“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved” (Thomas S. Monson). Years ago when teaching school, I bid my students goodbye and turned with urgency to the mountain of work piled like a tower on my desk. With more to do than reasonably possible, I dove in with gusto. Almost immediately, someone knocked on the door. A colleague peeked in and asked, “Could I talk to you for a minute?” As she pulled up a chair and began a long-winded explanation of her troubles, I put down my pencil and exhaled slowly. I knew it would be much longer than a minute. A nudge of conscience whispered that her need to talk was greater than my need to complete tasks. More than an hour later, I loaded up my work—untouched—and headed for home. But instead of feeling burdened, I felt buoyant and happy. It had been the right thing to do. Hopefully her cup was filled, but I know mine was. I have to keep reminding myself that people are more important than tasks. Most of us are fighting a hard battle and we need each other. Regardless of age, we need to express our concerns, views and hopes. We need genuine interest and honest feedback from others. We need reassurance of our worth. People need people. “I sought to hear the voice of God, and climbed the topmost steeple. But God declared: Go down again; I dwell among the people” (Louis Newman). I want to make time for people. I want to learn their stories, understand their hearts, and reflect their worth.
Several people in the post office rushed to assist a woman maneuvering her husband’s wheelchair through a narrow doorway. The need was obvious and urgent. But I think there are many people who have hidden handicaps which are even more debilitating than physical ones. They are equally urgent but we don’t rush to help because we don’t see them. The physical eye cannot see emotional wounds or heavy burdens borne deep inside. This requires a different kind of vision which comes from whisperings of the Holy Ghost. If I am attentive to the quiet voice of the Spirit, it is possible to perceive hidden wounds and needs. Specific ideas of how to help can come from that same source. Then I can spring to assist or comfort as instinctively as I did the woman in the post office. If someone is hurt in a street accident, an ambulance comes quickly, but if a person is broken in spirit, depressed, afraid, burdened—little is done. Yet this person may be in greater need of rescue than the other. I pray to have eyes to see unspoken wounds and burdens of the soul, and to leap without hesitation to minister comfort. “The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on [others]; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs” (Joseph Smith).
I looked out the window and saw a very long car pull up to our house. No one got out immediately. I waited and wondered who it was. Slowly, the driver’s door opened and an old man struggled to climb out, bracing himself with a cane. I grabbed a jacket and rushed out the front door. It turned out to be the oldest couple in our neighborhood. With great effort our aged friend hobbled up the sidewalk, teetering on his cane while balancing an enormous vase of flowers. It was my birthday. Tears gathered in my eyes at this generous demonstration of caring. The lovely bouquet stood on my kitchen table for days as a reminder that the most precious gifts are those hardest to give. Mother Theresa said, “You must give what will cost you something.” If we do not give when we have little, we are not likely to give when we have much. Action verbs from a favorite LDS hymn identify specific ways to serve: “I gave him all; I ran and raised the sufferer up; I flew; I revived…and supplied…and honored him. I roused…brought back…found him. I bid him welcome.” I will never forget the great lesson taught by my aged friend stumbling up the sidewalk on that windy October day. “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Here’s a little parenting tip that I learned years ago about talking to teens. At age 14, our son had very few words to share in conversation. He kept a lot inside. Then gradually things began to change. It was during our long commutes in the car to school, work, and activities while building our new home. My initial attempts to spark conversation failed because I peppered him with too many questions. He felt interrogated, and his answers were brief, usually one or two words. It was obvious that the kind of communication I wanted was more than a volley of questions and answers. So I shifted gears. I decided to share my struggles, hopes, victories and even failures—and what I was learning from them. At first I was doing most of the talking. But as I entrusted my innermost feelings into his safe-keeping—he gradually began to reciprocate. He told me about his struggles and victories, even his failures—and what he learned from them. We responded to each other with empathy and support as friends navigating a difficult world. The car is like a cocoon that can provide intimate communication. Not long after, while tucking him in bed at night, he said, “Mom, I can tell you everything.” Then he quickly qualified it. “Well, almost everything.” In the many years since that time, we have continued to share freely with each other “almost everything.” Now a father of six, our son makes a conscious effort to continue the tradition of talking openly with his children. They have learned to value conversation and unplug from electronics. Talking builds relationships. Unplug. Utilize time in the car for real communicating.
Our main role as parents is to teach our children. But how do we teach them most effectively? We know the lecture format doesn’t work very well. Our monologues are tuned out as we drone on and on. During His mortal sojourn, Jesus Christ modeled for parents, many instructive methods, such as teaching as He went—walking and talking along the way. When my children were young, we spent lots of time in the car driving to lessons, sports events, and youth activities. In an era before electronic devices, imagine this—WE TALKED! Time in the car provided opportunities to share experiences and what we learned from them. We discussed struggles and brainstormed solutions. We laughed over humorous or embarrassing moments in school. We told each other details about our day. We shared goals and dreams and anecdotes. These exchanges also happened while we worked side by side at home—washing dishes, weeding the garden, painting a room. Subtle teaching happened as we went through an ordinary day. And relationships were strengthened. Little seeds of insight and counsel slipped unperceived into fertile soil. Snatching priceless in- between moments to subtly teach values to our children can provide the seedbed of great lessons remembered and lived.
I am concerned about the lack of respect for authority in our society. Various sectors are being closely scrutinized, including police officers, who are being challenged about critical decisions made in split seconds to preserve the lives of others and themselves. Sadly, we are trending towards entitlement under any threat or provocation rather than upholding the value of respect. I believe that each of us can improve our courteous interactions with others. We might begin by considering a list of individuals with whom we frequently interact, such as wives, husbands, children, bosses, instructors, church and community leaders, and public servants. Determine what appropriate language should be used in each case. What respectful titles should be used when addressing them? What tone of voice? Often the familiarity in our homes gives excuse for casual disregard for respectful language. “Respect says more about who YOU are than who THEY are” (John Lewis Lund). “The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people” (Marvin J. Ashton).
The world is in critical need of good mothers. Good mothers “are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying” (Julie Beck). Quality of time is certainly important, but quantity of time spent with children is essential. Because there are limited hours in a day, we have to make choices—and often these choices come in three sizes: good, better, and best. That’s the tough part—prioritizing and making time for the best things. Good mothers are constantly growing, continually learning so they can be effective resources and role models. When children are grown and have flown from the nest, a good mother’s influence continues into the next generation. In fact, her legacy impacts many generations.