Sunday, June 23, 2013

Service: I guess I have a lot to say

One of the most frightening things for me is speaking in public.  Doesn't matter how well I know my audience, 
public + speaking = a terrifying experience.
Today I spoke in church.
I was asked to speak about service.
My voice felt quivery, but I survived.

This summer marks my fifth year serving as the President of Relief Society at church.  Service has been the number one theme of the calling, and I can hardly say the word without thinking about how gratifyingly amazing the process is:  You serve, you are BLESSED.  You do something nice for someone else, you walk away MUCH BETTER as a result.  It's an incredible phenomenon.

Reading this talk will take some time.  (The bishopric asked me to speak for 20 minutes)  If you decide to go for it, you might want to have a snack on hand.

In Deuteronomy Chapter 10 we read a summary by the Prophet Moses about receiving the Ten Commandments from the Lord.  The tablets are considered sacred and are carefully protected by the people of Israel.  Verse 12 is a summary of exactly what it is that the Lord would require of his people:

"And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul."

With a little help from the footnotes in verse 12, we can safely understand that it is our DUTY to REVERENCE the Lord through WORSHIP and SERVICE.  This is our promise and commitment to him.

My parents were baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Foxboro Branch in 1968.  I was four years old.  I remember sitting in a chair in the front of their little chapel during a sacrament meeting like this, to receive my blessing.  I have little pockets of memory that include being sealed to my parents in the Manti temple at the age of five.  I remember having  a hard time liking the nursery ladies in the temple, because they made my sister and I play in our slips.  They didn't want us to wrinkle our little temple dresses.  I remember seeing my parents coming down a hallway towards the door of the nursery to get us; I remember specific colors and clothing, and I remember kneeling with them around a soft, blue velvety altar in the temple.

I mention this because these are some of my earliest childhood memories, and I think it's significant in that ever since that day, my parents have been VERY faithful in their duty to reverence the Lord through worship and service.  I consider it my greatest blessing that I was raised in the Gospel by parents who took their commitment to God very seriously, and passed the importance of that commitment on to their children.  It is my constant prayer that I will be able to instill this same REVERENCE of worship and service to the Lord in my own children.
Our church is a church of Lay Ministry, which means that there is no paid clergy here.  This is why we take turns accepting the invitation to speak at this (scary) pulpit when we are asked.  We teach in Sunday School.  We teach our Primary children.  We shepherd the cub scouts or take our turns in the woods as leaders at Girls Camp.  We bring meals to the sick.  We play with the nursery children, lead the music and take turns serving in different leadership roles like Laurel Class Secretary and Relief Society President.

Sometimes we are asked to serve in a position for which we feel completely UNDERqualified.  I've had the experience over and over again, but have a PERSONAL TESTIMONY that the Lord qualifies those whom he calls.

My father is a Massachusetts native.  He was a convert who served in the Navy and made his career in law enforcement.  When he was called to be President of the Boston Stake, he was stunned and felt very unsure.  He didn't fit the pattern of professionals and academics who had served in the position before him, all of whom had been lifelong members of the church and had come from outside the state.  He worried that he didn't measure up to the long distinguished list of predecessors, one of whom was L. Tom Perry.  My dad appealed to the Lord by praying for guidance and received his own witness that the call was inspired.  With this confirmation, he squared his shoulders, and thought "I don't understand why, BUT I'LL DO WHAT THE LORD WANTS ME TO DO." (excerpt taken from For All the Saints by Kristin Smith Dayley)
As I've watched my parents serve faithfully in many callings as I grew up, it never occurred to me that you would ever NOT serve where you were asked to serve.

