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How can we serve God with all of our heart, might, mind and strength? I had a first-hand lesson.
Almost four years ago, out of the blue, I received an email from my father informing me that in two weeks, he would be evicted from his rental home, and had no where to go. Could he come live with us?
I had been estranged from my father for 35 years. He left my mother, brothers and I for another woman. Together, they had adopted 7 children, and he had made it clear that they were now his family. Eventually, that marriage ended, those children were lost to him, and he married a third time; only to have that marriage fail also. The only real interactions I had had with my father over those many years were the few times that he had come to our home asking for money. He knew little of my life, did not know my children, and certainly not my grandchildren.
His plea for help came the day after our son’s wedding, and a few weeks prior to Annie leaving to serve her mission in El Salvador. With the wedding over, I was looking forward to giving Annie my full attention, and best efforts in her mission preparations. Having to rescue my father posed serious challenges. As is often the case, this service need was not at all convenient. I was sick to my stomach. The enormity of his situation was beyond overwhelming. What was I supposed to do?
With the support of my wonderful husband, who is more kind and readily forgiving than I, we went to visit my dad, to assess his situation. We found that he was living in squalor, without the physical or mental capacity to even assist in a moving process. He had no resources to speak of, no plan, and literally no one else in the world to turn to. I felt sorry for his circumstances … I wouldn’t wish that on anyone; but mostly I felt panic, anger and resentment. It seemed our only option was get to work.
Roger rented a dumpster. We rallied our children, and emptied out the house. But where did we go from there? We determined that he could not move in with us; we would have to find a different solution.
We filled our garage with his furniture and belongings. Then, we moved them to a storage unit, and then we moved them again. I spent days, then weeks; and eventually months and years contacting community services, and the VA. I researched subsidized housing options. I took my dad to appointments to address long neglected medical issues. I sat with him through multiple surgeries, and cared for him afterwards. I took him shopping, did his laundry, and fed him.
Roger spent hours on the phone negotiating with every payday lender in town to resolve dad’s debts. He met with the Social Security Administration, opened bank accounts, and tried to navigate how to provide the necessary food, shelter and care that dad could not afford.
I was employing my mind, my strength, my might to help my dad through the mess that he had created … but my heart? I’m ashamed to admit that I just couldn’t get there. I felt that my dad owed me an apology. I wanted him to recognize that I was making huge sacrifices to help him … and that he didn’t deserve it. But there were no apologies, nor was appreciation expressed. He was instead demanding, and sometimes belittling of me.
I made the determination that I would do what needed to be done to insure his safety, and well-being because I had covenanted with God that I would serve Him. I would do it for the Lord and hope that was sufficient. After many anguished prayers, I came to understand that the Lord understood my situation; and that it was okay … for now.
As I constantly prayed for help through this crisis, the Lord again offered assurances and instruction:
- He knows and loves my father – in spite of his countless poor choices.
- He would honor my efforts to serve; even if for the wrong reasons. He would help me; (and just to be clear, I knew it was not because I deserved the Lord’s help, any more than my father deserved help from me).
- There were still principles that I needed to learn and better live in order to be more worthy of His kingdom.
In the past 4 years, we have moved, and cleaned up after my dad 8 different times to facilitate the increasing level of care that he requires. Each time, has gotten a little easier.
Help has been nothing short of miraculous. The Savior has opened doors and removed stumbling blocks time and time again. Perhaps more miraculous has been the healing that has slowly taken place in me. I’m not angry any more. And though I don’t necessarily have that “new heart” that I’ve prayed for; the old one, with it’s wounds and scars has been softened.
In place of the resentment, my heart has been filled with compassion for my mortal father, and inexpressible gratitude to my Heavenly Father. I am indeed an unprofitable servant; but I am being changed and refined by the process of serving God.
An Essential Way to Keep our Covenants
Service to God, like faith, repentance, and obedience, is one essential way that we keep our covenants. It is a sanctifying process, through which we can become more like the Savior.
God can do his own work, but because the performance of service to His children can so profoundly change us, he not only allows, but invites, and even commands us to participate with Him in the work of salvation. We are instruments through which God’s children can receive and feel His watch care. I have always loved this quote of President Kimball: “The Lord does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.”
