Is it worth it to lead and serve when it’s not appreciated, required, or noticed?
In Darby O’Gill and the Little People a priest needs a bell moved from another town to their local church. The question of pay comes up. The church is poor, so Darby volunteers for free—partly out of a guilty conscience. Compassionately, the priest says: “No, as a reward, you may have the music of the bell … and for your seed, breed, and generation ’till the end of time.”
When It’s Unpopular
More than a decade ago we moved to a beautiful rural area. The local LDS branch was the first in that state, but it was still just a branch after 130 years. Sparse population wasn’t the only reason. A few vocal members didn’t fully sustain Church doctrines and leaders, which drained spirit and strength from the branch.
In time we felt prompted to speak up and encourage, testify, and teach the importance of temple marriage because of the profound blessings that flow from it in this life and in eternity. As Young Women’s president my wife taught it all she could. Especially she encouraged the young women to make temple marriage their unwavering goal by dating only young men with high standards and “courting” (serious dating) only those preparing to marry them there. (See For the Strength of Youth, Dating and Dating Advice from Apostles and Prophets.) In my callings I did the same.
Unfortunately, this offended more than a few. Their concerns were understandable—many had married outside the Church in a different era and had seen their wonderful spouses join later. What a blessing and strength those spouses were! We loved them! But that was only the surface story. The membership rolls showed that maybe ten times more had taken that path and now had shattered hopes, greater burdens, and spiritual inactivity. It was a heart-wrenching reminder that dating and marriage standards taught by prophets and apostles matter deeply both now and forever.
So some members undermined our efforts when we weren’t present, sending a double message that confused the youth. We were disliked and avoided by some, and it hurt. We tried to teach the principles with respect, to not offend, but we could not change what the Spirit had plainly warned us to teach. Finally, exhausted and spiritually drained after five years of pushing this invisible boulder uphill, the Spirit prompted us to move on.
The Unexpected Result
More than a decade later, one of those young women unexpectedly wrote and thanked my wife. This young lady heard, understood, and set her course. In spite of other opportunities she chose to wait until she found a worthy young man to take her to the temple. Recently she married him there, and they were sealed as a couple for time and all eternity with all the connected blessings flowing to her and her generations after her. Today she is a temple worker, and her sister has been sealed in the temple as well.
Now, she said, when she goes to the temple she remembers my wife and her teachings that inspired her to marry there. Generations changed because my wife spoke up when it was hard, even when enduring subtle persecution by a few who didn’t truly understand the stakes. This young woman’s life and family is now my wife’s “bell,” her music is now my wife’s “music of the bell” because my wife made it possible—even when it was hard.
When It’s Anonymous
Decades ago, in another ward, our bishop quietly asked a young couple if they could pay for someone’s mission. The prospective missionary was well-prepared and had made valiant sacrifices to be active, but he had no support from home. Without help he might not be able serve. This couple gladly agreed on the condition that they stay anonymous. Only the bishopric and clerks could know they had helped. And so the young man was called as a missionary to Norway.
When he finally returned he wanted to meet and thank the couple, but they still insisted on anonymity. “Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth,” Christ had said. (Matthew 6:1,3. See also Thomas S. Monson, Anonymous, April 1983 LDS General Conference.)
So the return missionary spoke in their (and my) sacrament meeting. We heard a deeply, thoroughly converted young leader talking and testifying—a living result of two years of self-sacrifice, service, and gratitude. Then, as a gift to the couple, he sang a hymn with his impressive fiance: Be Still My Soul, and he explained that its melody came from a famous Norwegian patriotic song. I’m sure that hymn changed forever for that couple—I know it did for me. I’m sure they would never again hear it without thinking of that missionary, feeling the joy of helping, pondering the lives he had changed in Norway and the journey he and his fiance were now embarking on.
I remembered that missionary again when I Love the Lord was sung years later in general conference to that same melody. How must that couple have felt! Both hymns surely had to be, to them, “the music of the bell.” HE was their bell, HIS music was now “their music,” because their anonymous service had made it possible.
Righteous Influence, Anxiously Engaged
The Lord makes it clear that he prizes initiative. The Savior said:
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. (DC 58:27-8.)
He also tells us to “teach one another words of wisdom … out of the best books” without specifically telling us what those books are. We need to seek them out for ourselves. (DC 88:118.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith also said:
‘Tis right, politically, for a man who has influence to use it, as well as for a man who has no influence to use his. From henceforth I will maintain all the influence I can get. (History of the Church, 5:286.)
In other words, God wants us to lead and influence good, righteously, from wherever we stand, in whatever calling or opportunity we have, no matter how small or seemingly great. And true, righteous leadership can’t be commanded, it comes from the heart based on pure and virtuous principles. (See DC 121:37-46.) As one who transforms companies and teams, I can attest that Joseph Smith’s vision of appropriate, effective leadership was pure inspired genius—more than a century before its time in the world’s eyes. Many of the principles he lived and taught are just now being recognized and applied in the business world, with amazing results.
Why Does it Offend?
But if anxiously doing good and exerting influence is right, why are some around and among us offended by it? Why are even our own Church leaders sometimes uncomfortable when people try to follow this path?
