When our house was fully populated by our young children, my husband and I were perpetually looking for ways to craft memorable learning experiences that would tutor their consciences and inform their decision making. Lectures were typically lowest on the totem pole of palatable, well-received instructional methodology. Often, we served up something that was only marginally helpful to those lively kids’ learning, but occasionally we scored.

Prior to their return home from school one afternoon, I strategically dumped a whole box of Rice Krispies in the hallway that led from the front door to the kitchen. When the hour of their likely return approached, I hid myself around the corner where I could watch their arrivals without being seen. One by one, those school-aged kids threw open the door and, without exception, turned left down the hallway to make their way to the kitchen for an essential after-school snack.

The first one through the door was a middle-child son with a perpetual fierce appetite. He bolted down the hallway, traipsing through the crunchy cereal scattering it from wall to wall. The cereal turned to messy dust under his fast feet. He didn’t evidence any awareness of its even being there. He was a hungry man with a mission, and the mission didn’t include room for unexpected interruptions.

The second child returned home shortly after the first. When she opened the door, she immediately looked down and saw the Rice Krispie mess. She wrinkled up her face in some disgust, then made her way around it to get to her after-school snack without dirtying her shoes.

The third child threw open the door and hollered, “Mom, I’m home!” As he turned to make his way to the kitchen, he noticed the strewn Rice Krispies and added an additional hollered message to me: “There’s a big mess in the hall. You’re not going to like it. I don’t know who did it but it wasn’t me. You’d better come clean it up!”

The fourth and final child through the door saved the day by providing the lesson we hoped to have taught. He noticed the mess immediately. Without saying a word, he simply made his way to the broom closet to find a broom and dustpan. He returned to the crunchy, littered hallway floor and unceremoniously swept the smashed Rice Krispies into the dustpan to empty the mess into the trash before he headed to the kitchen to join the others.

Full focus on our own appetites and agendas, unwillingness to assume responsibility for anything but our own absolute obligations, and quickness to assess blame and impose action on others rather than ourselves likely occasionally compromise everyone’s willingness to contribute in small and large ways.

In a lesser-known verse of scripture, the Apostle Paul writes a letter to Philemon, an early follower of Christ. As a final statement of his confidence in Philemon’s profound and active goodness of heart, Paul says: “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say” (Philemon 1:21). In that contextual comment on Philemon’s character, Paul simply notes that he can fairly predict the positive response to the request he has made of Philemon because of Philemon’s proven willingness to “do more than I say.” Apparently, Philemon, noted in the headnote to the chapter as a “servant changed into a brother,” had long since shown that he would do more than he was asked or obligated to do. We, too, would want to be characterized as intentional, deliberate, initiative-taking, problem-solving contributors – people who clean up Rice Krispies without even having made the mess or being asked to accept the task.

After having lived in California for nearly three decades, our family was asked to move to Salt Lake City as a result of a calling in the Church for my husband. At that time, all seven of our children were single, ranging in age from 14-27. They were scattered around the world serving missions, attending college or graduate school, working, or still living with us. After selling our longtime home, we followed a moving truck from Southern California to our new home in SLC. We arrived on a hot day in late June. Dizzy and tired from the dramatic change of it all, we lingered outside our new residence watching the movers carry everything we owned into that home.

Our two youngest sons stood silently at our sides. I was speaking to the movers about where to place various items of furniture, but my heart and mind were fully fixed on those two teenaged boys as I wondered how this unexpected change would be for them.

While we stood in that afternoon desert sun, a car filled with young men drove down our street, slowed, and backed up. One rolled down his window and called to our sons, “Are you moving in here?” Our puzzled newcomers offered a shy, “Yes” in response, to which the boys in the car said, “We noticed from your license plate that you are from California, so we’re thinking that you probably like to swim. Want to go with us to the pool?” Our delighted boys hustled into the house without even answering the question to quickly find their swimsuits. Those local boys noticed – the license plate, the two boys their age, the moving van. They took initiative and they offered friendship. They offered rescue. That thoughtful gesture was the beginning of a marvelous year of lasting welcome and meaningful pals for our transplanted sons. Those local boys figuratively cleaned up Rice Krispies without having been asked or obligated to do it.

Exodus, chapter 17 tells a powerful story of thoughtful, unsolicited initiative-taking for the benefit of someone else. Moses, the Prophet, strategized a plan for battling Amalek who waged war with Israel. Besides asking Joshua to choose men to fight Amalek, Moses himself pledged to “stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in [his] hand” (Exodus 17:9). Joshua did as he was asked to do while Moses went to the top of the hill to assume his post, with Aaron and Hur at his side. As Moses had expected, when he held up his arm with the rod in his hand, the Israelites prevailed, but when he dropped his hand, Amalek gained ground.

Not surprisingly, the battle was long, and Moses’ arm grew weary. Aaron and Hur were still loyally at his side, likely eager to help, but they wisely concluded that the burden of holding the rod of God and raising it high into the air were Moses’ tasks alone. The job was not theirs to do. They were clearly unwilling to simply leave their friend without assist, content with the conclusion that it wasn’t their problem. They had not been called as prophets, and they had not been told by God to hold that rod in the air all day long, so perhaps simply watching was enough. But they were friends and fellow Israelites, and they were determined to help.

Sensitive to the limits of their prerogative but eager to be contributors to a worthy cause, they strategized a generous, respectful way to assist Moses. They “took a stone and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:12).

There are so many whose hands hang down. We can’t, and probably usually shouldn’t, take away their burdens entirely, but neither should we content ourselves with inaction. Sometimes the Rice Krispies are obvious and the job to be done is clear. Sometimes the options for helping are less apparent, but a willing heart, combined with personal initiative, informed by inspiration, provide an able formula for eager disciples to find a way forward as contributors. Worthy initiative taking is character building, relationship reinforcing, and community creating.

Whether the need is a fellow traveler with a burden to bear, a couple of new kids who could use a friend, or an unexpected, unexplained mess that needs cleaning up, pull up a chair, hold up a heavy hand, issue an invitation, solve a problem. Helping is at least as much opportunity as responsibility. Be “quick to observe” (Mormon 1:2), and choose to be heavenly errand angels.