Very first, before anything else, I want to thank every single one of you for accepting your calling. The call to serve with the children is one of the most sacred callings in the church. Christ made a special effort to be with the children and to teach us how special they are. You are the elite. You are the ones who first teach these children in an official setting. Outside of the home, you are the first organization to teach these impressionable minds. And children *are* impressionable. The scriptures teach us to “teach our children the way they should go and they will not depart from it.” You are part of that initial imprint. So thank you for being willing to take that burden on your shoulders.
Sometimes that burden feels a little overwhelming, though, doesn’t it? In the last 2 months we have trained three of the eight primary presidencies in our stake. I left each training feeling like we shoved a firehose down your throats and turned it on high. There is just so much to do in Primary. Tell me, if you had to make a list of responsibilities of Primary presidencies and music leaders, what would be on your list?
You all feel the burden. We, as a new stake presidency, have added to it as we’ve been trying to set up our presidency and figure out what we want for our stake. My goal tonight is to reverse that. I want to help make your calling easier. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? :) Now, I’m not going to take away any of your responsibilities, your meetings, or your accountability. Rather, I hope to give you some ideas as to how to make the burden feel lighter.
In Mosiah the Lord tells the people of Lamoni who were in bondage, “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage.”
My goal tonight is to teach you some strategies that you can implement to lessen the burdens on your backs, even while you’re still in this calling. You don’t need to count down the days until you are released to lower your stress level, to be able to focus on your family again, or to feel at peace. Absolutely not! The Lord wants all of those things for you right now!
Draw tree trunk. Write “Make your calling easier” on the trunk.
I want to talk about some ways to lighten your burden. This list is not all-inclusive, but it is the list I feel I should talk to you about tonight.
First, cast your burden on the Lord. We read this in many ways in the scriptures. For example, Psalms 55:22 states, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.” Or in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Does it feel that way to you? You have Christ’s burden on you right now. Does it feel light? Are you allowing him to lighten it? It also begs the question how does one cast their burden on the Lord? Good question! Sadly, I don’t think I can answer it for you. I think this is one of those things that is personalized for everyone. Until you find your method, however, I suggest you start simple. Pray and ask the Lord to take your burden. And don’t wait until it’s weighing you down so much that it’s a choice between removing it or being crushed. As soon as it starts weighing you down, ask for help! You don’t have to be the tough guy, proving that you can do it. It’s foolish to ignore such a valuable resource because of pride.
This past week has been a very stressful week in the personal lives of my presidency. Everything seemed to go horribly wrong, all at the same time. I remember praying to God and asking, “Why this week, Father? Of all weeks, why this one?” The answer I got back was perfect. “You want to teach them to give their burdens to me. To not be stressed about their callings, even when their life outside their calling is pressing down on them. How can you teach that without learning it yourself?”
I was humbled. I knew He was right. So I prepared this presentation in between doing decorations, canning, planning Joy School, and everything else a wife and mother has to do. Whenever I felt myself starting to get overwhelmed, I stopped, took a moment to collect myself, and tried to remember something from one of that talks or scriptures I had read. When it was really bad, I would just repeat “cast your burden on the Lord” over and over again. The other evening was a tough one. My kids had been whining and crying for two hours, despite my best efforts, and I was trying to make dinner one-handed so I could hold my toddler. BJ came home from work and immediately jumped in to help, but my nerves were already shot. I went into the pantry to get something just as my 4-year old started whining. Again. I did the only thing I could think of. I shut the pantry door. With myself inside. I leaned my head up against the door, trying to block out all sound, and just repeated, “cast your burden on the Lord” to myself until I felt myself calming down and my mind started to clear. I said a quick and fervent prayer and asked Him to take my burden or to strengthen me. I was given some simple revelation on what I could do, so I left the pantry and did it. My situation didn’t immediately become perfect, but it got better. But most importantly, I felt better. My kids still had their whiny moments and I still had a long to do list, but I no longer felt overwhelmed. And that was a miracle.
If you cast your burden on the Lord, your calling will be easier.
Second, Don’t murmur
Our minds are fascinating things. The more we dwell on something in our mind, the more our actions and behaviors reflect that. Whether for good or ill. The more you murmur about your burden, the heavier the burden will get. By dwelling on it, by putting thought to word, you are basically giving your brain permission to accept the bad and make it worse. On the flip side, when you focus on the good instead, your brain accepts that and will continue to find more and more good. Murmuring will only make our burdens heavier.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in the October 1989 conference, “A basic cause of murmuring is that too many of us seem to expect that life will flow ever smoothly, featuring an unbroken chain of green lights with empty parking places just in front of our destinations!”
