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The following is an excerpt from “Side by Side: Supporting a Spouse in Church Service” by JeaNette Goates Smith. To see the previous excerpt, click here. To get your copy, click here. 

Cover image via LDS.org. 

Husbands and wives who are equally yoked serve in the kingdom with the same enthusiasm, the same level of devotion. A husband may home teach a new family and his wife will invite them over for family home evening. A wife may visit teach a sister, and her husband will mow the sister’s lawn. A wife may organize a girls’ camp and the husband chaperone. A husband may baptize a new convert and the wife give a talk at the baptism. We know service is sweeter when shared with a friend. Working side by side in this great cause strengthens that friendship with your spouse.

Supporting a spouse means both husband and wife serve the Lord. So if your husband is anxiously engaged in the work, you will elect to be anxiously engaged too. With two anxiously engaged servants in your home, you may be a tad anxious at the depth and breadth of the responsibility that prevails in both of your lives. Your own plate will fill up rapidly, and you will be challenged to find moderation.

My husband and I have tried hard to discover balance while both immersed in service to the Lord. Living in Florida magnified this challenge.

We both grew up in the desert, so when we moved to Florida we were completely enchanted with all the water that surrounded us. We bought a house two miles from the Atlantic Ocean and a half-mile from the Intracoastal Waterway. We lived on a navigable river, deep enough to pull skiers and narrow enough that the wind seldom churned up waves. Within an hour’s drive, freshwater lakes, with cabins along the shores and white sandy beaches, were abundant. We absolutely could not resist buying a boat.

Our stake president laughed when he learned we had purchased a boat. “Mormons do not know how to use a boat properly,” he warned us. He was right. Our little bow rider spent most of its life in our garage while Bret spent his weekends on Scout campouts or moving furniture with the elders quorum. Any boater knows that to use a boat “properly” you launch it Friday after work and don’t pull it out of the water until the weekend is over, late Sunday night. Believing, behaving, and serving Latter-day Saints certainly do not use a boat the way the rest of the world uses a boat.

Does this mean Latter-day Saints have no business owning boats? I hope not. We all need some “R and R” in order to keep our batteries charged. However, we don’t spend the entire weekend on the water the way many avid boaters do. Finding a way to serve with all your heart, might, mind, and strength and still take time to recharge your batteries can prove to be quite a balancing act. You must relax a bit in order to have the energy to serve; yet, any time you spend attending to your own needs is time you could spend attending to someone else’s needs. How can you balance your capacity for giving when faced with the host of needs out there? I believe the answer is found by studying the principle of self-reliance.

Serve within Your Means

For years the Brethren have counseled the Latter-day Saints to live within their means. They counsel us to get out of debt and to get an education so we can support our families; they counsel us not to go into debt except for a home and an education. The poorest Saint and the richest Saint receive the same counsel—live within your means and don’t spend more money than you make.

One reason for the counsel is simple: if we live within our means we will not become a burden to others. Those who take care of themselves financially need never impose on others for financial assistance. Saints who follow the counsel of the Brethren and stay out of debt and live within their means are termed self-reliant.

The principle of self-reliance applies to our emotional resources as well as our financial resources. You can bankrupt yourself emotionally just as surely as you can bankrupt yourself financially if you give more than you possess. If you allow yourself to become discouraged, depressed, or “burned out,” that’s emotional bankruptcy. If you became emotionally bankrupt, not only would you be unable to give, you could potentially become a burden to others.

Have you ever known someone who worked really hard serving in a particular calling, and then when the person was released he or she became completely inactive in the Church? Do you know people who have had testimonies but who have become offended and left the Church? How often do people who serve valiantly for years suddenly decide they “need a break” and refuse to accept callings?

Folks in these situations are not only in spiritual bankruptcy, but they are also often in emotional bankruptcy. People who take good care of themselves emotionally as well as spiritually can avoid these pitfalls. Members who serve within their means can avoid emotional bankruptcy. They need never become offended, discouraged, “burned out,” or resentful.

