“What can I do to serve more effectively?” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 59–60
Ann Woodbury Moore, Primary teacher, Glenville Ward, Albany New York Stake.
During a six-month period, I accepted a number of Church assignments that pushed my limits. In addition to my regular service as Primary president and visiting teacher, I wrote and directed a road show; wrote a skit; substituted as pianist or chorister for various meetings; played the piano or organ at one wedding, two firesides, and four baptisms; provided food for a Relief Society birthday dinner, a homemaking meeting, and three branch dinners; gave a talk in sacrament meeting; transported people to and from meetings; and fed the missionaries.
Overwhelming? Yes. And yet we are urged to provide compassionate service to those around us and to serve in the community—all without neglecting our families. Although “be[ing] anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) brings great blessings, there is a point of negative return—overextending ourselves, or “run[ning] faster than [we have] strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
We all lead lives full of “should-do” items that compete for our attention, and yet our time, energy, and resources have definite limits. How can we feel good about giving volunteer service when we feel nagging doubts that we are doing too much—or not enough? How can we balance spontaneous service with our other obligations and still serve effectively? Here are some ideas that have helped me.
Serve for the right reason. Grudging, half-hearted service done merely out of a sense of duty can be spiritually and physically debilitating. There are better reasons for serving—reasons that bring joy, peace, and renewal. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “If our service is to be most efficacious, it must be accomplished for the love of God and the love of his children … rather than for personal advantage or any other lesser motive.” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 14.) If we feel a lack here, he adds, we can follow the counsel in Moroni 7:48 [Moro. 7:48] to pray fervently to be filled with love.
Serve where we are. Often the most important service we do is among our families or within our immediate social circles. We should not discount this kind of service; it may be routine and even unappreciated, but its repercussions can span eternity.
We need not seek unusual ways to serve beyond our circles just as we do not withhold assisting someone because we are waiting for a more novel or distinctive way to help out. Lobbying at the legislature can be exciting, but if our circumstances do not allow it, we can render helpful service at the local PTA or right at home. We can cheerfully magnify our present opportunities, such as helping our children with their homework, greeting co-workers with a smile, cultivating a friendship with a less-active member, or putting extra effort into preparing a lesson for church.
Use moderation in all things. “To you who feel harried and overwhelmed and who wonder whether you ever will be able to run fast enough to catch the departing train you think you should be on, I suggest that you learn to deal with each day as it comes, doing the best you can, without feelings of guilt or inadequacy. … No one can do everything. … Remember, our Heavenly Father never expects more of us than we can do.” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 95.)
Under some circumstances, we may have to decline requests that would pose undue burdens on us. We may have to say “no” or “not now,” or at least consider sharing the load with someone else or offering other viable alternatives. Some requests seem achievable at first but in reality are quite onerous, so we would do well to give prayerful attention before accepting them. And at the very least, we should not be shy to ask for help if we get in over our heads.
Involving our families can give us a chance to serve while promoting family unity. For instance, we could do landscaping work at the chapel for family home evening, let a child help make visual aids for a lesson, or participate together in stake musicals.
Dovetail. To dovetail is to combine two or more activities. For example, is it possible to double a recipe so that we feed our families and provide a meal for a bedridden friend? Or if I’m going shopping, is there something I can pick up at the store for my neighbor? If we plan ahead, we can find many opportunities to fill different needs at once.
Allow others to serve us. Service is a two-way street. We should never be so preoccupied in giving that we cannot receive. Rather than try to do it all ourselves, can we involve others by asking for their help? For one heavy Church assignment, I hesitated to request assistance because I knew how busy other members were. Then I thought, I’m busy too, yet I was asked to do this. Surely, if I can make the time to participate, others can also help. I received the needed help by prayerfully delegating assignments.
We can also call upon those assigned to help and counsel us: our home teachers or visiting teachers, auxiliary leaders, and so on.
Through it all, however, we need to remember the reason we serve: because we love the Lord, his children, and the way we feel when we give of ourselves to others.