Does God Need Me?

[ 19 ] Comments

by Bonnie

I sat doubled over in the temple dressing room stall sobbing quietly but uncontrollably, when suddenly I heard a frail voice wavering closer, “Sister Atkinson? … Sister Atkinson?” Quickly I swept my dress up and pulled my feet under me on my tiny perch, holding my breath and willing my shaking body not to give me away. She passed very slowly, still calling tenderly, waiting for me to give in and meet her halfway in the hallway. I held fast in my hiding place, tears flowing freely in my blissful seclusion.

Minutes before, I had been sitting across from the Temple Matron in her office discussing why my volunteering to serve as an excursion temple worker was being refused. We lived six hours from the Dallas Temple, so our stake took regular trips with a Greyhound bus full of eager patrons. I was nearly always on it. To adequately handle the work that needed to be done on these excursions, the temple had begun calling temporary workers to serve on these trips.

As a mother with seven young children at home, I knew that I would not have the privilege of serving as an ordinance worker for nearly two decades (because the church has a policy of not allowing women with children under 18 to serve as temple workers.) This new excursion position seemed to offer the possibility that I might be allowed to do the work for which I yearned most now. Surely there would be no reason to exclude young mothers from serving as excursion workers when they would be on the trip as patrons anyway.

Alas, the Matron looked at me with sad eyes and closed the door on my last hope. The policy of young mothers not serving as ordinance workers extended also to the excursion workers. I was heartbroken in a way that I’m sure is not entirely sensible to anyone else, but I will try to explain.

The fact was, the Lord didn’t want me, not to do anything eternally important, anyway. I perpetually served as an auxiliary counselor because my husband was in the bishopric. My name was put forward then dismissed (the bishop freely told me) for a number of callings, including seminary teacher (another that it broke my heart to not receive), because I had my hands full. My hands were full with children arriving regularly in 18 month intervals, trying to be a supportive bishopric wife, and dealing with a home life that was not what it should have been given my husband’s calling. My hands were full, for sure, and what I was tasked with holding was sucking the life out of me. To top it off, the Lord felt that all I was useful for was to wipe noses and bottoms and endlessly feed people. I could do so much more than that, but he didn’t want it – not from me.

I’ve spent a significant amount of my life trying to figure out how God feels about women. Most of my understanding has come in the quiet care of people close to me. When my husband was released and subsequently became completely inactive in church, leaders had no problem issuing me callings to lead (now freed from the policy of only one calling-strapped spouse per household), so I’ve spent a lot of time since balancing leading and caring for the home front. And I’m beginning to get it.

Today I taught the chapters in 3 Nephi in which the voice of God spoke to those who survived the earth-eruptions of our Savior’s mortal death. The atonement is a unique juxtaposition of at once the most administratively crucial and simultaneously the most intimate experience possible. If we consider doing the most good for the most people, the atonement is the superlative example, but it is equally personal in a profoundly guttural and base way.  There is no way to describe, I would imagine, how far below all humankind the Savior descended in those hours.

 

Having just endured that soul-draining intimacy with the whole of humanity, yet having also accomplished the most important event in all of creation, the Savior might have been tempted to go find a throne somewhere and gather his wits in blissful solitude. He might have been distracted by the explosion of praise and gratitude that must have burst across the heavens for having served so perfectly, so needfully, so importantly.

Instead, he went immediately to the people who had picked their way through the darkness to the temple, and he reached for them through their suffering. He explained their situation, invited them to shift their focus to more personal worship, then bared the yearnings of his soul for the creation. As the tumult faded and they were able to understand how to hear, he was able to reveal himself to them. And when he did, before he sermonized on anything, he stood for hours as they came to him one by one to touch him, to feel through their relationship with him, seeing him as personal Savior instead of distant heavenly administrator.

In the years that have unfolded since my morning in that temple dressing room, I’ve come to appreciate with a soulful assurance that God cares most about the details surrounding his children, and that what truly heals, what truly makes a difference, is profoundly personal. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that wiping noses and bottoms and endlessly feeding people is what he really wants from us, if we would rather do something else. Something more romantic, something more visible, something with a tangible feel of obvious service seems infinitely more appealing. But the fact is, to the person with a runny nose or a messy bum or a hungry stomach, nobody else matters.

In his own life he repeatedly taught that the most important service was between individuals, and that if we would lead we must learn to minister as a servant: to those with metaphorical runny noses and messy bums. I’ve taught that principle for nearly three decades, but I still need reminded occasionally that it’s better to save one person than to impress a multitude. Sometimes I still strain against policies designed to protect the most vulnerable among us when they inconvenience me.

