washing dishes for setting up a refugee apartment

Jesus Christ’s Grace Revealed through Service

washing dishes for setting up a refugee apartment

I shared these thoughts during our Sunday service in hopes of encouraging others to give service to those around them and not allow their inhibitions, self-doubt, or uncertainty stand in the way.  I share it with you with the same hope. —Jennifer Jeffery

Tuesday we were transitioning from a family wedding to a multiple household family camping trip in Oklahoma.  My husband, in the context of having another thing added to his excessively full plate, told me how dates were switched for sacrament meeting speakers and that he would probably end up having to fill in himself for this Sunday.  He then turns to me and asks if he could get me to speak too.  Knowing that I wouldn’t return home until Thursday night at the earliest, still entertain house-guests and do mountains of vacation laundry Friday, and attend an emotionally trying funeral Saturday, to his surprise I said “I got this.  Last week I posted something on Facebook that I can use.” Now, this may seem like a strange way to accept a challenge to speak in sacrament meeting, but I don’t often post on social media and not nearly as often as I “should” about something that is inspirational and shareable.  My mother-in-law was in the car with us and immediately backed me up saying that she had read my post and voted that it could work.  So, while I sat down to write my talk last night, I have been convicted by this topic for a week and a half.  Point of this introduction: Heavenly father knows the end from the beginning and how to support and sustain us in our hour of need.  A week before I was even asked to speak – a week Heavenly Father knew would be logistically and emotionally maxed out, not to mention deficient of a computer – He gave me two experiences close together that replicated countless life experiences in a way that together inspired an idea that became a topic (good talks have personal stories).  As I pondered the meaning of those collective experiences at the time, I was encouraged by the Spirit to write it out, something I am normally too lazy to do (I need to work on that).  As I acted on the prompting to write it out, I was given the other elements of a talk: I got three scripture references, a quote, a doctrinal principal, and as I was listening to General conference talks the next day, a conference talk that related perfectly and I added to the post – So I didn’t even have to try to remember or look for it last night.  I am grateful to have acted on that prompting then, so when I came home from helping with a wedding and camping surrounded by far too many people for 7 days straight, and followed that up with an emotional day yesterday, I already had the hard work done.  I give thanks to a Heavenly Father for being aware of the details of my life in a way that made all things work together to turn two weeks of overwhelm into a triple hitter of opportunities to serve, share my testimony and bring it home with a faith-building awareness of His presence in it all.  Ha!  Look – I even got a sports analogy!

So without further ado, I am fairly confident that this is what I am supposed to speak about today, at least it’s all I got, so….  

I am a socially awkward introvert, or at least that is how I view myself. I am especially self-conscious when serving others that my words and actions that are intended as empathetic, comforting, or supportive somehow come across as disproportionate to the gravity of the situation, presumptuous, that my I-see-you stories come across as me turning the conversation back to myself, or especially if I am putting too much of the burden of knowing HOW to help back on the person needing the help by saying “Let me know how I can help.”

But time and again when I give service in what feels like any tiny, awkward, feeble way, God magnifies it into something great for those receiving it. 

For the purposes of this talk, the two experiences I had last week were not inherently unique at all; they reflected many such experiences I’ve had previously. In one I desperately wanted to support a family connected to ours in multiple ways through an impossible loss but anything I thought to do alternately either seemed disproportionately insignificant to even bother doing or I worried that I was presumptuously inserting myself into private matters.  

Cautiously, I ticked off all of my service insecurities, I gave what felt like pitifully insignificant service, I timidly showed up, asking excuse if my presence, meant as a sign of love and support, was presumptuous, and awkwardly pleaded, “Let me know how I can help,” because I will do ANYTHING asked of me, that seems easily performative, but I feel really underdeveloped at discerning needs which is a spiritual skill.  

The second experience I had last week was more mundane.  A long-time acquaintance is moving and she asked if there was anything I need that she might have, to lighten her moving load.  A recovering stuff-accumulator myself, I said I couldn’t think of anything but offered to help her pack.  When I went over, I accomplished absurdly little for the time I was there but I think she enjoyed having someone to talk to and appreciated me offering to show up for her. 

