The Heart of Charity
Prior to my baptism one aspect of the LDS church that deeply inspired me during my investigation was the church's emphasis on service.
Rather than my going into the details of the many service programs the church has created or expound on the myriad of opportunities we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been afforded to serve, or rather than describe how we have been commanded to be of service, I prefer to offer this quote by President Uchtdorf that I feel captures the general essence of service in light of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Preaching is fine, but sermons that do not lead to action are like fires without heat or water that cannot quench thirst. It is in the application of doctrine that the purifying flame of the gospel grows…”
Serving others is the one of the truest application of the doctrine of Christ.
We are all called to serve, and to serve with all we have and are, but beyond the obvious and holy purpose of easing the burdens of our brothers and sisters - why do we serve?
For more than 23 years, I have had the privilege of officially mentoring many men and women in recovery as they have sought to improve their lives. Now I am again privileged to serve, this time as an Inner City Missionary.
Over the years there have been times when I wondered if what I have offered in my service to others has been of value to them.
The challenge in evaluating service is that we have no accurate gauge with which to measure it - we cannot really know how our efforts may have helped another. Our perspective is myopic and thus very limited.
As President Gordon B. Hinckley has stated;
“You never know how much good you do.”
I have come to find that for this and other reasons, It is vanity to attempt an evaluation of the outcomes of my efforts to serve others. Service is ultimately not about a measurable outcome.
I am reminded of an event about 7 years ago when a young man came to me asking for my advice. He had many years in recovery and his quality of life and all aspects of his health had improved immensely over these years. In our discussion he revealed that his dilemma was regarding a young woman he wanted to date. This young woman was new to recovery.
One of the strongest suggestions in recovery is to abstain from getting into a relationship within your first year. This is sound advice as after years of modifying, masking and manipulating emotions with mind and mood-altering substances and wreaking havoc in all aspects of their life a person changes dramatically, especially within their first year of recovery.
Dating someone new to recovery can be very trying and dramatic. As the mind clears and the addict’s perspective rights and as they seek to repair their life and relationships there is inevitable turmoil.
During our conversation, He and I spoke of the potential issues and the probable consequences he would face should he decide to date a newcomer.
At the end of our conversation we agreed it was a very bad idea to move forward with the relationship, but it was clear he was going to do it anyway. I had offered my best advice and it was ignored. I was forced to surrender to his agency and so I wished him luck but my heart was far from being charitable.
As time passed their relationship went from passionate to disastrous. Aside from the financial destruction created in her attempts make restitution, there were deep emotional problems that surfaced as she began to deal with her abusive past. The many psychological consequences of her actions related to getting drugs, using drugs and finding ways to get more drugs became real and as her feelings about her past began to surface.
As my friend's pain in the relationship increased, I had an attitude much like we read in Mosiah 4:17:
"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just..."
But then I started to reflect upon the many times in my life where I had received good advice and had chosen to ignore it. I began to identify rather than compare.
As I began to identify and as I learned to objectively observe what was happening to him rather than compare myself to him and judge him, I began to see how this relationship was forcing him to grow and change - I started to feel compassion as my judgment slowly turned to love through identification.
I came to see that the experiences he was having were necessary for his growth. His "wrong" choices were turning "right", they were turning into an opportunity for his growth, an opportunity that he was taking advantage of.
Today, my friend is doing very well, he is able to hear and listen to good advice and he has the capacity to transfer what he learns into action often avoiding painful and repetitive choices. He is progressing in life and growing spiritually and we are both better men for him refusing to take my solid good advice.
This experience was the beginning of my understanding that just as I can never know how much good I do, I cannot know why, ultimately, someone makes the choices they make - but - what I do know now - is that what happens as the result of our choices is far less important than how we respond to what happens.
Through this and many other experiences in serving, I understand that my judging the choices of others is, at its core, harmful as I do not have all the information needed to accurately judge the actions of anyone and at times often, hard painful lessons are required for growth.
Through my service to others I learned many things about myself. I see I have changed as a result of my serving others, and I see how very much I have need of more change and I choose to continue to serve as I know the change will come as I serve.
I have come to realize that service is not just about those we serve, service is ultimately and finally about us and our growth.
In the old testament our actions and their relationship to the law were the measuring stick by which we were to be judged. Christ came and fulfilled the law and the deeper measure with which we are held accountable is the spirit behind the law.
It is in our spirit, our hearts that Christ calls us to change and it is service work that is the primary vehicle of this change.
I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."
What happens to me as I serve - with its unknowable outcomes and its deep personal challenges - is that my heart begins to experience a mighty change.
As I serve others the Lord works in me, He matures me, He teaches me, and the Spirit witnesses to me of the power of love to heal.
Slowly, I am moved from a mindset of small minded judgments into a holy place within the heart of charity – I am healed.
Quoting President Monson;
"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."
Returning to the opening quote from President Uchtdorf;
"Preaching is fine, but sermons that do not lead to action are like fires without heat or water that cannot quench thirst. It is in the application of doctrine that the purifying flame of the gospel grows…”
To ensure I am not just preaching and that I leave you with a possibility of application, offering a challenge if you will, I want to relay some internal practices that we can all exercise that will help us apply the doctrine of service and do so in a more charitable way, a way that can help to transform ourselves and others.
First, identification will lead to compassion. Listening to others while seeking similarities in underlying motivations, rather than being offended by service level differences, can bring about a profound feeling of empathy and love. We can identify with others when we are able to see beyond behaviors and uncover the motivation for the behavior we are observing. Are we all not motivated by love? Do we all not have a desire to belong? Are we not all not beggars seeking to simply feel safe in this chaotic world? These we share will all of humanity. How we individually see to fulfill these needs varies, and often gives the illusion of vast differences between us, but when we listen to each other with objectivity and compassion, putting our inept judgments aside, we can see beyond behaviors into the need that the person is seeking to get met – and it is there we can identify with those we serve.
Secondly, observe own reactions to what we hear and experience and do so with self love, curiosity and compassion. Understanding our own reactions to others as we serve them can reveal a great deal about ourselves to ourselves and will afford us wonderful opportunities to grow. When we judge our responses without understanding why we have respond the way we have - we forgo the opportunity to understand our response and its motivation because we have already deemed it is good or bad without understanding what 'it' really is and why it occurred.
Lastly, throw away the measuring stick. Do not try to evaluate the outcome of your service. Learn and grow into your service efforts, come to understand the difference between help and enabling, become a more effective servant, but do so objectively and do not assume that you can know and measure how much good you are really doing.
Our acts of service may not seem important, but they are the building blocks of charity and it is charity that works for our eternal progress.
Life is about practice and it through the practice of selfless service that charity begins to grow, and through continual practice it eventually flourishes.
The ancient Egyptians portrayed an individual's final judgment by displaying a set of scales. On one side of the scale, a feather - on the other, the heart of the deceased. When the heart of the deceased was weighed and found to be lighter than a feather the deceased was admitted into the afterlife.
The weight of our hearts can be lifted through the charity that grows from acts of selfless service. Service that reveals us - to ourselves and teaches us how to truly love our neighbor as we have learned to love ourselves.