The word service, as used in the scriptures is broadly associated with active devotion, both to God, and to our fellowman. It is a positive term with reference to righteous duty, obedience, and usefulness. I like to view our service as an intentional expression of love and gratitude to the Lord. The scriptures are replete with references that explain this:
- As recorded in the New Testament, the Savior taught that: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (JST Matthew 25:40)
- King Benjamin instructed his people – and us – in the Book of Mormon: ”And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye many learn that when ye are in the service of your follow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
- He continued: “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another – I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls, yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2: 17,21)
- And, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord again commanded: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him.” (D&C 59:5)
But what exactly does that mean … heart, might, mind and strength? Perhaps it indicates that we serve him always, fully, with everything we have; and an eye single to his glory. Let’s consider each:
The heart is usually associated with love, compassion, and desire, which are, first and foremost, the highest motivations for anything we do. In 2 Nephi, we are instructed that once on the path of discipleship, we must “press forward, having a love of God and all men.”
might is another term for valor, capacity and courage. Often, service requires us to step outside our comfort zones, to reach out bravely in faith, and to keep striving, even if our efforts are unappreciated or rejected. Remember President Monson’s mantra: “When we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help.” As we serve, we will grow in confidence of our capacity to lift and love others, even to the point that we can exclaim, as Ammon did after his remarkable service – “I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.”
The mind is the source of intellect, understanding and experience. We know that the Holy Ghost provides a double witness as he speaks to our heart and our mind. So, our mind is a receptacle of revelation. In truth, we can only do the Lord’s work effectively by seeking the counsel of the Spirit, and following his direction. I have learned that “wrestling” with problems is an essential part of the service equation. We try to figure things out as best we can, and then we rely on the Lord to direct our ideas and for his solutions to be revealed.
The word strength denotes physical and emotional stamina, determination, as well as power. When speaking of service, I would identify in particular, the enabling power of the Savior’s grace without which we cannot accomplish His work in His way. We must not be weary in well-doing.
When I consider the many opportunities that the Lord has extended to me to serve in the organizations of his church, I can see how those experiences have shaped me – they’ve provided me perspective, invaluable experience, a greater faith in, and appreciation for the Savior’s interest in the details of individual lives. I see more clearly his abundant generosity, and constant tender mercies. I have been the recipient of his “rescue”, as I have been allowed to participate in the rescue of others.
Through Church service, I have been blessed with sweet association, and many most influential relationships have developed between myself and the people with whom I serve, or those for whom I have stewardship. Those friends have inspired me, enriched my life, and helped me to grow.
Perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to partner with the Lord in accomplishing his work brings humility as I recognize my inadequacies and am inevitably driven to my knees.
I’ll never forget the tutorial I received as a young mother, trying to keep my head above water, and survive my calling as YW President – an assignment by which I was entirely overwhelmed.
One night, in near despair, as I cried out to my Heavenly Father saying: “I cannot do this!” he offered these assurances:
- He knew me; my strengths and weaknesses; and he loved me … in spite of my frailties.
- He would honor my efforts – however feeble. He would help me.
- There were skills I needed to acquire, and principles I needed to learn from this experience in order to be more useful in his kingdom.
Service is meant to change who we are. What we gain in church service are the fundamental tools that allow us to make a difference for good – anywhere we serve. It is intended that we take those gifts; and share them wherever we are needed. We each have a personal ministry to perform, and it is not confined to the organization of the Church.
Jackie Gardner was the Relief Society President when we moved into this ward. She, along with so many others of this congregation, have been my leaders, my friends, and my mentors in service to the Lord. I have been a witness to, and a recipient of your kindnesses, your compassion, your faith.
None of us are surprised when we learn of Jackie making regular visits to Pat Merrell in the care center, or when we see Reed out repairing Jo Davies’ sprinklers, when we catch a glimpse of Owen and Deanna Lunt walking the neighborhood, but never getting very far, because they keep stopping in to various homes to visit and encourage people, when you notice Art Swindle gently guiding Ruth Lundgren to a pew in church, when you know that on any given day, there are literally hundreds of examples of members in my own ward family, and community engaged in quiet acts of service. We are not surprised, but we might express our admiration for their goodness by simply saying:
“Of course they do those things; that’s who they are!”
And that observation is true. But it may be more accurate to state in the reverse order: That’s who they are, because those are the things they do; over and over again.
I pray that we will experience an increased desire to serve the Lord with all our heart, might, mind and strength. It is my testimony that we will be changed, healed, and sanctified as we do so. Our efforts will be consecrated for our good. May we yearn for the condition, so beautifully described in a favorite hymn:
More fit for the kingdom, More used would I be. More blessed and holy. More, Savior, like Thee.