With the children finally in bed, Steven sank into a chair and stared blankly at the wall, trying not to think about what had to be done tomorrow. He was overwhelmed. The students in his fourth-grade class required extra energy and compassion this year, and his new calling in the presidency of a small branch was taking much of his time. The branch president had recently challenged ward members to become more involved in community service, and Steve wanted to spend more time with his family! How could he meet all these needs or even choose which ones were most important?
Louise, an eighty-year-old widow, sat looking out her front window hour after lonely hour. Largely confined to her home, this once energetic woman had seen physical ailments deprive her of the ability to help others. The knowledge that she was doing some good in the world had been the chief joy of her life, but now she felt as though there was little she could contribute.
Steven and Louise, while in very different circumstances, are dealing with the same problem: how to apply the Lord’s commandments to love and serve others, and how to find the necessary time and energy. Our family, neighbors, church, community, and even strangers all need our help. When do we help, and how? How do we serve when our circumstances limit our abilities?
We each have differing abilities, and the Lord knows best how we can use them to bless those around us. As we grow close to him, he will help us know how we can use our talents in our unique circumstances.
The following questions and suggestions may help you better understand how to serve:
1. There are so many people around me—in my family, church, neighborhood, and community—who need help. How can I find the time to serve, and how do I know who has the greatest need for my help?
Since we all have a limited supply of time, we must continually decide how best to spend it. In short, we need to establish some priorities. In doing so, we can benefit greatly by following inspired counsel.
The teacher mentioned in the beginning of this article solved his problem by using some of the time Church leaders suggest we set aside for the family on Sunday and Monday evening to involve his family in such charitable service as visiting the elderly and the sick. He also learned, as the scriptures attest, that listening to the discouraged or putting an arm around those who have shared a personal experience is compassionate service too. It doesn’t need to take a great deal of time to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5.)
As to knowing who to help, and when, the key is spiritual sensitivity. Arnold R. Augustin is a man with many demands on his time. He is married, has four young children, serves as the bishop of a large ward, and is busy professionally.
Arnie has carefully organized his time so that, as much as possible, he can anticipate and channel his service. But the most important thing he does in helping others is listen to the Spirit. “I know that the Lord will direct our lives,” he says. “If we are willing to listen to the Spirit, he will tell us who needs our help and where we should be. I’ve learned that when that still, small voice speaks, you drop what you’re doing and follow it.”
One day, the Spirit suddenly reminded him that a woman in his ward was having surgery. He had forgotten. The Spirit directed, “Go to the hospital now!”
“As I was grabbing my keys, I thought, ‘She’s already in surgery. What are you doing this for? You’ll have to visit her again when she’s in recovery.’ But I followed the Spirit and went anyway.
“Well, there had been a delay. She was still in her room, and we had a great talk and a prayer. She went into surgery and died on the operating table. I’m so grateful I followed the promptings of the Spirit, rather than listening to logic.”
Although he has many demands on his time, Arnie seldom feels overwhelmed. “The Lord directs my schedule. When he says I should visit a certain person, other things seem to drop away, and the way is opened for me to make the visit. God isn’t going to give you more than you can handle. He will help you do the things he needs you to do.”
2. I do not have important positions in the Church or community that give me responsibility for others. How can I serve?
There are far more opportunities for service around us than we can take advantage of. Indeed, many of us do not explore as deeply as we could the potential for love and service in the callings we do have. Joe J. Christensen, when serving as associate commissioner for seminaries and institutes, said: “I believe there is no place in God’s service that is not bigger than we are, not greater than the talents we bring to bear on the assignment, whether as a home teacher, a secretary, a clerk, a visiting teacher, a teacher of any kind, a counselor, a bishop, or whatever, if we magnify our calling.” (Ensign, July 1975, p. 5.)
Sarah E. Hinze, mother of six, found through the Spirit’s promptings the potential for service in her calling as a visiting teacher. She was assigned to visit a widow with two grown children, a son and a daughter, both of whom lived at home because of mental retardation. After several months, Sarah still had not met the daughter, Laura. One Saturday she attended a Relief Society seminar, where a speaker asked, “When you do your visiting teaching, do you make a real effort to serve your sisters or are you just eager to check their name off your list each month after you have been in their home?”
After the seminar, Sarah decided to go to the widow’s home, praying that Laura would be there. Laura was there, and Sarah was prompted to invite her to Relief Society. When Laura said she could not go because of severe pain in her foot, Sarah felt prompted to take her that very day to a doctor.
