Your Calling: Joy or Drudgery?

It seems to me that the Lord not only desires that we serve in his kingdom but that we do so willingly and joyfully. Yet, as a bishop, I have watched some people accept callings hesitantly, because they felt it was their duty, and then fulfill those callings in the same way—hesitantly and without much satisfaction. Still others also accept callings with some hesitation or trepidation, but become successful and happy. And in both cases our bishopric has given prayerful and careful consideration to the callings and has felt that our choices were confirmed by the Spirit.

So what makes the difference? Why is it that some people seem to be happy and successful in their Church calling, no matter what it is? Do they just happen to be special types who are more gifted and able than most? Or are there principles and techniques anyone can use to find more joy and success in a Church calling?

One clue comes out of a conversation I had recently with Brenda, a woman I work with. A month or two prior to our conversation she had been called to serve as the young women’s secretary in her ward. And she had mentioned at that time that she wasn’t exactly thrilled with her new calling. So when I asked her recently if she liked her new calling any better, I was surprised to learn that she now loves it. What happened?

“I’ve always believed you shouldn’t refuse a call from the bishop,” Brenda responded, “so when our bishop came to our home that day and asked me to serve as the young women’s secretary, I couldn’t tell him no. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell him yes, either. I had worked with the young women several times before, and I’m ashamed to say I hated it. Well, the bishop took my silence to mean yes, and so I was sustained in sacrament meeting the following Sunday. I’m afraid I felt kind of like a martyr when I started my new calling.”

Naturally I asked Brenda how she had come to have such a change of heart. And her experience, combined with what I have learned from others and from my own experiences, leads me to this conclusion: we can enjoy our callings if we learn to apply certain principles and techniques.

1. Be open-minded about the calling, about yourself, and about those whom you are called to work with and serve.

Even though Brenda had not had pleasant experiences in working with the young women, she decided this time that she would find as much good in her new calling as she possibly could. “I fasted and prayed for a change of heart,” she told me. “I even asked my husband to give me a special blessing.” Rather than accepting distaste for her calling as a fact of life, Brenda set out to change her attitude about it.

An example of changing one’s opinion of himself comes from a bishop I know. He used to wonder about a portion of his patriarchal blessing which states that he “will be a leader of men and will be called to many positions of leadership in the Church.” He just knew he wasn’t the leader type. But eventually he was called to serve as a counselor in the elders quorum presidency, and later as its president. He gained knowledge and experience and he continued to serve, first as president of two more elders quorums, then as a high councilor, and now as a bishop. “It’s strange how long it took me to learn that the Lord knows me better than I know myself,” he comments. “I still don’t desire leadership positions, but I know if they come, the Lord will provide the necessary help if I do all I can.”

Keeping an open mind about people is one of the most important abilities we can develop. People are what the Church is all about, and every calling not only requires that we work together with others but that we serve others. So the way we feel about those we work with and serve is vital to our happiness and success in our callings.

Until recently, I carried in my wallet some pictures of my children that were taken when they were babies. Since those pictures were taken, my children have grown, developed, and changed. Too often we carry around with us outdated mental images of other people—people who have also grown and developed and changed spiritually. Many times we form opinions of others that we later find to be in error once we have the opportunity to work closely with them.

I knew of a girl in my high school many years ago who had a very poor reputation. How much was simply a vicious rumor and how much was truth I don’t know. But she did associate with a rebellious group who broke many of the rules. And even though she was a member of the Church, she was often seen smoking and drinking. After our school high graduation, I didn’t see her or give her any thought for years. If anyone had asked me what she was like, I could only have described the girl I vaguely knew in school.

But then, more than five years after high school, I was in the temple one night when I heard this girl’s name read from a list of brides who were about to be sealed to their husbands. What a delight it was to see that a great change had obviously taken place in her life. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the gospel is changing people all the time.

2. Learn to love those whom you are called to serve. This relates closely with being open-minded about people. We must love others not only because it is the second great commandment, but because love turns duty into joyful service and because you will never touch someone’s heart until you love him and he senses it.

A simple technique that can help you learn to love someone who seems unlovable requires the use of imagination. Try picturing in your mind a testimony meeting at some future date. Visualize that person standing, with tears in his eyes, bearing powerful testimony of the Savior’s love and of the principle of repentance and forgiveness. It is possible, you know. It happens all the time, all over the Church. So learn to see people as they can become with your help and that of your Father in heaven.

3. Learn your duty and then do it. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord states: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.” (D&C 107:99; italics added.) Sometimes we have a tendency to say to the Lord, “Help me enjoy this job and then I’ll do it” when we should be praying for help in doing it well so that we can enjoy it.

