Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Service is abundance

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday morning session from the October 1974 Conference.
I've been thinking this week about how satisfying it is not just to serve, but to watch others be served—and to watch how others serve. It's all part of the glorious work. In my patriarchal blessing it says something like, "you will be blessed to see the workings of the Savior not only in your own life, but in the lives of those you associate with and love…Rejoice in your chance to see the tenderness with which He reaches out to them in their individual needs." When I first heard this, I don't think I realized fully what a blessing it would be—but over the years, as I have come to know of and even share in little bits of God's tender mercies to others, I think those things bring me as much joy as the tender mercies I myself receive! It's why I love to hear other peoples' stories of God's hand in their lives: I feel like in hearing them, I'M sharing in the blessing too—like the blessing is somehow going twice as far! Of course, because I'm human, sometimes I'm less gracious than I should be, and I have thoughts like, "Hey, I wish I could have had that kind of answer to prayer—" or, "I wish I had had that experience"—but I just keep realizing more and more that when God blesses someone—we ALL benefit. Or like the scriptures say, "That all may be profited thereby."

And then if we actually get to be the ones relaying God's blessings? That seems like it spreads the benefit around even MORE! It's an amazing feeling to serve. It's an amazing feeling to notice how much others AROUND you are quietly serving too—and to realize that this is happening usually without you ever knowing it. It reminds me of Elder Maxwell's words I wrote about a couple weeks ago: "…because random, individual goodness is not enough in the fight against evil."

Early in the week as I read the talks in this conference session, I marked a paragraph by Elder Marvin J. Ashton:
Though he, Jesus, were a Son busily engaged in his Father’s business, he was never too busy to assist a troubled mother, a sick man, a friend, a little child. These attitudes, these services were but outward evidence of inward greatness. As we too learn to serve as did he, we learn to live abundantly. A proper attitude helps us find God through service to his children.
In my notes I wrote the comment, "Interesting—to connect the idea of service with the abundant life." And I didn't really quite see how the two things went together.

But during the week I got to be part of a ward service project, and I had so many thoughts and feelings about being a small part in this big amazing thing. Feelings of multiplication, of coordination—of being insignificant and yet essential…of how parts make a whole and the whole is ALL of those parts, and yet also MORE than that. I don't know if any of those thoughts make sense, but to me the connection between service and abundance suddenly makes all the sense in the world. And I'm not sure I can explain exactly why, but it's caught up in all these things. How hearing about someone else's blessings blesses me. How BEING someone else's blessing, blesses me. How being blessed by someone else blesses me, obviously, and how seeing someone else in the act of blessing someone else (if you follow me)---that blesses me too! 

It's funny, because that paragraph makes it all sound a bit self-centered, all this "it all comes back to ME" business, but it's just a byproduct of the ABUNDANCE that comes out of service. There is SO much love, that everyone gets some—even the ones who don't deserve it because they didn't do very much, or even do ANYTHING! It's undeserved; of course it's undeserved! But that's the amazing thing about it. It's like Jesus feeding the five thousand. He blessed that food. Then it blessed the people that ate it. Then it blessed the apostles that got to hand it out. Then it blessed the people that just HEARD about it—even down to us—even 2000 years later! I think that's the picture that Elder Ashton's words gave me as I read them again today. It's like our service, blessed and multiplied by God, sends out a sort of penumbra of goodness that spreads outward on all sides. It's the very definition of abundance: Enough, and to spare. So much there's not room enough to receive it. My cup runneth over. I've read all those phrases in the scriptures, but it seems so clear suddenly that it's bigger than I ever supposed, because it's not just MY cup being filled. It's the cup of those who serve me, and those I serve, and those whom I am watching serve—and when all that abundance tries to fit in all those cups, it's even too big for THAT, so it spills out further. Of course Elder Ashton would say that as we serve like Jesus did, "we learn to live abundantly!" Because God's love is THAT endless. And we're tapping into it—and it can't be contained in anything as finite as our own small lives. It overflows.

Elder LeGrand Richards said in this same conference, 
If God started to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man and did not provide an opportunity to complete the program, he would be like the builder who starts to build and then is not able to finish.
And I think this is how we "complete the program." We serve obediently, though conscious of our own inadequacy. We, in that inadequacy, also accept service, leaving us humbled and grateful. We watch the miracles as others serve, leaving us amazed and inspired. And in response we feel an increasing desire to serve more, ourselves, and so the abundance grows ever greater. Because God WILL finish his work. He IS finishing it. He is letting US help finish it.

So just like my patriarchal blessing said, I DO rejoice in the chance I have to see God's love for others. It's wonderful. His mercies to others bring to mind, reinforce—and are part of—His mercy to me! And every time I'm anywhere in the vicinity of Christlike service—seeing it, hearing about it, doing it, receiving it—I find myself filled, again, to overflowing.

Other posts in this series:

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