As Sarah watched Laura getting ready to go, she felt the Spirit again, more powerfully than before. She felt “as if the Master were standing by me. Tears came. The Spirit was actually aware of this act on behalf of Laura! In a flash, the Savior’s life and teachings took on a great simplicity. ‘Feed my sheep,’ he had said. ‘Love one another.’”
By listening to the promptings of the Spirit, Sister Hinze was able to have Laura’s foot treated and to enroll her in a special school where she began taking classes and earning money. Through the efforts of a visiting teacher who saw the potential for service in her calling, Laura began doing things that had been beyond her ability just a few months earlier. (See Ensign, Apr. 1982, pp. 61–62.)
But we need not wait to be assigned to a person before we offer our help. Michael Rasmussen, a high priest and the father of seven children, tells of neighborly kindness in a time of need: “The first summer we were in our home, we did not have the resources to put in a lawn. The next summer, when it came time to plant the grass, our son went into the hospital for major surgery. My wife and I had all we could do to see to his needs and the needs of our other children. One Saturday morning, six men from the neighborhood arrived at our house with shovels. One of them had gone around the neighborhood collecting grass seed, and within twenty minutes they had dug up the yard. They leveled the dirt, planted the seed, and had the work done almost before we realized what was happening. We have always been grateful for their willingness to bless our lives.”
These are just two examples of the many ways we can bless others, even though we may not have what we consider important church or community responsibilities.
3. I really want to help others, but the contributions I can make seem so small. How can I serve?
The Lord has said, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10.) Our Heavenly Father loves each of his children and is grateful when we bless each others’ lives. We may feel that our efforts to help are insignificant, but the Lord and those we serve know the true value of our efforts.
Elizabeth Morgan is a thirty-year-old single woman whose life is currently devoted to her career and to service outside her home. “When I realized that the opportunity for service to husband and children would not come to me when it came to most women,” she explains, “I prayed earnestly that the Lord would help me see other ways to serve. In answer to my prayers, the Lord guided me into my community.”
At times, the Spirit directed her to people who lived nearby—elderly women with no one to help them, neighbors with mental and physical handicaps, and families with economic problems. At other times she was guided to community organizations which allowed her to work with people from other faiths in blessing the needy.
“As I have reached out in small ways to needy people around me, I have realized how much God loves his children. I have grown closer to him and learned to listen carefully for his guidance to know who most needs my help.”
Don and Jean Taylor have a large extended family whom they have helped in numerous ways. They feel that many of their services have been unimportant, but their home has been a haven of warmth and love to many members of their extended family. Because the Taylors live near a large city, they have opened their home to college-bound nieces and nephews who found work in the city and needed a place to live. Each week they invite an unmarried niece, who lives far from her own family, to come to home evening. They also have a large garden area and have allowed family members who live in apartments to garden there.
Mary Pratt Parrish, who has devoted her life to active service to the Lord, has in recent years been forced by failing eyesight and pain to stay at home. Rather than spend her remaining years feeling useless, she has dedicated herself to writing her own and her ancestors’ histories. What a treasure her posterity would have lost if she had not been willing to serve in the ways available to her!
The Lord has given each of us the opportunity to serve in his kingdom. We should not hesitate to bless in the ways that we can. We may be doing the very work the Lord wants us to do.
Consider these questions in individual or husband/wife planning sessions. Make these types of questions a permanent part of your family council agenda:
1. How do you feel when someone takes time to strengthen and help you, even in small ways? Do you ever feel that such efforts are wasted? Who needs similar service from you?
2. Have you felt that the avenues of service open to you are not as valuable as those open to other people? Have you asked the Lord to help you know how and who you can serve?
3. Consider each member of your family. What can you do to help or encourage each one? Take the time now to seek the Lord’s help to learn what their needs are and how you can help meet those needs.
4. What about members of your extended family—parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces, uncles and aunts. Who needs your help—temporally, emotionally, spiritually? What can you do right away to start helping them?
5. How can you better serve and love members of your ward or stake through your church calling? What about each family or individual you visit teach or home teach? Are there ways you can more completely bless their lives?
6. Are there opportunities for service in your neighborhood that you have overlooked? Have you prayed for the guidance of the Spirit in knowing how to approach them and help them with their needs?
7. How could you help the needy people in your community? Have you considered working through community organizations harmonious with gospel standards?