Viewpoint: Finding Lasting Happiness through Serving

Contributed By the Church News

  • 5 October 2014

Regardless of our circumstances, we have a choice. Will we help our neighbor or not? 

Article Highlights

  • The more we serve and obey God, the more we desire to help and bless others.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” —Luke 9:24

A poem by Johan Ludvig Runeberg tells the story of Paavo, a poor peasant farmer who lived with his wife and children in central Finland. Several years in a row, some combination of runoff from spring snowmelt, summer hailstorms, or an early autumn frost killed most of his crop. Each time the meager harvest came in, his wife said, “Paavo, Paavo, you unfortunate old man, God has forsaken us.” Paavo, in turn, instructed his wife to mix bark with the rye flour to make bread so they would not go hungry. “I will work harder to drain the marshy fields,” he said. “God is testing us, but He will provide.”

Every time the crop was destroyed, Paavo directed his wife to double the amount of bark to mix into the bread to ward off starvation. Paavo worked even harder. He dug ditches to drain the marsh, to decrease his fields’ susceptibility to the spring runoff and exposure to an early autumn frost.

Finally, Paavo harvested a rich crop. His wife said, “Paavo, Paavo, these are happy times! It is time to throw away the bark and bake bread made only with the rye.” But Paavo took his wife’s hand and said, “Woman, mix half the bread with bark, for our neighbor’s fields have frosted over.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Seventy related this story of Paavo during Brigham Young University’s devotional assembly on September 16, 2014. He said his father often told the story to him and his siblings.

“Left unstated in the poem was Paavo’s intent to help his devastated, destitute neighbor,” Elder Renlund said. “As I have reread that story as an adult, I have come to understand a little bit better what my dad was trying to teach my siblings and me. Regardless of circumstances, we have a choice. Will we help others or not? We flunk a significant test of mortality if we do not choose to help those in need. And, if we do help, we increase our own spiritual stability. Serving others allows us to express that fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

Serving others is outward evidence of our love for our Heavenly Father and, by extension, His children.

“I love you,” a woman told her young niece. Those were familiar words. The child had heard them many times, but she sat quietly, seemingly lost in thought. Then she asked, “What is love?”

At first, the aunt was at a loss for words but finally replied, “It is something God puts in our hearts for us to give to others.”

Love is a substance that isn’t depleted or diminished as it is shared—the more it is given, the more abundant and stronger it becomes.

What started as a question at the dinner table from their father turned into the children’s inner desire to help others.

In an address during the October 2004 general conference, Elder John H. Groberg, then of the Presidency of the Seventy, said, “God’s love fills the immensity of space; therefore, there is no shortage of love in the universe, only in our willingness to do what is needed to feel it. To do this, Jesus explained we must ‘love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, … soul, … strength, and … mind; and thy neighbour as thyself’ (Luke 10:27).

“The more we obey God, the more we desire to help others. The more we help others, the more we love God, and on and on. Conversely, the more we disobey God and the more selfish we are, the less love we feel. …

“Trying to find lasting love without obeying God is like trying to quench thirst by drinking from an empty cup—you can go through the motions, but the thirst remains. Similarly, trying to find love without helping and sacrificing for others is like trying to live without eating—it is against the laws of nature and cannot succeed. We cannot fake love. It must become part of us.”

In his October 2009 general conference address, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of a medical doctor, Jack McConnell, one of seven children of a Methodist minister and his wife; the family lived in humble circumstances. Every evening as the family sat around the dinner table, Dr. McConnell’s father would ask each one in turn, “And what did you do for someone today?”

President Monson said, “The children were determined to do a good turn every day so they could report to their father that they had helped someone. Dr. McConnell calls this exercise his father’s most valuable legacy, for that expectation and those words inspired him and his siblings to help others throughout their lives. As they grew and matured, their motivation for providing service changed to an inner desire to help others. …

“The Savior taught: ‘For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it’ (Luke 9:24).

“I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.”

May we remember the story of Paavo and follow its implied moral: In the days of his poverty, he was willing to do all he could to help himself and his family, all the while having faith that the Lord would provide. In his days of plenty, he showed his love for others by willingly sharing his bounty.