Monday, September 29, 2008

Service Soothes

In our LDS culture we possess a wonderful tradition---that of rendering service to those in need. This magical balm heals the hearts of those in distress, and those who reach out to help.

My first experience with this kind of thing took place in my youth. There were many times when I witnessed my mother helping those around her. Among other things, she often babysat for busy young mothers when I was quite young. I remember wandering into the living room one day when I was about nine years old and seeing my mother rock a tiny baby, trying to ease his young heart. She later explained that this baby was suffering from what is now known as fetal alcohol syndrome. His mother was an alcoholic---a neighbor who lived down the road from our house. This young woman had brought her baby over for my mother to tend, then she had disappeared for a day or two. My mother patiently attended to the baby's needs until his mother returned, contrite and suffering from yet another alcoholic binge. I remember how patient my mother was in trying to teach this young woman the fine art of mothering. I'm not sure what ever happened with that family---we moved from the area for a time and lost track of them. But I'm sure my mother was of greater help than she ever fully realized.

As a teen, I was often given the chance to assist my mother as she continued with her knack for helping those around her. When the tiny baby of a local seminary teacher passed away, my mother not only asked me to help her put a meal together to take over to the grieving family, but she then insisted that I come with her to deliver it. I was appalled. I didn't know what to say or do and I dreaded making this visit. Through my mother's example, I quickly learned that it didn't matter so much what was said or done---the important thing was being there, offering solace in a quiet manner as directed by the Spirit.

The years passed by and I began learning for myself why service is so important. Not only does it fulfill a crucial need---we also gain so much from helping those around us. I saw a huge example of this the summer I worked as a nurses' aid at the local hospital. I had just graduated from what was then called, Ricks College, and my parents, who were both employed at the hospital (my father was the hospital pharmacist, my mother was a CNA), had managed to secure a position for me at the nursing home end of this facility. I was not amused to learn this upon my arrival home. I envisioned horrendous things that I would be called upon to do and cringed. But jobs were hard to come by in this small community and I grudgingly accepted. I was unprepared for what transpired next. It wasn't as bad as I had first thought. I actually enjoyed working in that challenging environment. My heart seemed to sing within as I helped those who through illness were unable to care for themselves. I distinctly remember one morning, feeling like I was floating on the clouds as I made up a bed for one of our patients. I marveled at what I was experiencing and discussed it with my mother later on. She assured me that the best feeling in the world occurs when we are helping others.

I also learned another important lesson---we are never too old or too feeble to be of service. One of our patients spent hours creating potholders, pin cushions, and cute notepad holders that she would donate to the hospital to sell to raise money for the hospital auxiliary. They were featured inside of a glass cabinet in the hospital foyer. The money raised from the sale of these items was used by the auxiliary to help fund specialized equipment for the hospital. The picture of this wonderful woman is located above. I've forgotten her name (don't make fun, it happens when one ages a bit) but I've never forgotten her wonderful example.

In the years to come, I learned that acts of service also help us heal when we're dealing with heartache. The days following the suicide death of my father were extremely difficult. Borrowing from a book I've been working on, here is an experience that changed my life forever: (I apologize for the mixture of weird text styles below---blogger had issues this morning. I tried to fix it several times and finally gave up. Sigh . . .)

My father had been gone for approximately six weeks when I received a phone call from a Relief Society leader in our ward. She called to see if I would be willing to help take dinner in to a sister who was sick. I am ashamed to say that I had to choke down my initial response. A part of me wanted to scream: No! Why should I do an act of service when most people treat me like I don’t exist?! I should explain that because of the circumstances surrounding my father's death, most people had avoided contact with me, not knowing what to say or do. I'm not excusing my reaction, just explaining why I felt that way. It was a combination of the grieving anger I had been experiencing after losing my father, not to mention the hurt over being treated like a non-person that nearly caused me to say something I would regret. Tamping down my first reaction, I sullenly agreed to take dinner into the sick sister in our ward.

Even after agreeing to help, I struggled with pangs of bitterness. I took out some of my frustration on the vegetables I later chopped for the clam chowder I decided to make. I was so caught up in my moment of self-pity that I nearly sliced off a finger in the process. I attempted to calm down by reminding myself that in the past, I had usually been one of the first to help out when a need arose in our ward. Unfortunately, I then reflected on how little had been done for me in return. It is never a good thing to dwell on our own pain.

We are told that “if a man . . . giveth a gift, {and} he doeth it grudgingly; . . . it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift . . .” (Moroni 7:8) How grateful I am that our Father in heaven was patient with me during that turbulent time. I received so much more than I deserved that night, I still count myself blessed by the experience.

A woman from my ward came with me as we took dinner to the woman who had been sick. We knocked on the door, then entered her house when we heard her feeble reply. This poor sister was so sick, she was bedridden. When I saw how ill she was, I was filled with remorse for the unkind thoughts I had pondered off and on that day. We not only dished up dinner for this suffering sister, but as a further act of service, the two of us joined forces in doing some light housekeeping chores before we left.

On the way back to my home, I felt like a piece of the iceberg that had invaded my heart had chipped away. I experienced an inner warmth that stayed with me the rest of the evening. I found myself wondering if I had stumbled onto a magical cure for heartache. I know I had been guided toward figuring out a well-known truth:

“Live in all things outside yourself in love and you will have joy.” (Robert Browning)

Why does it give us so much inner joy to help those around us? I believe it is in part because we become less selfish. We focus on others instead of ourselves. In essence, we are on the Lord’s errand. One of the benefits of that is to experience inner joy, even if our own hearts are heavily burdened.

King Benjamin put it this way: “ . . . when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)

It is an echo of what our Savior taught: “ . . . Insomuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

We feel good inside when we serve God, when we act in a way that honors the sacrifices made by our Elder Brother. As we reach out to others, ignoring the pain we may be experiencing, it gives the Spirit a chance to penetrate our hearts, to offer comfort when it is needed most

In the days following this experience, I found myself looking for ways to serve. It started out as an experiment; I wanted to see if that one night had been a fluke. It wasn’t. I learned repeatedly that when I was having a bad day, the best thing I could do was an act of service. It is a formula I still use to this day. When life bogs me down, I do something for someone else. The problems in my life do not disappear, but I gain a sense of inner peace not possible any other way. We always gain more than we can possibly give.

". . . sinew and blood are a thin veil of lace

What you wear in your heart, you wear on your face

If your life is unselfish, if for others you live,

For not what you get, but how much you give,

If you live close to God in His infinite grace

You don’t have to tell it, it shows in your face.”

Unselfish acts also show inside of our hearts. Service is an important stepping-stone on the pathway to healing. It is the best way I know to ease tremendous heartache.

Return to the Neighborhood


Anonymous said...

thank you for your beautiful story and inspiriation.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Hi Amber. Thanks for your kind words. =) Have a most excellent day. By the way, I became a grandma last night. Way cool! She's a doll.