I’m not even going to address those who criticize the church because there aren’t enough women speaking in conference or running programs for their taste. My heart is tender instead for people who want to do more because they love God and who feel dismissed and sent back to wipe noses and bottoms and endlessly feed people. Like the hours in the Garden, that will be the work that really makes a difference. And even if we say in our own tiredness, “Let this cup pass from me,” he knows our service-minded hearts, and honors our “nevertheless, thy will be done.”

Cecile Pelous chose to descend below to serve, to serve personally in a quiet, unheralded corner of the globe. She seems to have gone where there was need, not where she preferred to serve. Her story is the perfect foil for my sobbing on my lonely perch all those years ago, and you will instantly love her. In a thousand ways, she is the epitome of the Savior’s counsel that we not seek to be ranked against one another, letting worldly affectations of equality sully our discipleship.

For a Father who loves his children, the most meaningful gift he could give them is someone who will descend below all to serve them. If that is the work to which you are called, whether it includes runny noses or quiet corners of the kingdom, whether it is in Paris or Nepal or a small house in a subdivision, know that your call perfectly illustrates just how much God needs you. Only the world measures how much we’re needed by contorting the church into a corporation and then measuring the number of executive officers. The real power is personal, and all of us are equal to that opportunity. After all, the plan is not a business, but a family, and the home front is everything.

  • Have you ever felt dismissed by the Lord, or tested as Cecile was by Mother Teresa?
  • How have you found peace with the work that is so desperately needed of you?
  • What do you do to balance the very natural desire for recognition of your worth with the need to be humble and self-sacrificing?

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

19 Responses to Does God Need Me?

  1. Elissa says:

    Thank you – I have been struggling recently with knowledge that I may be about to be released from my favourite calling seminary. This has helped lift my spirits.

  2. Sarah says:

    This theme has been coming up in my life over and over again recently – the Saviour taught personally, one by one. Yes, he fed the thousands and had crowds following him, but those personal, private moments of shared sorrow, of shared joy, of healing and love and power… they happened one at a time. And they changed the world.

    It makes perfect sense that those private moments of service would be denigrated by society at large, exactly because they are private. But the Spirit whispers and our hearts change the most in quiet, not in crowds.

  3. Paul says:

    This clause is the core: “it’s better to save one person than to impress a multitude.”

    Thank you.

  4. Jessica says:

    Beautifully put. Thank you so much for sharing Bonnie – so many of us see ourselves through your words.

  5. Lisa says:

    Lovely, very thought out and so poignant to many of us. Although what I cam away with is the fact that your husband went inactive after being a Bishop. It makes me realize that any of us can fall away if we aren’t diligent in staying close to the Lord. Hang in there sweet sister.

  6. Ray says:

    Amen, Bonnie.

    It’s easy to want to do such big things that sometimes we forget to do the little things.

  7. Ray says:

    Lisa, it’s not just “staying close to the Lord” that is the issue for many people who become inactive after serving in time-consuming callings. In Elder Wirthlin’s masterful talk, “Concern for the One”, he mentioned a group of people who become inactive being those who are tired. He didn’t condemn or criticize them; instead, he implied quite clearly that it can be draining to serve in some callings in the Church, especially when we have full lives outside the Church, as well. It’s not easy being a Mormon leader – man or woman.

    There is a reason that many Bishops are called to the High Council after they are released as Bishop – to get them out of the ward so they won’t be tempted to criticize the new Bishop, but also to give them a calling that really isn’t that demanding. My favorite post-Bishop calling would be the Nursery – since I could show up in something other than a suit and tie, play with little kids on the floor for a couple of hours, teach simple lessons focused on being like Jesus, sharing, being nice to each other, sing Primary songs, eat crackers and drink water during church, etc. Iow, completely de-stress from my time as a Bishop – away from the adults in the ward who fed me a stress diet for 5-7 years.

  8. Emily says:

    “It’s a bitter pill to swallow that wiping noses and bottoms and endlessly feeding people is what he really wants from us, if we would rather do something else.” This was key to me. My goal has been aligning what I want with what I actually end up doing. Still not there, but am coming to terms with it. Probably should write about it sometime. Nice post. That would hurt so bad wanting to serve in the temple, then not being allowed to.