If life were that easy, what would we gain? What would we learn? What would we prove to ourselves and to God? We must have trials; it is part of the Plan of Salvation! Why then, should we murmur about them?
E. Maxwell also says, “Murmuring can also be noisy enough that it drowns out the various spiritual signals to us, signals which tell us in some cases to quit soaking ourselves indulgently in the hot tubs of self-pity! Murmuring over the weight of our crosses not only takes energy otherwise needed to carry them but might cause another to put down his cross altogether.
Do not murmur about your burdens, and your calling will be easier.
Third, Look to leaders for comfort and encouragement
When I was a ward Primary president, I was shoved in without any training. The bishop called me into his office Sunday morning and sustained me in sacrament 15 minutes later. I never saw the previous Primary president after that. And the one before her had likewise moved. I had no one to give me the baton; I just had to pick it up and run with it, hoping I was going in the right direction. The previous counselors helped some, but they had only been in for a few months themselves. So I turned to the stake Primary president. I was constantly emailing or calling her with questions. Many times she didn’t know the answer, so she would research them for me. Many times she had the advice for me that I needed to hear. She was my pillar.
We want to be that pillar of strength for you as well. When you have questions, burdens, worries, please call us. We want to give you comfort and encouragement to get through your moments of weakness. That is our job.
If you look to your leaders for comfort and encouragement, your calling will be easier.
Fourth, make good sacrifices, not bad ones.
Easing burdens does not mean removing them, right? That means that we will still have to make sacrifices. But if we allow the Lord to lift our burdens, the bite of sacrifice will not be so bitter. However, sometimes we seem to think that the sheer quantity of sacrifices we make determines how well we are magnifying our calling. This is not true! The quality of our sacrifices are far more important than the quantity of them.
Pres. Uchtdorf spoke at the general RS meeting in 2011. His talk, Forget Me Not, is one of my favorites. Part of it applies perfectly here. I’m just going to read that section as he says it far better than I could:
Forget not the difference between a good sacrifice and a foolish sacrifice.
An acceptable sacrifice is when we give up something good for something of far greater worth.
Giving up a little sleep to help a child who is having a nightmare is a good sacrifice. We all know this. Staying up all night, jeopardizing our own health, to make the perfect accessory for a daughter’s Sunday outfit may not be such a good sacrifice.
Dedicating some of our time to studying the scriptures or preparing to teach a lesson is a good sacrifice. Spending many hours stitching the title of the lesson into homemade pot holders for each member of your class perhaps may not be.
Every person and situation is different, and a good sacrifice in one instance might be a foolish sacrifice in another.
How can we tell the difference for our own situation? We can ask ourselves, “Am I committing my time and energies to the things that matter most?” There are so many good things to do, but we can’t do all of them. Our Heavenly Father is most pleased when we sacrifice something good for something far greater with an eternal perspective. Sometimes, that may even mean nurturing small but beautiful forget-me-not flowers instead of a large garden of exotic blooms.
Make good sacrifices and abandon the foolish ones. Your calling will be easier.
Fifth, Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses
Have you ever had the experience of watching someone else teach, whether it’s singing time or sharing time, and thinking, “Wow. I just don’t even compare to them”? Maybe they’re the person who has props and games for every song and you just don’t have time or talent to make or think up all of those ideas. Or maybe they’re the person who can keep even the Sunbeams‘ attention while they bear their testimony and you think, “I can’t even keep the Sunbeams‘ attention during a game!”
Do not compare your weaknesses to the strengths of someone else. Instead, find what your strengths are and capitalize on them. If your strength is in being crafty and making props, do it! If your strength is in having the energy to bound across the room and teach through energy, awesome! Children thrive on having a variety of teaching styles. Just because you teach differently than someone else doesn’t mean it’s bad. There is surely some child who is learning better with your teaching style. Always strive to improve and try new things, but in the end, if you work to discover your strengths and utilize them in your calling, your burden will be lightened. To top it off, the children will learn more when you are in your element.
My strength is in story telling. I especially love learning the the history, culture, and language behind Old Testament stories. So utilizing my strengths, I am now going to teach you a short scripture story, as an example of how you can teach and engage people by only using yourself as a prop.
Let’s read 2 Kings 2:23-24. “And he [Elijah] went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”
This is one of those stories that gets laughed about because it seems so ridiculous. So, some little children come out, tell a guy that he’s bald, so he sets two bears to eat them. Ummm… what?!
