Near our house is a fairly steep hill. There are lots of big trees beside the hill, but no houses, so no one is in charge of the sidewalk. During the year leaves, dirt, and junk collect in the gutter. It never really washes away because of the cement barriers that are next to the curb. When our kids were young we started an annual tradition to clean “the hill”. With donned gloves, gathered shovels and brooms, and wheelbarrows we made it our job to clean out the gutter and haul away all the junk. We tried to do this before school started in the fall so the neighborhood children could have a clean sidewalk on which to trek up to the elementary school.
Needless to say, not all our children thought this was a great idea. Some of them wondered why someone else didn’t take a turn. (To make it more fun—and less work—we did invite other families to participate in this project.) But we just reminded them that we were strong and capable and since no one else was doing it, we would.
There were other projects our kids weren’t too keen on. After large snowstorms my husband took our boys over to a neighbor’s house to shovel her walk and driveway. Since she lived on a corner, this was a rather large task. But she was single and older, and my husband (and one or other of the boys) was her home teacher, so it wasn’t up for discussion. Often our other neighbors would be gone for the Christmas holiday so we would shovel their driveway as well.
Not all of our service projects involved so much hard work. I was talking to one of my neighbors recently, and she reminded me that our family had washed their cars the night before their daughter’s wedding. Occasionally we babysat someone’s kids while they went out. We also served food for the homeless on Christmas eve, and took pipe chimes to the memory care unit to sing Christmas carols with them.
What did we accomplish with all these random acts of service? They say the proof is in the pudding, and about three years ago I had a wonderful validation of the value of teaching our kids to serve through example. I got a call from a neighbor who needed someone to be with her as she cleaned out her horse’s stall. She was in the middle of a divorce and couldn’t be at the barn alone, due to hostilities with her spouse. So she called me to see if I’d come talk to her while she mucked out the stall. Unfortunately, I was out of the state. “Not to worry,” I said. “My twenty-five-year-old son is home and I’ll call him to run over.” (Luckily he had worked at a horse barn when he was younger so it wasn’t totally out of his comfort zone.) And he did it!! He walked over and helped her out!!!
President Monson has spent a lifetime reaching out to “the one” and he is always encouraging us to do the same. He counsels us:
“To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.” -President Monson
When the kids were little, I taught them this poem:
“I have wept in the night
For the shortness of sight
That to somebody’s need made me blind;
But I never have yet
Felt a tinge of regret
For being a little too kind.” (anonymous)
I hope that we taught our children that life doesn’t just revolve around themselves, but that others have needs that are just as important. I hope we taught them compassion, helping them to see that others might be suffering, or be lonely, or just need a little boost here or there. I hope we taught them that it doesn’t hurt to give of your time and talents. Last of all, I hope they learned that they are always better off for having served.
Written by Phyllis Rosen