From the Life of Gordon B. Hinckley
Young Elder Gordon B. Hinckley struggled through his first few weeks as a full-time missionary in England. He was sick when he arrived, and his attempts to preach the gospel were repeatedly rejected. During that difficult time, he was blessed with what he later called his “day of decision”—an experience that influenced his service for the rest of his life.
“I was discouraged,” he recalled. “I wrote a letter home to my good father and said that I felt I was wasting my time and his money. He was my father and my stake president, and he was a wise and inspired man. He wrote a very short letter to me which said, ‘Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.’ Earlier that morning in our scripture class my companion and I had read these words of the Lord: ‘Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.’ (Mark 8:35.)
“Those words of the Master, followed by my father’s letter with his counsel to forget myself and go to work, went into my very being. With my father’s letter in hand, I went into our bedroom in the house at 15 Wadham Road, where we lived, and got on my knees and made a pledge with the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service.
“That July day in 1933 was my day of decision. A new light came into my life and a new joy into my heart.”1
That light never left Gordon B. Hinckley’s life. From that day, he dedicated himself to the Lord in the service of others. At President Hinckley’s funeral, President Henry B. Eyring listed a few of President Hinckley’s contributions: building temples across the earth, establishing smaller temples to accelerate temple work, establishing the Perpetual Education Fund, and building the Conference Center. Then he said:
“His personal legacy goes beyond that brief list and my power to describe. But his accomplishments have at least one thing in common. Always they were to bless individuals with opportunity. And always he thought of those with the least opportunity, the ordinary person struggling to cope with the difficulties of everyday life and the challenge of living the gospel of Jesus Christ. More than once he tapped his finger on my chest when I made a suggestion and said, ‘Hal, have you remembered the person who is struggling?’”2
“I wish to be up and doing,” President Hinckley said. “I wish to face each day with resolution and purpose. I wish to use every waking hour to give encouragement, to bless those whose burdens are heavy, to build faith and strength of testimony.”3
Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley
Our lives are gifts from God and are to be used in the service of others.
There is … much of poverty and stark want across the world, so much of rebellion and meanness, so much of sleaze and filth, so many broken homes and destroyed families, so many lonely people living colorless lives without hope, so much of distress everywhere.
And so I make a plea to you. I plead with you that with all your getting you will also give to make the world a little better.4
If the world is to be improved, the process of love must make a change in the hearts of men. It can do so when we look beyond self to give our love to God and others, and do so with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.
The Lord has declared in modern revelation, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you.” (D&C 88:67.)
As we look with love and gratitude to God, as we serve him with an eye single to his glory, there goes from us the darkness of sin, the darkness of selfishness, the darkness of pride. There will come an increased love for our Eternal Father and for his Beloved Son, our Savior and our Redeemer. There will come a greater sense of service toward our fellowmen, less of thinking of self and more of reaching out to others.
This principle of love is the basic essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.5
If we would claim to worship and follow the Master, must we not strive to emulate his life of service? None of us may rightly say that his life is his own. Our lives are gifts of God. We come into the world not of our own volition. We leave not according to our wish. Our days are numbered not by ourselves, but according to the will of God.
So many of us use our lives as if they were entirely our own. Ours is the choice to waste them if we wish. But that becomes a betrayal of a great and sacred trust. As the Master made so abundantly clear, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:35.)6
My beloved brethren and sisters, the challenge is great. The opportunities are all about us. God would have us do His work—and do it with energy and cheerfulness. That work, as He has defined it, is to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5.)
It is to minister to those in need. It is to comfort the bereaved. It is to visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction. It is to feed the needy, to clothe the naked, to shelter those who have not a roof over their heads. It is to do as the Master did, who “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38.)7
My message to you today … is that you resolve to dedicate a part of your time, as you map out your life’s work, to those in distress and need, with no consideration of recompense. Your skills are needed, whatever they may be. Your helping hands will lift someone out of the mire of distress. Your steady voice will give encouragement to some who might otherwise simply give up. Your skills can change the lives, in a remarkable and wonderful way, of those who walk in need. If not now, when? If not you, who?8
May the real meaning of the gospel distill into our hearts that we may realize that our lives, given us by God our Father, are to be used in the service of others.
If we will give such service, our days will be filled with joy and gladness. More important, they will be consecrated to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to the blessing of all whose lives we touch.9
Service is the best medicine for self-pity, selfishness, despair, and loneliness.
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 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.10
I believe that for most of us the best medicine for loneliness is work and service in behalf of others. I do not minimize your problems, but I do not hesitate to say that there are many others whose problems are more serious than yours. Reach out to serve them, to help them, to encourage them. There are so many boys and girls who fail in school for want of a little personal attention and encouragement. There are so many elderly people who live in misery and loneliness and fear for whom a simple conversation would bring a measure of hope and brightness. …
There are so many who have been injured and who need a good Samaritan to bind up their wounds and help them on their way. A small kindness can bring a great blessing to someone in distress and a sweet feeling to the one who befriends him.11
There are so many out there whose burdens you can lift. There are the homeless, there are the hungry, there are the destitute all around us. There are the aged who are alone in rest homes. There are handicapped children, and youth on drugs, and the sick and the homebound who cry out for a kind word. If you do not do it, who will?
The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.12
Why are missionaries happy? Because they lose themselves in the service of others.
