|Once, as a child, I found myself greatly |
concerned for a less-fortunate boy around
my own age.
I remember once as a child, maybe five or six years-old, going to a local church or community function and seeing a boy who I interpreted to be of meager means. His clothes were not like mine—likely misfitted hand-me-downs—and he didn’t have a warm coat like I did, and it was winter. I went home that night greatly concerned with his circumstances.
As my mother and I made up my bed with clean, still-warm sheets just out of the dryer, I asked her tearfully if that little boy was going to be okay. I wanted so badly to be sure that he would be. As far as I can recollect, my mother explained to me in simple terms that some people are less fortunate than others, but that many manage to get by each day—a challenging concept for me, her young son, to understand.
I sobbed a little more, and like I often do, begged a little more reassurance and affirmation from my mother. Somehow, she eventually soothed my anxieties, but I think I still crawled in between those warm sheets that night hoping that the little boy, wherever he was, had the blessing of sleeping in a warm bed, too. I will always remember that experience as I retrace the roots of my lifelong concern and love for my fellow mortal travelers.
It is likely that my desire to do good unto others comes, in large part, from my mother. All my life I have seen her serve selflessly and almost tirelessly to make sure her family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and near-perfect-strangers feel loved, wanted, appreciated, and cared for. She gives for the pleasure of giving, and loves for the reward of being loved in return.
|From cooking, to sewing, to crafting, my mother uses her|
many talents to serve others, and she has taught me to as well.
Between her excellent cooking and baking abilities, expert sewing skills, crafting, painting, woodworking, gardening, and numerous other God-given talents, there is always something that she can offer of her own two hands and gentle heart to brighten someone else’s life; certainly she does not bury her talents, but causes them to multiply and blossom to the benefit of others (Matthew 25:14-29; Doctrine & Covenants 60:13). She is resourceful and innovative, intuitive and inspired in her service. And it never fails that I feel the Spirit of God strongly when I see her service in action.
My mother has always tried to teach me that service is not something that we offer in exchange for fanfare. Indeed, my mother can render the most beautiful, thoughtful, heartfelt gifts to others of her own choice and freewill, and receive little in the way of acknowledgment or thanks for the almost-obsessive effort she puts into everything she does.
I have seen it happen many times over my lifetime. My mother is a woman who always goes the extra mile, even when she doesn’t have to and wasn’t asked to, probably just hoping that the smile of her benefactor will be a little bigger, or that their heart will be a little fuller. There have been times when I’ve thought I may have seen a tinge of disappointment in my mother’s countenance when her offerings failed to solicit the joy she hoped for or intended; but abiding her own counsel, she shrugs at those times and says something to the effect of, “Give what you can and expect nothing in return.” Though a noble philosophy, that answer has always pained me a little; but she has tried to make that lesson stick with me—that I can’t force gratitude from anyone, no matter how monumental I think my service is.
I’ve enjoyed giving gifts and offering service over the years, and I’ve found ways to do so almost quietly, imperceptibly, and as much as possible, without fanfare. I delight especially in opportunities for anonymous giving; there’s something extra special to me about taking no credit for my gift, but being able to be a standby witness of the fruits of love as I share what I have with someone else.
Generosity with anonymity, especially from a stranger, to me seems sweeter, and makes me feel closer to the human family of God’s children. John Bunyun, a 17th century English Christian writer and preacher captured this feeling in eloquent words by saying, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
When the charity I offer isn’t anonymous, it still brings me a lot of pleasure, joy, and fulfillment. My goal in offering charity is that, to some extent, someone else will feel the immense love that their Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ, have for them (John 3:16). Because I know that God loves each of His children immensely, I especially want to convey this wonderful message to those who might not be as sure as I am (Doctrine & Covenants 18:10). My hope in doing so is that somewhere another human being (especially those I particularly care about) is not feeling so hopeless, so alone, so rejected, so despised, so weak, so lost, so ignored because I reached out to them in a note, a letter, a card, a small gift, or even a phone call, text, or email.
|"Lead Kindly Light" by Simon Dewey|
Copyright © Simon Dewey
(Courtesy of Altus Fine Art)
I believe that illuminating even one soul with the light of Christ is a celebrated gesture in the eyes of heaven that I get to share in (Doctrine & Covenants 18:15-16). But lately, I’ve felt a great deal of discouragement in offering service and charity because, honestly, I think I’m losing sight of the true reward. The efforts I make to bring the light of Christ to others, I've felt, more often linger in the darkness of silence and distance (see Doctrine & Covenants 6:21; Doctrine & Covenants 88:50; John 8:12). Many times I am brought to the awkward point of breaking anonymity by straightway asking those to whom I gave something if they received my gifts because, frankly, I’m not entirely sure that they were delivered.
As I obsessively stress that my little bundle of love and joy is collecting dust in the fictional “Dead Letter” room at the post office, I receive an absent-minded response from the person saying something like, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” Not a ‘thank you,’ or an ‘I love it!’ just a nonchalant acknowledgment of the item’s receipt. And inside of me, all the hope for a happier day that I wished for that person, all the comfort and love I had imagined and re-imagined they’d experience completely crumbles. Even worse is when I know that the item was received—if after a considerable amount of time it wasn’t returned to me—and there is total silence.
My mother’s advice has fallen again and again from her lips in the past few months and has resonated in my mind. She often tells me that I have a unique, perhaps rare perception of the needs of others and a talent for reaching out to people in meaningful ways; and I recognize that in myself, and in her. Neither of us is attempting to be ostentatious by any means, but she and I both understand that we are similar in that regard.