One of the very first callings I received in this ward more than twenty years ago as a mother with very young children was to be the Gospel Doctrine Teacher.  I remember thinking "Oh no... not ME."  I loved being able to sit in Sunday School and learn from teachers who were obviously much more qualified to teach an adult scripture class than I was.  It scared me to death.  I squared my own shoulders and got to work.  I'm SURE I remember that my lessons were simple, but the thing I remember most about that calling is the loving service I received from the members of the ward at that time who so willingly helped with my young babies allowing me to be able to teach unencumbered.  I think often with service, that's how it goes.  We've all heard people testify that by serving others, they came away the richer for it.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and two of my daughters, along with other members of our ward and stake, had the opportunity to participate in the Massachusetts Special Olympics as volunteers.  It was part of the Stake Youth Conference.  It was a service opportunity that was made available to all who wanted to go.  Maybe not very convenient or easy to get to, but those who worked with the Special Olympians that day came home on a real service high.
I think giving your best effort in ANY calling in the church provides the same kind of opportunity: You come away at the end of the day feeling as though you gained more than those you were asked to serve.

I hardly blinked when I collected the mail on Friday.  Really.  In the stack was the July 1st issue of Time magazine.  Guess what the cover page says in all capital letters in a very large font?
Maybe word is getting out.
One of my most favorite things about coming to church every Sunday is knowing that regardless of where we are asked to help out, we are all part of ONE BIG TEAM.  We really do learn from each other, and do things better because of the influences of the fantastic people sitting around us.  I've always felt deeply grateful for the members of our ward who have taken turns serving my children in the Primary organization.  That is a very energetic place to be.  I feel deeply indebted to the members of our ward who have devoted the extremely early morning hours of every school day to give my kids the spiritual jump start they need to survive every single day of High School.  I'm grateful for the delicious homemade sacrament bread we enjoy almost every Sunday.  That service to us is a true labor of love that I hope NEVER to take for granted.

I never served in the military, but know that there's a special camaraderie found between members who serve together.  I look at being a member of this ward in almost the same way:  we're fighting this battle together.  We're in this for good.  I know someone's got my back.

Speaking of being in this for good, I am reminded of one of my very favorite scripture stories.  In the Old Testament, we read about a faithful woman named Naomi.  Her husband's name is Elimelech.  They have two sons, and are forced to leave their homeland because of famine.  They go to Moab, where sometime after, the provider of the family, Naomi's husband and the father of her two sons dies.  Her two sons grow to be adults, and then take wives from among the Moabites.  In a day when marrying into different cultures and different religions was considered to be UNPRINCIPLED and maybe even deceitful, this must have been a trying time for the widow Naomi.  Adding insult to injury, about ten years after the two sons marry, they both die.  Naomi decides to return to the land of Judah, and her two daughters-in-law prepare to return with her.  She recognizes that she has nothing to offer them, and pleads with them to return to their households where they still might have a chance to marry and bear children.  It is clear that both women love Naomi, as verse 14 of Ruth Chapter One reads "And they lifted up their voice and wept again."
Orpah returns to her people, but Ruth remains with Naomi.
Google Images
In verse 15: "And (Naomi) said, Behold thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.
(16) And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for wither thou goest, I will go; and were thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."

This is a perfect example of loyalty and love within family.
And haven't we been taught time and again that we, as members of the human race ARE all family?

In the Young Women organization, our young women stand up every Sunday and recite together "We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us."

We ARE sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father.  Don't you think He wants us all to get along?

In Galatians 5:13 we read "By love serve one another."

Matthew 25:40  "In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me."

Mosiah 2:17 "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

In our Hymnal, Will L. Thompson wrote and composed the Hymn "Have I Done Any Good?"

1. Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone's burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?

Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.

