Monday, January 18, 2010

The Vital Counsel of President Monson’s “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”

We know that our prophet and apostles give us important counsel that will keep us safe from dangers we are not able to see ourselves. But it is all too easy for us to listen to their inspiring talks and fail to realize how fully they are applicable to the particular challenges of our time. For instance, when I first listened to President Monson’s talk “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”, I confess that I only heard words in character with the man who had visited 84 widows when he was bishop. It was easiest to understand his good will and think of it as the wish of a prophet who wants everybody be kind and loving to each other.

Yesterday I was reading something in a future Sunday school lesson about prophets and I suddenly had a desire to try to find out how President Monson’s talk was important for our time. There must be something there that would warn us of some sort of danger.

So I read through it again, several times. I marked it up and drew arrows and underlined and made marginal notes. And I found some very important nuggets.
The Savior taught His disciples, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:24) I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.
This is particularly important for our day because of the very difficult economic circumstances we are in. All of us who are in difficult financial circumstances are in danger of hunkering down so much that we become deaf to the subtle distress cries of others. When we can barely provide for ourselves, it is very tempting to narrow our focus and take an “every man/woman/family for himself” mentality. President Monson warns us here that if we live only for ourselves, we will shrivel up and lose our purpose and our lives.
Often we live side by side but do not communicate heart to heart. There are those within the sphere of our own influence who, with outstretched hands, cry out, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (emphasis added)
This seems to be counsel that we need to go beyond the shallow conversation of everyday if we are to comfort those with deep hurt. Even if we can’t take away another person’s struggle, we can alleviate their loneliness and isolation, which will make life easier for them to bear. Communicating heart to heart is another way that we can escape that shriveling self-centered focus.
How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often has day-to-day living interfered and you’ve left it for others to help, feeling that “oh, surely someone will take care of that need.”
We become so caught up in the busyness of our lives. Were we to step back, however, and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find that we have immersed ourselves in the “thick of thin things.” In other words, too often we spend most of our time taking care of the things which do not really matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, neglecting those more important causes.” (emphasis added)
Here President Monson gently counsels us to not pass the buck when we see a need that we can fill. Further, his observation about how we get caught up in our busyness and neglect more weighty matters suggests that we need to carefully evaluate our priorities. Are there duties that seem flexible which actually should not be put off? Are there duties that seem inflexible that should really have a bit more give? If two of our priorities conflict, which one wins and which one tends to lose?

This is important for our day because the struggle for survival can eat up a lot more of our time, which causes us to try to rush to fit everything else in the time that is left, when a careful examination of priorities might help us jettison the less-important time-stealers.

Blessings Promised

President Monson mentioned a number of blessings throughout his talk that would come from trying to help someone every day.

Energy and Satisfaction

Firstly, he mentions a Dr. McConnell and how this man spent 60 hours a week in volunteer work after his retirement. Dr. McConnell testified to an increased energy level and a level of satisfaction that wasn’t there before.

Aren’t those wonderful blessings? While others are worried and anxious and depressed about economy, we can be invigorated and satisfied.

Personal Growth
“…those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives”

President Monson quoted President David O. McKay: “Man’s greatest happiness comes from losing himself for the good of others.”

No Regrets

President Monson also quoted one of his favorite poems:
I have wept in the night
For the shortness of sight
That to somebody’s need made me blind;
But I never have yet
Felt a tinge of regret
For being a little too kind.
This suggests that one of the blessings of helping someone at least every day will allow us to look upon the past without regret. For anyone who has experienced painful regrets, this is magical.


The natural man will find this a counter-intuitive blessing, but it comes from a scripture that President Monson quoted.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis added)
Divine Approval
If we truly listen, we may hear that voice from far away say to us, as it spoke to another, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
I had never thought to listen for that divine voice of approval after helping someone.

Celestial Glory
The words from the 25th chapter of Matthew come to mind:
“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:34-40, emphasis added)
While this is not an earthly reward, it shows us that those acts of service (no matter how small) have eternal consequences and help determine our destiny. This reminds me of the following scripture:
And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42)
Even Christ pointed out that there is a reward for the smallest and commonest acts of kindness and service (like giving a thirsty child a drink).

What can we do?

President Monson anticipated that we would have questions about how to provide service every day when we have troubles making it through each day as it is. He told about the notes he got from people about what they did as service to give him his birthday wish (“Find someone who is having a hard time or is ill or lonely and do something for him or her”). He listed some of the things that children and youth did:
  • Assembling humanitarian kits
  • Yard work
  • Holding grandpa’s hand
  • Organizing and cleaning the toy closet without being asked
  • Babysitting for free
  • Bringing water from the well for mother
  • Giving mother hugs and kisses while dad is away for army training
  • Picking strawberries for great-grandma
  • Playing with a lonely kid
  • Visiting a woman who never gets visitors and asking questions and singing songs
  • Making blankets for hospitals
  • Serving in food pantries
  • Vicarious temple work
I thought it was interesting that President Monson didn’t list anything that the Relief Society or priesthood groups did, but when I thought carefully, it seemed that he did this not to denigrate what adults did, but to highlight how simple our service can be.

I had an experience in BYU that showed me just how a simple act of service can be more important than I thought. One particular day in my religion class, I volunteered to give the opening prayer. The teacher called on me and asked my name and major, and after I gave that information, he surprised me by telling the class that I had a beautiful smile and that it had gotten him through the semester so far. (!!!!!) He explained that he taught another religion class just before ours, and it was hard for him to switch gears between the two, and somehow when he walked in and saw me smiling at him, it helped him. I had no idea that a smile could help so much. I had observed how often he would walk in, with his head down, and a veritable grimace distorting his features, almost as if he were in pain. I hadn’t known why. Yet when he came in, I couldn’t help smiling because I loved his class and I couldn’t wait to see what we’d learn that day. I suppose I had been smiling with anticipatory happiness, though I have no idea what it looked like, since I was on the blind end of it. I don’t remember whether it was a grin or a smirk or a “big cheese”. But it taught me that even those miniscule positive acts have their effect.

Someone that had a similar effect on me when I was teen was my friend Rachel. We had early morning seminary and it always seemed to me that she positively bounced into the room, as if there was so much energy and good spirits in her that she couldn’t hold it in. I learned a lot about cheerfulness from Rachel. A cheerful attitude is an important service to everyone.

Once again, daily acts of service to others is the only antidote for prophetically foreseen recession/depression-caused inward-spiraling preoccupation with self.


What have I done for someone today?

What have you done for someone today?


S.Faux said...

This is a great post for MLK day. A very famous quote from Martin Luther King is: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" Thanks for provoking this memory.

Anonymous said...

This goes along with the new 4th purpose of the church, "Caring for the poor and needy". Pres Monson is definitely going to leave a legacy of service - and hopefully change us so we can leave a similar legacy.

Afton said...

Thanks for such a well thought out post. I'm looking up thoughts on his talk because I'm giving a lesson on it tomorrow. I really appreciated your insights into it, thanks for taking the time--impressive!