I was asked last night to give a short 10-minute talk at church on Sunday. Brother Stevens said I could pick from any of the General Conference talks from last April. There are so many, it’s hard to choose. But I think I’d like to talk about service. As always, these opportunities to share coincide with stuff that is happening in my own life.
Why do we serve one another? Why do we wash each other’s feet, instead of our own? What does God want us to learn from these experiences? And what do we become as we serve and are served, bless and are blessed by others?
I have a few ideas, although just like life’s difficulties, trials, sadnesses, I think that the true meaning of our service to one another will not be fully comprehended until the next life.
Let me share with you three moments of service from my last week here in Hyde Park.
Last Thursday, I was walking up Woodlawn and about half a block ahead noticed two women and a young girl sitting at a lemonade stand. A whole congregation seemed to be spilling out from the First Unitarian church on the corner. And an off-duty ambulance sat parked on one side of the street. As I walked closer to the lemonade stand, I heard the gentleman driving the ambulance make a public announcement to all of the passers-by, something like “Attention. Attention ladies and gentlemen. Exceptional lemonade being sold by a nice young lady here this afternoon. Come and get it. Pick up a glass of fresh lemonade right here.” The little girl entrepreneur squealed with delight and the two women laughed. Another woman coming toward me smiled and asked, “was that an announcement for the lemonade?” and I smiled back, “yes.”
Friday morning, I was trying to ride my bike in need of a tune-up to an eye appointment. I would have walked, but I was running late, so I decided to chance it on my bike and then drop it off at the bike shop to have it fixed on the way back. Not four blocks out, my chain got stuck between the smallest gear and the bike frame. This had happened to me before, and I tried to yank it out with a plastic glow stick I found on the ground. That had worked the first time, but not now. It was really jammed in there good. One of the homeless men sitting on the cement wall in Nichols Park on 53rd stood up and said, “I know everything there is to know about bikes. Let me see that.” And he proceeded to flip the bike over, pull out his Swiss Army pocket knife, and pick up a stick from the ground. I watched as he and his buddy got that chain unstuck, one link at a time. Charles was his name. If you ever see Charles out there in Nichols Park, you should tell him that he’s famous for helping a young maiden in despair with her black Huffy bike.
One final experience. Friday afternoon, I had to go to the Social Security office on 63rd and Cottage Grove to request a replacement Social Security card. I sat in the waiting room and watched as the Security Guard kept the peace. He talked like a father to one of the young men going in and out of the front doors, giving him advice, for what reason, I do not know. He helped an elderly lady get her number, who couldn’t see the computer screen. And he kindly called out to a group of boys standing in the back corner, “Please take a seat and wait your turn. Work with me people. Tomorrow I won’t be here, but today, you’ll just have to work with me.” His kind disposition kept the otherwise sterile environment warm and humane. Hanging above his head was a curious sign that read “Thank you for choosing us to serve you.”
I thought about that sign. What an odd statement, really. I didn’t really choose that Social Security office out of all the offices to serve me. It was just the office closest to me. I sort of doubt that anybody else in that office had set their sights on that particular office and gone the distance just so they could say, “Oh yeah, the Social Security office on 63rd and Cottage Grove? Yeah, I’ve been there done that.”
Do we really choose who serves us? Sometimes, I wonder about our pre-mortal experience, now forgotten, and I ask myself. Did I choose this person to serve me so that I could make this leg of my life’s journey, so that I could learn this lesson? Did I choose this person to make poor decisions that affected me negatively in one way or the other so that I could learn to forgive in this particular way? Did I really choose this experience? Whether or not this is literally true, I have discovered that if I do accept all of life’s experiences as if I had chosen them, I find a lot of lessons to be learned.
Elder Carlos H. Amado said, “Kindness, love, patience, understanding, and unity will increase as we serve, while intolerance, jealousy, envy, greed, and selfishness decrease or disappear. The more we give of ourselves, the more our capacity to serve, understand, and love will grow. Those who serve will always seek to please God and live in harmony with Him. They will be full of peace; they will have a cheerful countenance and a spirit of kindness. Those who serve will strive to ennoble, build, and lift their fellowmen; therefore, they will find the good in others, and they will not find reason or have time to become offended. They develop the virtue of praying for those who criticize. They don’t expect recognition or reward. They possess the love of Christ. Those who serve will always be willing to share what they possess and what they know at all times, in all places, and with all people. Those who serve even in adversity will maintain a living hope of a better future. They will continue to be firm in the midst of a crisis because their hope is in Christ.”
I love the blessings that come from service. Just as Elder Amado says, our reward for selfless service and a generous, forgiving heart is peace, hope, and the love of Christ in our hearts. These powerful qualities transform us into Sons and Daughters of God and prepare us to live and love as He does.
Why is service so important? Because it cleanses and transforms us for the better, and that’s why we are here on earth (i.e. John 13:2-17).
I am so grateful to the many good examples in my life of people who have and continue to give of their time, possessions, talents, and hearts to me so that I can make this leg of my journey. Truly, each person who has done that for me is a living testimony that God lives. I am likewise grateful for the ways that I can contribute, opportunities to serve that are perfectly catered to my strengths. These are deep and rich blessings. The opportunity to serve and receive service at the hands of others is the essence of life.
I testify that God our Father lives and loves us. I testify that Jesus, his son, was the perfect example of service and that we will be profoundly happy as we strive to follow in his footsteps. May we all be blessed this coming week with opportunities to serve and to be served.