Every once in a while, I am reminded that people don’t always understand certain concepts the way I do. They’ll say something that at first comes off sounding really odd, until I realize they must be talking about something different. This has happened a few times with regards to the word “service.”
What do you think of when you hear the word “service”? Or to “serve others”? I think of doing a kindness for someone, out of love. But I think other definitions may come to mind for other people, who balk at the idea of doing service. What are they thinking? Are they thinking of a paid servant serving dinner, answering the door, cleaning the house, being at the beck and call of some “master” or boss? Or are they thinking of an unpaid servant (i.e. a slave) doing these sorts of things? Or do they think of forcing themselves do the unpleasant work of something they don’t want to for someone else, even someone they love?
Certainly, any of these last three types of service could be something to balk at (especially the last two–the one before those is called a job). If that’s the thing people are imagining when they think of service, then I could certainly understand the attitude against it. I remember when I was a kid and I had to clean the kitchen. I hated it. I felt like a servant, like Cinderella (which of course is totally inaccurate given that I was only required to do my part, if even that). Only I didn’t do it with a Cinderella attitude, that’s for sure. Anyway, my point is, this isn’t what I’m talking about when I talk about serving others.
The kind of service I’m talking about is doing something for someone cheerfully, and out of love. This would be like my husband taking care of our neighbors’ yard, because the couple that lives there doesn’t have the greatest health. It’s like when he helps his parents, or my parents, or his siblings or people from church, out of sheer generosity. It’s like when he takes over childcare for me every single day when he gets home for work, or all day on the weekends. It’s when he does the dishes for me when I’m overwhelmed. (This quality is one of the reasons I married him.)
It’s like when people from church brought us meals when we were overwhelmed and exhausted with a newborn baby. It’s when my mother in-law spent nights helping me care for that sweet newborn when hubby was out of town on work trips. Or when my mom cleaned my house. It’s every free babysitting we’ve had, so we could go on dates, get painting done in the house, so I could go get my teeth cleaned at the dentist. It’s when my husband’s cousin did our family pictures for free. When a neighbor took care of our cats so we could fly to California and see my sister get married.
It’s when volunteers work in a soup kitchen or a hospital. It’s visiting the sick and bringing a meal. It’s giving something helpful to the man on the corner holding a cardboard sign. It’s buying Christmas gifts or donating winter coats for the poor. It’s sharing our small fortune with those who don’t have enough. It’s taking the time to have a chat with someone who’s lonely. It’s picking up the garbage around your neighborhood.
Service can be even bigger, like a young man or woman serving a mission for their church. It could be teaching children how to read in underdeveloped countries. Or giving free medical care in a third-world country. Adopting an orphaned child.
But service can be small, oh so small. Letting someone in front of you in line at the store. Smiling at a stranger. Opening the door for a pregnant woman. Dropping a few coins into the donation box. Untangling the swing at the park. Wiping water off the counter in the public restroom.
Some of the best types of service are those that strengthen your relationship with your family. Love notes for a spouse. Something unexpected, like making the bed when it’s not your turn. Taking over the bedtime routine for the little one when your spouse looks extra tired. Doing something you know your spouse or child would love for you to do, even though it’s something you normally don’t like to do, because you want to do that for them. Even the every day stuff, like cooking and cleaning or going to work and earning a living, can become this kind of service when done with an attitude of love.
There are infinite possibilities for service. They make you feel good. They are done out of love. This is called charity, which is the “pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47, Book of Mormon).
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, … and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:3, Bible, KJV).
There is one virtue that stands above all others. It is love. Without love, we cannot be happy. Without love and happiness, what is the point of our existence? There is not one single person on the face of the earth who does not need love. There is not a single person on the face of the earth who doesn’t need to give love. We show that love through service.