Compassionate service is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart. As I thought about what I could possibly say to all of you today, I realized that you probably don’t need yet another person to stand up here and tell you that “compassionate service is good and you should do it.” You already know that. And so today, I’d like to talk to you about some of the barriers to and the blessings of compassionate service.
Problem #1 – We have too much to do already.
For many of us, I suspect that compassionate service feels like something that you have to add to your already-too-long to-do list. If you are anything like me, you never actually “get done” with everything you already have to do. Life just keeps happening, and things just keep getting in the way.
And since we’re constantly buried underneath our own burdens, it’s easy to feel like we’re utterly incapable of helping anyone else with theirs. We may think that service is something for those people who “have it all together” or have somehow figured out their own life’s messes.
The good news is, we can serve even when it seems like we don’t have the time, money, talents or strength to do so. Because ultimately, compassionate service isn’t about the work – it’s about the heart.
Barbara Thompson, former counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, said:
“Compassion means to feel love and mercy toward another person. It means to have sympathy and desire to relieve the suffering of others. It means to show kindness and tenderness toward another.”
Compassionate service. There are two parts to it – and compassion comes first. We have to love one another. We have to have mercy, sympathy and kindness toward one another. That kind of unity and compassion doesn’t happen when we’ve conquered the mountains of trouble in our own lives – it happens when we’re struggling in the trenches of life and we reach out to help someone else anyway.
As someone who has both given and received service in this Church, I can tell you that the feeling of being loved lasts much longer than the tangible benefit of the service you offer. A dinner might feed a family for a night, but it can warm their hearts for weeks just because they know that someone cares.
As Mother Teresa once said, ““It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
Problem #2 – We doubt that we can do enough.
I think one of the main reasons we shrink away from service is the fear that we are somehow not enough. We become overwhelmed with the tasks that are placed upon us – the task of bearing one another’s burdens, of mourning with those that mourn, comforting those that stand in need of comfort, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and so on. Although we know that we have been called and asked to serve in these ways, we also know that we will never be “enough” to satisfy all these needs.
But brothers and sisters, we don’t have to be enough.
Jesus is enough.
Heavenly Father is enough.
And whatever our best effort is…
…it is enough.
In the New Testament, we read about a certain situation where a large crowd gathered around Jesus. Matthew tells us that the crowd contained “about five thousand men, beside women and children” (Matthew 14:21).
In John 6:5, we read:
“When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?
Faced with such an impossible task, Phillip was probably very afraid. We read in the scriptures how he lamented that they didn’t have enough funds to give everyone even a little, let alone a full meal. He had no idea how he was going to fulfill this task – and, like many of us often do, he felt like had to solve the problem himself. That’s probably why the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the multitude away so that the people could go buy themselves food in the villages (Matthew 14:15). It was the only solution they could think of.
But Jesus had a better way. In fact, in the following verse, in John 5:6, we find out that Jesus had a plan all along. This verse says:
“And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.”
Before the problem presented itself, Jesus had prepared the way for it to be resolved. It wasn’t through manna raining down from Heaven or anything nearly so dramatic.
In fact, the solution seemed small and simple. As Andrew said:
“There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?” (John 6:9)
Most of us, I think, are familiar with the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. But are we so familiar with this lad, this little boy, who provided the way for the miracle? Can you imagine how he must have felt when the disciples came and asked him for what little he had – especially considering it might have been everything he had? He probably felt like Andrew, wondering ‘what are they among so many?’ Maybe he wondered what difference he could possibly make when he had so little and the needs were so great. He probably felt like his offering was not enough – that he was not enough – for this task.
But he gave what he had. And a miracle occurred – because Jesus blessed and stretched that small offering into something more. Something enough to feed more than five thousand people, with baskets left to spare.
And I think the lesson in that is more important than the miracle itself.
Our God can make great things from our offering,
no matter how small it seems to us.
We know, from those verses in that story, that Jesus knew ahead of time that the bread would be needed. He prepared that boy to be there, at that time and in that place, with that exact offering – and He knew it would be enough. But the disciples didn’t know that. And the boy didn’t know that. But they didn’t need to – they just needed to trust that if they did their best, a loving God would figure out the rest.
As we are told in Isaiah 55:8,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”
Whether you have one loaf and one fish, or five or ten or twenty doesn’t matter. Whether your strength lies in making dinners or yard work or caring for children or something else entirely, it doesn’t matter. Whether you have more time than money, or more money than time, to give in service to someone else is irrelevant. All of us have different gifts to give. All of us have different amounts to give. And that doesn’t make anyone’s offering any better or less than anyone else’s.
The only thing that matters is that you give something. Because out of that something, God can make great things.
Problem #3 – We are discouraged and overwhelmed
One of the challenges of preparing this talk was knowing that each of us here today are at different stages. We all have different abilities, different talents, and different circumstances that enable or impede our ability to offer generous compassionate service. The last thing I want to do up here today is discourage someone who is already doing their best.
As a mom of young kids, I know there are times when it feels like a victory to just survive until bedtime. Sometimes, doing our best looks like feeding our own hungry children, doing laundry to clothe our children, comforting our children, uplifting and teaching our children. There are seasons of our lives when the majority of our compassionate service is and should be rendered inside our own home. And that’s okay. That’s compassionate service and you should never feel bad for spending your time loving and taking care of your own family.
But we must never use that as an excuse or a rationalization when we feel the Spirit prompting us to reach out to someone else, no matter how hard that reaching may seem.
I testify to you, brothers and sisters, that God blesses those who give generously. This is a principle that I have seen demonstrated over and over again in my own life and I know that it is true.