I like the story told by one of the Brethren about a missionary testimony meeting he attended. One elder got up and said, “I really enjoy what I’m doing.” Then he paused in thought before he added, “You know, I guess that’s all I can enjoy.” We can’t enjoy what we don’t do.

4. Gain a greater understanding. Strive to see all the ways your calling contributes to the building of the kingdom and to the building of people. It will make you realize the importance and purpose of your calling.

Brenda says that this greater understanding has had much to do with her enjoyment of her calling. “Just filling in reports with numbers and marking X’s on rolls to show attendance meant very little to me. But then I realized that I was helping the class advisors and the young women’s presidency to be informed about the activity of each individual girl. I was also providing information that would help the bishop schedule those vital annual interviews with each girl. So instead of having an impersonal calling that dealt with statistics, I found that by performing my calling well, I was really helping people.”

Home teaching is a good example of a calling that can just be a chore unless one gains a greater understanding of its purpose. All of the successful, happy home teachers I know see themselves as an aid to the family head in strengthening the family and as a vital communication link between the family and priesthood leaders. They see their assigned families as much more than statistics.

5. Give of your whole self. When the Lord gives us a call through his servants, he takes into account all of our talents and abilities and needs. The call is to the whole person including the hidden talents that only become apparent when we are doing all we can.

Surely when the Lord tells us to serve him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength (see D&C 4:2), he is not just referring to missionary work. The more of ourselves we invest, the more we gain in the form of success and growth and fulfillment.

6. Seek success. When we have a long, difficult task, intermittent successes are like a cool drink of water on a long dusty hike.

A home teacher I know relates an experience that gave him a feeling of success that has since carried him through many difficult times: “I was working with a family that was reasonably active, but just didn’t seem to have enough commitment to living all of the gospel principles. I prayed to know what I should discuss with them that would be of most value at the time, and I felt inspired to talk about the principle of fasting. I found that they had been discussing this very principle among themselves, and I was able to answer some of their questions and give them some encouragement to use this principle. One of their children who had never fasted before committed to try fasting on the next fast Sunday, and afterward she beamed as she reported that it had been a wonderful experience.

“Just that one successful experience encouraged me and motivated me to try for other successes as a home teacher. And each subsequent success renewed my feelings that I was truly engaged in a worthwhile work. To this day, some of those early successes help to keep me motivated and inspired as a home teacher, and I truly enjoy that calling as a result.”

7. Learn to fit the calling into your life. If you don’t spend enough time at it, you won’t be successful, and if you spend too much time at it, you may be neglecting something else that may be equally or even more important. That is why all of us need to stop sometimes and ask ourselves if we are spending our time as wisely as we could. Are we really doing what is most necessary at the time?

Studies in the business world have shown that about twenty percent of the work done produces about eighty percent of the results, and that the remaining eighty percent of the work is required to produce the remaining twenty percent of our results. Obviously, then, if we can learn to identify the twenty percent of our efforts with our families, our callings, and ourselves that produces eighty percent of the results, we can accomplish the greatest good with the least amount of time.

For example, I need to spend time with my children. If I take them to a movie, we spend two hours together, but we do not talk, we only watch and listen to the film. On the other hand, if we spend an hour walking together or working in the garden together, we can talk and enjoy some real companionship. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with going to a movie together. It’s just that if my schedule is especially busy, I can accomplish more in less time if I am selective. In fact, sometimes I can meet two or more needs with one activity—such as weeding the garden while I spend time with my children.

If we allow them to, other people and circumstances will use up our time every hour of every day. We must know what our priorities are and then be selective in determining when and how we will meet those priorities. Only then will we know when we should say no to demands for our time. Only then will we have time for the things that are really important: our own relationship with our Savior, our family’s spiritual well-being, our service in the Lord’s kingdom, and our occupation.

8. Live to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. This is the single most important principle to apply if you would find joy in your calling. The Spirit can call to your remembrance the things you need to know at the time you need them. With the aid of the Holy Spirit you can discover and develop the hidden talents the Lord would have you use. He can help you see beyond routine duties to gain a greater understanding of your role in building the kingdom. He can comfort you when you are discouraged, inspire you when you are weary, and fill your heart with joy when your actions are pleasing to the Lord.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that our work in the Church will continuously bring us satisfaction and happiness. I think the principle of opposition applies here as elsewhere in life. We grow by struggling with and overcoming feelings of discouragement, inadequacy, and weariness. But most of us could find much more deep satisfaction and enjoyment in our callings than we do, simply by applying the right principles, by committing ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work—whatever our calling. If “men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25) then certainly they should be able to find it in the service of the Lord.

The joy that is to be found in our Church callings is the feeling of satisfaction in a job well done, the feeling of warmth and love when we have affected someone’s life for good, and above all, that sweet reassurance when the Spirit whispers, “Well done.”