I remember very little about my exit interview the day before I returned home from my mission. But one exchange has always stuck with me. President Cardon asked me, “Do you intend to remain an active member of the Church?”
I was taken aback a bit. I thought it was a strange question to ask someone who had just devoted two years and hopefully served in a way that demonstrated commitment. I stammered, “Well, yes, of course.”
He then said, “What does it mean to be active?” I tried to think quickly, but, as is often the case, couldn’t come up with much more than the obvious. “Well, it means going to Church, being worthy and having a temple recommend…” He almost cut me off: “Does being active include having a calling?” I wished I’d thought of that, myself. “Yes, I think so,” I said.
Then he said, “I want you to make me a promise. I want you to promise me that you’ll never go four consecutive weeks without a calling without going to your bishop and asking for one. Will you promise to do that?” I did.
I can’t say that I’ve lived up to the letter of that promise as well as I should have, but I think I’ve lived up to the spirit of it. In the various times I’ve moved and switched wards in my life, there have sometimes been intervals of some weeks before I received a calling. I remember on a couple of occasions making a comment to the bishop as I’d promised I would. On a couple of other occasions, I knew the bishop was aware of me and I gave it a little more time and a calling came before too long.
Why do we serve in callings in the Church? Perhaps because we’re asked to and we feel a sense of duty. Perhaps out of a sense of tradition and culture: that’s what Mormons do. Perhaps we enjoy the socializing and relationships that are a part of most callings.
Or perhaps we have better reasons. Perhaps we love people and understand that all callings are about people. Perhaps we recognize the responsibility we have toward them and want to serve them. Perhaps we love God and remember his instruction to Peter, “If ye love me, feed my sheep.” Perhaps we know that all things have been offered to those who magnify their callings. Perhaps we embrace the mission of the Church to bring souls to Christ and we appreciate so much what it means to come to Christ that we want to help others do the same.
My favorite non-prophetic author had one of his characters say, “Everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” He also said, speaking of himself, “We are all responsible for everyone else—but I am more responsible than all the others.”
Am I responsible for others? Am I my brother’s keeper? Jacob spoke of “taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not…” President Hinckley said, “Each of us is responsible for the welfare and the growth and development of others. We do not live only unto ourselves. If we are to magnify our callings, we cannot live only unto ourselves.”
How do we magnify our calling? Well, we start by having a calling, as my mission president encouraged me to do. Then we understand what it requires. But we don’t stop there! To do so is to minimize a calling—and what a lost opportunity that is! We reap what we sow and few things illustrate that as well as the effort and creativity we put into our callings. So we get a clear understanding of who we are called to serve and then we get busy with those people, focusing on them and how we can serve them within the larger spirit of our calling. We get to know them, learn about them, love them. And then we pray for guidance and we let the creative juices flow (thinking in the shower always helps me!) and between our own pondering and perspiration and the Lord’s inspiration—the perfect recipe—we go above and beyond that low-bar minimum and serve!
Fifteen years ago, I extended a calling to a couple in my ward to serve as ward librarians. I did an utterly pathetic job of it. My explanation of what their calling was about was enough to deflate even the most enthusiastic. But they dutifully accepted. A year later, I sat in a meeting and heard a bishop describe the calling of a ward librarian and became both exhilarated by his vision of how this calling, if well done, could impact and change families—and disgusted by the memory of my own lack of vision and effort and thoughtfulness and a year earlier.
Librarians, it turns out, can help families tap into Church resources to more effectively teach their children at home. Sunday School teachers can visit the students who don’t come and can take and show an interest in them outside of church meetings. Ward membership clerks can knock on doors and get to know the people over whose membership records they have stewardship. Secretaries can advocate for lost sheep. Stake leaders can greet by name the people they serve throughout the stake. Music committee chairs can identify hidden talents and encourage the development of talents which may not even exist yet. And on and on.
We do reap what we sow. When we don’t have a calling, we miss out on a huge source of happiness and fulfillment. When we have a calling but don’t (or barely) act in it… same crummy thing. When we pour our hearts into the people we’re serving and focus our efforts on them instead of on ourselves (teachers, for example, should teach students, not lessons), we reap rewarding relationships and the joy of seeing growth in others—and, inevitably, in ourselves.
Young Single Adults—as that label rather clearly suggests, are neither children nor “youth.” They are adults. For them (as we discussed Thursday), it is time to pick up an oar and row with the rest of the rowing adults—to share the gospel, strengthen testimonies, “lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees.” It’s time to switch from net taker to net giver. Or, maybe better said, it’s time to strive to become a net giver, because it is impossible in the Lord’s economy to become a net giver since the Lord always blesses us disproportionately to our service.
May God bless us with vision, an interest in people, a desire to serve, and inspiration to see how to magnify our calling to a point of real impact. In such a scenario, all are blessed and become happier.