I love to serve others and I am completely addicted to the “helpers high,” that euphoric feeling of joy that you experience when you serve someone else. I know that many of you know what I’m talking about, because I’ve been blessed to receive service from many generous people in this ward.
If any of you don’t know what a “helper’s high” is, I encourage you to find out! Get out there and give until you get it – and once you experience it, you’ll know exactly what it is and you’ll know that it is the Spirit speaking straight to your heart. It is amazing.
If you are looking for peace or comfort or happiness or meaning in your life, you can find what you are looking for by compassionately serving others.
Serving others is also a great way to distract myself from my own problems. When I’m overwhelmed, stressed out or just facing a problem I can’t seem to solve, it’s a big relief to be able to solve someone else’s problem! And I testify to you that I have experienced more moments of clarity, received more answers to prayer and experienced far more peace when I’m working for someone else’s benefit than I have ever experienced during moments of rest and leisure. If you’re looking for an answer or praying for peace, I would encourage you to get out there and serve until you solve it – because I guarantee you that God will bless you for your efforts.
As Christians – and especially as members of this Church – we all know that we are supposed to give generously and love abundantly. It’s part of the basic Christian calling and it’s what we do. And many of us do it very well.
But before I close, I would also like to add that in order to truly bear one another’s burdens, “mourn with those that mourn,” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” we need to be willing to reach out to others in our times of need as well. We don’t always get to be the solution to the problem – sometimes, we need help solving our problems as well.
We all know that many hands make light work. When we volunteer to clean the Church, for example, we want as much help as possible. The more help we have, the faster the work goes. If we all pitch in, we all get to go home a little sooner and everyone is a little happier and a lot less worn out.
We all know that. You don’t need someone – least of all me – to stand here and tell you that.
But the point is, we all have serious struggles in our life. They come at different times, in different ways, and in varying levels of severity. There are some people here today who are struggling in indescribable ways right now, today. And there are some people here today who are enjoying a bit of a break from the storms of life. And there are many, many of us who are somewhere in between.
But no matter what burdens we are carrying today, I think most of us would still feel more comfortable asking for help cleaning the Church than help carrying whatever our burden is – even when it feels like we’ve reached the breaking point. Sometimes, It is so much easier to be the rescuer than the rescued. I would always rather save the day than be the one who needs saving… but life isn’t meant to work that way.
“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
I had always believed that “God would never give me more than I could handle.” Oh, that sounds good, doesn’t it? I know I’m not the only person who has ever believed that or at least said it to someone else. It feels encouraging and it’s always said with the best of intentions.
But, brothers and sisters, it is a lie.
In fact, I believe it’s one of the worst kinds of lies – the kind that’s designed to put just a little doubt in your heart and a little distance between you and your neighbor.
Because if it’s true that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, why do we need each other? Why should you help me bear my burden if I can handle it myself? And if I can handle it myself, why should I even ask? Doesn’t that make me… weak? Irresponsible? Or maybe some other negative word that I really don’t want to be labeled with?
I think many of us think this way. And then, for fear of falling short somehow, we just don’t say anything at all.
And just like that, Satan has stepped in the way of our ability to serve one another. Because how can you lift a burden that you know nothing about? How can you mourn with me if you don’t even know I’m sad? How can you comfort me if you don’t know that I’m suffering?
I have been to the breaking point. I’m sure that many of you have, too. And I know that some of you may be there right now. And to you, specifically, I want to say this:
It is okay to need help. It is okay to not be able to do it all on your own. It doesn’t mean that you are broken or that you are not enough. There is nothing wrong with you – you are still a child of God and He loves you right now, in the middle of whatever mess you may be going through – and there are other children of God, right here in this room, who are ready and willing to help.
And more often than not, His help comes to you in the form of the rest of us – your brothers and sisters. As President Spencer W. Kimball said: “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.”
As we live our lives, we all have seasons where we can serve and seasons when we need to be served. And that’s okay – that’s how this life is meant to be.
Some of you may have noticed that I was supposed to give this talk a few weeks ago. I agreed to give the talk on a Tuesday night and I worried about it all week long. On Saturday, I had a severe anxiety attack and eventually told the bishop I just couldn’t do it. As a result, I received a very real lesson on compassionate service.
As always, our bishop was kind and understanding. He found someone was willing to speak in my place. Those who noticed that I was supposed to speak but hadn’t were understanding and non-judgmental.
One of the most effective forms of compassionate service we can offer to one another is compassionate listening. Even when we can’t do anything to solve a problem or ease a burden, we can always, always listen.
And sometimes, we can do more. Sometimes, we can do much more.
When I expressed my disappointment in myself and my frustration at my failure, my absolutely amazing sister-in-law encouraged me and assured me that I could do this. But then, she went one big step further – she even volunteered to give a talk so she could be here with me on the stand today to support me. This woman is amazing and I am so very blessed that she is my sister and my friend.
Her willingness to set aside her own nervousness to help me through mine is a testimony of compassionate service. It is a more powerful testimony than anything I could ever say.
I am able to stand here today because one woman had the willingness to bear my burden and to comfort me when I stood in need of comfort. Because of her courage, we are both able to stand and speak to you today. If anything I have said today has done any good, she gets the credit for that… because otherwise, you would’ve been reading all this in my blog because I wouldn’t be standing here now.
Brothers and sisters, my friends, it is my prayer and my plea that we will learn to give generously and love abundantly as we uplift one another through compassionate service.
(Except where otherwise noted, the images (including the quotes from General Authorities) were gathered from the LDS Media Library.)
This post originally appeared on NicoleThelin.com on March 30, 2015.