Last week, a group of Relief Society sisters asked me to speak to them. They’d been hard at work helping refugees and wanted me to share some thoughts about service.
Me lecturing the Relief Society, the women's organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on service is like me giving Pavarotti voice lessons. But they were offering lasagna and cheesecake. I couldn’t say no.
Fortunately, for the most part, I kept the focus off of me and on a person who deserved it.
Over the years I’ve seen many geniuses of selfless caring. But in the end, the example that hit closest to home was very close to home.
Pretty much everything I know about serving came from my mother.
Here are just five things I gleaned by watching her.
First, heaven is not life without suffering. Heaven is in the way we respond to suffering. If you can treat another’s misfortune with empathy, love and long-suffering, you’ve found a slice of heaven.
Our neighborhood was riddled with misfortune when I was young. My mother always wanted to write a book about it. She planned to call the book, “A Little Bit of Heaven.” She saw heaven in the way people in our neighborhood reached out to lift and love those in distress.
Second, wherever you can, personalize your service. In helping refugees, for instance, don’t see yourself as helping the masses. That quilt you make will go to some chilly widow or some struggling child. Wherever possible, create a personal, human connection.
Third, heal and help, yes, but also offer hope. What you say to those in need is also a form of first aid. Don’t use time-worn phrases. Speak heart to heart. One simple ray of light can change the way another sees the world.
Fourth, you may not have all the gifts, goodness and grace of the founder of Christianity, but if you humble yourself and ask, he'll bring his gifts to bear in your behalf.
And finally, no matter who you are serving, you’re serving a family member. Someone once asked Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, if he felt alone. He said, in essence, Alone? When I am blessed with 7 billion brothers and sisters? For mother, the family was a school for teaching us to see the rest of humanity like family as well.
As for my evening with the Relief Society sisters, I spoke my piece and took a chair.
Their comments were kind, though I suspect I told them very little they didn’t already know.
Oh, and the lasagna and cheesecake were first-rate.
To use one of those "time-worn phrases" I said not to use, a good time was had by all.