Viewpoint: Service Is Often the Remedy for Our Own Afflictions
Contributed By From the Church News
Days after a massive earthquake severely damaged several cities in western Peru, a group of Relief Society sisters donned “Manos Que Ayudan” (helping hands) vests and built a large fire at the edge of a cracked and buckled street.
The women pieced together a makeshift stove atop the flames and then began cooking a large pot of soup. They laughed and enjoyed playful conversation as they diced vegetables and chopped chickens that were soon added to the boiling tub of spicy broth. Their happy labor stood in stark contrast to the destruction and desperation found all about them.
A reporter covering the aftermath of that 2007 catastrophe approached the sisters and asked who would be eating their rich soup. “It’s for everyone,” they answered. “Our soup is for everyone in this neighborhood that’s hungry and needs a good meal.”
The reporter assumed the Relief Society sisters were from a distant stake and had traveled far from their homes to care for those impacted by the disaster. He asked where they were from. The women exchanged awkward smiles and then replied, “We live right here—this is our home.”
In an instant the simple act of making a communal pot of soup assumed new meaning for the reporter. These women, all adorned in their familiar LDS Helping Hands vests, were not merely helping quake victims—they were the quake victims.
One sister then pulled up a pant leg, revealing a bandaged wound. Another pointed across the street to the dusty remains of the home where she had raised her children. Others said they were mourning relatives who were lost or seriously injured in the disaster.
And then they returned their attention to the big pot of soup.
Studying this charitable tableau, the reporter recalled the apostle James’ admonition: “Pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Even amid their own staggering afflictions, the Peruvian Relief Society sisters were determined to lighten the load of others. Some women were injured; others were homeless—yet all had remained “unspotted from the world.”
James’ latter-day apostolic colleague, Elder Orson F. Whitney, wrote eloquently of the blessings awaiting those who patiently endure their afflictions: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God.” (“Faith Precedes the Miracle,” Spencer W. Kimball, 98).
Dramatic catastrophes such as the Peruvian quake or tornados in Oklahoma are not required for one to practice “pure religion.” While each of us can likely conjure a list of personal afflictions, we can also identify paths of service to remain “unspotted from the world.”
A young Thomas S. Monson learned from his mother the sweet reward of placing the needs of another before his own.
Each week he anticipated the pleasure of digging into Sunday dinner at the family table.
“Just as we children hovered at our so-called starvation level and sat anxiously at the table with the aroma of roast beef filling the room, Mother would say to me, ‘Tommy, before we eat, take this plate I’ve prepared down the street to Old Bob [an aged widower] and hurry back.’
“I could never understand why we couldn’t first eat and later deliver his plate of food. I never questioned aloud but would run down to his house and then wait anxiously as Bob’s aged feet brought him eventually to the door. Then I would hand him the plate of food. He would present to me the clean plate from the previous Sunday and offer me a dime as pay for my services. My answer was always the same: ‘I can’t accept the money. My mother would tan my hide.’ He would then run his wrinkled hand through my blond hair and say, ‘My boy, you have a wonderful mother. Tell her thank you.’
“You know, I think I never did tell her. I sort of felt Mother didn’t need to be told. She seemed to sense this gratitude. I remember, too, that Sunday dinner always seemed to taste a bit better after I had returned from my errand” (Thomas S. Monson, “The Long Line of the Lonely,” general conference, April 1981).
Today, members across the globe—including many troubled with afflictions—continue to savor the rich taste of pure religion. While recently serving as an Area Seventy, Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela of the Seventy called a humble man to serve as a stake president. That earnest priesthood leader accepted the assignment even though he did not own a car. He was eager to serve the members of his stake and said he was willing to walk to his weekly Church meetings and other duties. That stake president’s understanding of pure religion would be rewarded. Another humble family gave their car to their new stake president. They were eager to help the gospel move forward and, in doing so, forgot about their own challenges.
This good family, like the Peruvian Relief Society sisters, understood that the remedy for one’s afflictions can often be found in the service of others. Paradoxically, when we lighten another’s burden the weight on our own shoulders seems to diminish. In a time increasingly defined by self-interest and promotion, joy can still be found when we place the needs of another ahead of our own.