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What I Learned About Ministering from a Phone Call to the IRS

by | Jun. 12, 2018

Makes You Think

With the change from home and visiting teaching to “ministering,” I’ve heard many people say that it is really just the same thing with a new name.

While I understand the sentiment, I really feel it is more so what home and visiting teaching were supposed to be.

It was supposed to be for the service of others, but it turned into checking a box to feel like a faithful person.

It was supposed to be to bring love into others’ lives, but it turned into a guilt-ridden burden.

It was supposed to be about lifting up people’s days, but it turned into more than one stressed-out call on the last day of the month.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I saw an example of ministering that happened to me recently, in a place I wasn’t expecting. It illustrated what ministering is all about and how kindness and an effort to do even the basics can make all the difference.

I run a business, and well...we accidentally filed our taxes a few hours late.

Because of this, I got a notice in the mail of a hefty fine that no one—much less a self-funded startup run by an owner who won't get a paycheck until next year— would like to pay.

On the advice of a friend, I called the IRS to see if something could be worked out.

"Futile," I thought, “but, hey, worth a shot.” As my grandpa always says, the squeaky wheel gets the grease—or maybe it was replaced?

Well, after a surprisingly short wait time a certain Ms. L hopped on the phone. I explained my situation and confided that a penalty that big just wasn't possible for us to pay.

While I expected that she would be frustrated or grumpy with all the calls like mine she must receive each day, she listened intently, was super understanding, and then said, "Let me see what I can do for you."

Then that sweet Ms. L came back and said that she was able to completely remove the fee!

Maybe it was the fact that it was a Friday or maybe that I had been feeling especially soft that week after seeing my baby crawl for the first time, but tears just welled up in my eyes and I said, "Ms. L, I know you have such a hard job and I'm sure that people call in all the time to yell at you and complain, but I am just so grateful for you and how kindly you handled this call to help me. It really made a difference to me."

And maybe it was the fact that she heard the emotion in my voice, or maybe that she was just having a hard week too, but she started to choke up too.

"Honey, I'm just doing my job. If it helped you out, I'm grateful. You have a great weekend now."

"I will now, thanks to you!"

So with both of us crying on the phone, we hung up.

I know this doesn’t happen with every customer service call, but it was just one of those good news moments that I needed to hear after a really tough week.

Just writing this, I'm still all emotional and grateful for the kindness of strangers, for the little acts of humanity, for the generosity of taking a little bit extra time to be just a little bit more understanding. Because at the end of the day, folks, it isn't about the business, or the money, or the insignificant issues that pile on top of the weightier matters. It is about family, love, human connection, helping others—the other stuff just works itself out.

Ministering doesn’t take much. Sometimes it just means doing your job and throwing in a little extra kindness and understanding while doing it. Acknowledging good comments in class, texting someone who missed an activity, simply thinking of others the way Christ would—as people who are facing a variety of challenges, discouragements, or disappointments who can use a kind word.

So, Ms. L, thank you for teaching me what ministering truly is: to be a better person and bless the lives of others.

Oh, and thank you for showing me that there are good people everywhere—yes, even at the IRS.

Lead image from Shutterstock
Zack oates

Zack Oates

Zack Oates is an entrepreneur, newly minted husband, hot tubber, and blogger (but not in that order, necessarily). He lived in Ukraine for two years serving an LDS mission and started a nonprofit in 2008 called Courage to Hope, which works with victims of domestic violence. After working at an ad agency in NYC, he founded his first company. Four years later, he sold that startup and returned to BYU for his MBA. He has been a founder of seven other startups, rung the NASDAQ bell, has been to 36 countries across 6 continents and currently runs a new business called Ovation.

Check out his new book, Dating Never Works. . .Until It Does, or his blog, bowlofoates.com.

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