22 January 2017
Based on a talk given in a YSA sacrament meeting
What can I tell you about service that you haven't already heard? That's the question I've tried to answer as I've studied for this talk. I've identified at least two different angles we can view service from. The first is what I call "along the way" service.
I believe we all have opportunities to do good for others every day. These opportunities are often small things, and it can be easy to miss them if we aren't looking. But when we think of service, these opportunities are what often come to mind.
I can think of several times when I have received service along the way from others. One of the times in my life when I felt the most love from another person happened while I was a missionary in Singapore. We had church from 1:00 to 4:00, and we often didn't get around to having lunch before hand. It was probably because we were just disorganized, but instead I'll use the excuse that we probably missed lunch because we were just working so hard all the time. In either case, we would suffer until the end of church at which point we could go home and eat an early dinner.
On one particular Sunday, one of the members approached us after sacrament meeting. She had made sandwiches for all the missionaries. That was pretty substantial too, because at the time there were seven missionaries in that ward. I was astounded by that sandwich. I don't think she knew we skipped lunch, but obviously the Spirit knew. It's hard to describe how grateful I was to that sister for that sandwich. After Sunday school and into the beginning of Elder's quorum, I tried to unwrap and eat it without making too much noise. It was a great sandwich—it even had lettuce and tomatoes and stuff like that.
There have been many other times when people have served me. One companion I had made smoothies for the two of us every morning. Last semester, I had a roommate named Kaycen who often cooked for us and other people like his home teachees. I was exceedingly astonished because he had the ability to make a whole pan of cinnamon rolls and give them all away without leaving a single one for himself. I asked him how he could do something like that. He said that seeing the happiness in other people when he gave them the food made it worth it to him. I thought that was profound.
By the way, I do realize that all my examples involve food, and no, I don't know why. I've heard about these five love language things. I don't remember what they are, but food must be one of them, and maybe my love language is just food. Or perhaps more plausibly, good food is a need that I often neglect myself. Before my mission, I sort of lived on cereal and toast because I was too lazy to prepare real food for myself. The need to eat was always pitted against my dislike of preparing food, so I would just not eat. Eventually the need to eat would increase enough that I would finally give in and find whatever was quickest to make. Hence, toast and cereal. In the MTC, I gained 15 pounds just because I started to eat regular meals again.
So now that you understand that about me, you can see why I really appreciate other people making good food for me. It fulfills a need that is often neglected. When your charitable actions meet the needs of those whom you serve, that is when you will have the greatest impact.
Jesus, of course, offers the perfect example of this service. He "went about doing good." But although his life was filled with various acts of service, there was one primary act that He came to earth to accomplish: the Atonement. This was the supreme act of service that only He could do. All the other good He did was an appendage to that great act.
Like Christ, our lives can and should be filled with everyday acts of kindness. But I believe there can be more to it then that. I believe that each of us has an important mission to fulfill in this life. If we focus on that mission, it will become more clear how our entire lives can be dedicated to others.
I recently finished reading a book called "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." It's about six people who were responsible for much of America's foreign policy after WWII and beyond. I had never heard their names before reading the book, but after I finished, I felt touched by the lives they had led. To me, this was not a book about 20th century American foreign policy. It was a book about individuals who had worn out their lives in service to their fellow citizens. They certainly had character flaws, but together they accomplished things that no one else would have.
Another book I highly recommend is "Mormon Scientist," the biography of Henry J. Eyring, father of Henry B. Eyring. He found something that he loved—science—and he dedicated his life to it. Although I've forgotten many of the details in that book, I haven't forgotten the impressions that were made on my mind by this man's example. He was so dedicated to his profession, but it was all rooted in a deep concern for those around him. There were people who had only met him for a few minutes, but the love they could feel emanating from him in that short amount of time had a profound impact on their lives. He also was a staunch advocate of the compatibility between science and religion. His ideas on this subject are a great service to many, including myself. Few other people have the ability to render that kind of service.
