It’s something we hear often in church, “If you want to find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others.” When taken out of context this well meaning adage often leads us to lose ourselves. We serve and sacrifice for others to the point that we just feel drained and sometimes even taken advantage of. Sometimes in trying to live the principle “Charity Never Faileth” it feels like I failed.
In 3 Nephi when Christ comes to visit the Nephites He institutes and explains the important ordinance of the sacrament. Then He says something that always catches my attention:
12 And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
13 But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.
14 Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.
(3 Nephi 18:12-14, emphasis added)
He tells us that doing more or less than the things he has asked us to do means we are not built on his rock, but on a sandy foundation. Fascinating! That leads us to the next question…
How much are we really supposed to do?
The Savior gives us this oft quoted advice:
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
(Shown in both Matthew 5:41 and 3 Nephi 12:41)
What does that really mean to go the extra mile? This verse refers to the law that a Roman Soldier was allowed to require a Jewish person to carry their equipment for one Roman mile. Since Roman packs full of equipment could be around 100 lbs this was no small task.
There are two expectations set forth here, one by the Romans and one by The Lord. The soldier required one mile, the Savior two. The Savior is telling us that what He expects of us is more than what may be culturally or legally required, but He is not implying that we need to do more than He requires of us. He knows better than us what is needed to return to, and become like, Heavenly Father. If our service is not built upon the rock of the Savior, if we are doing more than He has asked of us purely for the sake of doing more, it does not make us more righteous. We have left the safety and and power that comes from Him and we find ourselves on that sandy foundation and we end up feeling drained. We are to do what the Lord has asked us to do, to the honest best of our abilities (and as we exercise our abilities to serve we will find them growing and expanding, or magnifying). If we are doing that, we are doing enough.
Make no mistake, I am not saying that the service required of us is going to be easy, or that the Lord won’t stretch us, only that our service needs to be within the bounds the Lord, and only the Lord, has set.
The Savior is an example of rejuvenation
I love in the scriptures the moments where the Savior is alone. Sometimes we talk about the Savior like He always had people around Him. While true most of the time, there are some places in the scriptures that He is alone.
Before He started His mortal ministry Jesus Christ was “led up of the Spirit in the wilderness to be with God.” (JST Matthew 4:1) What did He do during those 40 days? We know Satan came and tempted Him at the end, but we don’t really know what He was doing the rest of the time. I imagine He was communing with Heavenly Father, learning, gaining instruction, and ensuring He had the spiritual stamina to endure what was coming by focusing on His relationship with God.
During His ministry He continued to occasionally take the time to be alone and focus on Himself.
In Matthew chapter 14 there are two very familiar miracles described (plus one more that we don’t talk about quite as much). The first is the feeding of the 5,000, and the second is when He walks on water. But between those two miracles it describes why He wasn’t with the disciples on the ship in the first place:
And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
And when he sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
He sent everyone away, not because He didn’t care about them, not because He no longer wanted to help them, but because He had to take care of His own spiritual needs if He was going to have the strength to continue. If even the Savior needed time to rejuvenate, so do we. It is okay to have and admit limits to our abilities and recognize that we need to recharge. It’s okay not to personally fulfill every service opportunity that we see if we are honestly unable to. Again, our service needs to be within the bounds the Lord has set.
When do we find ourselves in the service of others?
There are many different reasons to serve other people, because we are supposed to, because we feel pressure to, because we don’t want to look like the weak link, but the type of service required to find ourselves is the type where our service is directed to God. That does not limit our worthwhile service to only church service or church callings, it just means that our motivation for service needs to be to do His will in all things. Service with a prideful attitude can be completely draining whereas service with a truly humble attitude is fulfilling and rewarding. We serve in the times, ways and purposes He would have us serve, not in the times, ways and purposes society (or, dare I say it, even church culture -not doctrine, culture) would have us serve.
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of the rams.
(1 Samuel 15:22)
Without the correct purpose in mind the sacrifice of our service will not lead to greater knowledge of ourselves just as fasting without purpose is just going hungry.
As we serve side by side with those who are on the Lord’s side, on both sides of the veil, fulfilling His purposes, we will come to a greater knowledge of His love for His children and our placement within that Heavenly Family. Strengthening our understanding of our relationship with Heavenly Father is how we will find ourselves. We will know who we are, and how much we mean to Him. And then when we lose ourselves in the service of others, we will find ourselves.