Serving with Those of All Ages

Serving with Those of All Ages

By Sister Joy D Jones, Primary General President

Additional Resource

An address at the World Women’s Interfaith Conference held at Celtic Manor, Newport, Wales on February 9, 2018.

My husband and I are thrilled to be here today. We are delighted to see your service and to reflect on the positive, spiritual imperatives bringing us together at this event. We rejoice in our mutual friendship. On a personal note, my husband is elated to find that his ancestors actually lived about 50 kilometers from here, in Swansea. We do, indeed, live in a very small world.

I have the privilege of being part of a worldwide organization that includes more than one million children between the ages of 18 months and 11 years. As I travel and visit with children, I see in their eyes the yearning to be taught good things, hopeful things, things that are true, and things that matter most. I also see that children everywhere are growing up in an increasingly complex and challenging world. This organization, called Primary, seeks to reach out with love to these children, their families and their friends and to build faith. But the first purpose of Primary is to help children feel God’s love for them. Nothing can be more foundational.

In Primary, we help children of all ages participate in their local congregations by offering prayers, reading scriptures and giving talks on religious subjects. During Primary, which is held as part of Sunday services, children meet in small classes with others of the same age for lessons. These lessons are taught by adult members of the congregation, who are asked to volunteer their time. However, everything done in Primary is focused on supporting the teaching efforts of parents, who know and love their children best.

It’s within the home—with children and parents together—that spiritual values are taught,  exemplified, and reinforced most effectively. In a world that can often seem devoid of such values, parents and children grow when they seek to learn and apply these truths in a family setting. The home is God’s mini-university for learning many of life’s lessons regarding relationships, sacrifice, and service to one another. And in the ongoing process of family life, we firmly believe that “successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”[1]

We also believe that “all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God.”[2] With this in mind, we see every person on earth of equal, limitless value regardless of age. The value of a child is truly beyond measure, despite what his or her current circumstances may be. 

We all have a weighty responsibility to inspire the rising generation. Yet we also recognize that children can teach us. Young children frequently teach us simple and pure faith. They can be the first to love and the first to forgive. As we carefully and closely observe them and encourage them in their growth – whether as parents, teachers, or extended family – our learning increases, our understanding deepens.[3]

Author Lisa Wingate said: “Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much.”[4]

I am sure this anonymous quotation rings true to all of us: “Children are great imitators.  So give them something great to imitate.”[5] They hear our words and see our actions. Essayist  Robert Fulghum humorously proves this point when he says: "Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you."[6]

Our children learn from us at light speed. We must be conscious of what we are teaching by example – as parents and as communities. The reality is that we’re inspiring greatness when we help children recognize their worth and support them in identifying their potential.

Perhaps a most important teaching, in a society that emphasizes the “selfie” rather than being selfless, is the modelling of selfless behavior. Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”[7]

In contrast, I recently read an article about the ills of narcissism, an article that claims, “The subject of narcissism has intrigued people for centuries, but social scientists now claim that it has become a modern ‘epidemic!’

“The term narcissism originated more than 2,000 years ago, when Ovid wrote the legend of Narcissus. He tells the story of a beautiful Greek hunter who, one day, happens to see his reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it. He becomes obsessed with its beauty, and is unable to leave his reflected image until he dies.”[8]

The connection of narcissism to our topic of service is obvious, isn’t it? What greater thing can we as parents and leaders do to contain this “modern epidemic” than to teach children the value of service to others?  Jesus Himself taught this principle so plainly:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.  “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)[9]

Religious leaders of all faiths throughout history have urged their followers to discover the blessings of putting another’s needs before their own. Forgetting self builds character.

Billy Graham, one such religious leader, said, "The greatest legacy one can pass on to one's children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one's life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”[10]

If we teach them, children can become selfless individuals who are much happier looking into the lives of others than they will ever be staring at their selfies.

Service, of course, is part of that teaching. It is the perfect antidote to ego. Remember the acronym for “ego” is “easing God out.” Yet God is the very being who guides our efforts to serve humbly and sincerely. “Through our heartfelt kindness and service,” taught LDS 

Church leader M. Russell Ballard, “we can make friends with those whom we serve. From these friendships come[s] better understanding [of each other].”[11]

There are, of course, many ways to serve. James E. Faust, then a member of the LDS Church’s First Presidency, said: “Serving others can begin at almost any age…It need not be on a grand scale, and it is noblest within the family.”[12]  Often the most meaningful service is expressed through simple, everyday acts of kindness. Mother Teresa is reported to have said it in this way: “If you can’t do great things, do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, do them anyway. Love grows when people serve.”[13]

Let me share an example of one busy mother of five young children and her desire to reach out in service. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Two years ago, she became involved in helping refugees coming to the U.S. from other countries with literally only the shirts on their backs.

