As a new Relief Society president, I spent three hours on the telephone one dreary, smoggy morning hearing about various problems of sisters in our ward from visiting teachers, our bishop, and a sister who called to discuss her own difficulties. By noon I felt discouraged and incapable of dealing with anyone else’s problems.
Negative feelings flooded my mind. “Why have I been called to this position?” I wondered. “I have problems of my own. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not a doctor. I’m not Meals-on-Wheels. How can I solve everyone’s problems? I can’t handle this calling. It requires too much of me.”
Through my selfish and adverse thoughts, a scripture flashed across my mind: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39.)
I was instantly humbled. If Christ had endured extreme agony in the Garden of Gethsemane for me, could I not endure a few small sacrifices to demonstrate compassion for the sisters in my ward?
Now, many months later, I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned.
The day before my call, I received a strong impression that I needed to more consistently look beyond my own concerns in order to progress spiritually. My husband and I had gone for a ride in the car and were discussing our feelings of apprehension and readiness to meet the Savior. I told him I felt I was prepared, though I was far from perfect. But at least, I thought, I was trying as best I could. I received an immediate and strong reminder from the Holy Ghost that I had not developed a good attitude about Relief Society, visiting teaching, and compassionate service. I felt a personal witness that in order for me to be humbled and taught to serve, I would be called to be ward Relief Society president. But I quelled the panic that filled my heart by reminding myself that our current president had been serving for only seven months. Surely there would be no changes for a while.
The following day, in sacrament meeting, our high council representative announced that our Relief Society president had been called to serve in the stake Relief Society presidency. The panic returned.
I wept in the bishop’s office after receiving the call to become our ward Relief Society president. In a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith to his father, the Lord lists desire as a qualification for service in his kingdom. (See D&C 4:3.) I had no desire to be Relief Society president; I was a Cub Scout den mother and Primary chorister, and I was happy. However, because of my impressions the day before, I knew I would accept the call.
I knew that, in my inexperience and my unwillingness, I could not serve the Lord without his constant guidance. He stated, in the revelation to Joseph Smith’s father, “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (D&C 4:7.)
I have repeatedly asked for the Lord’s help in my calling. And he has taught me through those I have served. A sister new to our ward sought me in tears one night, pleading for acceptance and asking my help in stopping the criticism and wrongful judgments she felt from ward members. From her I learned the wisdom of the Lord’s counsel to avoid gossip. Another sister, through her gratitude, taught me that my visit and willingness to listen and comfort when her father died were more important than food and flowers.
The Holy Ghost has been my most influential guide and teacher. One day I felt a strong prompting to talk with the bishop about a sister who was struggling with a serious problem. She had not told me exactly what the problem was but had confided in me her search for inner peace. Though I worried she might reject me because I sought priesthood power to help her, she did not. Through the counsel and discipline given by the bishop, this sister is now free of her burden and is working on regaining the full blessings of membership in the Church.
Another important lesson I learned was that I didn’t have to have an answer to every problem laid at my doorstep. I was frustrated when, as ward members called to inform me of needs, they expected me to solve all their problems! I now understand that it is Heavenly Father who answers prayers, and I have duties that will help make this possible. I can love and listen. I can fast and pray that burdens will be lightened. I can ask others to render compassionate service. I can recommend priesthood blessings. I can take care of children and prepare food. I can clean, garden, and chauffeur.
One afternoon, a friend and I delivered newspapers for a sister who was seriously ill. As we rolled mounds of newspapers, figured out the route, and tried to “porch” each paper, we laughed, became closer friends, and created special memories.
Being Relief Society president isn’t the only calling in which I’ve learned eternal lessons. When I was called to the stake Relief Society board several years ago, I expressed concern to the stake president that I was too young and inexperienced to serve well. He lovingly explained that we are sometimes given callings to gain knowledge and experience—not always because we already have them. So I worked hard to instruct the Cultural Refinement teachers on how to more effectively present their lessons. Though I was young and frightened, I prayed for and received inspiration and ideas from the Lord. I studied diligently, and I learned to appreciate those lessons.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that Church callings vary in importance. We sometimes think that visiting teaching and home teaching are less important than serving as stake president or stake Relief Society president. Several years ago we moved to a new ward, and I was called to serve in the nursery. Since I’d been Young Women president in our previous ward, I felt momentarily “demoted” and thought my talents were being wasted. In retrospect, I have found that I learned many things from that calling—the most important of which was humility. I grew to love the children and was excited when they learned new concepts. Since then, I have always been thrilled at listening to children sing. For a while, I taught music to preschool children, and I still marvel at their enthusiasm.