In Alma 37:6 we are taught that “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” I am so grateful for the Grace of Christ that makes up for all my deficiencies when I am doing the best I can with the skills, personality, and life experiences (good and bad) that I have been dealt. Not only does He fill the deficit, He overfills until we are so blessed “there shall not be enough room to receive it,” as promised in Malachi 3:10. The concept of Christ’s grace was not one I understood well growing up in the Church, rather hearing it more from other denominations.  But I have come to cherish it deeply, for it is a key tool of the Atonement by which a principle we know well functions: 2 Nephi 25:23 teaches “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”, only we focus so often more on the “all we can do part” more than the “by grace” part and usually in the context of the final judgement.  But I need saving every day – from my social and character inadequacies, parenting fails, my embryonic spirituality, my weaknesses winning over and over again.  The grace of Christ fills in all those gaps when we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve been given, and that’s when we see miracles.  

Let me return for a moment to the sister I was helping pack.  In addition to her feeling seen and supported, Heavenly Father used this second experience the same day to multiply the blessings to the first family.  While helping her pack, I got a call from the first family and she overheard just enough to want to help.  Being in the middle of a life transition herself, she wasn’t in a position to give of her time but her acceptable offering to the Lord was to give me some money “to get whatever they needed.”  I was then able to turn that simple offering into what the first family reported as being “exactly what they needed,” as they said when thanking the second sister.  From that sister’s perspective, she was blessed to see the magnification of her offering after doing “all she could do.”  How can we know that what we have put forth really is our best?  When the result of our actions is greater than we could reasonably expect given the input we gave, you know that Christ’s grace made up the difference.  You have witnessed five loaves and two fishes feeding 5000; you’ve witnessed a miracle.  And that feels like being told “Well done, my good and faithful servant” by Christ Himself.  Heavenly Father can use us to perform His miracles.

A few other thoughts I had connected to all this:

It occurred to me following the first experience I mentioned, that it is also like when we talk about giving a church lesson or talk that if you prepare what you can and invite the Spirit, it may not be what you say, but the Spirit that will speak directly to the hearts of those in your class or congregation. In reality, it is not what we say, what we teach, or the service we give, but rather the Spirit will take that offering and turn it, like Jesus turned the water into wine, from something small and simple (what we gave) into something great (what the person receives).

When wrestling with the “should I or shouldn’t I?,” when considering a service-oriented thought or idea, fearing that my idea will be any of the forms of inadequate that I listed earlier, I try to remember one quote and one principle. The first is from Marjorie Hinkley, the wife of the prophet Gordon B. Hinkley.  She would tell a story that led to her quote “Never suppress a generous thought.” The second is the principle of distinguishing between our own thoughts and the Spirit. People will give many ways and reasons you can distinguish between the two but I have settled on – I doesn’t matter – If it’s good, leads to Christ, then do it. I need to stop spending effort on mentally debating if the offering is good enough or from the Spirit (thereby imbuing it with inherent viability and goodness) and put that effort into just doing it.

The conference talk I listened to the day after these two experiences was titled “Giving Holiness to the Lord” by Bishop L. Todd Budge.  He spoke of the great humanitarian efforts of the Church enabled by the simple donations of its members.  While I enjoyed hearing about those good things, the second half of his talk stood our given my recent experiences.  He urged with hope that we would consider reframing our sacrifices – the efforts and offerings by which we are made holy – as things we give to the Lord rather than things we give up for the Lord.  Quote “Engraved upon the entrance to each of our temples are the words “Holiness to the Lord; the House of the Lord.” As we observe our covenants by sacrifice, we are made holy through the grace of Jesus Christ; and at the altars of the holy temple, with broken hearts and contrite spirits, we give our holiness to the Lord.” He then quotes Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The submission of one’s will [or heart] is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. … However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him!”  Back to Bishop Budge.

“When our sacrifices on behalf of others are viewed from the perspective of “giving up,” we may see them as a burden and become discouraged when our sacrifices are not recognized or rewarded. However, when viewed from the perspective of “giving to” the Lord, our sacrifices on behalf of others become gifts, and the joy of generously giving becomes its own reward. Freed from the need for love, approval, or appreciation from others, our sacrifices become the purest and deepest expressions of our gratitude and love for the Savior and our fellow men. Any prideful sense of self-sacrifice gives way to feelings of gratitude, generosity, contentment, and joy.” 

So just do it.   Check pop-culture reference. Give of your small and simple things, especially when those small and simple things are your heart, love, empathy, compassion, and time.  You will not be disappointed.  In my experience, the more I act on promptings of the Spirit, the more I show I can be trusted with them, the more often they will come. And there really is no sweeter knowledge that to know that you have heard the voice of God and followed it in showing another one of His children how much He loves them.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.