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Does service count if you hate every minute of it?

I had a friend who was asked by the Relief Society president to go and clean a rather unpleasant woman’s house. My friend described the rather horrific condition of the bathrooms, and then, she said something I often think of when there’s an act of service I need to do but don’t really want to do.

She said, “I just kept thinking, ‘I’m cleanin’ toilets for Jesus, cleanin’ toilets for Jesus.”

There have been times in my life when my life has been easy—put together, uncomplicated, busy, but not too busy. During these times, I love offering service. I know I’ve been blessed, and I’ll perform acts of service quite willingly.

Those periods in my life last two, three months tops. It’s when I start feeling too busy, overworked, and/or underappreciated that it gets difficult to give service, in my callings, for my family, for my “ward family.”

I believe that it is precisely during these times I need to continue doing service even though I don’t enjoy it—ok, sometimes, I flat out hate it. I can sing a hymn in my head, quote a scripture or two and think of Jesus to help me do a little better, but it’s still tough for me.

Now, I should explain that I’m not talking about giving service when I’m already overextended, and there is not much of me to give. <a href=” http://segullah.org/blog/?p=36
” target=”_blank”> Herrick on the Segullah blog wrote an excellent post about trying to give service when feeling completely overwhelmed and learning when to say, “no.”

I’m talking about giving service when I’m feeling lazy and like I don’t have the time when I probably do. Perhaps, I’m just an inherently selfish person, but it’s often tricky for me. And, if I’m asked on the fly…ugh, it’s even worse. I like to be able to schedule in my Christ-like charity, thank you very much.

My DH, Harijans, asks why I give service if I can’t give it willingly. He thinks it doesn’t count if we’re not giving it with a willing heart. When I grumble, he gets exasperated and asks why I volunteered (and yes, I’m usually volunteering) in the first place.

I argue that if I only gave service when I had a willing heart, I’d be doing at least 80% less service than I do now (hmmm…can you measure service in percentages?). I maintain that by doing service when I’m disgruntled, I’m working on getting better at giving service more willingly.

Harijans, on the other hand, never complains about service. He does it quite willingly and probably more often than I do. He’ll report quite matter-of-factly and without the least bit of outrage bad Elder’s Quorum moves (including the last one, when he and another guy found a used condom while they were dismantling a kitchen shelving unit). He’s never annoyed by the family that clears out before the EQ gets there, leaving the elders to pack the boxes and the truck, forcing them to loose a whole Saturday.

Our very different attitudes make me wonder what makes it easy for some people to give service while others struggle. Is it just a matter of practicing a lot? Is it a spiritual gift that some are blessed with?

Some of my favorite scriptures are the ones about charity (see Moroni 7:44-47 and 1 Corinthians 13) and I am quick to talk about the importance of having charity and giving service. It just seems hard for me to completely internalize this concept.

I do believe that by giving service when I don’t necessarily want to, it has gotten easier. Giving up a morning or afternoon for someone else doesn’t feel as burdensome as it once did, and I can whip up a dinner pretty quickly. I don’t think I’d be any better at either if I hadn’t been doing it when I didn’t necessarily want to. So, perhaps there is hope for me, if I have another 70-80 years to keep working on it…


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is a really good question. We always hear about how service is meaningless if it’s given grudgingly or whatever. The test I use is ‘if it could be true about the atonement then it’s okay.’ For example, I’m pretty sure that the atonement wasn’t fun, and that Christ rather disliked how unpleasant it was (he cites how awful it was in a few scriptures, and at the time asked if there was some other way). He did it anyways, though, because he loves us, and because God asked him to. He doesn’t resent us for needing him to go through that suffering, he doesn’t resent God for asking it of him and he doesn’t get mad if we don’t accept his gift.

    So I think it’s okay to dislike the actual act of service, (to not enjoy it, and to kinda wish we didn’t really have to do it) as long as we are able to maintain a Christ-like attutude towards the people involved. (That Christ-like attitude needs to go towards ourselves too. It’s much worse to happily give service and then become vain about what great people we are, rather than to dislike the service while remaining humble.)

  2. Tam says:

    I’m with Starfoxy – there’s a difference between “a willing heart” and “a joyful heart” and they don’t always go together. Someone can very much dislike performing a certain act of service, but because she sees someone else’s need, she does it despite the unpleasantness. Being honest with your self about the unpleasantness isn’t the same thing as doing something grudgingly.

  3. Deborah says:

    Doesn’t part of maturity come from recognizing that what is good isn’t always fun or pleasant? I sometimes laugh (good-naturedly) when a student tells me, “That homework wasn’t much fun.” I’m with Starfoxy — it’s ok to dislike the work if you resist translating that emotion to the recipient of the service. I think we really do need to carefully consider our attitude toward those we serve. This comment in a recent speech by Claudia Bushman gave me pause:

    “Relief Society sisters get a lot of encouragement to serve others. I am not too keen on service myself. I like working with people, showing concern for other people, sharing similar interests. When we go serve others, we often become superior and condescending. We hear reports of people not living up to our standards. Oh my dear, you would never believe the state they live in. We switch from being helpful to being judgmental. I once heard of three eminent sisters who made a solemn pact that in case of accident or trouble, they would race to each other’s houses and clean them up before the Relief Society could get there.”

  4. Caroline says:

    I like the idea of service, but I admit I pick and choose how I like to serve. I love my Humanitarian calling in which I encourage people to reach out beyond the congregation to serve in the community. In the next couple of weeks we’re going to pick some crops and donate the food to the poor, we’re going to write letters for peace and justice on the day commemmorating the U.N resolution on Human Rights, and we’re going to adopt a family for Christmas.

    All of the above things I’m excited and happy to do. I would not be excited and happy to clean toilets, however.

    There’s that scripture somewhere in the Book of Mormon that says if you give service grudgingly it doesn’t even count at all. I totally disagree with that. I think it’s much better to serve grudgingly than not doing it at all. After all the person gets helped in the end, no matter what your attitude is.

    Deborah, do you have a link to that speech by Claudia Bushman?

  5. Deborah says:

    Just posted it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The problem with picking and choosing what service we give is that if we dont help, some other poor sap does all the dirty work – every time.

    I cant tell you how much respect I have lost for people in the RS that stand up and tell of some great service opportunity they had a chance to select and complete, but when it comes down to time to clean the chapel, they never show up.

    Some times you just have to suck it up and do your part. There are only about 5 women in my ward that will do that, and its getting pretty old.

    Sorry for the rant, cleaned the chapel with one other woman yesterday – the entire RS was supposed to show up and help.

  7. journeygal says:

    I found myself looking at this from the side of the receiver instead of the giver.

    Part of the reason I sometimes I have a really hard time accepting help from others is I worry that the only reason they are giving it is because they feel obligated. I hate the thought of someone serving me just because they think the have to – I’d rather not have them help at all.

    On the other hand, the church that needs to be cleaned probably doesn’t care whether the person handling the vaccuum feels obligated or not.

    I think the risk of serving another person while hating every minute of it is that that person senses the lack of sincerity – complaining that the work is awful is one thing, but in the end, I have to believe that Christ wanted to perform that act of service, and somehow that negated the hate He felt for every minute.

  8. Mike Kessler says:

    I haven’t thoroughly read the post and comments — just skimmed. But from a Jewish perspective, or at least from my Jewish perspective, service is service, and it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. As long as someone receives a benefit from it, you done good. Obviously, doing service willingly and joyfully is much preferred, but that’s an additional value-added benefit to all parties. If it’s really service, and it’s something that needs to be done, it doesn’t matter how much you hate it because you still have to do it. If nothing else, it instills humility.

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