In one area of my mission, there was a woman who lived in a small apartment with her adult son who was bedridden by severe cerebral palsy. The missionaries would go visit them often; we would chat with her son and the elders would give him a shave or help change his bedding. Their tiny apartment was filthy. I would wear my oldest clothes for visits and my companion and I would plan time to stop at home afterwards in order to change because the lingering odors were overpowering. Every few months the missionaries would bring bleach and clean the accumulated layers of cat pee and cigarette smoke from the walls and floor, leaving the place sparkling clean. Things would then gradually deteriorate until newer missionaries would decide that they needed a service project and would clean the place again. I really don’t know why this woman didn’t clean her house, but I think she appreciated the missionaries doing it for her. Once she took us out to eat at a restaurant; she told us she couldn’t feed us because her kitchen was unusable. I’d seen it, and I knew she spoke truth, but I did wonder how she managed to eat every day.

I have a friend who runs a small non-profit foundation that supports schools in rural Africa. They raise money in the United States, which is then used to buy school supplies, pay school fees for orphans, and build better school buildings. She tells me that one challenge of fund-raising is that many people feel uncomfortable donating money. They want to give used school supplies or clothes, or even sometimes new ones. My friend has gotten very good at explaining that they are actually able to help more people by raising cash because they do not have to pay to ship anything overseas. They are also able to help the local economy by buying school supplies from African producers, and they can get textbooks that match the local country’s educational standards. As good as Americans feel about giving their old clothes to orphans, providing cash to pay local seamstresses to make them school uniforms is a better choice for many reasons.

A few weeks ago I realized that my lawn had become severely overgrown. Spring came early this year, and I am a busy single parent and somewhat neglectful in my yard-care habits. Unfortunately my street is filled with neighbors who really care about the appearance of their front yards, and I know some people were wishing I would just go ahead and mow the lawn. Two weeks ago when I had some free time on a Saturday night, I decided to go to the movie theater to see The Hunger Games instead of doing yard work. When I came home my grass was a lot shorter. I felt embarrassed because, while I am certainly physically capable of cutting my own grass, I just didn’t make it a priority that day. So a few days ago I dragged the mower out from the garage and tackled the front yard. After a little while I realized that mowing the lawn really isn’t very much fun at all. My hands and arms ached and sweat trickled down my back. Then I remembered that I have several neighbors with teenage children who need summer jobs; maybe I can actually provide some service to my neighbors instead of having them serve me. Sounds like a win-win to me.

How can we better match our desires to serve with people’s real needs? How can we graciously receive service offered, even when it is not what we need or want? Do you like mowing the lawn or would you rather provide that as a service opportunity for someone else?

May 26, 2012


  1. annegb

    May 25, 2012

    I am almost completely incapable of asking for help or letting anyone help me without paying them. I have one friend who I asked to clean my bedroom one time. Dire circumstances. Long story.

    On the other hand, my inner maid kicks in when I see a real mess. I’ve cleaned so many homes for people in my ward when they were going through tough times. I have an innate ability to do what needs to be done. Once I dropped by a young friend’s house to get something and her kitchen was an utter mess. She was sick. I did her dishes and straightened it up. She said “how did you know to do that? I know! It’s because someone did it for you!

  2. annegb

    May 25, 2012

    Cont…(no clue what happened). I just smiled and let her think that.

    I recognize it was more my need to clean her kitchen than her need to have it cleaned. Whatever floats my boat :).

    It’s easier to clean a kitchen than listen for an hour. Sad, huh?

  3. Merrijane

    May 25, 2012

    I have four boys, so I know that your neighbor’s will appreciate an opportunity for their children to earn money. Every year there are scout camps and summer activities to save up for, not to mention mission funds.