We know the way we would like to be treated by others, and therefore we strive to treat others that way as often as possible. And because we hold courtesy and gratitude at a higher level than some others might, too often we find ourselves disappointed with the status quo: that not everyone is going to give thanks, give recognition, or even give a damn about what we do for them—and we have to learn to be okay with that, and even press on in giving to others still.
|As my service seemed to go unnoticed,|
I wondered if I should cut charitable
acts from my list of responsibilities.
That has been the hardest part for me lately. I’ve told myself so many times, with a spirit of disgruntled abdication, that I’m no longer going to send letters to this person or that because I never hear back from him or her. I’ve considered making “cuts” to my list of regular charitable acts to save myself from disappointment. I tell myself that I’m not going to give of myself unless I can receive some kind of eventual gratification. The thought has entered my mind that perhaps some people just don’t appreciate what I try to do for them; even more dismal are the times I wonder if people truthfully despise me and my (or anyone’s) efforts at charity. I suppose any of those hypotheses could be true.
Guilt has been a sort of odd emotion for me to feel about all of these issues, but it is there. I feel ashamed that I am allowing myself to be hurt, upset, or frustrated by people whom I perceive as not having the same standards of courtesy that I strive to display. Of course, I don’t always know of any extenuating circumstances they might be experiencing, though I try to hold that in consideration. Maybe they really did forget, even though they did appreciate my gift. Maybe they have to go out of their way to get to a computer or post office to send a reply. Maybe they are busy with their spouse or their children, or work or school, or some other responsibility and just don’t have time to respond. Even giving the benefit of the doubt, I still feel like the hypocrites spoken of by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, who “sound a trumpet before [them]” when they do their alms “that they may have glory of men” (Matthew 6:1-2; 3 Nephi 13:1-2).
|I've learned that the seeds of God's love|
which I plant with charity toward others
can be reaped by me and by those I serve.
“Verily,” the Lord says, “they have their reward.” And their reward is the praise and ego-inflating commendation they receive from others who witness their false modesty and less-than-humble generosity. I’ve considered this commandment of the Master as I’ve pondered what my reward is in offering service. The conclusion to which I came, which I am comfortable in trusting, is that my personal desire to give to others is not rooted in being seen of others. I do not aim to please the spectators of charitable acts who wait to applaud my generosity. I aim to have a positive effect on the life of someone else, and thereby please my God and Savior by serving as They have commanded me to. Important also is that when I serve I am (hopefully) bringing the love God to one of His children and allowing heaven to shine down upon my brothers and sisters.
My other motivation has at times seemed a little selfish to me, but as I’ve pondered it and learned more about it, I’ve felt reassured that I am not in the wrong. I speak of the knowledge and trust I have that if I make an effort to bless the lives of others, I will also be blessed in return. Even if my offering is not acknowledged or even accepted, I know that the Lord will find a way for me to benefit from it temporally or spiritually—and I may never know the precise way in which the blessing is returned to me. As Jesus said, “thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:3-4; 3 Nephi 13:3-4).
Some like to call this phenomenon karma—based on Hindu and Buddhist belief and tradition. The Lord Himself refers to it as a “law” which was “irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated.” Further He clarifies that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21).
The Lord Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to love one another as He had loved them. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” He said (John 13:34-35). This applies to all who wish to call themselves a disciple of Christ. We are all to love our fellow men and women as the Lord loves them. One way we show our love for others is by serving them. In this way, as we listen to the direction of the Holy Ghost, we become instruments in the hands of God in providing for the temporal and spiritual wellbeing of those around us who stand in need. As spoken by Spencer W. Kimball, former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “God does notice us, and He watches over us. But it is usually through another person that He meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), pp. 79-88).
|"From Darkness to Light" by Simon Dewey|
Copyright © Simon Dewey (Courtesy of Altus Fine Art)
As a child of my Heavenly Father, I have been called to serve my God, my Savior, and my fellow men and women. As one hymn declares, I have been “chosen e’er to witness for His name,” with the duty that “far and wide His love [I will] proclaim” (Hymn 249—“Called to Serve”) I try my best to take that duty seriously, and I find great joy in serving others.
I think to some extent I will always struggle a little with feeling satisfied that what I do for others is enough. But I take reassurance in knowing that true charity is the quality that will make me most like my Savior, Jesus Christ, and prepare me to live in His presence (Moroni 7:47-48). What I’ve learned about charity recently can largely be taken from a portion of the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-10).
When I feel discouraged, thinking that I want to stop serving others and giving of myself, especially to those who remain silent, I will remember that charity suffereth long.
When I feel inclined to be upset with someone who does not acknowledge my service in their behalf, I will remember that charity is kind.
When I want to be jealous of the seemingly-greater gifts given by others, I will remember that charity envieth not.
When I feel I want to boast in the service I give to others, I will remember that charity vaunteth not itself, and is not puffed up.
When I next feel tempted to break anonymity with the gifts I give, I will trust the Lord and remember that charity does not behave itself unseemly.
When I feel the desire to give to one but not to another, I will remember that charity seeketh not her own.
When I feel angry or upset because someone seems less than grateful, I will remember that charity is not easily provoked.
“Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have
appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which
When I am tempted to believe that I am not doing any good by serving others, I will remember the blessings of the Lord, knowing that charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth.
When personally I struggle to render thoughtful service to others as I myself am facing my own challenges, I will remember (if not just for my own sake) that charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things, as I strive to invite the light of Christ into my life and the lives of others.
Finally, when doubt creeps in, and the adversary attempts to convince me that I have failed in my efforts to serve others in love, I will listen for the whisperings of the Spirit, Who softly tells me that charity never faileth (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-10).
For I know that “charity is the pure love of Christ … which [God] hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ … and it endureth forever” (Moroni 7:47-48).