“I Have a Question,” Ensign, June 1999, 54–55
Response by Le Grand H. Woolley, an emeritus professor of pathology at Oregon Health Sciences University and an institute teacher in the Tualatin Oregon Stake.
Because of impaired health or other circumstances, some members are less able to serve than they once did and may have difficulty attending Church activities and meetings. It is often hard to accept these circumstances, but by adapting to them we can still maintain and develop our spirituality.
It is important not to accept the unforeseen difficulty as defeat. One of the greatest threats to faith and spiritual well-being is depression. When we are forced to cut activity from a higher to a lower level, there is frequently a letdown or mild depression, and when we realize the diminished capacity is permanent, the depression is often greater. Depression, particularly in men, frequently increases after 60 as natural abilities begin to wane (see Jesse O. Cavenar Jr. and H. Keith H. Brodie, Signs and Symptoms in Psychiatry , 207). Faith rarely grows in the face of depression and may even decrease. One of the keys to strengthening spirituality, then, is to maintain a positive outlook.
We can be aided in this by remembering that our contributions, while they may not be as great or as frequent as in earlier years, are still precious and fully acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. Two of the Savior’s parables help us understand this. One lesson of His parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14–30) is that when we have less ability but still do all we can, the Lord is willing to make us “ruler over many things” (Matt. 25:23). In another parable, the poor widow cast her two mites into the treasury, and the Lord indicated that her offering—everything she had to give—was more weighty than anyone else’s, no matter how much the comparative amounts (see Mark 12:41–44).
When we are tempted to believe that circumstances have put an end to our ability to work or contribute in the kingdom, it is better to understand that our work has simply changed. While it may not be the same as it was before, it can be equally valuable to our Lord’s kingdom and an inspiration to others. This may be a stage of life when our contributions can be more at the personal level, more one on one, than ever before.
In the latter days the Lord has said that we “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:27). The righteousness we bring to pass at this stage of our lives may be determined largely by forgetting self and by our own search for opportunities to serve.
Members whose capacities are limited nevertheless find many ways to share what they have to offer. One elderly widower, bereft of a companion to serve with him in the mission field, sacrificed part of his income each month to help support grandchildren and other missionaries; he felt he received many spiritual blessings from being part of the Church’s missionary effort. Another man, no longer able to get around by himself, continued sharing his testimony with old friends by mail. His letters were usually accompanied by a copy of the Book of Mormon or Church literature. An elderly woman living on a meager pension found she still had something very valuable to share with shut-in neighbors: time and a listening ear.
Many people with sewing, knitting, or craft skills make items that bless other lives; through the Church welfare system, some of these items reach needy people around the world (see Neil K. Newell, “Anxious to Bless the Whole Human Race,” Ensign, Feb. 1999, 24). Those with well-developed professional skills also find ways to use them. One retired guidance counselor laid aside some of the plans she had made and instead spent time helping individuals and couples referred to her by her bishop.
A bishop may be able to suggest many opportunities for personal service. He may need help with the ward calendar or bulletin. He may need help in keeping contact with shut-ins or in writing to missionaries. One elderly widow who had spent many years in missionary assignments with her husband took the initiative to encourage missionaries from her small branch by sharing wisdom, knowledge, and faith she had acquired.
One thing we should all be anxiously engaged in, where possible, is performing saving ordinances in the Lord’s house. Searching for our kindred dead and submitting their names for temple ordinances is one of the great works any of us can perform. “We urge all who can to attend the temple frequently and accept calls to serve in the temple when health and strength and distance will permit,” President Ezra Taft Benson counseled (“To the Elderly in the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 4). He went on to urge that older members be active in collecting family histories and leading the family, particularly in preparing for the temple.
Scripture study is one of the foundation elements of faith in all age groups and under all circumstances. Indeed, it is so fundamental to our spiritual development that it can be used as a barometer of growth; when the study of scripture is ongoing, faith grows, and when scripture study ceases, faith diminishes. Continuing scripture study is an excellent defense against the depression and apathy that can paralyze us into inactivity.
Finally, if health problems become so challenging that we’re unable to attend sacrament meetings regularly, the bishop or branch president may assign priesthood holders to bless and pass the sacrament in the homes of members as needed.
Let us prayerfully find the labor which the Lord desires of us, which he will bring into our lives if we “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” (Matt. 7:7) so that inspiration may be opened to us. The unselfish service we give at this stage of our lives can help lead us to that greater love Mormon called “the pure love of Christ,” which the Father “hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son” (Moro. 7:47, 48).
Despite age or infirmity or other conditions that seem to be limitations, we can still press forward and be like the servants Jesus spoke of who continue to lay up “a treasure in the heavens that faileth not” (Luke 12:33).