The new buzz word is ministering. Heaven forbid we should call ourselves ministers, though that is what we are. Unfortunately, the word minister carries with it in today’s world some very specific connotations and images that we want to avoid. But ministers is what we are, and what we have been called to be by the Lord. So while we have our ministrations, our ministering, and are, in fact, ministers, we are stuck referring to ourselves as ministering brothers and ministering sisters instead of being able to call what we are being asked to do by the Lord what it really is – a ministry.
In the late 1300’s the word ministry meant “the function of a priest.” But by the early 1900’s the term ministry began to be used as a name for political offices – the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No longer was the word confined to what God had called his servants to do for each other, to minister to one another – to be ministers or doers of good. So now we go ministering, but it confuses people when we refer to ourselves as ministers. A ministration is an act of service. It is an act of good one performs.
Some are confused
In the past, some have confused showing up and sharing a message with a home or visiting teaching family with ministering. Some of us have gotten it into our heads that if we take a plate of cookies, or give a preprinted card with a quote on it, or hand them a refrigerator magnet with a pithy saying on it that we have fulfilled the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the efforts that went into the creation of all these cookies, magnets, and cards. I’ve used them myself. Perhaps that is why scenes from movies strike a sensitive chord in us when we see something like a home teacher slipping large chocolate chip cookies through the mail slot at 11:55 p.m. on the 31st of the month, and calling out through the slot the message for the month. We tend to see ourselves in such behavior. That is where the humor comes from, sad though it may be.
Aspects of ministering
Part of the difficulty in ministering to others is that it requires the very things that make our personal relationships so difficult. Married couples wrestle with ministering in their marriage all the time. To minister to another’s needs is to be aware of what is needed and to desire to meet that need and anticipate that need. By doing this we alleviate suffering, bring comfort, and help someone feel more secure in our relationship with them.
With my wife’s permission I can give you a demonstration. My wife is a classic example of the absent minded professor. She was a math professor for more than three decades. She would walk across campus deep in thought, completely oblivious to the conversations and attentions of others in her inner conversation with herself as she went from place to place. She isn’t unfriendly, she was just lost in thought. Recently, I bought her multiple water bottles to use around the house, because she had glasses of water that kept getting spilled or left empty when she needed them. The water bottles prevent her from spilling her water on the power strips under the tables. Now I move from room to room always on the lookout for the stray water bottles. I know she will need one the next time she enters the living room or the bedroom, or her office, but is that where they are, of course not. They were left in the greenhouse, the laundry room, or the kitchen, and all of them need refilling – constantly.
So this is one way I minister to my wife’s needs. I know she needs her water and that she probably won’t have her bottle filled and by her side when she wants her water, so I do what I can to keep them filled for her. I bring them to her wherever she is in the house, instead of expecting her to go to where they are supposed to be stationed. This is a small service on my part that is greatly appreciated by my wife.
This is just one small example of what ministering entails. I took the time to notice a way I could be of greater service to the love of my life, and found that with a little thought and effort I can make her life more pleasant and enjoyable. It is one way for me to show her how much I love her and care for her. Notice that there were no cookies, cards, or magnets involved. This was something tailored to her needs and meant to help in a way that demonstrates love and concern.
Ministering is a demonstration of love
This may be a difficult concept for many of us to fully grasp, but when we perform ministrations to others we are, in fact, demonstrating our love and concern for them. We are expressing our desire that they be uplifted, comforted, cared for, and relieved of hardship of some kind. It can actually be all of these things or just one of them. Any time we do good for someone else we are ministering to them. But the best kind of ministering is not to just do random good, but to do good that will actually benefit them. Giving $50 to a millionaire may be a good deed, but it would be a much better deed if it were given to someone who actually needed the money. There is a qualitative side to doing good. The object is not to just do good, but to do the good that the person needs done.
What does it say about the love I demonstrate to my neighbor if I do good for them that is basically wasted effort on my part, because they have no need for the good I have done? As far as I can see, it just shows my neighbor that I am clueless as to their real needs or desires. It sends the signal that I don’t really care about them. I am more concerned that I be seen doing good rather than that the good that I do be well placed and effective in the life of the one on which I bestow my efforts. It’s like giving cookies to a known diabetic. To fulfill the Lord’s directive to love my neighbor as myself, I must love my neighbor enough to care about doing the good that my neighbor needs me to do, instead of what is convenient for me to do.
What props do I need?