I have learned to feel that a call to be a visiting teacher is not any less important than that of an auxiliary president in terms of opportunities to be taught by the Spirit. The greatest earthly academy for instruction in the principle of charity—the pure love of Christ spoken of in Moroni 7:44–48—is that of visiting teaching and home teaching.
One young home teacher and his wife befriended a less-active couple in our ward. They invited them to neighborhood socials, attended cultural events with them, and involved the sister in the ward road show. When she was dying of cancer a few months later, the home teacher and his wife were at her bedside. They had many opportunities to bless and comfort her life, and they unselfishly did so.
A couple in our ward frequently bear testimony that visiting teachers were responsible for their return to activity in the Church. The sister had been involved in a severe car accident, and the visiting teachers and other ward members cared for the family’s needs for several weeks. The outpouring of love, even from strangers, made them want to become a vital part of the ward.
Occasionally, callings come at what may seem an inconvenient time. Other times, the call may be rescinded or never formally extended as we inform Church leaders of our situations and as they are guided by the Spirit of the Lord. Not long after the birth of our third child, I developed a worrisome rapid and irregular heartbeat. It was during this time of health stress that I was called to be Primary president. I expressed hesitation about accepting the call and explained the problem to the bishop. He recognized our concern and counseled my husband and me to sincerely pray about the decision, and he said that he would also. After prayer and counsel with my husband and the bishopric, I felt at peace not accepting the call.
However, the call was not canceled, only modified. I was asked to be a counselor in the Primary presidency. There was still some stress involved, but I didn’t have the full administrative duties of the president. As I served, I learned to overcome my fear of conducting meetings, and I gained planning and organizational skills when I was responsible for the Primary sacrament meeting presentation.
When I was in my third year of college, my father, who was the bishop in my home ward, asked if I would like to go on a mission. I replied that, though I wanted to finish school, I would fast and pray about the request. He agreed to fast and pray, also. Neither of us received a confirmation that I should go, and a formal interview about a mission never took place. A few months later, I met the man who would become my husband. I still feel I would have missed this great opportunity had I not been at school my senior year. It was also my husband’s senior year.
We need to be careful to earnestly seek the counsel of the Lord and of Church leaders about accepting calls. If we turn down a call, we might temporarily halt our spiritual progression, just as Jonah did when he ran from his mission call to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. Jonah spiritually stagnated in the belly of the fish for three days and nights until he repented and expressed this interesting realization to the Lord:
“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:8–9.)
Even if we have the same callings year after year, such as visiting teacher, home teacher, ward librarian, or CTR-B teacher, we can still gain new and vital knowledge and skills and “with joy … draw water out of the wells of salvation.” (Isa. 12:3.) A sister with four sons served as a Cub Scout den leader for many years as her boys in turn advanced from Bobcat to Wolf and then to Bear. She didn’t tire of the repetition, but attended training sessions, pow wows, and round tables, and learned fresh ideas to make den meetings helpful and fun for the Scouts.
Through Church callings, we are able to learn to understand many eternal principles. I learned the power of prayer as our Relief Society presidency fasted and prayed about which sister to call to a position on the board. As we knelt in prayer, I saw the face of the sister who was later called and who, with dedication, brought us many truths. I have seen the blessings of sacrifice as members of our ward, who themselves are struggling financially, have contributed so that another family might have a memorable Christmas. I have felt joy as I have served another—and rejoiced even more as my teenage daughter has reached out anonymously to help a young girl who needed a friend.
In the priesthood session of the April 1986 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson promised this marvelous blessing to those who perform their duties and magnify their callings: “We will discover He is more than the Babe in Bethlehem, more than the carpenter’s son, more than the greatest teacher ever to live. We will come to know Him as the Son of God, our Savior and our Redeemer.” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 39.) Armed with that undeniable testimony, we can render Christlike service as we progress into the presence of the Lord.