I love reading books like this because they give me so much inspiration to do similar things with my own life. It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind, focusing on the next assignment that's due. But these books make me excited, which by the way, is something that doesn't happen very often. They make me think that I really could change the world, too.
That being said, we don't have to accomplish great things in the eyes of the world for our lives to be successful. As a matter of coincidence, the things I want to do with my life do have the side effect of making me rich, famous and powerful, but that's not the point. All those things are only appendages to the greater goal I have of an eternal marriage and raising my future children in righteousness. (Speaking of which, I am single. Just throwing that out there).
You may have heard the idea that this period of our lives is a "selfish" time. A lot of our time is spent focused on ourselves as we pursue our education and careers. Maybe that idea is prevalent because we don't have our own families yet. In any case, I do agree that we should seek to fill our lives with acts of along-the-way service, but I don't think the purpose of that is to counterbalance all the time we "selfishly" spend doing homework. Instead, I think we should frame our lives in terms of service to others. We can make the end goal of all our current labor to bless the lives of other people, especially our future families. If that becomes the main focus of daily labors, it will also become easier to see the chances we have to lift others along the way.
I think President Monson is a great example of this kind of life. He's been in full-time service for the church for eons, but we also hear of how he takes the long way home, ministering to the one as he goes. This kind of lifestyle demonstrates what service is all about. Sometimes when I think of service, the first thing that comes to my mind is service projects. And then I think about standing around not knowing what to do because there are 50 people and it's really hard to organize 50 people. But service can be so much more than that. A description of service that I like is "love in action." That sheds light on just how important service really is. Service is the method by which we exercise charity.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26).
Choosing to dedicate our lives to the service of others will leave us with a reward far greater than we can imagine. Our own trials will become less important, and we will receive strength from God to overcome them with joy. (You might say that all your wildest dreams will come true).
I thought it might be fun to explain the practical side of how I'm trying to do this myself. If you've haven't read the 7 habits of highly effective people, I would get a copy and read it. Besides the scriptures, it's probably the only book that I genuinely think everyone should read. I read it right after I got home from my mission, and it gave me a deeper understanding of all the planning and goal setting we did. Fun fact: weekly and daily planning wasn't invented by Preach My Gospel (that blew my mind when I found it out).
Anyway, as per the advice of that book, I have a personal vision. Every week I review my vision and I use it to articulate the things I want to do in the upcoming week. A few weeks ago I made a major revision to my personal vision. I thought about the main things I want to accomplish with my career, and I thought about how those things serve others. I came up with a list of five things:
Those things might be revised as I go along, but right now they help me to see how all the time I spend doing "non-spiritual" stuff is really about helping others. More importantly, it will help me to make life decisions. Although I do like the idea of having wealth, fame and power, I don't want to sacrifice what really matters in their pursuit. As the scripture in Jacob 2 goes,
Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
I'd like to close with one experience that I have had. During my senior year of high school, I was trying to learn the New Testament scripture master verses. I wanted an app on my phone that would show the verse and then incrementally blank out some of the words so you could memorize it gradually. This was before the church made their official scripture mastery app, and at the time, there weren't any good ones available, at least not for Android. I am a computer science major, and I have loved writing software for a long time. So, I decided to make my own scripture mastery app. It was a lot of fun and it helped me to learn the verses. I made it freely available on the Android app store. It got over a thousand downloads, so that was cool. It looks good on my resume.
Then one day, I got an email from someone named Tony. He was from Austin, Texas and he was thanking me for making this app. He believed it was doing an enormous amount of good in helping people to learn the scriptures, and he said I would be amazed one day when I finally get to see all the lives upon which I had had a positive influence. Since then, I've had a lot of success related to my career and education, but so far, none of it brings me as much joy as when I get those opportunities to use my talents to do good for others.
As we make Christ the center of our lives, our lives can become dedicated to service just as His was. We will be blessed with opportunities to use our talents to help our brothers and sisters. Opportunities for small acts of kindness along the way will come naturally. And with these opportunities will come the joy and peace that only true disciples of Christ enjoy. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.