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I think we’ve all heard talks and testimonies wherein someone mentions how much it meant to them that someone visited or served in some way without being assigned.
When someone gives from a generous heart, with no thought of reward or duty, it grabs us by the sleeve. We know their love is sincere. And that’s not to say we’re all insincere when we perform assignments, it’s just that the recipient knows we care for certain when we jump in without a push. The spontaneous gesture, the sudden impulse to help—these seem to be the gifts of the spirit that touch others’ hearts the most.
Some of us are so accustomed to callings and assignments that we get into the habit of waiting for someone to ask us to serve. We stop self-initiating because we know our phone will ring soon enough, with appeals of all kinds. And even those who accept these requests willingly can fall into the “waiting rut,” rarely doing something just to do it.
But what an impression it can make. “Wait. You mean you mowed my lawn just to be nice—you mean you’re not my new home teacher or something?” Or “You just brought me a pie out of the blue? I’m not even sick, and here you are?” Kindness that springs up this way leaves a lasting impression.
The reverse happens, as well. As a Relief Society President I’ve occasionally heard sisters complain that they are only visited in a rush, and at the end of the month, as if it’s just to check off a box. How much more meaningful an extra call would be, or the extra effort to come by earlier.
And while we’re on the subject of discounting assigned service, I’d like to dispel a myth. Mostly it applies in marriage when a spouse asks his or her mate to do some thoughtful thing, and then the person does it, only to be greeted with a scoff, since they had to be asked. They seem to think that if it didn’t come from an original thought, it somehow doesn’t count. I’ve told people in speeches and in articles, not to dismiss efforts that resulted from a heartfelt request. Rather, they should mean even more.
Here’s why. Let’s say a woman asks her husband to cook a meal once in a while. The man who attempts this, despite his aversion to it, despite his complete lack of confidence and skill, is actually presenting a greater gift than is the husband who loves to cook and would do it anyway, whether it meant something to his wife or not. It’s a little like the widow’s mite—he’s giving something from a dry well, from an area where he is completely lacking. And he’s doing it solely to please the woman he loves. Wow. When someone goes outside their comfort zone to honor and delight their spouse, we should be grateful, not resentful simply because they didn’t think of it themselves.
It works both ways. I’ve seen loving women strap on helmets, attend ballgames, get scuba certified, and explore scary caves that they would never normally visit, just because it meant something to their husbands. The fact that it’s not their first choice of activities really does make it more of a gift.
Similarly, if you’ve found yourself resenting a kindness or a visit because you know the person was assigned to do it, don’t be too quick to discount their effort. Maybe they made time for you despite turmoil in their own life, and challenges you can’t possibly know. Maybe they were excited to get your name assigned to them, because now they can officially get to know you better, whereas before they felt awkward telling you they’d like to be friends. We shouldn’t presume to know what’s in someone else’s heart, and we do far better assuming the best motives. We all have busy lives, and plenty of other activities tugging for our attention. Be grateful when someone chose you over all the competing options.
My bishop has challenged us to pray a prayer that will always be answered. Simply ask, “Who needs my help?” He says a face will pop into your mind—it could be a family member, a neighbor, a co-worker. But you’ll think of someone. And by calling or reaching out to that person, we step away from the “assignment” category, and our caring will be unquestioned. And, by heeding promptings, God will know he has someone he can depend on to help his children. And more promptings will follow.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Don’t wait for a particular calling before you become fully engaged in building the kingdom of God.” Don’t wait for a temple assignment or a family history challenge or a formal invitation to serve a senior mission. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to help set up chairs, or take them down. Don’t wait for a missionary duty before sharing the gospel with those around you. Don’t wait for a sign-up sheet to bring a meal to a shut-in. Don’t wait for someone to assign you to greet newcomers; just be welcoming and friendly. We should all be anticipators—people on the lookout for needs, people who then meet them.
I also like what Chieko Okazaki once said: “Our real calling to be a compassionate Christian came when we stepped out of the waters of baptism… we don’t need a bishop’s assignment to be kind. We don’t need to sign up to be thoughtful. We don’t need to be sustained by our wards to be sensitive.”
We just need to jump in and serve.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books and YouTube Mom videos are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.