I thought this had been posted already but apparently not. Well, better late than never!
This last week Eric and I got to speak in our ward. Mostly I was excited to have a chance to really introduce our family to the ward since we’re still fairly new. Unfortunately last week was a pretty busy one for Eric with work and we didn’t really get a chance to work on our talks until Saturday night (Eric’s birthday). But in the end I think they turned out pretty well. I figured I’d post my talk here and share some of my insights with other people. It’s a little rough because of my procrastination but I thought the topic was interesting. It was a little weird that the topic I was given was just a talk from General Conference. It both made it really easy to put together, but really difficult to really make the topic my own. I could have easily just read his talk and had my time limit but it was hard to both stick to what he said and then sorta fill in the gaps or change things around to be what I would want to say. Not a bad way to go, just an interesting process. Anyways, here’s the talk I gave (minus the introduction to us, I figure if you want that you can read about how we met here and the rest of what’s going on with us here):
Our bishop asked me to base my talk off of the remarks of Elder Derek A. Cuthbert from General Conference of April 1990. His talk was entitled “The Spirituality of Service”, so I will be talking to you today about how serving others can improve our spirituality. Elder Cuthbert said whenever someone asked him how they could improve their spirituality his answer was to serve more. Which I thought was an interesting response. Normally when I think of improving my spirituality I tend to think about things like studying the scriptures, praying, attending the temple and participating in “spiritual” activities. Service towards others isn’t usually my go-to answer. Elder Cuthbert broke his talk into 10 aspects of our spirituality that are improved by serving others. So, I would like to talk briefly about each of those 10 aspects and how we can improve our spirituality through service –
1) Service helps us establish true values and priorities. If I were to ask most of you here what the most important things are in your lives you would most likely not really talk about things at all, but more likely you’d talk about people. As we serve others we realize how much more important they are to us than our worldly possessions. You realize that it’s worth sacrificing a little bit more money for your fast offering so that your neighbor can get through a difficult time. You would rather spend your time helping your child with their math homework than getting a little bit of overtime at the office. Your time is spent focusing on those people who are the most important rather than accumulating worldly possessions. As we are taught in Matthew 6:19-21 – “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
What greater treasure could we hope to obtain than the relationships we build here on earth with our family and friends?
2) Service helps us establish a righteous tradition. I think this was one of my favorite points, essentially Elder Cuthbert was saying that as we serve others we set an example that our children will follow in their lives. I have a good friend who had strayed from the path for a while and had decided against serving a mission. One night he had a dream where he was much older and talking to his 19 year old son about serving a mission. In this dream his son asked him why he hadn’t served a mission himself and he had to tell his son that he had been more interested in participating in sinful activities than in serving the Lord. This was a huge realization for this young man as he had every intention of one day having a family and raising them in the gospel, but he realized that it would be very difficult for him to impress upon his children the importance of things that he hadn’t done himself.
I’ve noticed in the many wards I’ve lived in over the past few years that there seem to be those families in any given ward that are always there to help, regardless of their church callings or personal circumstances. I’m sure you know the families that I’m talking about, they’re the ones whose names are on every sign up sheet, whether it’s to help clean the church or bring a casserole to a family or go caroling at Christmas. They’re usually there at the end of an activity helping clean up, even though it’s not their calling and there’s plenty for them to be doing at home. What’s most interesting to me is if you ask those people about their service experiences they’ll tell you about their parents that were making casseroles and kicking them out of bed on a Saturday to clean the church and sending them out to sing Christmas carols even when they weren’t in the mood. Service truly seems to be a tradition that we start within our own homes that our children will see and pass along to their children. What a truly great legacy that would be to have children who serve others because of our examples! If we want to teach our children to serve others I believe the only way we will be successful is if we are ourselves are actively out serving.
3) Service helps us overcome selfishness and sin. This point reminded me of a story told in General Conference about President Hinckley’s mission. President Hinckley had reached a difficult point in his mission. He was discouraged because the work was hard and the people he was trying to teach weren’t receptive. After sending a letter to his father recounting his difficulties his father wisely sent him back this response, “Dear Gordon, I have your letter… I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.” While that may seem like a harsh response from a father to a struggling son President Hinckley took his father’s advice and immediately re-pledged himself to serve the people on his mission 100%. He reported what happened next as follows, “The whole world changed. The fog lifted. The sun began to shine in my life. I had a new interest. I saw the beauty of this land. I saw the greatness of the people. … Everything that has happened to me since that’s been good I can trace to that decision made in that little house.” He followed with a recommendation for all of us, “You want to be happy? Forget yourself and get lost in this great cause, and bend your efforts to helping people.” When we are focused only on ourselves and our own worries and problems it doesn’t make us happy.
