We’ve been given the gift of agency with the divine hope that we’ll use it for good. As the Lord once said to His eager Latter-day Saints, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27).
Church callings give us ample opportunities to be engaged in good causes: community service, youth mentoring, event planning, musical performance, financial management, and the list goes on. If you’re like me, however, being “anxiously engaged” in your calling can also look a lot like feeling generally anxious about all of the good causes.
All members of the Church are uncompensated volunteers, and we do our best to contribute to our local communities and congregations, with or without the qualifications we feel we need. Surely, we can give ourselves and each other a little grace in our imperfect service!
I’m no expert on Church service, but I have received a few pieces of life-changing advice from compassionate, wise role models who mentored me as an amateur Relief Society president. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in your calling, perhaps their advice will help you, too.
“Delegate or Suffocate”
When I was 18years old, I moved to Rexburg to attend BYU–Idaho. I was thrilled to be living on my own and joining a YSA student ward—until my bishop asked me to serve as the Relief Society president.
I remember walking out of that interview, having numbly accepted the call, and feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. The ward was full of people who were not only older than me but also much more experienced. They were returned missionaries, brilliant students, and skilled leaders; I was a recent high school graduate with little to my name besides a bamboo plant, a stack of thrifted textbooks, and heaps of naïve, unbridled enthusiasm.
Too prideful and too intimidated to ask for help, I tried to jump into my new calling by doing a lot of things on my own. You can imagine how well that went.
Later that semester, while visiting home, I stopped to chat with an older lady who lived on my family’s street. She asked how I was enjoying my student ward. When I told her about my calling, she bent over laughing. Seasoned with a lifetime of Relief Society leadership experience, this good-humored matriarch said, “Oh, honey, you’d better learn to delegate, or you’ll suffocate.”
For the rest of the semester, I practiced delegating. Communication was tricky. Getting over my guilt and insecurity, even more so. (I have more than my fair share of comedic anecdotes about my lack of forethought in planning activities, scheduling interviews, and coordinating with councils.) But I began learning to rely on my talented counselors, committee leaders, and friends.
Not-so-shockingly, most people were not only willing but also eager to help. I discovered that the women in my ward had skills and personalities that made Relief Society a haven of laughter, love, and learning. I’ve never seen anything quite like that group of college girls; they taught me that a willingness to delegate and contribute cultivates the sense of belonging we each crave at church.
Speaking to a young, overwhelmed elders quorum president, and the Church as a whole, President Henry B. Eyring said, “There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed [and] inadequate. Well, you are inadequate to answer a call to represent God with only your powers. But you have access to more than your natural capacities, and you do not work alone.”
Don’t waste suffocating time trying to do everything on your own, like I did. People want to help you! Most of them just need to be asked.
▶ You may also like: What you can do to support your Relief Society president
“Focus on Your Immediate Circle”
After a brief hiatus to serve a mission, I returned to college and, once again, was feeling overwhelmed by my calling in Relief Society. I’d been out frantically running errands when I received a serendipitous phone call from my stake Relief Society president asking how I was doing.
I wanted to give her a glowing report of everything that was going well in our ward, but I couldn’t. I knew of at least a dozen sisters in the ward who desperately needed help, friendship, and encouragement, but I didn’t have the time or means to reach all of them. If I’m honest, I didn’t have the energy either.
My attempts at a cheery response quickly gave way to an incoherent stream of insecurities. With all the love of an experienced mother, grandmother, and leader, she then gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received about Church service: “Just serve the people Heavenly Father has put closest to you. He’s put them there for a reason.”
That approach, to any calling, had never occurred to me. But of course, that was exactly what the Savior did! How many times in the scriptural accounts of His life do we read of His ministry by proximity, of how He simply served whoever needed Him most, moment by moment, place by place?
In Deposition of a Disciple, Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote: “I have on my office wall a wise and useful reminder by Anne Morrow Lindbergh concerning one of the realities of life. She wrote, ‘My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.’ That’s good counsel for us all, not as an excuse to forego duty, but as a sage point about pace and the need for quality in relationships.”
