ones. Sometimes it is a neighbor or a friend in need, sometimes a stranger.
Having compassion on those who are hurting for whatever reason and then translating the response of the heart into the needed act is truly ministering as God would have us do.
At the time of the organization of the Relief Society, the Prophet Joseph Smith told the sisters that they were now in a position to act according to those sympathies which God had placed in their bosoms. (See History of the Church, 4:605.)
Today, countless women in the Church reach out to others through visiting teaching and compassionate service, which are still the heart of Relief Society. They bless the lives of others and buoy up those who may be discouraged or homesick, frightened, or disheartened. They remember the counsel given us by a prophet that “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Dec. 1974, p. 5.) The book of Proverbs admonishes us to “withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” (Prov. 3:27.)
Perhaps a personal experience will help to illustrate this loving, watchful care that we are to extend to one another.
My husband and I have been blessed with ten wonderful children. Seven of them are living, which means, of course, that three of them are not. During the times that I was pregnant I had to stay in bed much of the time, and it was always a great worry that I carry those precious babies until they were big enough to survive. During many weeks, my visiting teachers came with lunch for me or dinner for my family. They tended our toddlers and sent library books for me to read.
When our twins were born, we were totally surprised by having two babies! How wonderful to have two little people with only one pregnancy! It was not to be for long, however—at least in this life. Our baby boy lived two days; our baby girl lived three. The sisters were there again, not only with food, but with a beautiful rose bush called “Duet” which flourished and grew. It was a sweet reminder of a tender time. The lovely blossoms helped us to remember our little ones, our friends, our gratitude for the gospel and for the Church.
We must take seriously our responsibility to reach out in love to those among us who may be lonely or unhappy—who are struggling with problems or temptations. They will find friends somewhere; they will find comfort somewhere. What is our failure if they find it elsewhere because we were not there, were not welcoming?
“I needed you—I couldn’t find you—I don’t need you anymore.” We must not let this happen if there is any way for us to be there when we are needed.
Response to the needs of the sick, and especially the terminally ill and their families, has been a part of the work of love assigned to the Relief Society since its very beginning. Times have changed greatly since those early days in Nauvoo when the sisters gave much of the only care given to the sick and dying, when they sewed the casket linings, made the burial clothes, cared tenderly for the bodies of the dead, and comforted the living. Life is not so hard now in our time and generation and has been lengthened for most of us and made infinitely more comfortable.
But chronic and terminal illness still exist—sometimes for the young, sometimes for the elderly—and death must still be faced. We still are to help “bear … one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” and “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9).
Compassionate service can be a sweet, sustaining help to the patient and the family during such times. “I was sick, … and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:36.)
Many times people do nothing in such a situation simply because they do not know what to do. They are afraid of intruding or of saying the wrong thing. Perhaps they do not know how to relate to a dying person or to the family. They may feel emotions of anger, sadness, or confusion. Nevertheless, even they can find many ways to help.
One woman tells the story of a tragedy she experienced when five of her close family members from another state were killed in a fiery automobile accident. She herself was struggling to absorb the news, trying to pack for her own little family to leave the following day for the funeral. A good friend and neighbor arrived at her door with the announcement that he had come to clean their shoes. She had not even thought about shoes.
He knelt on their kitchen floor with a pan of soapy water, a sponge, shoe polish, and a brush and soon had everyday shoes and Sunday shoes gleaming and spotless. He quietly slipped away when he finished, leaving the shoes ready to pack; even the soles were washed.
The mother says, “Now whenever I hear of an acquaintance who has lost a loved one, I no longer call with the vague offer, ‘If there’s anything I can do …’ Now I try to think of one specific task that suits that person’s need—such as washing the family car, taking the dog to the boarding kennel, or house-sitting during the funeral. And if the person says to me, ‘How did you know I needed that done?’ I reply, ‘It’s because a man once cleaned my shoes.’” (Madge Harrah, “He Cleaned Our Shoes,” Reader’s Digest, Dec. 1983, pp. 21–24.)