I think part of the answer is this: when we become “anxiously engaged” we become something different. It changes us. We are no longer simply baptized members, no longer just “managers” as the world thinks of it, but “leaders,” regardless of our positions or callings, true disciples of the Lord, who himself “went about doing good.” (See Hugh Nibley, Leaders to Managers, The Fatal Shift.)
Impelled by A Mighty Change
Elder James E. Faust said:
In our extremities, it is possible to become born again, born anew, renewed in heart and spirit. We no longer ride with the flow of the crowd, but instead we enjoy the promise of Isaiah to be renewed in our strength and “mount up with wings as eagles” (Isa. 40:31). (James E. Faust, The Refiner’s Fire.)
President Marion G. Romney, speaking for the Lord, said:
No person whose soul is illuminated by the burning Spirit of God can in this world of sin and dense darkness remain passive. He is driven by an irresistible urge to fit himself to be an active agent of God in furthering righteousness and in freeing the lives and minds of men from the bondage of sin. (From Conference Report, 4 Oct. 1941, p. 89, Ibid.)
Parley P. Pratt said it this way:
You will find that there is a spirit upon you which will urge you to continued exertion; and will never suffer you to feel at ease in Zion while a work remains unfinished in the great plan of redemption of our race. It will inspire the Saints to build, plant improve, cultivate, make the desert fruitful—in short to use the elements, send missions abroad, build up states and kingdoms and Temples at home, and send abroad the light of a never ending day to every people, and nation of the globe.
You have been baptized—you have had the laying on of hands; and some have been ordained, and some anointed with a holy anointing. A spirit has been given you. And you will find, if you undertake to rest, it will be the hardest work you ever performed. I came home from a foreign mission. I presented myself to our President, and inquired what I should do next—rest, said he.
If I had been set to turn the world over, to dig down a mountain, to go to the ends of the earth, or traverse the deserts of Arabia, it would have been easier than to have undertaken to rest, while the Priesthood was upon me. I have received the holy anointing, and I can never rest till the last enemy is conquered, death destroyed, and truth reigns triumphant. (Journal of Discourses, 1:15 as reported here, punctuation standardized and emphasis added.)
Once we are changed in our natures by the Lord, we HAVE to lead, wherever we stand, regardless of callings or lack thereof. A calling is not necessary to lead the Lord’s way. In fact, he says plainly that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood,” but by principles of righteous servant leadership, which he then defines in the verses that follow. (DC 121:41-46.)
The Problem of Persuasion
And that’s the problem for some. LDS scholar Hugh Nibley pointed out that it’s natural for “managers” to feel threatened by undesignated, unofficially approved “leaders.” (op. cit.) Even those called by God to administer can, if we are not careful, feel uncomfortable with those who yearn passionately to minister when it goes against “the flow of the crowd,” as my wife did with the young women in that rural branch.
We see this in the life of Christ. What he did was not always appreciated, some were irritated, some felt threatened, and some opposed him—especially the designated spiritual and political managers—and they were offended to the point of hating him, working against him, and eventually killing him.
BUT… while many hated Christ, others heard and responded, and their lives and our world changed forever.
Will Your Efforts Even Matter?
The same is true in our families. Parents sacrifice and suffer and mourn and teach and labor day after day, but will it be appreciated? Or will your children resent it? As quorum and auxiliary leaders and home and visiting teachers, will the people we reach out to be inspired by us or irritated? As teachers, will our students hear and be converted, or will they browse Facebook and struggle to stay awake, never absorbing the lessons?
If we anxiously try to bring to pass righteousness, influence others, teach one another words of wisdom, what difference will it make?
It’s too soon to tell. We usually don’t see the results until years later. Many who appreciated sat quietly on the sidelines and said nothing, but they noticed and it helped them.
Paul said: “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10.)
The Music of Your Bell
I’ve been alive for 55 years. From experience, please let me assure and promise you: at some future time it WILL become clear to you which lives were changed, who was influenced for good, what paths of sorrow were avoided because of your testimony and love of Christ in your words and actions, because of your anxious influence, even sometimes by those who were once irritated by it. Sometimes that clarity comes from their own words. Sometimes it comes by pure, precious revelation. It has in my life. And of course, sometimes we won’t know for sure until we look back from the other side of the veil.
But when that happens, regardless of when it is, you will suddenly realize and KNOW that their joy, their peace and that of their children, their righteousness and even their ultimate salvation is in some way your “music of the bell,” more precious to you than things of this world, more valuable than acceptance by those who didn’t understand at the time, of more worth than the money or time or reputation you sacrificed.
Their lives are YOUR bells, their music is your music, and nobody can take that from you, EVER, because you were willing to lead and speak up when you weren’t an official leader, to be anxiously engaged in a good cause when it wasn’t asked or appreciated, to sacrifice when it wasn’t required, and yes, to be misunderstood and distanced perhaps by some who may not yet understand, but who someday may.
With all my heart I pray and yearn that you and I will be true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, fully receiving his image in our countenances, loving him and His children with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, anxiously and valiantly speaking up more often, serving his children, and in so doing serve Him.
I know from long experience that if you do, you will eventually, in due season, rejoice in the music of their lives, and “great will be your joy.” (See DC 18:15.)
Every Good Thing Blog
Kevin Crenshaw is a Mormon who recently served as a 7-year volunteer seminary teacher for LDS youth. Although he makes every effort to be a careful student of LDS theology and history, the opinions expressed are his own. He is not authorized to speak officially in behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.