Some years ago in the midwest, a Relief Society president related a very moving personal experience. She indicated that during her period of busy service to the Relief Society, a subtle desensitization to the need for her husband had developed without her realizing it. Then serious illness beset her, and she found herself totally dependent upon her husband for all rudimentary services, including being fed and being bathed. She expressed the emotional impact this had upon her in view of the fact that her traditional role was serving others. It had not been easy for her to accept this new position of dependency. She would have avoided it if at all possible.
Yet now she spoke of that experience with deep gratitude. Because she had been forced by circumstance into a situation of need, the subtle indifference that had crept into her life toward her need for others had been abruptly shattered. The revelation that came to her, and that she also shared with us, was that out of this humbling period of dependency had emerged a deep and powerful new love for other human beings.
Becoming indifferent to our need for others is a common snare. It was this very danger Paul warned about in his letter to the early saints of Corinth. Using Christ’s body to represent the church, Paul taught that the Spirit gave to each member separate gifts, that each member of the church thereby might contribute to the well-being of the whole body of the church. But he also carefully emphasized that this interdependency was given so that each member would see and acknowledge his need for every other member:
“And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” (1 Cor. 12:21.)
Out of such recognition of need, the Lord intended that there should come to all a greater bond of love:
“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Cor. 12:25–27.)
So that we might be humbled and that the bonds of love might be stronger among us, we ought to accept as necessary to our lives the dual experiences of “administering” and of “being administered to.”
Beautiful examples of these dual elements are found in every area of the gospel. The ordinances of the priesthood have them—in “being baptized” and in “baptizing,” in “being ordained” and in “ordaining.” They are found in the manner in which the gospel was spread upon the earth, for the Lord deliberately and purposely established that the gospel would first go to the Jews, who would then administer it to the Gentiles. But in the latter days, the pattern has reversed. The Gentiles now serve the Jews in regard to Christ’s words, and the Jews must be the receivers.
Both elements are also found in the relationship between male and female. Though many responsibilities are shared equally between them, there is for each a special burden/blessing the other cannot have and stands in need of. Within the framework of the gospel, the ultimate burdens of responsibility still rest upon the priesthood, and each woman is humbled in receiving many blessings from those hands that bear the priesthood.
Yet in God’s plan the man is also humbled, for it is only through the ministering of a woman that he is blessed with life, both his own and that of his offspring. Could there be a wiser plan where both male and female significantly serve and are significantly served than the plan that gives the priesthood to the male and motherhood to the female? And could there be a better way to strengthen love than through the bonds of mutual need?
It is also need that is the core of any vital love of Christ. Even though our works or ministerings are truly necessary in reaching exaltation, they are insufficient without our acceptance of his atonement, in which we are most powerfully served.
We know that the major thrust of the Lord’s own life was to minister to mankind. But perhaps we have thought less of those instances in which he humbly bowed to the administration of others.
He knew birth through a mortal woman, and was nurtured, cradled, and taught by that woman.
He was baptized by a mortal man. Interestingly, John shrank from the duty, recognizing that for Christ to be baptized by fallen man was a “stooping” for Him. Yet Christ accepted that “stooping” as a necessary requirement.
He permitted another to anoint him for his burial. Again, there were murmurings regarding the proceedings. But Christ answered, “Why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me.
“… She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.” (Mark 14:6, 8.)
The scriptures indicate that Christ accepted the simple ministerings of others throughout his daily life. He stayed, ate, and slept in others’ homes. Even his burial place was borrowed. These things are significant when we realize that he possessed the powers to live quite differently. He humbled himself in receiving much from the hands of others, just as he humbled himself in serving others.
Perhaps the prime example is found at the Last Supper. There Christ beautifully demonstrated the principle of service when he knelt and washed his disciples’ feet. But as he taught of service, he also taught about receiving. Peter, reacting as we often do when people seek to serve us, drew back, saying, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.”
In response Christ warned, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” (John 13:8.)
His words are laced with multiple meaning. They capsulize our solemn need to bow to the administerings of the Savior—and to all those who would righteously serve us in his name.
Understanding the place of “receiving” in the gospel may be the first step in knowing how to receive graciously and righteously. For it is not enough simply to receive.
We can receive with greed, thinking only of the gift.
We can receive with insensitivity, not realizing the cost or sacrifice the gift has caused the giver.
We can resist humility and love and receive with feelings of disdain for the one who gives.
We can receive with indifference, as if the ministering is our “due.”
We can receive and receive and never return, not realizing that though it is not necessary to return directly to the giver, it is necessary to reflect that which we receive back to others.
Obviously, such attitudes are not righteous. Perhaps such attitudes are what have given receiving a bad name.
The challenge is to receive with humility, with sincere appreciation for the sacrifice behind the gift, with common respect for oneself and the giver, and, above all, with the firm knowledge that every gift ultimately comes from the Creator of all things. If both the giver and the receiver fully acknowledge this latter truth, a great step will be made toward perfecting this important experience; the result will certainly be new energies of love—for other human beings and for our common Father.
One of my own challenging lessons in learning to receive occurred when I was asked to serve as a visiting teacher with a sister who had suffered a stroke. Her right arm and leg were paralyzed. With the help of a cane and braces she could walk, but only with considerable difficulty on sloping or uneven surfaces. It was also quite difficult for her to speak and to be understood. And though it was amazing what she could do, there were still many things she could not do.
At first our companionship seemed hopelessly one-sided. It was necessary for me to do all the driving, to help her into the car, and to guide her up and down steps. The burden of the lesson and the conversation at each home fell upon me, although she was occasionally able to add something.
Then an unusual thing happened. Because of a minor accident, the door on the driver’s side of my car became inoperative. The only way in or out of the front seat was through the door on the passenger’s side. Through this strange event I, the strong one, found myself dependent upon the weaker.
While I had to sit helplessly waiting, she, with only her left arm and her cane, would awkwardly struggle to get that heavy door opened and closed at every house. This was so dismaying that I once considered trying to climb over the back of the seat to get out. But it was not really practical in a skirt. So I had to reconcile myself to letting her make this struggle in our behalf. Yet because of this strange dilemma, we became better and closer companions. She was in need of me, and now I was in need of her. This small physical dependency was only one manifestation of the many intangible gifts I received from her during our experience together. It was true she was not able to say much during our lessons, or to perform any physical service to any needing sister on our list; yet more than once she became the leader in fasting and praying for certain sisters in need of spiritual strengths.
When Malachi asked if any man would rob God, he referred to not paying tithing. But there is another way to rob God. Each worthy individual mirrors a portion of the glory of God through some gift or blessing. When we refuse what others have to offer us, we are in essence denying that portion of God’s glory that their gift reflects. When we refuse his servants, we also refuse him, regardless of whether the blessing offered is spiritual or material.
How much wiser we would be to hearken sincerely to the counsel of Paul: to think of the Church as Christ’s body, to think of each member as a vital functioning part of that body, and then to earnestly realize of each member, “Head, I have need of you. Feet, I have need of you. Eyes, I have need of you. Hands, I have need of you. …”