We can all serve within our means and thus assure that we remain emotionally healthy. Serving within your means requires that you take these steps: first, discover your limitations; second, accept your limitations; third, honor those limitations; and fourth, reveal your limitations.

Discover Your Limitations

Your wonderful body will tell you when you are serving beyond your ability to bear. Your body will even tell you what activities in your life are causing the most stress. Pay attention to your body’s signals. When you feel pain, fatigue, or irritability that seem unreasonable, consider the possibility that you are overstressed.

Perhaps you are serving beyond your capacity. Members of the Church have shared with me the following symptoms they experience when they recognize they are feeling too much stress:

  • lack of patience (becoming short-tempered with family members)
  • lack of energy (finding it hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning)
  • back pain
  • neck pain
  • frequent and excessively painful headaches
  • sore throat that is not viral or bacterial
  • gastrointestinal discomfort (ulcers, diarrhea, reflux)
  • lowered immune response (the tendency to catch every virus that floats by)
  • insomnia
  • chronic cold sores and acne

Such symptoms, whether instigated by stress or exacerbated by stress, are the body’s warning signs to slow down.

When I was younger I didn’t think I had limitations until a painful lesson taught me that I did. One year our ward planned a temple trip to the Atlanta Temple, a six- or seven-hour drive from our home in Jacksonville. We met at the chapel late on a Thursday night, and we drove until morning, arriving at the temple just in time for it to open. Upon arriving at the temple on Friday morning, we began going through back-to-back endowment sessions. Most of our party stopped for lunch and ate in the temple cafeteria, then attended sessions again after lunch. I didn’t get to attend the temple very often because of my small children at home, so I decided that as long as I was there I was going to get in as many sessions as I possibly could. I skipped lunch and squeezed in another session. The rest of our party ended their day around 7 P.M., but again, as long as the temple was still open, I decided I would go through a few more sessions. All in all, I completed seven endowment sessions that day. On the way back to our hotel that night I stopped at Hardee’s and ate a hamburger, then I fell into bed exhausted and didn’t move the whole night (despite the fact that I was sleeping on a hotel bed!).

The next morning we got up early to complete some more sessions, and I felt awful. I felt nauseated and weak. I must have looked awful too, because while I was waiting for an endowment session to begin on Saturday morning, a kindly temple worker approached me and asked if I was well. I admitted I didn’t feel very well but insisted I was able enough to complete the session.

Around noon our party piled into the bishop’s motor home and returned to Jacksonville. I felt even worse on the way back. By Saturday evening I was doubled over in pain. For the first time in my life I begged my husband for a blessing. The priesthood blessing enabled me to make it through the weekend, and on Monday morning I went to the doctor.

An upper GI series of tests revealed that I had a hiatal hernia. Eating a hamburger with raw onions and sleeping the whole night lying on my stomach had enraged my esophagus. I received all kinds of medication and instructions, including “Never eat right before bed” and “Never sleep on your stomach.”

This experience taught me that I was not superwoman. I needed breaks just like other mortals on this planet. I needed to pace myself and give my body a chance to recuperate in order to continue functioning. If I had performed fewer endowment sessions and eaten dinner at a regular hour, I would not had to sleep on a full stomach. If I hadn’t been quite so exhausted, I would not have lain in the same position all night, allowing that raw onion to erode my esophagus. I might have spared myself a lot of pain had I accepted my limitations and served at a moderate level rather than working at a breakneck, record-setting pace.

Discovering your limitations and accepting your limitations may take some experimenting as you push yourself and learn how far you can go before “hitting the wall.” Once you know your limitations, you need to accept those limitations and resist the temptation to push yourself beyond your capacity. Pushing beyond your capacity can thwart your ability to serve at any level.

This article will continue in a future installment. Click here to make sure you don’t miss it.