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We visited a friend who, while still in the prime of his life, was dying of a debilitating disease. The malady had taken the use of his arms and his legs in just a few months, and now even speech was difficult, because he was losing lung capacity. It would be only a few more weeks before he died.
He spoke of how he didn’t want to leave his family, of how he loved it here and wanted to stay, no matter how beautiful the other side was. Then he voiced a regret of his life. “I have never had a calling in the Church, where I felt really needed.”
There are, of course, thousands of church members, particularly where the church is new, who feel needed to the point of burnout. They have known what it is to be called again and again to positions of intense responsibility that called upon everything they had to pull it off.
There are certainly too many bishops out there who struggle to fill the callings of high responsibility in their ward because they can’t find someone willing to take them on. It is perfectly fair to note that there is more than enough work and sometimes not the willing shoulders to place the challenge on.
Yet, there are more people than you think who feel just like my friend did. We sometimes joke in the church about the STP’s. That is the same twenty people in a ward (or a smaller number in a branch) who seem to show up for everything. Sign up for the cannery? They are on the list. Volunteer to set up for a ward event? Look to those same twenty people.
It may be, however, that those STP’s have learned to feel needed. One woman lamented, “All I care about is serving the Lord. I want to give my life to Him, but I have never been called to a position of responsibility. People say that you should not yearn for a calling, but I can’t help but notice that people who have demanding callings where they get to work with others or serve others say it has been a huge blessing in their lives.
“They speak of the rich association with other brothers and sisters in the ward. They speak of the love they have experienced among themselves. They speak of the unique opportunities for growth they have known.
“Who wouldn’t want that? I am not looking for some false prestige in a calling. I don’t think callings should be used to impress each other. I just want to dig in and work and be needed.
“I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I have never been called?” she lamented.
I once talked to a nationally prominent writer who equally lamented. “I have never been needed in the Church,” he said. “Perhaps, the Lord sees my writing as my calling.” His natural abilities had led him to be a leader in the community and in the nation, but he harbored the question that perhaps the Lord did not see him as worthy.
Now, of course, there are standard answers to these wounds. We shouldn’t aspire to callings in the Church. This is true. A slaving Relief Society president with her plate too full might legitimately say, “I would never aspire to this calling.” Yet these three people whom I have just cited would answer, “I’m not aspiring, I just want to know that I am needed.” This standard, easy answer doesn’t meet the deeper question for them
Another answer is that hoping to be more needed in the Church is to discount the idea that the Lord makes these callings. But then, our wounded three might answer, “Why then doesn’t the Lord see me as capable and willing? Is there something really wrong with me?” It is all well and good to know with Abraham that before this world was there were ‘noble and great ones’ whom the Lord made his rulers and that ‘thou wast chosen before thou wast born’ (see Abr. 3: 22,23). Was I simply not chosen because of innate weakness or inferiority?”
One could say that all the faithful were, in fact, chosen, and given the divine commission to spread the gospel in mortality, but still doubts might linger with our three quoted above. Not feeling needed is a pang that can work upon our vulnerabilities, our sense of insecurity. “I guess I am just not good enough to work in the Lord’s kingdom. The church doesn’t need me.”
That is a pain that keeps on giving, because it hinges on their very sense of self. Not feeling needed in the Church strikes at a very tender part of ones identity.
It is too easy a step to then travel to this place: “If the Church doesn’t need me, I don’t need the Church.”
So often, those who seek to assuage the pangs of the rarely selected for responsibilities are those who themselves have significant responsibilities. Unfortunately it seems hollow to a person who feels underused if a bishop says, “Your calling doesn’t matter in the Church. We all have a place in the kingdom.” The bishop certainly does. Somehow it isn’t comforting to hear that a calling shouldn’t matter from someone who has often been called to serve and whose life has been a demonstration of being heavily needed.
We all know that callings come and go. None is permanent. A Young Women’s president, no matter how much she loves it, will cycle out of that calling and she won’t be on the same intimate and motherly terms with the next batch of Young Women after she has gone. That’s true. That’s the way it is—and we need to accept with gratitude that we have been able to have these marvelous opportunities for serving, rather than lament their passing.