Total care of a patient with serious chronic or terminal illness is not an easy, short-term project. It is most often a profound emotional and physical experience. The sick person and the family usually welcome regular emotional and spiritual support.
Giving respite to those who care for the chronically or terminally ill can allow them to regain their strength and coping skills. The length of such care depends upon individual circumstances; even an hour or two can make a great difference to an overburdened family.
The mother who cannot spend needed time with a teenaged daughter because of the demands of caring for a grandmother who has had a stroke, the family who feel guilty because they express the desire to be away from the problem for a little while, the parents who are too fatigued to care properly for their little ones, the mother who spends so much time with a handicapped child that other children in the family feel (and sometimes are) neglected—all need loving support and relief from overwhelming responsibilities.
Helping others through a time of special challenge requires understanding and patience. People respond to grief in different ways. Not everyone recovers in the same period of time, and not everyone acts the same. The griever might be irritable, depressed, quiet, or withdrawn, but through kindness and friendship, he or she will almost always recover and will come to acceptance.
A testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ and of his resurrection is the knowledge that sustains and comforts in times of trial. This assurance guides those bowed down with grief out of the shadow and into the light. This knowledge we can share with one another: “I know that my Redeemer lives. What comfort this sweet sentence gives!” (Hymns, 1985, no. 136.)
Being sensitive to such needs helps everyone find joy in the precious reality of everyday living and look forward with faith to the future, knowing that sorrow and struggle and endurance to the end are necessary parts of mortality.
It is said that love is tested and proved in the fire of suffering and adversity. How sensitive we should be to those who are suffering or hurting, to those with special problems—the sister who has had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, a premature or handicapped child; the one whose beloved husband has died; the lovely woman to whom marriage and family have not yet come; the new convert whose family has rejected her because of her baptism.
What we do or say is not as important as that we do or say something—“I care about you,” or “Let me help.” Where love is, heart will respond to heart and burdens will be lightened.
We must never feel that we have done our share or had our turn. I love something Dag Hammarskjold once said when he was secretary general of the United Nations: “You have not done enough, you have never done enough as long as there is something more that you can contribute.” (Richard L. Evans, Jr., Richard L. Evans—The Man and the Message, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973, p. 256.)
For those among us who, for some reason, such as age or health, cannot give the kind of service we’ve been discussing, we would say, as someone said: “Among the people whom we know, it is not necessarily those who, meteor-like, are ever on the rush after some visible charge and work to whom we owe the most. It is often the lives, like the stars, which simply pour down on us the calm light of their bright and faithful being, up to which we look and out of which we gather the deepest calm and courage. It is good to know that even when we can no longer do something for our fellowmen, we can still be something for them; to know, and this surely, that no man or woman of the humblest sort can really be strong, gentle, and good without the world’s being better for that goodness.”
Almost everyone can do or be something for someone else in need.
Perhaps there are days or times when, faced with overwhelming problems, we want to believe. We may worry or fret or doubt, yet we want to believe. It is comforting to me to know that the Lord knew even that this would be so and gave us in the book of Mark a wonderful story of a distraught father who brought his son to the Savior to be healed of a condition which sounds perhaps like epilepsy. (See Mark 9:14–29.)
Jesus said: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:23–24.)
We can help each other, also, on our days of unbelief. We can strengthen and lift and bless those whose faith might be weak. As Alma said, “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” (Alma 32:27.) This is the planting of the seed of faith.
We must recognize that life is a precious gift (Florence Nightingale called it a “splendid gift”), that trust and tenderness are fragile, that we must love and serve one another, must encourage one another, forgive one another—all this not once, but over and over again. Then perhaps we shall be remembered among those on the right hand of the Lord when he shall come in his glory.
“Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer, … Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:37–40.)
That we may do so, brothers and sisters, each of us, as we have the opportunity, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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