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Cover image via LDS.org.
This is the 155th post in the General Conference Odyssey. We’re covering the welfare session of the October 1981 General Conference.
I learned a lot from Elder Clarke’s talk, Love Extends beyond Convenience, and I was also introduced to my new favorite poem.
First, Elder Clarke pointed out that service isn’t just about willingness, which is what we usually emphasize. No matter how willing we are, we can’t serve if we’re not even aware of a need. And so a fundamental aspect of service is just that: awareness.
How many times have we observed a benevolent act performed by someone and asked ourselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Those who do the deeds we would have liked to do seem to have mastered the art of awareness. They have formed the habit of being sensitive to the needs of others before they think of themselves.
Second, Elder Clarke pointed out that one of the reasons that the Savior had to experience mortal life as we do was precisely to develop that awareness. This is a deeper, additional understanding of the familiar verses from Alma 7, which talk about the Savior going forth “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind…that his bowels may be filled with mercy…that he may know…how to succor his people.” I’ve always thought that verse was about empathy. That is: about understanding someone else’s suffering after you’ve noticed it. But Elder Clarke points out that there’s more to it. It’s not just about empathy, or about understanding after you notice. It’s also about noticing in the first place.
if we are to walk in the steps of the Savior, we cannot do it without personal sacrifice and sincere involvement. It is rarely convenient; but love extends beyond convenience for those who have conditioned themselves to look for opportunities to serve. I believe that the Savior was equipped to accomplish His mission not only through His parentage, but because of His thirty years of preparation in developing an awareness of and a sensitivity to the needs of His fellowmen. [Emphasis added.]
This is really one of those cases where ignorance is no excuse. It’s like the famous line from Dicken’s Christmas Carol, where the ghost of Jacob Marley tells Ebenezer Scrooge, “Mankind was my business!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
It’s not enough to serve when and where we see a need. It’s also our job to make mankind our business and to develop the sensitivity and awareness to detect those needs. This is how we convert righteous desire into righteous action. Speaking of which, I have to share the entire poem, “A Prayer” by the English poet John Drinkwater. Elder Clarke shared the last few stanzas in his talk, but I looked up the original and it’s my new favorite poem. Here it is:
LORD, not for light in darkness do we pray,
Not that the veil be lifted from our eyes,
Nor that the slow ascension of our day
Not for a clearer vision of the things
Whereof the fashioning shall make us great,
Not for the remission of the peril and stings
Of time and fate.
Not for a fuller knowledge of the end
Whereto we travel, bruised yet unafraid,
Nor that the little healing that we lend
Shall be repaid.
Not these, O Lord. We would not break the bars
Thy wisdom sets about us; we shall climb
Unfetter’d to the secrets of the stars
In Thy good time.
We do not crave the high perception swift
When to refrain were well, and when fulfil,
Nor yet the understanding strong to sift
The good from ill.
Not these, O Lord. For these Thou hast reveal’d,
We know the golden season when to reap
The heavy-fruited treasure of the field,
The hour to sleep.
Not these. We know the hemlock from the rose,
The pure from stain’d, the noble from the base,
The tranquil holy light of truth that glows
On Pity’s face.
We know the paths wherein our feet should press,
Across our hearts are written Thy decrees:
Yet now, O Lord, be merciful to bless
With more than these.
Grant us the will to fashion as we feel,
Grant us the strength to labour as we know,
Grant us the purpose, ribb’d and edged with steel,
To strike the blow.
Knowledge we ask not—knowledge Thou hast lent,
But, Lord, the will—there lies our bitter need,
Give us to build above the deep intent
The deed, the deed.