I always feel ridiculous and extremely ungrateful for being anything less than completely happy and contented. My life, the parts that pertain only to me, has always been ludicrously easy, and I've always known it. So I have to fight feeling guilty for being upset about anything. Nevertheless, I had started to feel like much of my life has been spent watching train wrecks, unable to stop them, and then standing in the middle of the carnage and surveying the damage, wondering what, if anything, I can do. I got tired of hurting over other people's lives, so I started to emotionally detach because I hate being angry or sad.
But I realized after going home on Monday night how hardened some of my comments probably were, and I was ashamed of myself. Long-suffering is sometimes just that: suffering long, because even though it hurts to keep trying you could never forgive yourself if you just walked away. I'm sure everyone of you knows a similar situation in your own life: its the father you never see because every conversation is an argument and every act a betrayal; the brother you love but no longer recognize through the haze of addiction; the suicidal friend who calls you in the middle of the night, unsure he wants to live, but pretty sure he doesn't want to die; the young woman you watched grow up who is now losing herself in alcohol and casual sex in an attempt to drown a grief she doesn't know how to deal with; the boy who lashes out at everyone around him, angry at parents who betrayed their obligations to him before he was even born; the girl you take into your home in the hope of giving her something better than cycles of abuse, only to see her walk down the same path all over again; the loved one who magnifies the consequences of his imbalance rather than humbly seeking real help.
On Sunday I did a lesson on the Savior with the youth. We went over a condensed version of His life, hitting on some of the major events. We talked about how one of the last acts of service He gave, before the ultimate act of service of the Atonement, was to wash his apostles' feet. This has always struck me as one of the most humble acts of His singularly humble life. As we have been taught repeatedly, Jesus made lame beggars walk and blind men see. He healed lepers and brought the dead back to life. These were incredible acts of service, to be sure. I do not know the "mechanics" of miracles, if you will, but on this side of things the methods seemed quite simple: a bit of mud on your eyes, a walk to a priest, a touch of His robe. But what of this act of washing feet? It was not miraculous. There was no glory in this service. It was a dirty, probably most unpleasant job (bearing in mind that these men walked nearly everywhere, in sandals, on dusty roads, their feet were undoubtedly filthy), and the only result was clean feet.
No, I shouldn't say that. The other result was cleansed hearts.
Hearts were cleansed because it was an act of service given voluntarily, humbly, without complaint and with great love--even, I might add, over the initial protestations of those who were benefitting from the service. There are ways in which we asked to serve in life that may seem, on the surface, to be dirty and unpleasant jobs, and sometimes where those we are trying to help seem not to want our service. And yet, here we have the example of the greatest being who ever lived, kneeling at a basin and scrubbing the filthy feet of the men to whom He was teacher and leader. If we serve with humble hearts, truly out of love for those we reach out to, the Lord will sustain us. It may take a long time to see any results, but He will help us scrape away the dirt and mud and stains to find a clean surface.
That was the Savior's parting lesson to His apostles. If you would lead people, if you would teach them, if you want them to ever "get it", you must serve them. As Christmas rapidly approaches, I am reminded that we must serve wherever the Lord asks us to, in however humble or unglamorous the circumstances. Our official callings are one thing--generally, there is someone to hold us directly accountable if we are not fulfilling our obligations there. But what about the "dirty work" of every day life? Have I been the friend that I ought to be? Have I given way to anger where prayerful compassion ought to hold sway? Have I given up where there is something more I could be doing?
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren," He said, "ye have done it unto me." That applies as much to giving up on someone as anything else. The times where I have regretted something I have said or done to someone have actually been quite rare, but far too numerous to count are the times I have regretted turning a blind eye. My Christmas prayer this year is that I will be more aware of opportunities for small, humble acts of service, even if that only means holding onto hope for someone who may not have much hope of their own.