The happiest people are not selfish but selfless. Elder Cuthbert pointed out that all sin stems from selfishness. Whether the sin is lying, cheating, stealing, immorality, covetousness, or idleness it all stems from putting your own desires ahead of the Lord’s. Conversely, service is defined by considering someone else before yourself. Service is one of the best ways to love another person, and I think it should be one of the underlying principles of any successful marriage or family. I’m certainly not perfect at this, but I try to consider Eric’s needs before my own, and when I do that I am actually happier than I am by thinking about what I want. Rather than spending my time lamenting that Sam kept me up all night, or that I have a big project for work, or whatever might seem like my most pressing problem, if I focus on trying to help Eric with his concerns then my worries seem less significant because I’m not giving them the time of day. Plus, Eric is happier because his burdens are lighter, which makes me happy just to see him happy. And even more so, Eric then has more time and energy to help me conquer my troubles. If you apply this principle to your marriage your marriage will be happier and the troubles that you might think you are having will not seem as bad as they once were.
4) Service helps to recompense for sin. I hadn’t really thought of service in these terms before, that when we serve others it is a way of making up for the sins that we have committed. It makes sense though, if sin stems from our own selfishness, the best way to make up for those sins is through selflessness or service.
5) Service helps us generate love and appreciation. To me one of the best examples of service generating appreciation is parenthood. How many of us never recognized the full amount of effort that our parents dedicated to us until after becoming parents ourselves? As you serve others I think it gives you a chance to reflect on the service that has been given to you. Efforts that you might not have even noticed before suddenly seem more significant and you are more grateful for the blessings you’ve been given.
The other part of this is that serving others helps us to love them. Most of the people in this ward are fairly new, I think even the “old timers” have been here about 5 years or less. So if you’re feeling like you don’t know everyone in the ward or that you haven’t yet found your niche, join the club, I’m sure there is not one person here who can name everyone else by name yet. One of the best ways to get to know people and to really love them is to serve them. To serve someone you have to figure out what it is that they need and find a way to fill that need. You absolutely cannot do this without learning something about that person and loving them a little bit more. Now, you don’t have to go out of your way to do something huge and monumental. Some of the greatest service that has been rendered to me in this ward has just come from people coming up and saying “hi, I don’t know you” and introducing themselves. While I can’t say that I remember the names of all of the people who have introduced themselves to me like this, I can tell you that for someone like me who is a little bit shy these simple acts of service have meant the world to me.
6) Service is the principal way of showing gratitude to the Savior. Jesus Christ has done everything for us so that we can return to live with Heavenly Father someday. As King Benjamin put it in Mosiah 2:21 –
“I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”
Then skipping to verse 23:
“And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.”
So, we owe everything we are and have to the Lord. But there’s nothing He truly needs for himself that we could offer him. In last April conference Elder Uchtdorf spoke about a beautiful statue of the Savior, which during the bombings of World War II was damaged in such a way that the hands could not be restored. After some deliberation the citizens of the town where this statue was located decided to leave the statue without hands and put up a plaque that read “You are my hands.” We may not be able to render service to the Lord directly, but by serving his children we do for Him what He can’t do Himself. And as we’re taught in Matthew 25:35-40
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
As we serve those around us we are rendering the only thanks we can give to the Lord and we owe SO much thanks to Him.
7) Service channels our desires and energies into righteous activity. We live in very busy times. We can quickly have all of our time gobbled up by soccer practice, work, chores, TV, internet surfing, parties, church activities, schoolwork, music lessons, and the list goes on and on. While there are many good pursuits out there, we should find a way to spend some of our time focused on helping others. The time we spend doing things for others will reward us far greater than time spent in recreational pursuits.
8) Service helps us cleanse ourselves and become purified and sanctified. Elder Cuthbert taught that the atoning blood of Christ purges our sins through our Christlike service. He quoted a prayer he learned in his youth given by Saint Ignatius Loyola
“To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds; …
To labor and not ask for any reward
Save that of knowing that we do Thy will.”
9) Service helps us do as the Savior did. As you read about the Savior’s life you will find countless accounts of his service to others. He went about feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, and giving sight to the blind. You can hardly turn a page of the accounts of his ministry without reading about the service He selflessly gave to others. He spent his days among the poorest and most afflicted of mankind lifting them up and helping to make their lives better. If we want to be like Him then we must also be serving others.
10) Service helps us to get to know the Savior. In Mosiah 5:13 we read “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” If we want to come to know the Savior then we must be doing as He did. As you serve others you understand better the love that our Savior has for them, and in turn you understand better the love he has for you.
In closing, I’d just like to challenge each of you to find an opportunity to serve someone this week. It doesn’t have to be something big but find a way to do something for someone that will help them. There are lots of ways to serve other people in our daily lives. I remember during my senior year of college I was talking to my mom once and feeling discouraged that I wasn’t really serving anyone because I was so busy with school and planning a wedding and doing things that were mostly for me. My mom pointed out that I had my sister over periodically for dinners and was doing a good job helping her through her freshman year of college. It was a small thing, and since my sister is one of my very best friends, not a difficult thing to me, but apparently it had meant enough to her that my mom even recognized that it was an act of service. I want to encourage you to find people to serve. They don’t have to be way out of your way, in fact, it’s all the better to serve the people who are *in* your way. Your neighbors, your sibling, even your spouse! I promise that if you do this that you will love the person you are serving more and you will feel more loved in return. It could be as simple as saying hi to someone new, or sending a quick note to a friend who is having a difficult time, or taking over a chore that your spouse would normally do. I promise that if you will do this that your own burdens will be lightened and your spirituality will be increased.