Times of stress also create opportunities. As the world reacts to the coronavirus and lives and schedules are disrupted in difficult ways, this is a time to refine our generosity and tenderness toward one another. I freely admit my professional work as the president of Latter-day Saint Charities is probably the best job on the planet. Representing the Latter-day Saints in their collective humanitarian efforts is a great privilege and joy for me. Lots of people contact me asking about a career in humanitarian work. Almost without fail, these individuals feel passionately about helping the poor and have been drawn to humanitarian service from a young age. They are ready to devote their whole careers to people in need and to help them find resources to improve their lives and circumstances. I love their hearts. Like Enoch’s, theirs are as “wide as eternity.” There is something about humanitarian service that captures the imagination. It does mine.
For more than 20 years I have been a witness to generous acts of love and service for Heavenly Father’s children who are in difficult situations. When I talk to people looking for employment in the humanitarian field, I sometimes ask the following: “Tell me about the person you minister to.” That question is often met with surprise. But if you are passionate about changing someone’s life—about truly making a difference in the world—ministering is the most basic kind of humanitarian work. There are college courses that teach development principles and disaster planning, but in my experience the theory is not nearly as important as the ability to perceive the spoken and unspoken needs of a person sitting right in front of me.
Jesus Himself gave the best humanitarian mission statement ever written when He said, “As I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 15:12). So simple to understand—so many variables when we put it into practice. If you want to be a good humanitarian, be a good minister; it is exactly the same work.
An Open Refrigerator Door
The 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants encourages us to seek learning by study and also by faith. Some needs can be discovered in conversation or by observing closely. Other needs are revealed only by the Spirit. A friend of mine, Julie, was recently serving as a ward Relief Society president. Her roommate describes walking into their kitchen and seeing the refrigerator door flung open but no Julie in sight. The roommate accurately predicted that Julie had received an urgent impression to go visit someone in the ward. Without hesitation—without even closing the refrigerator door—Julie went immediately to that sister’s home and offered comfort in a moment of profound loss. But how did she know? Julie said it was just a thought that came into her mind, and she has learned to pay attention. She said she wasn’t always so sensitive to spiritual impressions, but it was a skill she learned to cultivate over time.
President Julie B. Beck said as much: “The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life.” I worked with President Beck when she was the General Relief Society President in 2010. She told me that someone else suggested that revelation might be an important gift instead of a skill, but she felt adamant. Skills can be acquired and improved upon, even if we aren’t particularly gifted. That sentence encourages me. I can get better over time at recognizing the spiritual quality of an idea that comes into my mind or heart.
But How Do I Know If It’s Me or the Spirit?
I used to ask myself this question all the time. Moroni 7:13 is helpful: “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.” If it is a good thought that invites me to do something kind or expresses my love of God, then it is an inspired thought no matter where it came from.
Be as Generous as You Can
However, ministering is more than just being nice. It goes beyond bringing cookies or sending a text—although those are sometimes very welcome. At its core, ministering is a tenderness; an ability to see someone for who they are at their best and a willingness to help them with anything they want or need in order to be better. I believe this tenderness is exactly how our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ look upon us in all our mortal frailties. They want to help us be our best, and ministering cuts both ways. It helps the person who ministers and the one receiving the ministering.
I recently read a newspaper article about a hospice prison where inmates from many different correctional facilities are sent when they are nearing death. Other prisoners care for them in the last months and weeks of their lives. It is hard work. They try to do everything they can to ease the patients as they depart this life. Often the patients are harsh and yell at the caregivers, but the work has changed the lives of the caregiving prisoners. Many of them are practicing empathy and putting themselves in the place of another for the first time in their lives. Their own gentleness and compassion seem to increase. Ministering refines our natures even as it does good to others.
People may have physical, spiritual, or emotional needs, or some combination. I hope in trying to meet these needs, we are able to:
- Lead with compassion.
- Refrain from passing judgment.
- Keep confidences.
- Show love to others, even if their lives are different from ours.
May we be as generous to each other as we possibly can.
I Pray He’ll Send Us
In a world full of pain and difficulty, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that one person cannot really make much of a difference or that other people know more and can help better than we can. It simply isn’t true. The things that make the most difference in a person’s life are often humble efforts.
For example, a friend told me she was discouraged in college. Homework was a never-ending drudgery, the required subjects of study were not at all what she was interested in, and the pressure of getting good grades was causing true stress. When she was at a critical breaking point, one professor kindly wrote a comment on the bottom of an essay she had written. He simply said, “This is a good paper. Have you considered law school?” Those 10 brief words changed her whole university experience. She felt noticed and validated. We can never predict how our encouragement might change a life.
When visitors come to the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, they watch a short film that depicts various Church humanitarian efforts around the world. It is narrated by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and there is a certain part that I wait for every time I watch it. It never fails to stir me. He says: “The Lord answers our prayers, most of the time, I think, by sending other people. Well, I pray he’ll send us. I pray we’ll be the answer to other people’s prayers.”
As we deal with viruses and disasters and personal heartaches—ministering is the way the Lord sends us to each other. It is how we can each become the answer to other people’s prayers. It is revelatory. It will encourage others. It will refine our generosity and tenderness. It is part of gathering Israel. I invite you to join me in the greatest humanitarian cause on earth.