My husband, Scot, had been teaching gospel doctrine, when the stake president was released, and then called to be his co-teacher. The stake president always called himself my husband’s junior companion because he was new to the job. Such sweet humility in the face of our ever-changing callings, coupled with gratitude for having been able to serve, is noteworthy.
Of course, it is also important to accept the callings that come to us with gratitude, rather than ruing that we weren’t called to the position of our dreams. Being the Cub Scout master was more fun than I thought it would be, though I confess I was happy to move on.
Yet, the question we are addressing here is that sinking sensation of not feeling needed, and with it that accompanying feeling of not being seen, as if your strengths and capacities were invisible. Though it may register itself as not being needed in a calling, you can also feel unneeded if your opinion isn’t valued, if your work isn’t acknowledged, if you are not invited or included.
It simply breaks your heart to think that your worth has not been seen by those around you. It makes you rust if your talents are unused or under-developed.
A senior missionary couple who covered several wards were asked by a bishop in their area to go visit an older man whom they didn’t know. When they arrived, he was resistant, uncertain why they had come. “Why are you here?” he asked, certainly a little wary of becoming their project. At first, they answered, “We wanted to know if there is anything we could do to help you.”
Then, in a moment of inspiration, they asked a better question. “We were wondering if you could help us.” They explained that they didn’t know the people in the neighborhood and they weren’t sure the best way to teach the gospel in his area. Suddenly, when he was needed, he was full of ideas—and they were good ones, too. He was a valuable resource, a fountain of ideas and insights and he was more than happy to share them. No wonder he didn’t want to be seen as only someone who needed help. The missionaries, when the Spirit led them, discovered what he really needed. He needed to be needed. He had so much to give.
The senior missionaries really did need his ideas. This was no ruse to make him feel better.
Some kinds of people may be regularly overlooked. It is easy, for example, to assume that as people begin to get more mature, they are less useful in the kingdom or that they don’t need a job. It is easy for younger people to somehow see them as over the hill, discounting the tremendous wisdom and leadership skills they have gained over a long lifetime.
I know of a woman who had been a temple worker for 30 years. It was an integral part of her life, the thing she loved with her whole soul. What a surprise it was to her when the new temple president and matron called her in and released her, undoubtedly thinking she was too old for the job. She had not been in any way impaired in her duties, nor was she having health problems. She was released anyway.
Another man had been a young mission president in his thirties, then a stake president, but when he moved into a new ward of young, energetic people in another state, nobody seemed to understand his great capacity or recognize his strengths. He was a greeter at the door for 15 years in the ward. He magnified that calling like nobody else, but the sense of being put out to pasture was a real one for him. It led him to depression.
People seem to think that older people can’t have callings or don’t want callings and, too often, they drift into a sense of uselessness.
There are others who are overlooked—especially when the same few people recycle leadership responsibilities. If you aren’t seen as on that track, your leadership capacities may remain undeveloped, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The most obvious person for a calling may not be whom the Lord has chosen, but they may not be chosen if the bishop too often just turns to the usual line up.
What a deep well of capacity there is in women who have raised their children and now are empty nesters. Sometimes their husbands have significant callings, and they are left to be supportive at home—or provide refreshments for the gathering.
My husband serves in a bishopric at BYU where the entire ward has new callings every semester. It would just be so easy to only call the outgoing, the confident, the showy to lead the councils and be the Relief Society and Elder’s quorum presidency members. We feel, instead, that it is really important to be highly in tune, see what’s in the heart of the students in our ward, look for those who have not had opportunities before, see beyond someone who doesn’t seem to fit the part. Instead, the bishopric makes the effort to see how God sees him or her. What a good idea it is in this particular setting that more students have a chance to learn and grow where many, many get a chance.
In part, then, this article is a plea to leaders to have the eyes to see. It is a request to help others in your branches, wards and stakes to feel needed. It is not just some people who have capacities. Instead the Lord has passed capacities out in abundance among his children.
Some may not have had the polish of experience. That’s why they need experience.
