An anonymous reader writes:
We know, from the example of our brother Nephi, that the right attitude is “Go and Do.” Period. Most of us have that attitude and race for the car, keys in hand, at the drop of a hat, a calling, or a call. But even the best-trained racer will hit the wall if she runs out of fuel. We also know we're not expected to run harder than our strength will permit. Who makes that call? We know our Mother Eve had to do some interpreting, even though her husband conversed directly with God. What is the right mix of duty and survival?
One of the greatest teaching moments in scripture came in answer to a question posed by chief priests and scribes: “Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?” After discerning their ulterior motive and rebuking them, Christ answered: ” ?Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.” Luke 20:22,25
The chief priests and scribes marveled at his answer. So do I. In His incredibly succinct response, Christ gave us a divine template for our own earthly balancing act. In our struggle to keep the things of God and our own “Caesars” in proportion, it is inevitable that the balance will change and the need to reapportion will arise. We give. We take. We make small corrections in our juggling act. However, when the balance becomes overwhelmingly upset, how do we weigh “going and doing the things which the Lord hath commanded” against the counsel in Mosiah 4:27? “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strengthï¿½therefore, all things must be done in order.”
As you find your footing on this sensitive and timely issue, I invite you to read the following examples; each representing respectively, the two schools of thought stated above. Are they really in conflict?
One afternoon, a dear friend of mine (we'll call her Carole), told me of her total frustration and borderline depression. Carole was a very active member of her tiny branch. She had several young children, was a counselor in the Primary, and served as young women president as well. She was also dealing with a devastating personal tragedy. I encouraged her to speak with her branch president and ask his opinion on a possible release. Something remarkable happened to both of us when she reported the outcome of her interview.
After relating her situation to the Branch President in detail; i.e. how she could no longer give 100% to either calling and still have anything left for the family and her own needs, the branch president sat back in his chair. He then asked her if he could remove his “branch president hat” for a moment and speak to her as a brother. He surprised her by asking her if she thought he gave 100% to his church calling. Her immediate response was “Well, yes ?of course.” Smiling, he told her that giving 100% all the time to anything was an illusion.
With the demands of his extremely large family he had, perhaps, 40% to consecrate to all other areas, including his calling. He encouraged her to simplify her thinking. Instead of making a handout each week or some cute visual aid that may find it's way into the trash at meeting's end, he counseled her to spend the time in other areas of her life that needed attention. He told her to delegate and absolved her (and me, indirectly) of the 100% stigma which had weighed so heavily on her conscience. He did not immediately release her, but gave her the challenge to try his suggestion for three months. At the end of that time, she was to report her experience. If balance could not be regained, he would cheerfully release her.
She accepted his challenge and began to think in terms of consecrating a “tithe of time” instead of a percentage of effort. For Carole, a “tithe” meant three hours a week. Through careful planning, simplification, and leaning heavily on the Spirit for inspiration, Carole was not only able to regain her balance, but also to prepare well within her allotted “tithe.”
An interesting, independent blessing came to Carole as a result of her efforts. Through her constant reliance on the Spirit of the Lord, she was also able to deal with her personal tragedy more effectively.
The second example comes from a woman I admire immensely. She has been my role model since the age of 18. Her husband is not a member of the Church but has been very supportive of her many callings throughout the years. Lisa (name changed), an endowed member, had been issued a calling to work in the temple. After discussing the requirements with her husband and bishop, she decided that it was not the right time for this type of commitment. The bishop agreed and, although it was a difficult decision, she knew it was correct. She felt privileged to have been considered for the calling and felt the Lord gave His approval, both for the calling and refusal.
Is there a conflict between Nephi's proclamation of obedience and King Benjamin's sermon on requisite strength? The answer is: not unless we create the conflict ourselves. If, like Nephi, the spirit is willing but, as with Benjamin, the flesh cannot run faster than it has strength, reassessment and rebalance are needed. The Lord knows our heart. So do we. Bishops and other leaders operate on inspiration and intellect, not clairvoyance. Sharing the concerns of our hearts and taking appropriate action are the first steps in restoring wisdom and order to our lives.
Having just moved across the country from Florida to Utah drowning in a sea of boxes waiting to be unpacked and surrounded by children with “nothing to do” my initial knee-jerk response to this question was, “Yes! Now watch me “just say no” to writing this column!” But guilt has a way of making room in my schedule, so here I am again, unfocused though I may be.
Much great insight has already been given. Let me just add one thought of my own and then a few thoughts I have gleaned from church-published materials.
A number of years ago I served as the Relief Society president in my ward. In that capacity one of my main responsibilities was the visiting teaching program. I came to have a strong testimony of the program, but not everyone shared my enthusiasm.
What frustration I encountered when sisters would readily accept an assignment to be a visiting teacher, but would never follow through! At one point I actually pleaded with the sisters (as a group) to please just tell me if they really weren't going to do their visiting teaching. I would have welcomed anyone who had enough integrity to admit that they really were not going to do it and to “just say no.”
“Once we have been selected to fill a calling, we are called by our priesthood leader for a private interview. At this time he reviews the responsibilities of our new calling and inquires about our personal and family circumstances to help us assess whether we can meet the requirements of time, preparation, meeting attendance, travel, and so on, involved in our calling.”