After I received that advice, I began focusing on the quality, rather than the quantity, of my relationships. I spent time with the women who’d been called to serve alongside me. I talked to my friends about the things I was struggling with. I visited my neighbors. I even called my younger sister more often. Though I wasn’t directly ministering to every single sister in my ward, focusing on sincere, Christlike connections made me feel as though I was doing enough.
To this day, each of those women has been an incredible friend and source of support. (It’s almost as if a loving, all-knowing God put them in my path for a reason! Who’d have thought.)
“You Can’t Pour from an Empty Glass”
Sometimes we’re overwhelmed in our callings not because of the callings themselves but because of everything else going on in our lives. Many of us have been in situations where the help we’ve been asked to give is the help we need.
Sometimes, serving others alleviates our burdens. Other times, it doesn’t.
As one of my wise counselors once said, “You can’t pour from an empty glass.” Serving others when your spiritual reservoirs are depleted is, almost always, impossible. When this is the case, we need to take time to recharge.
My favorite scriptural example of taking time to “refill your glass” is a two-verse interlude in the inspiring chapters of Alma and Amulek’s legendary ministry: After joining Alma in defending and preaching the gospel, Amulek lost everything, “having forsaken all … for the word of God, he being rejected those who were once his friends and also by his father and his kindred” (Alma 15:16). Alma, “having seen all these things” firsthand, “took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord” (Alma 15:18).
There was a lot to do. There were still Nephite cities that needed to hear the gospel and countless people who needed Alma and Amulek’s help. Yet none of that mattered so much to God’s inspired prophet as making sure that Amulek was okay. Grief-stricken, lonely, and heartbroken, Amulek was likely running on fumes, and Alma had the insightful initiative to drop everything and take care of his friend.
I’ve gathered strength and reassurance from that scripture on multiple occasions. It’s a profoundly tender reminder of just how deeply Heavenly Father cares about each of His children. The Lord will always engage you in the amount of service you’re willing and able to offer His other children. Your efforts mean everything to Him, but if you’re falling apart in the process of serving, something needs to change.
Check in with your bishop, be honest with your counselors, and rely on your loved ones—let people strengthen you in the Lord, as Alma did for Amulek. You may be amazed at how quickly your empty glass is filled with loving support.
The Myth of Magnification
One of the most common phrases associated with successful Church service is “magnifying your calling,” which means that you accept your assignment and give it all you’ve got. While no amount of earnest effort goes unnoticed by the Lord, this mentality can sometimes cause harm. The “myth of magnification” is that to succeed in your Church service, you must give 110 percent to every aspect of your calling. With that mindset, no wonder so many of us get overwhelmed!
What if we thought about magnification differently? A magnifying glass is used to focus on the details of a singular object, like the dazzlingly vivid scales of a butterfly wing. What if “magnification,” as the Lord intends, were as simple and inspiring as using a magnifying glass? What if “magnifying your calling” simply meant having a single focus? What if it meant taking a close look at the most important part of your service, rather than trying to comprehend an overwhelming aerial view of the entire spiritual landscape?
I’d always interpreted Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–28 as a commandment to be productive in as many righteous ways as possible. Only recently did I realize how much it would have helped if I had internalized the entire passage of scripture:
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (emphasis added).
To me, that sounds as though our loving Father in Heaven is interested in seeing how we choose to serve. Sure, callings can be great opportunities to grow and develop new skills. But they can also be chances for us to share the skills and interests we already have.
Maybe the best thing you can contribute to your calling is your perspective—a magnification of the parts of the gospel that are the most dear to you, like the principle of friendship, the influence of good music, the need for organization, or the power of loving service.
As President Russell M. Nelson emphatically said, “We need you! We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, your voices.”
In my experience, this perspective of “magnifying” our callings can not only help keep us from feeling overwhelmed—it can also fill us with joy in service and confidence in our abilities. In simply “doing good,” as the Savior did, our callings can become natural channels of spiritual strength. Let the Lord show you what to magnify, and you may find it almost impossible to not be “anxiously engaged” in the stunning beauty of simplicity that His Spirit will reveal to you.