  4. Andrea R.

    May 25, 2012

    We just recently went through a medical crisis with our son, and as people asked us what they could do to help, I realized why I had such a hard time coming up with ways they could help us: PRIDE. I have a really hard time admitting that I’m not completely in control of our situation, and I feel weak asking for help, even when I desperately need it. Exhaustion also plays a role — sometimes I’m just to exhausted to even come up with a way that someone can help me. I think there’s a lot to be said for just showing up at someone’s house who is in need and saying things like:

    “I’m here to clean up your kitchen/bathrooms/house”
    “I’m here to take your kids for the afternoon so you can rest”
    “I brought you dinner”
    “I’m here to mow your lawn”
    “I know you like (insert favorite treat here), so I brought you some”

  5. Carla

    May 25, 2012

    Andrea, we just had some medical issues with my husband. Even having people care and ask for updates was so helpful. While in the middle of everything, I didn’t really know what I needed at times. However, those specific examples you gave go a long way, rather than the standard, call me if you need anything. Also, just being a friend is often what I needed. While I’m sure they meant well, the once a month VT visit (if it happened) wasn’t quite what I needed during the trial. We were not sure what was going on each day and with young children in school and another still at home and my husband at a hospital 2 hours away, I didn’t always have a plan until later in the day when we knew what the doctors’ plan was. We were in the car a lot and ate a lot of sandwiches. While meals would have been “nice” I needed mobile meals that we could eat in the car without waiting at home until 5:00 when someone could drop it by. One person brought muffins and cookies by . . . that was something that was really nice–comfort food that I wasn’t taking the time to make. Also, anything to help the kids have normalcy was good, too, such as playing with others and such.

  6. Natsy

    May 25, 2012

    I think the hardest part of service is letting others serve us. I struggled with that till I had a near-death experience last year that left me incapable of doing anything for two weeks. Luckily I had my mom and she took care of me, but I’m also a school teacher and I had no sub plans or anything, so I had to let all the other teachers just take over.
    Being in the spot made me SO grateful for the people in my life. I had friends calling everyday, sending flowers and well-wishes. I received millions of little “get well” texts and everyone meant the world to me. I learned at that point how wonderful it can feel to let others help you. To accept goodwill and service. Since that time it hasn’t been hard for me because to accept service. Not that I take advantage, but I let people serve me more readily.

  7. Cheltz

    May 25, 2012

    I think I’ve become much more gracious about letting others helping me the last few years. I think it finally dawned on me that I was denying them blessings by not letting them help. So really I’m doing them a good deed by letting them help me :).

    I’ve also started to encounter a handful of people who just know when and where to help. I really, really wish that I could develop this talent, but I’m not sure I’ve made any headway on that one.

  8. Amira

    May 26, 2012

    I love to mow the lawn. I’d much rather do that (or almost anything else in the yard) than clean. That’s gotten me in trouble a few times when I’ve worked outside on the church grounds at big clean-up-the-church activities instead of inside cleaning the light fixtures where the women were supposed to be.

    It can be hard to find the right balance between graciously accepting service and making your needs known. It would be unreasonable to expect a nonprofit to accept donations it couldn’t use, even if it made someone feel bad. It’s also not necessarily unreasonable to kindly tell your visiting teacher that your hard-to-please kids would rather eat frozen dinners instead of her meals. If you’re hurting, it’s not necessarily your job to make others feel better. Personally, I think it’s helpful to give concrete ideas of things you can do to help someone and then let them tell you what would help them.

    But it’s also important to think about the giver if you can. So maybe it feels like someone is making a point about your gross kitchen or overgrown lawn, but at least the kitchen is clean now and the lawn is socially acceptable. They probably weren’t trying to criticize anyway. Or you accept the deviled egg dish that you would never use because your eccentric neighbor would far rather have you accept the dish cheerfully than tell her you wouldn’t use it. Sometimes the giver is the one who needs the support more.

  9. Kellie aka Selwyn

    May 26, 2012

    I’m struggling with this at the moment. I do have a lot of pride (“I can do it! MYSELF! Needing help means I’m weak and I refuse to be!” is my internal monologue) but I’m slowly coming to realise just because I CAN do it myself doesn’t mean I SHOULD.

    Lately I’ve been the recipient of several huge acts of service and am at a loss what to do about it. I’m immensely grateful, while also wondering if there’s something I should be doing to say ‘thanks’. I’m usually on the other side of the equation and feel very nonplussed.

    And I’d rather be mowing. But now I’m not allowed to. Such is life.

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