The fact that an assessment as to whether or not the calling can reasonably be done is part of the official process should help us understand that there are times when it cannot be reasonably done. It also reiterates the fact that it is our responsibility to make our circumstances known to our leaders. Last time I checked, the bishop's office didn't come equipped with a crystal ball or taro cards.
Years ago a close friend of mine, with multiple stake and ward callings, was extended her seventh calling. She accepted but then broke down in tears. When she explained to the stake leader extending the calling that with three very young children, a husband in graduate school, teaching music lessons, and six callings she was a tad overdrawn on her sanity account his response startled her. “Well, why didn't you just say so? Since you keep accepting the callings and you keep doing such a great job, we figured you could handle it all.”
Of course there are also times when we must at very least ask our leaders to reassess our ability to fulfill a calling we currently hold and at most ask to be released from it. It stands to reason that if we are moving or dying, passing on that information to our leaders would be helpful in the discussion. And if our calling conflicts with our spouse's calling or our schedule would make fulfilling it questionable, that should be brought up as well.
I was just released as the Boca Raton (Florida) Ward Young Women camp director and Laurel advisor because I moved to another state. I love the Young Women of Boca, but it's a rather trying commute. (My husband, however, is still officially on the Pompano Beach Stake high council. Do you think they'll cover his airfare?)
The Gospel According to Alison says that while often the Lord wants a particular person in a specific calling, often there are many people who could fulfill it and that any of them are acceptable to the Lord. The fact that the Lord confirmed to leaders that you are an acceptable candidate for a calling doesn't mean that you are the only one who can do it or that you will be condemned to a fiery pit for eternity if you decline.
On the other hand (and it is the biggest and the most important hand) we should be looking for reasons to go above and beyond the call of duty, not ways to get out of it. To be frank, I don't think there are very many valid reasons for refusing an extended call.
On a very primitive level, a basic sense of equity should motivate us to share in the work of the church. An article in the February 1979 Liahona said, “When people refuse callings or accept them reluctantly, the bishop feels like he's still out there all alone.” How true this is. If we are willing only to partake of what the church offers without making a contribution, the difference has to be made up by someone. Why should we assume that the resources of others are less valuable (and more easily shared) than our own? “Questions and Answers”
Some people are willing to serve, but only selectively. There are callings I have loved (Home and Family Education teacher, education counselor, Relief Society president, Gospel Doctrine teacher (3rd time)) and callings I have had to learn to love (Young Women camp director, Young Women counselor, Primary chorister, visiting teacher, Gospel Doctrine teacher (1st and 2nd times)). But I believe it is misguided to refuse a calling we find less desirable or to pick and choose the areas or auxiliaries in which we will serve.
That attitude reminds me of an incident many years ago when a newly married couple, looking for a place to live, attended our ward. Before deciding, however, they inquired of the bishop whether “any leadership callings will be opening up in the near future.” Excuse me while I gag.
Alma's insight may be helpful here. “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” Alma 29:1, 3
In addition to those who refuse callings they deem unworthy of their vast repertoire of skills, I would guess that there are two other reasons that rank high on the “refusal excuse” list. One is not having time to serve and the other is feeling unqualified for the position.
Franklin D. Richards said:
It is my opinion that being generally too busy and not being qualified are really not valid reasons for saying no to opportunities to serve in building the kingdom of God.
So what do we do if our schedule is already overloaded?
Elder Richard L. Evans said:
Can we avoid letting unessentials enslave us? Can we resolve to seek somewhat to simplify and to make a new appraisal of what we really consider essential, with a little more living, a little less of mere mechanics, a little less time being busy without accomplishing anything significant, a little less of meaningless motions?
And what do we do if we really do not have the skills necessary to fill the requirements of the calling extended?
Neal Maxwell said:
More often than not, calls come to those who feel unready, but who are actually ready enough in the view of God, rather than to those who feel ready themselves, but who are, in God's wisdom, unready.
Perhaps being humble enough to realize where we are lacking is a positive trait rather than a negative!
When I served as education counselor in Relief Society I submitted the name of a woman to be a Relief Society teacher. She had just moved into the ward and I had only spoken to her once, but I knew immediately she was the woman who should fill the spot I had been unable to fill.
This dear sister accepted the call, but soon spoke to me and expressed not only the feeling that she couldn't possibly teach a lesson, but that she was terrified of standing in front of all her sisters. I wondered if my signals had been crossed.
Because of her great trepidation, however, this sister prepared like no one I have ever seen. To this day I can say I have never heard such wonderful lessons or more powerful testimony in a Relief Society meeting. She blessed every woman who heard any of her lessons.
Neal Maxwell later said:
The gross size of our talent inventories is less important than the net use of our talents.
What a relief this statement is! It isn't our particular skill set that matters to the Lord; it is how much of it we offer to his service.
If the Lord generally expects us to reprioritize in order to serve where called and to lean on his grace to serve in areas we are weak, then we are left with precious little in the way of excuses.
The general rule seems pretty clear. Finally, I will let the prophet Joseph Smith have the final word:
I made this my rule, when the Lord commands do it.
I have the blessing of a family of bishop-in-laws, so I asked the Greens for advice. I put Liz's answer first, because her husband, the baby of the family who is our acknowledged spiritual giant, forwarded my query to his wife before he even considered his own reply. He has always put her first, and I thought this was an excellent example of the tender concern all bishops have for the sisters within their stewardship