Let’s get some back story. A few chapters prior to this, Elijah took Elisha out to the wilderness. Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire, or in other words, was translated, but as he ascended to heaven, his cloak fell from him and landed on Elisha. This was symbolic. Elijah’s coat, probably made from animal skins, represented his prophetic mantle. When people saw it, they knew he was the prophet. When the mantle fell from Elijah, who was being translated, to Elisha, it indicated that Elisha would replace him as prophet.
When Elisha returned from the wilderness, he came across the city of X. Let’s talk about their back story. Some time before, their well became rancid. The water was not safe to drink. Water, however, is essential, so they had to travel some distance to fill up barrels of water and bring them back. It took a significant amount of the day, and was physically taxing. So the young men of the city made a business out of transporting water. Side note: if you read the foot notes, they aren’t little children, but rather are young men. Probably as old as mid-twenties. We’re not talking about 6-year olds here.
So, back to Elisha. He came out of the wilderness and into this city. The people saw his cloak and recognized him as the prophet. They told him about the water, having faith that he could make it right. And he did. He healed the water. Everyone rejoiced at this great miracle. Or rather, most everyone did. There was, however, one group of young men who were rather perturbed about the whole ordeal. In a matter of moments, Elisha put at least 42 young men out of business. They were not well pleased.
So let’s read that scripture again with that back store in mind. “And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children (remember, young men) out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. (Or, in other words, go away! You are bald, or rather, hair-less. Or, in modern terms, You are not the prophet. You don’t have the right to act like one. We deny that you are the prophet.)
And he turned back and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (He wasn’t cursing 5-year olds for calling him bald. He was cursing young adults for mocking the priesthood and the prophet of God for their own gain.) Does that story make more sense to you now? Can you learn something from it now?
That was my strength. What are your strengths? If you focus on teaching using your strengths, your calling will be easier.
Sixth, enjoy the ride
Once again, Pres. Uchtdorf says this better than I could. This is from his October 2012 conference talk, Of Regrets and Resolutions.
My wife, Harriet, and I love riding our bicycles. It is wonderful to get out and enjoy the beauties of nature. We have certain routes we like to bike, but we don’t pay too much attention to how far we go or how fast we travel in comparison with other riders.
However, occasionally I think we should be a bit more competitive. I even think we could get a better time or ride at a higher speed if only we pushed ourselves a little more. And then sometimes I even make the big mistake of mentioning this idea to my wonderful wife.
Her typical reaction to my suggestions of this nature is always very kind, very clear, and very direct. She smiles and says, “Dieter, it’s not a race; it’s a journey. Enjoy the moment.”
How right she is!
Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey. I don’t go cycling with my wife because I’m excited about finishing. I go because the experience of being with her is sweet and enjoyable.
Doesn’t it seem foolish to spoil sweet and joyful experiences because we are constantly anticipating the moment when they will end?
Do we listen to beautiful music waiting for the final note to fade before we allow ourselves to truly enjoy it? No. We listen and connect to the variations of melody, rhythm, and harmony throughout the composition.
Do we say our prayers with only the “amen” or the end in mind? Of course not. We pray to be close to our Heavenly Father, to receive His Spirit and feel His love.
We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. “This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,” the Psalmist wrote. “Rejoice and be glad in it.”
Please do not think to yourself, “I will be happy when I’m finally released.” Find happiness today. Right now. In the middle of your stressful moments, take a moment to stop and ponder what is good right now. Find your happiness in every moment. Do not wait until a future moment, because inevitably you will get to that future moment only to find another stressful situation waiting for you. But if you can enjoy the ride instead of focusing only on the destination, if you can bloom where you are planted, you will find that your calling is easier.
And lastly, Give Thanks
Let’s go back to the story of Alma’s people. Their burdens were eased and then, eventually, lifted. Did they murmur and say, “About time! I’m so glad I’m done with that”? No, they “poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful to them.”
We need to give thanks to God for his mercy. Which means we need to constantly be on the lookout for the tender mercies he is bestowing upon us. Look for the good in your situation, then give thanks to God for it. The more you thank him, the more he will give you. When you give thanks to God, your calling becomes easier.
Sisters, the Lord wants you to be happy. “Men are that they might have joy.” He wants you to take his yoke upon you, for his burden is light. And when your burdens become heavy, he wants you to cast your burdens upon him so that he can ease your burdens so that you won’t even feel them whilst you carry them. In the name of Jesus Chris, Amen.