One Sunday morning several years ago, I was in the home of a stake president in a small Idaho town. Before morning prayer, the family read together a few verses of scripture. Among these were the words of Jesus as recorded in John 12:24: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
No doubt the Master was referring to his own forthcoming death, declaring that except he die his mission in life would be largely in vain. But I see in these words a further meaning. It seems to me that the Lord is saying to each of us that unless we lose ourselves in the service of others our lives are largely lived to no real purpose, for he went on to say, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (John 12:25.) Or, as recorded in Luke, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33.) In other words, he who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity.
That morning in stake conference, the president with whom I had stayed was released after thirteen years of faithful service. There was a great outpouring of love and appreciation, not because of his wealth, not because of his stature in the business community, but because of the great service he had unselfishly given. Without thought of personal interest, he had driven tens of thousands of miles in all kinds of weather. He had spent literally thousands of hours in the interest of others. He had neglected his personal affairs to assist those who needed his help. And in so doing he had come alive and had become great in the eyes of those he had served.
A new president was installed that morning, and there were many who were proud and happy concerning him; but most proud and most happy was a man who sat at the stake clerk’s table, a rural mail carrier by profession. He it was who, twelve years ago, had with quiet, patient labor persuaded his totally inactive neighbor to come back into activity.
It would have been so much easier to have let that indifferent neighbor go his own way, and it would have been so much easier for the mail carrier to have lived his own quiet life. But he had put aside his personal interests in the interest of another; and that other person became that Sunday the honored and respected leader of a great stake of Zion. As the people sustained their new president, the man at the clerk’s table wept tears of gratitude. In living beyond himself, he had brought to life the man sustained that morning as stake president.
Phillips Brooks once made this significant observation: “How carefully most men creep into nameless graves, while now and again one or two forget themselves into immortality.”
I remember visiting a friend in southern India. We had first come to know him twelve years previously when we went there in response to his request that someone come to baptize him. Ten years prior to that request he had found a missionary tract of the Church, but how or by whom it had come into that part of the world he did not know. He wrote to the Church offices in Salt Lake City. Other Church literature was sent to him, which he read.
We did not baptize him when first we met him; he was not ready. But we arranged for him to be taught the gospel, and he was baptized some months later.
This man worked as an accountant in a cement plant. His salary was meager. His house was small; it would fit into the front room of many homes. But his heart was large and overflowing. Out of a great love for others that came from his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he built a school with his own hands on a piece of ground he bought from his savings. It was a simple rough building; but studying there were some four hundred poor children, each being brought out of the darkness of illiteracy into the light of learning. What this act of love has meant and will mean in their lives is beyond calculation.
Through this one man’s efforts, there were established five small branches of the Church in the rural villages of southern India. The members constructed three or four little buildings, neat and clean. Over the door of each was a sign, in both English and Tamil, that read, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The floors were of concrete and without benches where the people sat together as we met, shared our testimonies, and partook of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
There are now a little over two hundred members of the Church among the vast millions of India. Some day, someone will write the story of the Church in India. That story will be incomplete unless there is a chapter on my friend who lost himself in the service of others.
On that same long journey around the earth, we met another friend who once was on the faculty of Brigham Young University. His children were then grown, and he and his wife concluded that rather than retire into idleness—as they could well have done, and as millions of others do—they would find some place in the world where they could help some of our Father’s children by teaching them the truths that would save them.
They found such a land. They sold their beautiful home; they sold their car; they left friends and relatives for a distant, less comfortable place. But as they cast their bread upon the waters, the Lord opened opportunities for them to teach and lift and help. No one can foretell the consequences of their pioneering.
As I have thought of this man and woman who left the comforts of home and society and friends at an age when most people want to slow down and take it easy, I have thought of the words of the Lord, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:29.) I have thought the same whenever I meet or hear of other elderly brothers and sisters, single or married, who either volunteer or accept calls to serve the Lord in the missions of the Church.
We need them. The Lord needs them. The people of the earth need them. And those wonderful brothers and sisters also need that blessed experience. For, generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others.
I recall visiting a college campus where I heard the usual, commonplace complaining of youth: complaints about the pressures of school—as if it were a burden rather than an opportunity to partake of the knowledge of the earth—complaints about housing and about food. I read the words of Lucinda Matlock from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.
I went to the dances at Chandlerville,
And played snap-out at Winchester.
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis,
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed—
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love life.
(New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1944, p. 221.)
I counseled those youth that if the pressures of school were too heavy, if they felt to complain about their housing and their food, then I could suggest a cure for their problems. I suggested that they lay their books aside for a few hours, leave their rooms, and go visit someone who is old and lonely, or someone sick and discouraged. By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.
For many years there was a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” The most effective medicine for the sickness of self-pity is to lose ourselves in the service of others.
There are some girls, and even some young men, who worry themselves almost sick over the question of whether they will have opportunity for marriage. Of course marriage is desirable; of course it is to be hoped for and worked for and sought after. But worrying about it will never bring it. In fact, it may have the opposite effect, for there is nothing that dulls a personality so much as a negative outlook. Some of our people may not marry in this life, but they should not forget that life can still be as rich and productive and as joyful as anything they can possibly imagine. And the key to that joy will be in giving service to others.
