Let’s talk commitment in relationships. Just as commitment is required in a relationship, so too it is required in a calling in the Church.
I was discussing social protocol with my children one day and told them that for their own safety, they should give heed to these two pieces of advice:
Never criticize a man’s wife to his face. Never tell a mother her child is ugly.
You can tell that same mother that someone else’s child is ugly and she may agree with you. You can criticize some other man’s wife and the man may add one or two comments of his own.
What happened in the life of that man and woman that gave them such a fierce devotion to those they call their own? They were not born with it, so it had to be learned.
Marriage and parenting
Does just getting married cause such devotion? Does just the act of bearing a child create that protective nature? A single act rarely transforms the entire life of an individual. The transformation from total strangers to eternal lovers and the full depth of motherly/fatherly love takes time.
But does just living under the same roof with someone or just being the feeder of a child create such a dramatic change in a person’s life? The difference between the single man and the man who is willing to die for his family: the difference between the woman who bears other people’s children for money and the mother who would throw herself in front of a speeding car if she could save her child’s life comes from the amount of time and commitment each is willing to spend on their relationship with that other person.
A man begins his marriage with a woman he does not really know all that well. And I will call any man a liar who claims he did not have any surprises during the first years of his marriage. As he works to support her, protect her and learns over time to value her for her wisdom and capacity to love, his commitment to her grows. Talk to any happily married couple in their older years, and they will tell you that the quality of their relationship has grown and changed over time. The kind of love they have now is far more refined and deep than they could have imagined during the “puppy love” years.
Some first-time mothers will admit that for a while after they brought their child home, they almost half expected that at any time the child’s real parents would come to pick it up. The real connection and realization that the babe in her arms was hers and hers alone settled in little by little. And the real relationship with that child changes with each of the 17 thousand phases (perhaps an exaggeration?) a child seems to go through. Each phase takes a different level of commitment on the parent’s part.
When you first got married, I dare say you had no idea what kind of challenges you were in for. But your commitment to the relationship, and your time of service got you through those rough times. Commitment is a state of being obligated or bound to something such as an idea or doctrine. Commitment is a decisive moral choice that involves you in a definite course of action.
When things get really hard with a child or spouse, it is your commitment to your belief in that person or value of the relationship that keeps you in the game. When you created those relationships you obligated or bound yourself to a certain course of action. Only the continued observance of that course brings the long-term benefits in the relationship.
Accepting callings in the Church is like getting married or having a child. At first you may wonder what you are doing there. You may even wonder when the person who is supposed to be in charge will come and relieve you of your burden.
Ask anyone who has faithfully served in a calling for a while if they feel any different now about those whom they serve. Have you ever heard a man talking about how he feels toward a returned missionary, compared to how he felt about him when he was a little terror in scouts? I’ve never heard anyone say the sacrifices were not worth the outcome.
But can’t I get a list of the troubles I will face before I accept the calling? After all, if I could know ahead of time what would be expected, it would help me determine if I should accept the calling. Well that is just plain silly. If every man and woman could gaze into the future and see what challenges and burdens they would be asked to shoulder after they took their marriage vows or had a child, we would never need to worry about over populating the earth. In fact, we would probably be in danger of dying out.
Isn’t there any other way to obtain the blessings of sustained commitment in a calling? Why do I have to work so hard to get the blessings?
Think of the marriages you have encountered where one or both parties are not fully committed to the relationship. Have they experienced any happiness? Have they had any joy in their time together? Probably, but is what they have now really what you want to strive for? Isn’t it always the couple who worked the hardest, struggled the longest and suffered the most, and stayed committed to each other and their ideals who seem to have the best relationship with each other and with the Lord? That is a hard one isn’t it?
Be mediocre in my commitment to my calling and I can only expect lukewarm results. If I want the results that would make me the happiest, I have to be willing to dive in and give my heart and soul. There will be times of sorrow, betrayal, frustration and anguish. Building relationships is never convenient or easy. And let’s face it, most callings are all about relationships anyway. Sometimes I will wonder if I will ever make it through to the other side of the current crisis. But when I am released from the calling, whatever that entails, I will be able to feel something like Alma the Younger when he reviewed the blessings he and the sons of Mosiah had obtained after years of selfless sacrifice (Alma 29:10, 14-17)
10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.
14 But I do not joy in my own success alone, but my joy is more full because of the success of my brethren, who have been up to the land of Nephi.
15 Behold, they have labored exceedingly, and have brought forth much fruit; and how great shall be their reward!
16 Now, when I think of the success of these my brethren my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from the body, as it were, so great is my joy.
17 And now may God grant unto these, my brethren that they may sit down in the kingdom of God; yea, and also all those who are the fruit of their labors that they may go no more out, but that they may praise him forever.”
But wait! Alma was not singing his own praises. He did all that work, suffered through unspeakable horrors in the execution of his calling as the prophet of this people, yet all he does is thank the Lord for His blessings to others and pray for the salvation of his fellow servants. What gives? Isn’t the whole point of my service, commitment, and all the sacrifices that entails, just to make me look good? What is my reward?
There is a chain of events that takes place when we commit or bind ourselves to something. The Primary teachers who commit to the Bishop to teach a class bind themselves to a course of events. By following through on their commitment to serve those students, they get to know a group of children for the first time. As their teacher gets to know them better, he/she begins to develop a sense of appreciation for their spirit, willingness, feistiness, and character. As their time of service continues, their appreciation begins to turn into admiration, and from admiration into love. The more the teachers sacrifice their time, energies, talents and resources for the welfare of those little ones, the faster the process moves.
Service is a Christlike action. whenever service is accompanied by a commitment to a Christlike ideal, love is the byproduct. It is like the law of gravity, if it is present, it will draw things to it. If you are committed to Godly service, love is the result, and love draws people in.
But even love is not complete without gratitude. The service we render in all our relationships, be they of our choosing or those accepted in the form of callings, leads to love. And any deep and abiding love brings with it an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the object of that love and all things associated with it. Love and gratitude complete the soul. The more you have of both, the more complete you feel.
Men, when you think of the love you bear for your wife, you cannot single out just one thing you love. Your love includes her attributes, habits, personality traits, past deeds, and so forth. It is your gratitude for these things that causes you to love her. Without gratitude love dies. Without love, service is for naught.
The reward for our full commitment in our Church callings is the peace that comes from the gratitude we get from loving those whom we have served so long and so well. Let me repeat that. The reward for our full commitment in our Church callings is the peace that comes from the gratitude we get from loving those whom we have served so long and so well.
When we accept a calling in the Church, the Bishopric can spell out our duties and responsibilities, but only the Lord can see the thrilling opportunities for growth we have just accepted.
When Joseph Smith went to the grove to pray, he could not have imagined what challenges and blessings lay ahead. Even a fourth-time Relief Society President or Elder’s Quorum President cannot predict what challenges and blessings are in store.
May we have faith that dedicated, consistent service in every capacity we are called to fill, will bring rewards from heaven unique to our needs. And may we always serve with that end in mind is my prayer.
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