The title of this lesson will cause the hackles to stand up on the backs of some people’s necks. The prevailing thought of today’s society is that what is best for me is what is most important. To say that I need to learn to sacrifice my own convenience for the welfare of someone else smacks too much of a codependent (unhealthy) relationship.
While modern society is focused on the "me," Christ-centered living always focuses on the "you." The attribute of charity, the divine attribute, puts others ahead of self. This form of putting others ahead of self creates the healthiest of all relationships.
President Hinckley quoted this scripture in the lesson: ‘Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.’ (Mark 8:35.) Note that the instruction isn’t to lose ourselves in the service of others, but to lose ourselves for the sake of God and the gospel he has given us. There is a big difference between the two reasons for putting others first in our lives.
When President Hinckley chose, as a missionary, to lose himself in his work, he covenanted with the Lord to lose himself in God’s service, and to forget about what Gordon Hinckley wanted. This change in direction changed his life forever. His focus turned to those who were struggling.
The Savior said that he came not to help the well, but the sick among us. He is always focused on those who have the greatest needs. And it is those who have the greatest needs who tend to be the most difficult to help.
Helping the right way
In D&C 88:67 it says, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you.” Here is President Hinckley’s counsel on how to serve with an eye single to the glory of God.
If the world is to be improved, the process of love must make a change in the hearts of men. It can do so when we look beyond self to give our love to God and others, and do so with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.
When we begin to serve others out of a profound sense of gratitude to our God then our service is focused on God and what He would do, what He would want, and how we can best uplift and provide opportunities for positive change in the lives of those we are serving. This is how we serve with an eye single to His glory.
Love is worthless if it is not demonstrated. We cannot love God and not love our fellow men. To love God requires us to demonstrate that love. We cannot serve God except by serving others. “This principle of love is the basic essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
We all have obligations in life. If it isn’t our family’s needs for our time it is our work’s need for our time. We have Church obligations as well as civic and social obligations. If we allow it those obligations will fill all our time and we will just spend our lives hopping from obligation to obligation, without ever learning to truly serve the way the Lord wants us to.
President Hinckley counsels that we each deliberately “resolve to dedicate a part of your time, as you map out your life’s work, to those in distress and need, with no consideration of recompense.” That last bit about making sure there is no recompense is important. If we do good because there is something in it for us, a benefit, then we are not doing good for the right reason. The reason we do good makes all the difference.
To be selfless by definition means that we do good with no hope or expectation of reward. We do good because it is the right thing to do. We do good because it brings us joy. Okay, so we can get that much out of our service. Doing good doesn’t mean you have to be miserable, it just means you should not be profiting in any way from it. Personal gain ruins the “service to God” aspect of our goodness.
Does God want us to serve others because He is powerless to do it himself? Of course not. What then is the purpose of us learning to forget ourselves and think first of the needs of others? There are many reasons, but here are a couple of things that come to mind.
- Selfishness causes worry and misery. Selflessness, the acts of tending to other’s needs before our own leads to gratitude and inner peace.
- Doing good for others as an expression of gratitude to our God helps to lead others to God and His blessings.
- The best cure for self-pity, despair, and loneliness is to focus on the needs of others and do all in our power to help someone else. The more we are able to lift others out of despair, the less we experience it ourselves. The more we help others the less lonely we feel ourselves. The more we witness the trials and pain of others, the less we pity our own plight in life for we see that there are many who have far greater troubles. Service to others changes our perspective and shows us how truly blessed we are.
Doing good requires time and involvement. This is where we get hung up and don’t want to participate. In order to help the aged who are alone in rest homes, we need to go spend time in the rest homes with them. To help a youth on drugs we need to spend time and commit to being there for them while they withdraw from the drugs. Those who are sick and homebound may be there for weeks, months, or even years. Are we willing to commit to such a protracted period of service? The service isn’t usually difficult, but it does require more than just a nod in their direction. Some love requires certain levels of commitment in order to be believed.
This is why many of us don’t do our visiting or home teaching. We don’t want to have to give up our precious time to go serve someone else. We tell ourselves a myriad of excuses as to why we “can’t” do it. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t want to. If those we have been assigned to help were really important to us, we would make the time by putting off a television show or not going out to eat that night and having sandwiches at home instead. Whatever would be required we would do it, if only we cared more about the welfare of those we are assigned to help than our own comfort.
The examples around us
Who are the most influential people in your life? If you list all of their traits and what it was about them the made them so influential to you, I’ll bet that one of the defining characteristics you mention is that they served you. You had their time and their attention. They cared about you. They cared about what happened to you. Isn’t this why mothers are so universally loved and so highly considered, even by tough people? If you want to pick a fight with someone, just start insulting that person’s mother. Mothers demonstrate quite powerfully the influence those who give of themselves have on others.
When the Lord talks about losing our lives in the service of others, my own mother is the image that springs to my mind. She is always present, even when far away. Her care and concern for her children make her love unquestionable and beyond debate. She accepts each child for who and what we are, even though she is always striving to get us to improve and be better versions of ourselves. Is this how we are with those around us? Is this how we are with our home and visiting teachees?
The Lord’s Church is designed to provide us with opportunities to serve others. Our lay ministry enables us all to support each other in our individual callings. We all experience failure and success in the challenges given to us in our time serving in the Church.
We don’t need to struggle finding outside opportunities to serve others. The Church can keep us hopping our whole lives, if we allow ourselves to accept the opportunities to serve that are ever around us.
Christ’s life was centered on service, just like our Father in Heaven’s life is centered on service to others. Their lives are the examples, the touchstone of happiness we are striving for. Only as we learn to serve others and put their needs before our own in the service of our God will we learn to be happy like they are happy. The nice thing about service is that as we do good in the service of others, and become happy in the process, we are helping others to experience that same happiness.