Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are continually encouraged to serve. We take meals to mothers who have just had babies. We drive our trucks over to help people move. We watch children, mow lawns, give rides, clean cemeteries, paint houses, restore sea walls….wherever there seems to be a need, an enthusiastic Latter-day Saint will rush forward to be of service.

What happens when the person we seek to bless doesn’t want to be served? What do we do when the gifts we long to give, are not well received? What happens when people don’t want us to share our testimonies or our talents? How to we respond to King Benjamin’s reminder that when we are in the service of our fellowman we are only in the service of our God? (Mosiah 2:17) How do we serve when others don’t want what we have to offer?

My children used to relish a Joe Scruggs song about giving the wrong gift.

“I got Mom a skateboard for her birthday.

Cause I don’t think Mom has enough toys.

And it’s something that she’ll like.

I can tow her behind my bike…

show her all the tricks I can do.

Other moms are gonna want one too.”

As you might imagine, the mother breaks her arms on the skateboard.

The book, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver tells of an overzealous Baptist minister whose brand of Christianity ends up destroying the African village he attempts to save, as well as his own family. We discover from the book that the minister was so convinced that what he had to offer was what the Africans needed that he didn’t bother to explore and discern their real needs.

Discern True Needs

Too often we give the wrong gifts, the wrong kind of help, the kind of help that makes us feel better because we are being of service to our fellow man, but not the kind of service that is truly for the benefit of the receiver.

I have often referred to Dallin Oaks levels of motivation. One of the most common motives for serving is the hope of a reward, either in this life or the life to come. However, the most righteous reason to serve, according to Elder Oaks, is out of charity, or the pure love of Christ. When we serve strictly out of charity, we have the benefit of the recipient in mind, not our own benefits.

When we serve with the needs of the recipient in mind, rather than our own needs, we will drastically change the way we serve. I once read an article about a mother who was bed-ridden throughout her pregnancy. Zealous Relief Society Sisters rushed to her aid, cleaning her house, painting her toenails, watching her children. The mother felt terrible. She grew depressed and gloomy. Finally, somebody brought her a basket of clothes to fold. They set the basket next to her on the bed where she could reach the clothes, and pitch in to help. The mother was so grateful, so happy, so delighted that there was something, anything, she could do to help. She felt far more blessed than she had when somebody else was doing all the work.

I can think of hundreds of examples of good-hearted people giving the wrong gift. I enjoy baking and make delectable cakes, cookies and sweet breads. Once a new family moved into our neighborhood, and I rushed over with a plate of goodies, only to discover that they didn’t allow their children to eat sweets. Oops. Guess that act of service wasn’t for the benefit of the recipient.

One of my sons received a dutch oven as a wedding gift. He is an avid outdoorsman, and relishes dutch-oven cooking, however, he was a college student when he married would move six times in three years. A dutch oven was something he simply couldn’t afford to ship all over the United States.

For years I worked very hard to re-activate a woman that I visit taught. I invited her to all kinds of events where she would be served, Relief Society, ward parties, women’s conferences. She was totally disinterested. Only when I needed her skills for an event, and called her to help did she respond and return to church.

Choosing carefully the way we serve can save us lots of wasted effort, and produce far more effective results than when we serve as an attempt to ensure our own salvation.

Gracious Receiving

Those of who are enthusiastic servers would become far become more effective in our service, if the receivers would be gracious even when we don’t get it right. Too often we get the proverbial door slammed in our face when we offer something that the person we attempt to serve doesn’t need or doesn’t want.

Opportunities to be gracious receivers occur constantly in our lives. When we attend a company party and are given two tickets for a free alcoholic beverage, or a solicitor offers us free pet-sitting and we don’t own a pet, or a Jehovah’s Witness calls and invites us to a regional rally, we can thank them for their consideration, and politely decline.

I am a tiny human being so often people give me clothes they have outgrown. Several friends have given me sweaters they have accidentally shrunk. Another friend finds bargains she can’t refuse, and I am the only person who can wear such small clothes so she buys them for me. I am touched that they even considered me when they had a sweater they couldn’t bear to throw away, or a bargain they couldn’t pass up. Even if I don’t particularly like the clothing, I am always flattered by the gift, and even if I can’t use the gift, I am still effusive with my thanks.

In the end of the Joe Scruggs’ skateboard song, the mother breaks her arms on the skateboard. Yet, the song whimsically concludes:

“[Mom] got out some nails and a hammer.

And she nailed that skateboard to the garbage can.

And when it’s garbage day,

she wheels the trash can down the driveway.

And she tells all of her friends that our garbage can can hang ten’.”

Such gracious receiving will result in positive feelings for both the giver and receiver and will motivate the giver to give more appropriate gifts in the future.

Gift Entitlement

Too often we expect people not only to give us gifts but to give perfect gifts, to “get it right.

” We are cynical about a gift that might be inappropriate. Some people even make fun of the giver, and dismiss the gift. Often wives will come into my office complaining about the gifts their husbands give them: one woman snubbed a set of herbs with pots to grow them in, another woman ridiculed an expensive sweater that wasn’t her taste.  

Such receivers feel entitled to receiving gifts and the correct gift, at that. The fact that the husband remembered the special event in the first place is a cause for celebration. The fact that he didn’t get the gift perfectly right is a cause for compassion. Receiving the wrong gift allows us to be gracious, grateful and to give hubby enough tactful clues that he can be more on target with his gift-giving in the future.

Entitled receivers can totally discourage gift-giving altogether. When a receiver is difficult to please or ungrateful about receiving the wrong gift, the giver will eventually give up.

We all have opportunities to be on both the giving and receiving side of gift-giving. As givers, the more carefully we discern others needs, the more effective we will become in our gift-giving. As receivers, the more gracious we are about an inappropriate gift, the greater the chance the giver will try again.