Why are those who labor in the temples happy? Because their labor of love is in very deed harmonious with the great vicarious work of the Savior of mankind. They neither ask for nor expect thanks for what they do. For the most part, they know nothing more than the name of him or her in whose behalf they labor.13
Give expression to the noble desires that lie within your hearts to reach out to comfort, sustain, and build others. As you do so, the cankering poison of selfishness will leave you, and it will be replaced by a sweet and wonderful feeling that seems to come in no other way.14
When we reach out to help others, we find our true selves.
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.15
Years ago I read the story of a young woman who went into a rural area as a schoolteacher. Among those in her class was a girl who had failed before and who was failing again. The student could not read. She came from a family without means to take her to a larger city for examination to determine whether she had a problem that could be remedied. Sensing that the difficulty might lie with the girl’s eyes, the young teacher arranged to take the student, at the teacher’s own expense, to have her eyes tested. A deficiency was discovered that could be corrected with glasses. Soon an entire new world opened to the student. For the first time in her life, she saw clearly the words before her. The salary of that country schoolteacher was meager, but out of the little she had, she made an investment that completely changed the life of a failing student, and in doing so she found a new dimension in her own life.16
As you so serve, a new dimension will be added to your life. You will find new and stimulating associations. You will find friendship and sociality. You will grow in knowledge and understanding and wisdom, and in your capacity to do.17
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.18
The Church provides many opportunities for unselfish service.
Brothers and sisters, you will never be happy if you go through life thinking only of yourself. Get lost in the best cause in the world—the cause of the Lord. The work of the quorums, and of the auxiliary organizations, temple work, welfare service work, missionary work. You will bless your own life as you bless the lives of others.19
There is no other work in all the world so fraught with happiness as is this work. That happiness is peculiar. It comes of serving others. It is real. It is unique. It is wonderful.20
Let the Church be your dear friend. Let it be your great companion. Serve wherever you are called to serve. Do what you are asked to do. Every position you hold will add to your capacity. I have served in many responsibilities in this great organization. Every service brought its own reward.
This … will require your unselfish devotion, your unyielding loyalty and faith. You will serve in many capacities before your lives are complete. Some of them may seem small, but there is no small or unimportant calling in this Church. Every calling is important. Every calling is necessary to the advancement of the work. Never demean a responsibility in the Church. …
Make room for the Church in your life. Let your knowledge of its doctrine grow. Let your understanding of its organization increase. Let your love for its eternal truths become ever and ever stronger.
The Church may call upon you to make sacrifice. It may call upon you to give of the very best that you have to offer. There will be no cost in this, because you will discover that it will become an investment that will pay you dividends for as long as you live. The Church is the great reservoir of eternal truth. Embrace it and hold fast to it.21
Do you want to be happy? Forget yourself and get lost in this great cause. Lend your efforts to helping people. Cultivate a spirit of forgiveness in your heart against any who might have offended you. Look to the Lord and live and work to lift and serve His sons and daughters. You will come to know a happiness that you have never known before if you will do that. I do not care how old you are, how young you are, whatever. You can lift people and help them. Heaven knows there are so very, very, very many people in this world who need help. Oh, so very, very many. Let’s get the cankering, selfish attitude out of our lives, my brothers and sisters, and stand a little taller and reach a little higher in the service of others. … Stand taller, stand higher, lift those with feeble knees, hold up the arms of those that hang down. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Forget yourself.22
Suggestions for Study and Teaching
President Hinckley taught that our lives are gifts from God, to be used in serving others (see section 1). How can we make serving others a way of life? What do you think it means to serve with an eye single to the glory of God? How has someone else’s service blessed you?
Why does service help us overcome self-pity, selfishness, and loneliness? (See section 2.) How has service brought you happiness? As you read President Hinckley’s descriptions of people who are in need, determine how you and your family can reach out to serve.
Why does losing ourselves in the service of others help us “find [our] true selves”? (See section 3.) What can we learn from the stories in section 3?
President Hinckley counseled, “Get lost in the best cause in the world—the cause of the Lord” (section 4). What blessings has Church service brought into your life?
“As you study, pay careful attention to ideas that come to your mind and feelings that come to your heart” (Preach My Gospel , 18). Consider recording the impressions you receive, even if they seem unrelated to the words you are reading. They may be the very things the Lord wants you to learn.
“Taking the Gospel to Britain: A Declaration of Vision, Faith, Courage, and Truth,” Ensign, July 1987, 7.
Henry B. Eyring, “Things Will Work Out,” In Memoriam: President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1910–2008 (supplement to the Ensign, Mar. 2008), 27; see also page 26.
“Testimony,” Ensign, May 1998, 69.
Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Volume 1: 1995–1999 (2005), 543.
“And the Greatest of These Is Love,” Ensign, Mar. 1984, 5.
“The Gift of Self,” Tambuli, Dec. 1986, 3; see also lds.org/liahona/1986/12/the-gift-of-self.
“To Single Adults,” Ensign, June 1989, 75.
Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Volume 1, 544–45.
“Giving Ourselves to the Service of the Lord,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 5.
“Whosoever Will Save His Life,” Ensign, Aug. 1982, 5.
“A Conversation with Single Adults,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 61.
“To Single Adults,” 73–74.
“Giving Ourselves to the Service of the Lord,” 5.
“To a Man Who Has Done What This Church Expects of Each of Us” (Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 17, 1995), 6, speeches.byu.edu.
“Whosoever Will Save His Life,” 3–4.
“And the Greatest of These Is Love,” 4.
“Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 69.
“Whosoever Will Save His Life,” 6.
“Pillars of Truth,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 7.
“Rejoicing in the Privilege to Serve,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, June 21, 2003, 23.
“Life’s Obligations,” Ensign, Feb. 1999, 4.
Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), 597.