As the alarm rings at 5:30am, I sluggishly climb out of bed and feel my way through the darkness to the bathroom. However, just as I’m about to turn on the shower, I hear the baby fussing. After changing her diaper and lulling her back to sleep, I find myself running late—I have a meeting at 6:30am. I shower and shave, put on a shirt and tie, and say a prayer to start the day. A little exasperated at this point, I open the garage door only to find a little boy tugging my pants and asking for food because he didn’t eat enough dinner last night. I give him an apple, send him back to bed, and kiss my wife goodbye.
Well, that might actually be hunger that I’m feeling. In my rush to get out the door this morning, I didn’t eat anything for breakfast. I didn’t have time to pack a lunch either, so it looks like I’ll just have to wait until dinner to eat.
We hold another couple of meetings, each lasting an hour. Then I have short visits with a few different people. In some of these meetings I extend new work assignments. In others, I check on the progress they’re making in their responsibilities or I visit with people who are facing significant challenges. I do my best to be an understanding and supportive leader, but sometimes it’s hard to know if I’ve said the right thing.
By the afternoon, it’s time to wrap things up. We need to work on finances and budgeting, update other organizational records, and make a few phone calls. Then it’s time to leave the office and make a couple of visits to members of the organization at their homes. I arrive home a little after 3:30, tired from the day’s activities and anxious to finally be with my family. I know I’ll be working more hours during the week. But for now, I’ll enjoy my time at home.
|Relaxing with my girls after a long and wonderful Sunday|
You may think that this experience describes a typical workday. But it’s doesn’t. I don’t get paid for this work; it’s voluntary and largely happens on Sunday, my day off of work. I didn’t aspire to or apply for this job; I was simply asked to do it. I’m not working so I can move up the organizational ladder; I will eventually be replaced without any fanfare and will be asked to serve somewhere else.
This is what it means to serve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My “day job” is that of a university professor. That’s how I feed my family. My church job, or “calling,” is the equivalent of an assistant pastor in many churches—a “bishopric counselor.” That’s how I feed my soul. Yes, it means lots of meetings, visits, and responsibilities. Yes, it means sacrifice—especially for my family. And yes, it means exhausting myself on a day of rest while also attending activities, doing home visits, answering emails, and holding other meetings during the week.
And yet, this is one of the key ways that I find joy and purpose in life. Service and sacrifice in the Church helps me overcome the selfishness of my heart and extend myself to others. It helps me see how I can be useful to God and His children. And it’s a way that I come to discover myself—who I am, where I’m going, and what I have to give to others.
I’m certainly not the only one in the Church who works this hard or feels this way about their service. Across the globe, there are over 29,000 congregations like mine. Each one consists of a “bishop” or “branch president”—the congregational leader who easily spends 30 or more hours a week in his calling—and two counselors, as well as a number of other organizational leaders, teachers, and helpers. Each willing member is given the opportunity to serve in some capacity. We don’t move up or down; we just move around. In the last 11 years, I have served in 11 different callings—some for a few weeks, others for a few years; some for 10 minutes a week, others for 20 hours a week.
|Having dinner with youth I formerly taught in "seminary"|
Of course, besides our callings, we frequently help load and unload moving trucks; fulfill assignments to provide for the poor and needy; clean and polish our church buildings; visit assigned individuals and families on a monthly basis; serve as chaperones for youth dances; participate in community service projects; give blessings of comfort and healing in the middle of the night; and either freeze like popsicles at winter camps or bake like oven-roasted turkeys at summer camps.
This is life as a devout Mormon.
So why do we do this to ourselves? I cannot speak for the millions of Church members who serve so extensively and selflessly in their own spheres. However, if you were to ask me this question, I would answer that it’s because of conversion, covenants, and community.
Conversion: I have felt that "mighty change of heart" promised to those who seek it from the Savior (Alma 5:14). I know that without Him I am everlastingly lost. "A new heart also will I give you" (Ezekiel 36:26) is a promise I have seen fulfilled in my life. And that new heart, available each week as I partake of the Lord's sacrament, gives me the desire "to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2)—which, of course, requires service and sacrifice. I am fully aware that my service here in College Station, Texas, isn't going to influence international policy. But my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ makes me want to help someone, somewhere, with something.
Covenants: Even so, I’ll admit that hearing the 5:30 alarm on Sunday mornings is not always a pleasant experience. Sometimes that clock seems better suited for the trash can than my night stand. But on those mornings when the tentacles of our mattress seem to be pulling me in, I remember that I have made solemn covenants with God to lose myself in His service and do my part to be my brother’s keeper. I am reminded that in entering the kingdom of God, I promised to be content with service and sacrifice, not with entertainment and ease. Covenants fill my tank when exhaustion has emptied it dry.
Community: Finally, with the exception of my family, I feel a strength of community in the Church unmatched by that of any other context. Whether I visit with the young mother recovering from breast cancer, the elderly brother with hearing problems, the teenager whose basketball team lost a game over the weekend, or the child who is new to their school, my own burdens seem lighter as I strive, albeit feebly, to lift the burdens of others. And there is so much to learn from so many people. There are doctors, engineers, professors, truck drivers, teachers, plumbers, computer geeks, and retirees who inspire me with their knowledge, wisdom and experience. We are all different, yet we share one thing in common: we are children of God in need of His grace. I feel that grace more easily as I participate in a community of learning, service, and sacrifice.
Stephen Courtright is an assistant professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, where he teaches and conducts research in the area of organizational behavior. He grew up in DeForest, Wisconsin, and Kuna, Idaho, and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Concepcion, Chile from 2002-2004. He graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a B.S. in Accounting and the University of Iowa with a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He and his wife, Nicole, met when they were six years old and grew up together as close friends. They married in 2004 and are the proud parents of four children.