I don’t know one person who would say they’re not very busy. Doesn’t this seem to be the complaint of our era, that we’re all rushing and busy and have full plates?
Latter-day Saints have the same schedules as many: We go to work, study in school, raise children, manage homes, coach teams, serve in the community, care for aging relatives—and we ALSO volunteer in church callings, many of them requiring as much time as our actual paying jobs.
I once found myself feeling behind the curve in community service when I met with some nonmember women who were highly involved in civic and charitable associations. Then one of them said, “Of course, none of us volunteer like Joni does—she gives hours and hours every week to her church.”
I was shocked. I had never even considered a church calling to be volunteer work. Sometimes it’s so woven into our lives that we forget how much we’re actually serving. So perhaps the first thing we need to do is to realize we are giving. We are contributing.
But what’s the right amount of time to give to a calling? We often see two camps: People who become overzealous and exhaust themselves in their callings, and people who shrug off their duties and let others down. Hopefully we fall somewhere in between, but where? What’s the correct amount of time to devote to an assignment from the Lord?
First, I think we need to realize that this amazing, thriving church is run primarily by volunteers. Look at us: We are imperfect, often stumbling mortals who nevertheless succeed with his help. He matches and exceeds our efforts, and that alone ought to convince any onlooker that Christ is surely at the helm. Not only are we amateurs, but because most callings don’t last that long, we are constantly shifting duties and finding ourselves at the starting line again and again.
I think of the phenomenal work bishops do, most of whom already have full time professions that feed their families. Yet, miraculously, they also volunteer to do the work of a full time pastor of a congregation. It’s absolutely incredible, yet this miracle is replicated in every ward in the church.
It’s actually thrilling to be part of a giant organization running on miracles. By giving wholeheartedly we find those very blessings time and again. The question is, what constitutes wholehearted devotion?
Because our culture emphasizes excellence, sacrifice, and consecration of our talents to God, some Latter-day Saints treat their callings as top priorities, often slipping over the line into neglect of their home and family, or neglect of their health. These well-meaning Saints must remember what King Benjamin taught in Mosiah 4 when he said, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength…” (verse 27)
By taking our plans to the Lord, we can learn when we’re going overboard and getting out of balance. Remember President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s humorous example in his Conference talk, It Works Wonderfully in October 2015? He spoke of the Relief Society teacher who was “known for preparing flawless lessons. One time she decided to create a beautiful quilt that would serve as the perfect backdrop to the theme of her lesson. But life intervened—there were children to pick up from school, a neighbor who needed help moving, a husband who had a fever, and a friend who felt lonely. The day of the lesson approached, and the quilt was not completed. Finally, the night before her lesson, she did not sleep much as she worked all night on the quilt.
“The next day she was exhausted and barely able to organize her thoughts, but she bravely stood and delivered her lesson. And the quilt was stunning—the stitches were perfect, the colors vibrant, and the design intricate. And at the center of it all was a single word that triumphantly echoed the theme of her lesson: ‘Simplify.’”
President Gordon B. Hinckley often spoke about magnifying our callings, but never to the extent that they grew so large they blocked out the very sun above us.
No calling should become the “be all and end all” as Shakespeare said, superseding everything else in our life. In fact, when we become that single-minded about any good thing, it ceases to be a good thing. If we are neglecting Christian service to those in need, or putting our families aside to do something that could be delegated to another, we are actually falling into one of Satan’s snares.
It’s the perfect trap. He knows he can’t persuade us to become out-and-out criminals overnight, but he can easily convince us that we need to give more to a good cause, right? And more. And more, until it tips the scales and our families—or our health– suffers.
On the other end of the spectrum there are members who don’t treat their callings with honor and respect, giving far less effort than they know they should. As dependability wanes in society, we see traces of it in our wards as well. Nearly every time I’ve served in a group brainstorming about whom to ask to serve in some way, the issue of reliability comes up. So while some members push themselves too hard, others are too quick to give themselves a pass.
There isn’t really a finite number of minutes assigned to each position in the church. We are to pray about our callings and serve with absolute sincerity. I liken callings to jobs in the workplace: Whether you’re paid or not, your signature is on each of your efforts and it’s a measure of your character always to give your best. Yes, this involves some sacrifice, sweat, creativity, delegating, and organizing.
When I was recently released as Relief Society President someone asked me what I would do now with all my free time, and I thought, “I’ll just put it into the next calling.”
And, of course, there are times when I’ve had to push myself out of tugging laziness, and then pull myself back when my enthusiasm tips the scales too far. Like many things, we all have varying levels of performance in our callings, and we need constant vigilance.
One important thing to remember is not to compare ourselves with others who’ve held that same position. We were called because of our unique approach, not to copy the last person. Too often we come up short when we compare, and Heavenly Father wants us to rejoice in our service, not feel discouraged. Yes, many callings are terrifying because we know our weaknesses all too well. But take heart in the advice of President Henry B. Eyring when he said, “First, you are called of God. The Lord knows you. He knows whom He would have serve in every position in His Church. He chose you…The Lord will guide you by revelation just as He called you. You must ask in faith for revelation to know what you are to do.” (Rise to Your Call, October Conference, 2002)
Our devotion to our callings (and this goes for the callings of Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher as well) shows God our gratitude for his trust in us. If we were to report to him each week, would we feel good about our efforts, or embarrassed? Do we see him as our teammate, and does he know he can rely on us? Or are we just serving to be seen, without truly striving to please God?
We should give our callings the time it takes to honor God, whatever that amount turns out to be. Let’s rededicate ourselves to serve with our whole hearts and have faith, as our leaders have urged us to do. And then, instead of doubting or slacking off, let’s remember the beautiful promise in the Doctrine and Covenants: “… I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D & C 84:88)