  9. Ramona Gordy says:

    Thanks Bonnie for this post. About a month ago, I scheduled a meeting with the Bishop of my ward, and I wanted him to know that I was under-used. I must have caught him by surprise because he started to laugh, but not at me he said. He asked me why I felt that way. I said: I love this Church, I love the Savior and I love his children. In the 4 years that I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I have received callings as an “assistant” this or that, and it was usually a temporary or short calling. I wondered if It was something I did or didn’t do. Recently I have a calling in Primary, and it is also an Assistant position, only now I am the only teacher.
    I don’t think my question was because I wanted to be “the leader”. My question was why assistant, and why don’t you use me, because I would do it. So my Bishop had no answer’s for me, but said he would keep me in mind. For a moment I felt like I had a job interview, and brought my A game, and I was being politely blown off. Ouch.
    I wondered what did Heavenly Father want me to do? So I looked at what I had been called to: Primary Teacher. I have no children and have struggled off and on with that reality. I would improve my self as a Primary Teacher. I would prepare better lessons, and learn to love the children I taught, no matter how many times I had to chase them down the hall, or coax them back into the class room, or try to figure out why they were having tantrums. Still a work in progress.
    The second thing the Lord revealed to me was my calling as Visiting Teacher. I have always thought I had been assigned the most challenging sisters in our ward. My sisters lived in the scariest neighborhoods, and sometimes they wouldn’t answer the door when we came, one sisters refused to talk to me, my companion decided she wanted a new companion. So I thought about what I needed to do to improve myself. Just little stuff, just learn to love more, regardless of the situation.
    I have a calling in the relief society committes; mostly setting up and taking down, and throwing in some fresh ideas for Relief Society social meetings. I thought, what is the purpose of this calling? So I was reminded that when we are in the service of our fellow beings, no matter what capacity, we are in the service of our God. OK. I am still working on these things and I will magnify these callings, and maybe the lesson for me is that its not the calling that is important, but God’s people who are.

  10. Shaylee Ann says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    This is an answer to my prayers. :)

  11. jendoop says:

    I have struggled with this for so long and felt alone in it. So many people publicly complain about callings that I would enjoy that I questioned myself, why I would want a bigger calling? I asked if I were prideful, to think that I could contribute to God’s kingdom? In the end I decided that wasn’t it. Really it’s about being anxiously engaged in a good cause. Sometimes that good cause is in a church calling but for me in the last 5 years it has been service out of the church – foster parenting and writing. (Neither particularly glamorous.) In these endeavors I have felt that I have had a taste of filling the measure of my creation. It is a wonderful feeling, even though it’s fleeting, it is well worth the mental anguish and work to eventually feel it.

    As for how to feel that in my Cub Scout calling? It is about serving the one. When I can focus on each boy and think about what he needs – how I can serve him and his family, what can I do to bring them closer and help them progress, how I can build a supportive relationship with them – then I get much closer to my goal of not just fulfilling my calling but being fulfilled and relieving that ache while doing it. (What often gets in the way of these good feelings are the struggles I have with my fellow servants. God always gives me love for those I serve, but not always for those I serve along side.)

  12. Carin says:

    I too loved this post and have sometimes struggled with these same thoughts and feelings. I have come to learn that there is a time and season for all things. If my season of nose-wiping and rear-end cleaning lasts my entire life, then I am sure there are many things the Lord has for me to learn…..mostly this lesson has been the prevalent theme: it is about the one. My desire is sometimes to touch many at once, but the truth be told, my best service is done for many, many people, but one at a time, individually, without fan-fare in very, very quiet moments. And the people that happens most often with, are the ones who I have spent time wiping their noses and their rear-ends and feeding them. Because I have offered that service to them, their hearts are more open to my counsel and I can say eternal things to them at crucial times when their hearts are almost closed. I can get away with more than anyone else, always.

    And to Jendoop, ditto. I too have had that experience. Yet I have learned that if I will turn the opportunity for service to the people I am serving with also, I receive the same gift. If I serve them, I learn to love them too. Some of the people I have liked the least, I have learned to love the most. Please don’t assume that I love everyone. I have many people I am still trying to get along with. I am sure the Lord will give me an opportunity to learn to love them, too. Lovely! (insert sarcasm) But in the end, I will be glad He did, once I get past my attitude.

  13. Bonnie says:

    I appreciated reading the personal experiences people have had with these types of realizations, especially as they often require a bit of time coming to terms (that’s so real for all of us). Thank you so much for chiming in with your thoughts. The conversation is what makes writing worthwhile.

  14. atfears says:

    Your post resonated with me on a couple of levels.

    I was the girl begging her student ward bishop to be allowed to enter the temple–even when there was no engagement, even when I felt I shouldn’t be putting in mission papers–and being told no on administrative principle.

