Relief Society Lesson 23: No Less Serviceable

abish

This lesson from the Howard W. Hunter manual about recognizing the value in unheralded acts of service and leadership is actually quite good on its own, and it also presents some unique opportunities to celebrate women in the scriptures and in the church.  This should be a fun lesson to teach!

I would start by reading from Doctrine & Covenants 76:5-7:

5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.

What does this scripture tell us about those who serve God? Those who serve God in righteousness and in truth will have a great reward and eternal glory, and will have the mysteries of the kingdom revealed unto them.  It doesn’t qualify that only those who serve in prestigious/visible callings within the church will receive those blessings.  In fact, it doesn’t qualify that only those who serve *within the church* will receive those blessings.  It simply says that those who serve God in righteousness and truth, in whatever capacity, will receive those blessings.  These blessings are open to all who serve, regardless of position, status, race, gender, or creed.

President Hunter echoes this message in a conversation with a friend.  From the manual:

Several weeks before President Hunter passed away, a friend asked, “Dear President, what is the most exalted position or calling—that of a dear and trusted friend, or that of a prophet of God?” After hearing the question, “the President pondered silently for what seemed like minutes; then slowly grasping the hand of his friend and turning his head squarely toward him, with a tear trickling down his frail cheek, he responded, ‘they are both sacred callings of trust.’”

I love President Hunter’s response here, because he doesn’t seek to elevate his prophetic call above the call of discipleship, nor does he seek to place the common call of friendship onto a pedestal.  He simply says that they are both sacred callings of trust. In a church that is thoroughly hierarchical in terms of leadership structure and priesthood authority, President Hunter reminds us all that our ideal is to be a Zion society, and to be of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness, with no poor among us (Moses 7:18-19).

President Hunter encourages us to look to the scriptures, not to the stories we know well and are told over and over again (like Nephi), but instead to look for those who get a brief mention, but are strong and faithful (like Sam).  He says:

The names and memories of such men and women who were “no less serviceable” are legion in the Book of Mormon. Whether it be Mother Sariah or the maid Abish, servant to the Lamanite queen, each made contributions that were unacknowledged by the eyes of men but not unseen by the eyes of God.

This is a great opportunity to open up the discussion to the class and have people talk about their favorite women in the scriptures.  In fact, it might be useful to have one or two women come prepared to talk about their favorite women from the scriptures, and what they learn from their acts of service and leadership.  One helpful resource?  The Exponent’s recent series on Women of the Bible!  I especially love hearing stories about unnamed women in the scriptures – there are so many brave women whose examples we can learn from, like the Woman with an issue of Blood, the Widow of Zarephath, and the Daughter of Jephthah.  Surely these women are “no less serviceable” because their names were not preserved in the records!  How can we better honor those in the scriptures whose stories are brief but still important?

President Hunter goes on to say that “there are examples of these serviceable individuals in our dispensation as well.” How can we honor the acts of service that are rendered in our own circumstances, whether great or small?  I would argue that one way to do this is to express gratitude when we see others serving.  It may be even a small act, but noticing one another’s sacrifices to build God’s kingdom and then thanking them can help our fellow brothers and sisters feel loved and appreciated in our communities, and by extension, loved and appreciated by God.  We can also listen to one another and hear each other’s stories.  We may never know about the time that a certain woman cared for her ailing mother-in-law in her final hours, for example, unless we listen to her talk about it.  In listening, we can also be prompted by the spirit to know how to serve one another and be instruments in the Lord’s hands.  Encourage the sisters to pay attention to those around them, to express gratitude, and to be sensitive to the spirit in knowing how to serve and uplift one another.

Even as we express gratitude and serve each other, we should be mindful of not seeking praise or attention for our acts of service.  In Matthew 6:2-6, Christ declares:

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

We need to be careful that when we serve, we are doing so in a way that directs the attention to God and not to ourselves.  It’s great to be anxiously engaged in a good cause, but Christ warns us against taking the credit and openly boasting of our service.  In fact, it might be worth mentioning that Christ did not seek accolades in his service, and instead wandered among the marginalized, rendering service where he could, and seeking to know “the least of these.”  He made sure that those he served knew that he was there in the service of God, and simply went along his way, doing good continually.

I love the poem shared towards the end of the lesson from Meade Macguire:

 “Father, where shall I work today?”
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then He pointed out a tiny spot
And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly, “Oh no; not that!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done;
Not that little place for me.”
And the word He spoke, it was not stern;
He answered me tenderly:
“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine.
Art thou working for them or for me?
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”

Close with your testimony of the value of each act of service, no matter how large or small.  Echo the words from the Doctrine and Covenants from the beginning of the lesson – the blessings that come from serving God come to all who serve in righteousness and truth.  Encourage the women in your class to serve one another, to appreciate one another, and to listen to one another.  Encourage them to delve into the stories of the lesser-known people in the scriptures, particularly the stories of women, and to glean strength from them.  Remind them that they all have divinity within them as daughters of God, and to seek to serve and glorify God through their actions and interactions.

Liz

Liz is a reader, writer, wife, mother, gardener, social worker, story collector, cookie-maker, and hug-giver.

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