We can learn to serve and to forgive within our sample of humanity, including settings no larger than the family or friendships. –Elder Neal A Maxwell
Let me preface this post by saying that I emphatically understand that many mothers are called to not only rear their children, but to go out into the world. Each situation is unique and should be respected. This post is about my own journey to understand my personal ministry.
I have seen so many, many wonderful, talented and amazing mothers in my life. I am so lucky to have known them. I also see that in our society, with its limitless opportunities and our real wealth, it is sometimes difficult to know when to limit our activities or keep going–all because we feel we are changing things for good and making a difference. One woman wrote me and said:
Should I not share what I know and has brought me much joy or should I just focus on my family? I would also not mind forgetting everyone else and just focusing on my kids, but, after listening to conference, I don’t ever come away with the impression that this is okay.
Long ago, when I was Advocate for the World, I did many great things to help other people. I helped abused children, abused mothers, advocated for midwifery, and probably would have gone to Mexico or Haiti or Peru if it was in vogue in my earlier years.
Those were all good things. But for me, a mother with small children, and a mission for always more on the way…what I neglected to realize was that Heavenly Father already had a plan for that part of my life.
His plan was really, well–perfect.
He sent me here in a family unit. Family units are His plan.
He sent me here with people automatically in place for me to serve. They are not “my” children, you know. They are His. We are His. We are in this together, and He answered the question, “Whom shall I serve?” first by putting us in groups called families.
Yes, I realized I should serve others outside of my family, but I did need to focus on my family. Nothing else will compensate for failure there. Personally, I am not anywhere near believing that my family is all set…and think about it: if every mother with children in the church could put orphans, midwives, homeless, non-profits and conferences on hold and focus on her family for one year–what would happen? We really could change the world.
While we focus on the family, however, we certainly do not ignore those who are in need. Heavenly Father planned that out for us, too! It is amazing what happens when we carefully help those who are placed in our path by God, and not wander on paths He has assigned for someone else. Elder Maxwell’s words are especially fitting here:
…if we press too much, too often, and too hard for enlarged personal roles, we could actually shrink the field of action needed by others.
I believe that I have often pressed too much in a real, truly heart filled effort to make things better for the world and do good. Elder Maxwell continues:
The Lord knows our circumstances and the intents of our hearts, and surely the talents and gifts He has given us. He is able to gauge perfectly how we have performed within what is allotted to us, including by lifting up some of the many surrounding hands that hang down. Thus, yearning for expanded opportunities while failing to use those at hand is bad form spiritually.
Oh, I have such bad form sometimes!
I have been invited to participate in many great causes and I have turned them down. Why? Because, as Barbara Thompson stated:
We need not rush about trying to find things to do or causes to take up.
Remember, most often the help needed is in our own homes, neighborhoods, and communities. A kind word of encouragement, a note of thanks, a phone call, a loving smile, a helpful deed, and a reminder that God loves us are often what is needed most.
Sister Thompson helped me to really understand that the Lord would actually help me to make changes and do wonderful things in the world in my limited neck of the woods, so to speak. I did not need to go to Ghana or to be a guest on “Oprah” to have an amazing impact on the people around me. I just needed to listen to those sweet promptings that say “Smile,” or “Give her a hug,” or “Call her right now.”
I realized that when I wanted to “step out and lead” to change things for the good, for me, a mother with nearly a dozen children, I needed to focus on one thing: BEING THERE FOR MY OWN STEWARDSHIP–my family.
E. T. Sullivan once wrote these interesting words: “When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born, perhaps in a simple home and of some obscure mother. And then God puts the idea into the mother’s heart, and she puts it into the baby’s mind. And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”
And those babies, I should like to add, will become forces for good or ill, depending in large measure on how they are reared. The Lord, without equivocation, has declared, “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” .
This is how an ordinary person like me can change the world. This is how I can change the culture. But I wasn’t doing it. I thought my family could wait while I was serving others and MAKING A DIFFERENCE…
Elder Maxwell’s reference to A Man For All Seasons was a stinging rebuke to me as I pondered why I had spent time away from teaching my children to go out and help other people’s children and other women:
Meanwhile, people regularly sell their souls for much less than the whole world. In Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is soon to be martyred, partly because his friend Rich, having been bought off by a local office, has betrayed him. More, “looking into Rich’s face, with pain and amusement,” speaks: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . But for Wales!” ( Let this same rebuke hold for any preoccupation which preempts us from spiritual things!)
How interesting that what in my life seem to be so many good things and opportunities–my spiritual “Wales”, often preempt me from what I feel is my actual calling and stewardship as a culture changing mother.
I have finally come to understand that for this season in my life, and for my particular mission, I do not need to feel awful that others with different missions are traveling to Russia or China and adopting children, or that my other friends are starting a hospital in Haiti, or someone else is spearheading a foundation. I have found that it is alright if I change the world one little person at a time without a passport or a great resumé or a long list of humanitarian efforts in which I participate.
Oh, at times I wish I could be doing those things–but instead I donate money to those causes, or I let a college girl use our swimming pool to teach swimming lessons to raise money for college so that she can one day do Amazing Things, or I do little websites in my free time–but I do struggle on wanting to enlarge my personal role in so many of the great causes surrounding me. Sometimes I get a momentary pang of jealousy for those whose mission it is to go on such adventures, which quickly turns to love and admiration for them–they really are amazing women and they are following God’s will for them–and the spirit always reassures me that here and now and home is where He wants me planted.
I have found that the greatest way I can change the world is by doing those small things with great love in my own little, tiny, seemingly insignificant sphere of the universe. But, it has been what has given me the greatest joy as a woman and a mother! And, sometimes, early in the morning right before the sun breaks into the sky, I wonder if I am not really on one of the greatest adventures of all.
I also highly recommend reading Bonnie D. Parkin’s excellent talk titled, “Personal Ministry”, which, I think, answers the questions we women have of “how and who should I serve” better than I ever could.