    I am the bishop’s wife right now and though I try to take solace in the phrase from the Milton sonnet “they also serve who only stand and wait,” the truth of the matter is waiting is lonely, ‘having your hands full’ in the service of small people DOES wring you out and it has been more difficult for me to learn to find renewal in this solitary, gritty service than in other forms of service where the renewal and sisterhood seems built in.

    I have heard snippets over the years of my husband’s service in various callings of those who were called despite administrative principle. In so many cases these women (why is it always women?) are tearful that finally they too are asked to serve, even though they have a disabled child, or are divorced or are whatever.

    I am most in awe of one woman in our ward who is 1) a nursery leader 2) a Wolf leader AND 3) home schools her children, including one child along the ASD spectrum. She gets it. She has figured out how to find joy in service for service’ sake and find renewal, to truly lose herself in service to God and find the rest that God will give us if we get it.

    I don’t always get it. I try. But I am still waiting, still trying to find meaning in a lonely post as teacher of 10 6yos (a promotion from my former post as official last minute primary substitute) and then going home to the post as mother to 5 kids who are hungering for their (often) absent father, trying to teach them the value in their waiting as well, in their service, all while trying to find and keep mine.

    Thankfully, I haven’t ever felt dismissed by the Lord, just dismissed by His servants who may not be willing to listen to inspiration outside administrative principle. It has been my challenge to not mistake their dismissiveness as divine.

  15. Cheryl says:

    I’ve been mulling on this post for a while now, because I liked –and didn’t like –how it made me feel.

    Four years ago, God told me to stop doing a lot of things that brought me joy, but took time away from my most important calling (motherhood). It was hard. It took mental illness for me to finally wake up to my situation and to essentially quit. I said good-bye to extra money, music, editing, writing, photography, and essentially, life outside my home. At the same time, I asked to be released from one of my two callings –the one that brought me the most “praise of the ‘ward’.” (Yes, I meant ward, not world. ha! :) ) This was hard for me, because I’ve always enjoyed those time-consuming callings.

    One time, I felt inspired that I would be the next RS President. I kept that feeling/inspiration close to my heart and then… nothing. I wasn’t. Shortly thereafter, I felt inspired that my husband would be called to the Bishopric. I kept that inspiration close to my heart and then, again… nope. He wasn’t.

    I took a few things away from both of these experiences:
    1. I was willing. God wanted to know if I was willing, and I was, and it was enough.
    2. Serving my children is no less noble or valuable than serving a congregation. I have had several personal witnesses since that day all those years ago that by focusing my attention on my children, I am, in essence, creating service-minded people. My kids see me saying yes to volunteer opportunities –ones I probably wouldn’t have if I had “bigger” callings — and saying yes to all callings that come my way. I see how they now, in turn, serve others.

    It reminds me of the women who raised the stripling warriors. Those women never fought in any wars, but they raised young men who did. Did those women ever feel they were unnecessary or not needed? Did they wonder if their contributions were really making a difference? Did they realize what they had done when they saw the miraculous faith of their children?

    As women, we have a tough time of it because satan is doing his darned best to make us feel that what we do is less or not enough or not good enough. The world teaches us if we don’t see the fruits of our labors RIGHT NOW, then we must not have any importance.

    Fantastic post, Bonnie. Truly.

  16. Bonnie says:

    So true, Cheryl (the short-sightedness of immediate gratification). I am reviewing a book written by a business leader and he talks about a company that he consulted with. Their policy was to promote from within after evaluations of executives every 18 months. Because the evaluations involved the profit and loss reports of their departments or divisions, no executive was willing to engage in any effort that didn’t turn out an immediate reward. And because of that policy, the company was floundering after years of short-sighted work that rewarded executives with more power who made short-sighted decisions. It was a stunning realization to me, because in poverty work the one thing that we teach consistently is the ability to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. A multi-million dollar balance sheet was being run like a food stamp home. It takes your breath away when you think about it, but we don’t often have a reason to think about it.

  17. […] to do that? I wonder if, even in our different choices of how to act, we share some of the same buried questions. If so, I definitely get that. If so, I could never respond with a […]

  18. britt says:

    oh i have felt this feeling…the desire to be helpful. i have frequently felt this in the temple. i appreciate the difference of men and women. i undstand the beauty of spending my time clothing the naked…even the happily naked and feeding the ungrateful hungry.

    it is a challenge. it is hard to feel like doing what the Lord wants me to do…makes me less useful.

    i do have to keep my eye on love…i always have that choice available to me. to love or to not love. what other choice do i need? sigh. i keep having to remind myself of that.

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