Listen to her testify of the power of service: “As I’ve been working on different refugee projects, I’ve connected with a group of three other women. We work together to help gather all the supplies needed to furnish apartments for incoming refugee families. It is time consuming and a lot of work but so amazing to see how people band together to make it happen. It is also wonderful to see how many small miracles happen while we are trying to gather everything that is needed.”

She went on to describe how they have helped many refugees to have hope. Then she said: “I am truly gaining a testimony that God works in mysterious ways and is overjoyed to help us when we sincerely ask Him for help.”

My favorite part of her story is how she involved her children as she served. Let me share a comment from each of her two sons:

One boy, age 11, wrote, “My mom signed us up to collect a whole bunch of things to put in an apartment for a family coming from far away who didn’t have anything. We gave some of our toys and things around our house. We got to go and put them into an apartment for the family to live in. I felt a really good feeling inside. It made me happy to help other families and to think about the kids that are my same age playing with some of the toys I gave them.”

Another son, age 10, said, “We went to a place to help children. We learned when we were there that a lot of children in the world go hungry every day and that serving there was going to help make some of those children feel better. My brother and sister and I were sad to hear about those children. They deserve to eat every day just like we do. We were also happy to get to put bags of food together for kids in Nicaragua. I was happy that I could do something to help them.”

Now, my friends, how do you think this will impact these two young boys and their sisters? This mother may have had no idea what impressions would be left on the minds of her sons, but I know that those impressions will now be indelibly etched on their hearts. These children who served with their mother will grow up with a legacy of service. Mother Teresa said: “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by, ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”[14] 

As LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson taught: “The needs of others are ever present, and each of us can do something to help someone…Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives.”[15]

“To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfilment of which brings true joy. We do not live alone—in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor’s wretchedness. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection. This truth inspires the familiar charge, ‘Go forth to serve.’ Try as some of us may, we cannot escape the influence our lives have upon the lives of others. Ours is the opportunity to build, to life, to inspire, and indeed to lead.”[16]

We serve others and it changes us. We are never the same after even the smallest effort to help another. Service, love, and compassion can indeed be taught as they are experienced. It is incumbent on us to teach these values to our precious children.

My prayer is that we can recognize the inborn strength and potential of our little ones to love, to serve, and to lead. Each forward step we take together to touch a life will help to change the world for good. We will be led in light and truth as we seek to recognize and meet the needs of those around us. I know we will receive the blessings of heaven to guide, fortify and inspire us.

 

[1] First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Family, A Proclamation to the World,” published 23 September 1995, accessed 28 January 2018. https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true

[2] Ibid

[3] See Jean A. Stevens, “Become as a Little Child,” former First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Address delivered at General Conference, April 2011. Accessed 28 January 2018.  https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/become-as-a-little-child?lang=eng

[4] Lisa Wingate quotes. Accessed 28 January 2018 https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/178832.Lisa_Wingate

[5] “Quotes for Kids, Parents and Teachers” taken from Purploon, accessed 5 February 2018 https://www.purploon.com/quotes/children-are-great-imitators-so-give-them-great/

[6] “Robert Fulghum Quotes” taken from BrainyQuote, accessed 5th February 2018
https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/robert_fulghum_106965

[7] “Helen Keller Quotes” taken from goodreads, accessed 28 January 2018 https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/17678-many-persons-have-a-wrong-idea-of-what-constitutes-true

[8] “Why Are We Becoming So Narcissistic? Here’s the Science,” accessed 28 January 2018

http://theconversation.com/why-are-we-becoming-so-narcissistic-heres-the-science-55773

[9] Holy Bible, King James Version, Matthew 16:24-26

[10] “Billy Graham Organisation”, accessed on 5th February 2018
https://billygraham.org/press-release/billy-graham-celebrates-93rd-birthday-following-release-of-30th-book-nearing-home/

[11] M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Finding Joy through Loving Service.” Address delivered at General Conference, April 2011. Accessed 28 January 2018. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/finding-joy-through-loving-service?lang=eng

[12] James E. Faust, “Womanhood: The Highest Place of Honor,” Ensign, May 2000, 96; Liahona, July 2000, 117

[13] “We Will Serve The Lord” taken from Bible Society, accessed on 5th February 2018 https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/explore-the-bible/daily-reflection/we-will-serve-the-lord/

[14] “Catholic 365”, accessed 5th February 2018

[15] Thomas S. Monson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?” Published November 2009. Accessed 28 January 2018. http://www.lds.org/ensign/2009/11/what-have-i-done-for-someone-today?lang=eng

[16] “Messages of Inspiration from President Monson,” Church News, July 5, 2008, 2.

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