I want to commend those of our people who give so willingly of their time in attending to the sacred work within the temples of the Lord. In temple work is found the very essence of selfless service. In my judgment, one of the miracles of our day is the great consecration of time and effort on the part of hundreds of thousands of busy people in behalf of the dead. Those who are engaged in this service know that out of it all comes a sweet and satisfying feeling. This sweet blessing of the Spirit becomes literally a medicine to cure many of the ailments of our lives. From such experiences we come to realize that only when we serve others do we truly serve the Lord.
The Savior has said in our dispensation, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” And then he added these significant words: “For the power is in them. …” (D&C 58:27–28)
The power is in us, in each of us, my dear brethren and sisters—the power to do significant acts of service on our own initiative if we will become anxiously engaged.
Emerson said that every great institution is but the lengthened shadow of a great person. (See Essays, First Series: Self-Reliance.) I have thought of that as I have recalled some of the people who performed great work in areas where I have had responsibility. When I think of our present status in Korea, seven stakes and three missions, in some ways this is but the lengthened shadow of Dr. Kim and two young men who taught him the gospel while he was a student at New York’s Cornell University—Oliver Wayman and Don C. Wood. These young men stirred within their Korean associate an interest in reading the Book of Mormon. Their interest in him, their activities with him, were entirely separate from the reasons for their being at Cornell. Each of the three was there working toward an advanced degree that could have consumed every minute of his waking time. But they took the time to teach and to learn; and when the Korean Ph.D. returned to his native land, he took with him his love for the Book of Mormon and for the Church whose services he had attended in Ithaca, New York. Latter-day Saint American servicemen involved in the Korean War had also shared the gospel with some of their Korean associates. Thus, the interest of Dr. Kim, this man of learning and responsibility, was the catalyst that led to the establishment of the work in Korea, including the sending of missionaries from Japan. Dr. Kim is deceased, but the work lives on in splendor, touching for eternal good an ever-increasing number of lives in the “Land of the Morning Calm.”
In the Philippines today we have more than 55,000 members of the Church. We have sixteen strong stakes and four missions. It is one of the more productive proselyting areas in the world. When the history of the work in the Philippines is written, it must include the story of Sister Maxine Grimm, a girl from Tooele, Utah, who served with the Red Cross in the Pacific campaign of the Second World War. She married an American army officer, and after the war they established their home in Manila. She did much to teach the gospel to others; she pleaded that missionaries be sent. Her husband had legal work done and did many other things to make it possible for the missionaries to come. It would have been much easier for them to have simply gone along their way, making money and enjoying the fruits of it; but Sister Grimm was unceasing in her efforts and in her pleas.
At the time, I had responsibility for the work in Asia and I carried her pleas to the First Presidency, who, in 1961, authorized the extension of formal missionary work to that land. In May 1961 we held a meeting in the Philippines to begin the work. We had no place to meet and received permission from the American Embassy to do so at the American Military Cemetery on the outskirts of Manila.
There, where are solemnly remembered the sacrifices of more than 50,000 men who gave their lives in the cause of freedom, we gathered together at 6:30 in the morning. Sister Grimm played a little portable organ she had carried through the campaigns of the Pacific War, and we sang the songs of Zion in a strange land. We bore testimony together and invoked the blessings of heaven on what we were to begin there. Present was one native Filipino member of the Church.
That was the beginning of something marvelous, the commencement of a miracle. The rest is history, discouraging at times and glorious at others. I was there for the area conference held several years ago with President Spencer W. Kimball and others. Some 18,000 members of the Church were assembled in the great Aranetta Coliseum, the largest indoor meeting place in the Republic.
I wept as I thought of the earlier years, and I remembered with appreciation the woman who largely forgot her own interests as she relentlessly pursued her dream of the day when the Church would be strong in the land in which she then lived, bringing happiness of a kind previously unknown to thousands of wonderful people.
But, some of you may say, if we were in an exotic place like the Philippines, we would do likewise. I believe that is true. But let me say that every place in the world is exotic, or commonplace, to someone else. In any land, in any city, in any home, in any life, there are opportunities all around to stretch our lives and our interests in behalf of others.
My plea is—if we want joy in our hearts, if we want the Spirit of the Lord in our lives, let us forget ourselves and reach out. Let us put in the background our own personal, selfish interests and reach out in service to others. In so doing, we will find the truth of the Master’s great promise of glad tidings:
“Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; or whosoever will save his life, shall be willing to lay it down for my sake; and if he is not willing to lay it down for my sake, he shall lose it.
“But whosoever shall be willing to lose his life for my sake, and the gospel, the same shall save it. (JST, Mark 8:37–38.)
I testify that these words are as true today as when He first spoke them. I testify that God, our Eternal Father, lives. I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of this world. And I testify that as each of you reach out to help others, you will find your true selves and bless greatly the world in which you live.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. The happiest people are those who lose themselves in the service of others; the most miserable are those who are obsessed with themselves.
2. If we habitually complain about life, it may be that we are thinking only of ourselves.
3. The most effective medicine for the sickness of self-pity is to lose ourselves in the service of others.
4. When we serve others we also serve the Lord.
5. In any land, city, home, and life, there are opportunities all around to stretch our lives and our interests in behalf of others.
1. Relate your personal feelings or experiences about the blessing of serving others. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house?