As I pondered the props we so often feel we can’t face our visiting families without, it occurred to me that the Savior was more poor than most any of us, yet he was the master server. If anyone knew how to minister to the needs of others, it was Jesus. Yet he had no props to hand them or fancy preprinted cards to hold up to them to show how well he prepared his message for them. Instead, he was a keen observer of the human condition. He could see when someone was hurting, and he sought to ease that suffering any way he could. It didn’t matter how small the act of kindness that was required, if it eased their burden or helped them to believe in God’s love more easily, even if just a little then it was enough.
What we sometimes forget is that ministering requires that we get involved in someone else’s life. We can’t minister to other’s needs while living in a self-contained bubble. We must interact with others, observe them, look for their needs that aren’t being met, and recognize their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. We have been called upon to council with each other for the welfare of others in our wards and branches, but how are we supposed to do this if we know nothing of any importance about our neighbors? If we don’t know what they struggle with each day, how are we supposed to find a way to ease that burden? If we hide our own needs from our neighbors, how are they supposed to help us? Ouch, that pulls on the vulnerability string. Heaven forbid anyone in our neighborhood or ward family finds out that our home has challenges and needs!
This ministering call requires that we all pull off our own masks and expose our true faces to our neighbors. This is something that we will have to take to the Lord for help to accomplish. I dare say I am not fully aware of all the ways I try to hide my imperfections and deficits from my neighbors. If I am to be honest with my ward family and neighbors then I am going to need to find a way to show them who I truly am.
We expect others to be transparent so we can serve them better and fill their needs and alleviate their suffering, yet we too often try to hide those very things about ourselves.
Ministering opens doors
Each step the Church takes in its progress toward preparing the way for the Savior’s return requires that we become a little bit more united as a people. Being united cannot (I repeat – cannot) be done when we are hiding in plain sight from each other. If we are trying to come across as the perfect family, with no spiritual challenges or financial difficulties, no sins, no this or no that then we will never be capable of becoming a united people. Unity only happens when we learn to accept people for who they are this day, warts and all.
I brought up the story of my wife and her water bottles, but I failed to mention that long before the water bottles I encountered her penchant for always turning her clothing inside out. When it came time for me to fold the laundry she had done, I convinced myself that she turned her clothes inside out on purpose just to annoy me. I hated having to reverse every single piece of clothing she had worn for the last week before I could fold it or hang it up. I would just be angry at the very thought of having to go through it yet again each week.
It took years before I finally realized that her clothes were inside out because she didn’t care how she took them off, and it was easier for her to peal them off by turning them inside out than it was to remove them carefully so as to NOT turn them inside out. It simply wasn’t important to her, and nothing I could do or say was going to change that. Once I learned to accept that this was just one way in which we were different, and that it really didn’t make any difference in the grand scheme of the universe, I was able to fold the laundry and not get upset about that one extra step required for me to get the job done.
And lest you think that I am the sainted one in our marriage, remember that I am the one telling the stories here, not her. She has her own litany of things she has had to endure because of my habits and foibles. The point is this, that ministering to someone takes time and effort. We have to get to know them, the real them, not just their public persona. This requires effort and caring on our part. We have to be vigilant and watchful, patient and gentle with those to whom we have been assigned to minister.
To those who heard the announcement in Conference that we no longer have to report our visits each month and thought, “Yea! No one will know that I didn’t go see the Smiths this month. Now I don’t have to!” beware, because you just revealed to yourself that you don’t really care about the Smiths. What really concerned you was having to make the effort to leave home and temporarily stop doing what was more desirable to you. I only say this because I had a thought similar to this go through my head, because I didn’t get my home teaching done in the first half of the month like I prefer to do. Instead, I had to admit that home teaching as an official activity was going to be a wash this time. I was feeling guilty. The announcement just gave me a way to try to worm out of my guilt.
This just showed me that I had missed the point of ministering to others. We need to learn to minister to the needs and wants of others because we care about them enough to want to relieve their distress, not because we feel an obligation to be their friend because we were assigned to do it.
Ministering is the art of showing kindness. It is the embodiment of a gentle disposition, a caring heart, and the way in which we demonstrate and experience charity, the pure love of Christ. The gospel of Christ, in its purest form, is all about relieving suffering and want, fulfilling needs, and doing the good that is needed most by that person. When we can learn to do that in our personal relationships then perhaps we will more clearly understand how to do it to our neighbors.
In the meantime, if you have any cookies you feel a need to deliver to assuage your soul for any reason, my doorstep is always willing to accept deliveries.