Most of us are well acquainted with the responsibilities of service. I am sure many of you have baked cookies until your spatulas melted or baby-sat your neighbor's children until your brains sputtered. Occasionally when I am in such situations I fear my fatigue will slip into resentment, and then I wonder if being stretched so thin may not only prevent my developing new charity but actually diminish the supply I thought I had. I have learned, however, that though we may not have a completely willing heart every time we serve, such service molds our heart, blesses us, and does enlarge our capacity to give. We must remember, too, during periods of our lives in which we feel that all we can do is keep our own immediate circle of families or friends afloat, that emotional and spiritual service to others can sometimes be as important as physical acts.
My daughter, Mary, tells of being assigned to visit teach a friend but procrastinating the visit because her friend, who had three preschoolers and was pregnant with a fourth child, always seemed frazzled and frustrated. Mary knew she would want to shoulder some of her friend's tasks, but she also felt stretched to the limit with two preschoolers of her own, a husband in graduate school, and a demanding Church calling.
The idea of having three more children in her two-room apartment adding to her own children's chaos, even for only a few hours, seemed overwhelming. Yet, partially out of duty, but mostly out of love and a desire to lift her friend's spirits, she regularly offered to tend, clean house, and relieve her of some of her other burdens. Occasionally those offers were accepted; more often they were declined. Even when her friend accepted help, Mary could see little difference in her friend's mood.
One day, when Mary herself was having a particularly exasperating day, she called her friend—in the spirit of good visiting teaching—just to tell her that she couldn't help thinking of her and empathizing with her struggles. During that conversation, Mary sensed a gradual change in that sister's attitude, a kind of happiness she hadn't sensed in her very often.
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Near the end of the conversation, her friend admitted to feeling nearly ecstatic to realize that Mary, who seemed to be able to handle everything with grace and goodwill, was having a miserable day. The sister explained, “Mary, I am so grateful. I've never had anyone share their frustrations with me. They are always terribly concerned about mine, and they just know I can't handle any others. Your honesty has made me feel so much better. I didn't think you ever felt frazzled like I do. I have always thought you were perfect. But today I see that you are not so different from me. Maybe I am doing just fine. I don't really need help as much as I just need to know that I am normal. Thanks!” Offering someone our companionship and our honest shared sorrows as well as joys is as important as quickly finishing a physical task for them.
What I wish to affirm is that we do need to charitably share and serve—emotionally and spiritually as well as temporally—but we must fill ourselves at the fountain of living water, at the feet of our Heavenly Father himself, or we have nothing of real strength to give. When we connect with God, then we will connect with others honestly and compassionately. When we pay the price to see God, we become aware of how closely connected we are to each other.
In the book of Revelation, John writes metaphorically of a woman representing the power and righteousness of the kingdom of God. When her life was endangered, she “fled into the wilderness” (Revelation 12:6). God had prepared a place for her, a place of safety and strength and protection. In dark and dangerous days, God will provide for us safe places, even wilderness places (I take that to mean sacred places undefiled by worldly civilization) where he protects us against evil and nourishes us with strength.
Please allow yourself to take the time to go to that wilderness retreat now, that sanctuary, if you will—the temple, your own home, a place of privacy and revelation, a place filled with prayer and meditation and scriptural truths. Allow yourself to turn a few things down and turn a few things off. Seek to position yourself prayerfully in some solitude and serenity to receive the mind of God. Stop what you are so frantically doing and go into your private wilderness. Shut the door, turn out all earthly lights, set aside all earthly sights. Position yourself calmly and quietly in humble serenity until your prayer flows naturally and lovingly. When you feel God's presence, when you feel he is with you, you will be filled with a wonderful strength that will allow you to do anything in righteousness.
Thus filled and strengthened, we can return to the battle, to some inevitable noise and commotion and, yes, even some drudgery. But we do it more happily, more hopefully, more optimistically because we have communed with God and been filled with his joy, his charity, and his compassion, and we bear something of his light as we return. And because we are filled and strong, we can be a source of light, life, and love for others.
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Read more about serving others and finding peace amidst the chaos of life in Patricia Holland's book, A Quiet Heart, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.
Patricia T. Holland attended LDS Business College, Dixie College, and the Juilliard School. She married Jeffrey R. Holland in 1963, and in 1984 she was called as a counselor in the general Young Women presidency, serving with Ardeth Kapp. Sister Holland has supported her husband through his work and service as president of Brigham Young University, in the First Quorum of the Seventy, and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 2002 Sister Holland received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from LDS Business College for her community, familial, and church service. Elder and Sister Holland are the parents of three children and grandparents of thirteen.