My father was a high school principal and once a parent came to him, pleading that her daughter remain in the school, even though the family was moving out of the school boundaries. She had been with her fellow students all of her school years and now would be moving out her senior year of high school. My father answered, “Oh, we couldn’t do without your daughter here at school.” What a generous answer.
How great it would be if in this church, each had the sense, “We couldn’t do without you.” So much of that comes down to the sensitivity of leaders who really seek to make each person feel needed—not just fill openings with the most obvious choices whom you’ve already used before.
In saying this, I don’t disregard how very difficult Church leadership can be and how often bishops have to beat the bushes to find willing people to serve.
When You Don’t Feel Needed
What can you do if you don’t feel needed or that your strengths aren’t recognized? That is a question I would like to pose to the readers to answer below because in any organization—even the Church, there will be those who feel forgotten and underutilized.
If that is you—or even if that is you for this season—what can you do?
Sometimes, you have to affirm yourself by finding the places you are needed with the Lord’s help. You might have to decide that these don’t have to be places that are visible and that it is enough that the Lord recognizes your strengths. You can work on polishing your strengths even if others do not see you or give you that opportunity.
“Where can you use me, dear Lord?” There are endless places the Lord needs a willing mind and set of hands.
All of us have been called to work for the dead. There is no limit to family history and an excitement gathers around this work that is tangible. It works for any age. Start to work on pursuing family history in the evening, and beware, you may find yourself staying up too late because you are riding on a surprising high of interest.
We live in an age of richness because our new capacity for family history supplied by the Internet is met with a new and growing availability of temples in our areas. There is always work in the temple to do, and often the need for workers in the temple as well.
The people in your ward are dealing with heartaches and challenges. They need a friend. Your neighbor needs a good neighbor.
There are more complainers in the world than doers. Look around in your community and see where you can serve.
I have a friend, BYU professor Ann Madsen, who recently told me that this plea is a constant in her prayers, “Dear Lord, please help me keep the appointments, thou hast made for me today.” These are not the appointments that you have set up or engineered, but the invisible ones the Lord has carefully orchestrated for your life.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, reminded us: “Those who seek to lead may feel they are capable of doing more than what they are currently asked to do. Some might think, “If only I were a bishop, I could make a difference.” They believe that their abilities far surpass their calling. Perhaps if they were in an important position of leadership, they would work hard at making a difference. But they wonder, “What possible influence can I have as merely a home teacher or a counselor in the quorum presidency?”
Then he gave this powerful analogy. He said that some years ago in Darmstadt, Germany a group of brethren were asked to move a grand piano from the chapel to the cultural hall. The heavy piano did not move and the task seemed impossible. Then Brother Hanno Luschin said, “Brethren, stand close together and lift where you stand.”
Lift where we stand. That’s something to hang on to. Instead of dreaming of another place to work or be called, can I ask to have my eyes opened to help where I currently am?
Elder David A. Bednar said that his wife, Susan, prays every Sunday that she will have the eyes to see and be prompted to help the people who need her in their own ward. Can she see beyond smiling faces to the aching hearts and be inspired to know what to do? This is her personal prayer that attends her each week as she goes to Church.
That seems to suggest that if we need to feel needed, all we have to ask. We are surrounded by people who need us.
One day during the pioneer era, Joseph Millett found out just how needed he was. One of his children told him that Brother Newton Hall’s was out of bread, and so he divided their flour in a sack to send to the Halls.
Millett wrote in his journal, “Just then Brother Hall came.
“Says I, ‘Brother Hall, are you out of flour?’
“‘Brother Millett, we have none.’
“‘Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you was out.’
“Brother Hall began to cry. He said he had tried others, but could not get any. He went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord, and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett.
That night Joseph Millett recorded a remarkable sentence in his journal:
“You can’t tell me how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew there was such a person as Joseph Millett”
The Lord knows there is such a person as you. He is aware of your abundant abilities and those you haven’t yet discovered because he lavished them upon you generously. He has the perfect antidote for when you are feeling unneeded. Ask Him.
Know that ultimately God will provide you every opportunity for love and service you are willing to take—if not at church– in your family, your neighborhood, your world. Let not your heart be troubled if people don’t think of you. It doesn’t mean that the Lord hasn’t thought of you.