Some may think people are called to a position in the Church because they have perfected talents and abilities that suit them for the calling. I am learning that perhaps we are sometimes called because we need to develop specific talents and attributes. The Lord knows us, and He knows which callings or opportunities will help us grow to spiritual maturity.
In Luke we read of the growth of the Savior from childhood into adulthood:
“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).
Through experience, effort, faithfulness, and the grace of God, we too gain spiritual maturity, wax strong in spirit, and become filled with wisdom. As we serve in a calling, we can develop a heightened sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit, and thus our wisdom can be enhanced beyond our own understanding.
The experience of being newly called seems to have common elements for many of us. I would like to share a few journal entries from a sister I will call Lisa. Even though Lisa was a ward Primary president, her feelings may be similar to those newly called to serve in any Church position. See if there are some elements common to your own experience.
Lisa writes: “I can sum up my feelings in four words: fear, faith, humility, and peace. Fear set in as I realized I would be responsible for all that happened in our Primary. I started to think of all the things I would have to do and all the things I didn’t know how to do. Now I was the responsible adult. I was scared to death. At this time, I realized that my ‘great and wonderful’ ideas might not be what the Lord had in mind.”
Fear can paralyze us if we allow it. Satan promotes fear that he might have power over us.
Satan also promotes darkness. In both Lehi’s and Nephi’s dreams, darkness in the form of a mist confused some and caused them to lose sight of the tree of life (see 1 Ne. 8:23; 1 Ne. 12:4). Darkness was part of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s experience in the grove just before he was instructed by God the Father and Jesus Christ (see JS—H 1:15–16). Many have allowed darkness to keep them from the love of God. Satan’s way is to confuse and discourage or, at the very least, distract us from doing what Heavenly Father would have us do.
Five years ago, when I received a telephone call inviting me to meet with President Gordon B. Hinckley, I hoped I was being called to help on a committee—plan a dinner, set up, prepare the food—anything I already knew how to do. When President Hinckley asked me if I would accept a calling to serve as Primary general president, I felt intense fear. I wondered, “How could this be possible?” I had to work hard to replace fear with faith. In fact, the first question I was asked by President Hinckley was, “How is your faith?” I felt his question was preparing me to know that faith would be important in the days to come. Faith would be needed to remove fear. I needed to be reminded that all things are possible with the Lord. I needed to have the faith spoken of in one of the scriptures Primary children love and sing about so often: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7).
Isn’t it wonderful that Heavenly Father loves us so much that He calls us to serve in ways which give us opportunities to replace fear with faith and to grow spiritually? Jesus said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36). That is faith. All of us have to learn to turn our fear into faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we approach our callings, we also feel humility. Lisa, the newly called Primary president, wrote: “After faith, the lesson of humility was next. As the Lord began to unfold my weaknesses before my eyes, I felt like my soul was being exposed. I knew I could not do this job without the Lord, and it wouldn’t be my ideas that would be most important. It would be the Lord’s plan.”
She began to understand that Heavenly Father was mindful of her weaknesses and yet He loved her. She also began to understand that through prayer, fasting, and scripture study, she could humbly prepare to receive personal revelation beyond her own understanding.
As we come to know that our Heavenly Father loves us, we feel greater love for Him and for our Savior, and we desire to become more worthy to inherit His kingdom. A familiar scripture instructs us in the importance of humility: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
The Lord asked Nephi many times to do things that were difficult. Nephi humbly went to the mountains, where he inquired of the Lord time and time again to receive instruction (see 1 Ne. 18:3).
We too are asked to do things we are uncertain about. We need to return to our personal “mountain” often to receive instructions regarding our concerns and responsibilities. We return to the mountain by reading, studying, pondering the scriptures with faith, praying, fasting, and attending the temple.
As we replace fear with faith and then demonstrate our humility, we are blessed with a feeling of peace. Lisa said: “Peace finally came after I was sustained and set apart. I felt a little excitement, but not without caution and humility close behind. I began to gain greater insight into the love our Savior and Heavenly Father have for me. It is a deeply felt love I have experienced.”
The Lord trusts and loves us enough to want to use us in blessing the lives of others. What a wonderful feeling of peace and joy that knowledge can bring! In Helaman we read, “Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved” (Hel. 5:47).
This experience of being newly called, with its common elements of fear turning to faith, humility, and joyful peace, provides us with opportunities for spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is part of our Father’s eternal plan for us. It is an experience not just for the newly called but for all of us throughout our lives. Because we are human and because Satan would like to stop our progression, moments of self-doubt and confusion will creep in. Callings that produce growth will continue to create some discomfort. Heavenly Father has chosen the time and place for us to learn the earthly lessons He has designed for each of us. We came to earth for the very purpose of being tested and gaining necessary experience. My son has counseled me, “Take a deep breath and remember who you work for.”
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminds us: “The Church is a place where imperfect people gather to help and strengthen each other as we strive to return to our Heavenly Father. … We will each progress at different rates. …
“… When you magnify your calling, you don’t merely go through the motions; you challenge yourself to serve in the place you are called with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.”1
Everything we do in our callings—teaching, loving, enduring, serving—we do better when we seek and receive the guidance of the Spirit. And in the process we grow spiritually.
With the call comes a “to be released” clause. Some of you will be released this year, and some not for years to come. Let’s look ahead to that experience. I would like to share some thoughts from a Primary president just recently released. Notice her faith, humility, and sense of peace and joy, and try to sense her spiritual growth:
“I knew a few months before my release that my time as a Primary president was coming to an end. I had learned the things I was supposed to learn and felt other women needed this opportunity for their spiritual growth. My first feeling was one of complete loss. … I thought of how rejuvenating Primary was for me. I was really sad to know I would be missing sharing with the children that special witness of Jesus Christ and God’s divine plan on a weekly basis. But I knew the Lord would bless another to teach the children well.” This is faith.
“I thought of all the children who had sat on my lap because they were scared, sad, or needed some help because they were a little too active. I would miss the hugs—especially those that came from children who would, for no apparent reason, jump up right in the middle of sharing time and give me a big hug around the waist. It was a great feeling to know that the children trusted me.” This is humility.
“I would especially miss the humor—such as the time when a young boy announced in Primary prior to sacrament meeting that his father was the new bishop. There was the time five-year-old Rebekah wanted to tell the entire Primary how babies were made. Did you know I am the best ice skater in Primary? At least I fell down the fewest number of times. I used talents I didn’t know I had. I had a great experience and received many blessings. Primary service was an unexpected answer to a heartfelt prayer. It occupied my heart and soul.” This is joy and peace.
A call to serve is an invitation from Heavenly Father for greater spiritual growth. It is a call to overcome fear with faith and to learn greater humility as we accept the Lord’s will. The call can bring the peace and joy of eternal progression. It is an opportunity to be part of the miracle and wonder of this great cause and kingdom that is sweeping over the earth, blessing the lives of people wherever it reaches.
Our calling goes beyond the one our priesthood leader extended to each of us. We have an individual responsibility for our own soul and its growth. This calling is one our priesthood leader will not release us from. Our calls to serve will bless our efforts to understand the plan of salvation and live gospel principles. Callings can help us better love and teach our families. They give us opportunities to grow stronger spiritually, to wax strong in spirit, filled with greater wisdom and the grace of God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see Luke 2:40). As we learn the eternal plan and feel the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior, we will love and teach those we are called to serve with great power and influence through the Holy Spirit.