Whenever we go somewhere—whether it’s to work, on a vacation, or to a Sunday School Class– we take with us a vessel. For some of us the pitcher is empty, and we are hoping for someone else to fill it. But there is another group of people, those who bring a full pitcher, and then give to others of their abundance. The remarkable thing about this is that oftentimes we can choose which group we want to be in.
Sometimes life hands us blows that knock us off our feet, and even break our vessels. Sometimes discouragement seems almost insurmountable, and we humbly come to church with no vessel at all—just cupped hands hoping for a morsel of wisdom that can keep us going. We all crawl through humbling experiences like this, and none need feel ashamed when they are too depleted to give.
But in many cases we are not in such desperate straits—we enjoy comforts and blessings, glorious answers to our prayers. We are in the very position to help others, yet still we approach as if this is a one-way street, and we are forever to receive. These are the moments when we can choose what kind of pitcher we are carrying.
Having a full pitcher isn’t about knowledge or experience; it is entirely about attitude. When we come to a gathering with an outlook of giving and helping those around us, we belong to the full-pitcher group. We may lack information and expertise, but we offer up our hearts, our love, and our helping hands. We put others before ourselves, and show genuine caring and compassion. We haven’t come to take anything away, but instead to serve and to contribute.
The empty-pitcher group approaches classrooms and outings wondering “What’s in it for me?” or perhaps “What can I get out of this?” or “Will I have fun?” They sit back and wait for others to fill them up, entertain them, and make it worth their while. Invariably this is the group that most quickly complains that something was boring or lacked novelty. They might even skip the event altogether because they suspected they already knew the information.
One of my favorite travel tips that always ensures an enjoyable vacation is to travel with this same attitude. Instead of trying to get to every attraction or see every monument, slow down and hold the door for someone. Look around for a weary mother with a crying baby and let her know you understand. Help someone struggling with a map. Take photos for a family trying to pose for a group shot. Speak to those who look lonely. When we become outward-focused instead of inward-focused, we’re happier. We’ll enjoy our destination more. We’ll come home refreshed instead of frustrated by traffic, weather, or travel mishaps. Basically, and not trying to make a pun here, we travel on a higher plane. Our joy no longer comes from self-indulgent pursuits, but from being useful to those around us.
And, of course, the same principle works when we come home and get back into our daily routine. If all we do is hold out an empty cup, we are likely to take home that same cup, just as empty as when we brought it. But if we can approach church meetings, work, and social gatherings already filled, looking for those with empty cups, we find that our pitchers are not only overflowing, but are never depleted. There is magically always something we can pour into someone else’s cup.
This simple choice—to give instead of to take– has astonishing results: We find that routine meetings and events suddenly seem more worthwhile. When we approach gatherings with the purpose of helping those around us, we soon find we’re brimming with the joy that always results from service. We come home deeply satisfied, even with a lilt in our step. Our container is as full as when we left, miraculously filling again, every time we pour.
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Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.