2. There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying, "Sometime I'll try,"
But go and do something today.
'Tis noble of man to work and to give;
Love's labor has merit alone.
Only he who does something helps others to live.
To God each good work will be known.
I find that the people in my life who I have most admired, or who I have set up as role models and have tried to emulate have an obvious quality in common: they immerse themselves daily in opportunities to provide selfless service to others.  In my calling as RSP I have found myself surrounded by women who strive to make the lives of the people they serve a little better, a little easier, a little more filled with love.  The motto of Relief Society is Charity Never Faileth.  If there were a subtitle, I think it would say "you can't go wrong by serving others."   It's easy to feel the contagious nature of this selfless service.  In Relief Society, we strive to strengthen one another, lighten burdens, help those in need, and in the process, we gain a fortification of spiritual strength.  President Monson said "Spiritual Strength frequently comes through selfless service." (April 2010)
It doesn't take much to serve: a kind word, a smile, a gentle touch... sometimes I forget about our common parentage when I'm caught up in the daily rush.  It takes hardly any effort to slow down, let someone else go first, hold a door, say thank you.  I loved President Hinckley's frequent reminder to Be A Little Kinder.
Service is a healing balm.  When I have found myself in a puddle of self pity, I find the best way out is to turn outward and serve someone else.

As a young mother I would often call my mother and complain about my lot in life.  I wonder now if she smiled a little, listening with the perspective of having gone through much of the same herself.  Only she didn't have the ability to reach out to her mother, who had passed away her Senior year in High School.

I would whine about how hard it was to take care of small children--to feel lonely, since my husband was so often not at home because of his job or his church callings.  She would listen sympathetically and then ask me a few questions:

"Is Roger out drinking with his buddies?
Is he gambling away his paycheck?
Is he stepping out with other women?

What exactly did you say he was doing again?"  (and then I would remind her that he was traveling on business, or away at a church meeting or activity) And then she would rephrase what I had said:

"OH... you mean he is honoring his Priesthood?
Keeping the covenants he has made to serve the Lord?
Providing for his family?"
"You poor thing. Go make a cake for someone and you'll feel better."

And that's how it goes.
In Doctrine and Covenants chapter 4 we are taught

"Those who embark in the service of God should serve with their whole hearts:"
I am blessed.  I was raised by parents who have done this.  I am married to a man who does this.
And SO I try to do my best.  EVERY SINGLE TIME I serve someone else, I am blessed for it.  I am thankful.

In Doctrine and Covenants 76:5 it reads
"I, the Lord, delight to honor those who serve me"
It's true.  The Lord can't wait to shower his blessings upon us.

I am most thankful to have the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ in my life.
By serving each other, we repay, in a tiny way, some of the debt we owe to our Savior.
He has given us the great gift of redemption.
Because of his atonement, we have no need to feel weighed down by sin.
We needn't be burdened with guilt or remorse.
We mustn't be overcome by grief without knowing that Christ has already suffered before us.
No problem is too great, no sorrow too much for the Lord to bear.
Because he has taken all of these things upon Himself, we are free to move beyond the restrictions of grief, and pain.
We are children of a loving Heavenly Father.
His son Jesus Christ is our greatest hope and Redeemer.
By serving others, we show our gratitude for He who has gone before us.
It's good to remember that we are ALL children of the same Heavenly Father.
That by serving in whatever capacity we can serve, we are showing our deep gratitude for our Savior's love for us.
I am grateful for the Young Prophet Joseph Smith, and for the restoration of this true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I KNOW that we have a living Prophet today, Thomas S. Monson, who admonishes us to love one another.
Then let us WAKE UP!  Let's do as much good as we can.
We will always be blessed more than the efforts required to serve.
The scales of service are always tipped in our favor.
Aren't we lucky.
In some of Elder Uchtdorf's closing remarks at the April General conference of this year, he said

"My dear friends, YOU ARE IMPORTANT.  You are LOVED.  You are NEEDED.  This work is true."

And I echo that sentiment in the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.


Jo Jo said...

Just wonderful. Amen. Loved your stories. Heartier Amen. Love you! Biggest Amen!

The Mormon Monk said...

CLASSIC response from Mom.

LL said...

Fabulous talk.
First of all, I have a hard time believe you get nervous speaking, that really surprises me.
Second, you taught Gospel Doctrine?! No wonder you know all about "hairy feet"
And Third-you really are an incredible example of service.
I need to go make a cake for someone :-)