One of my first callings after getting married ended in total disaster after a couple of months. I thought I was doing an OK job in my new but puzzling role as Executive Secretary. I had been attending the bishopric meetings and doing what I thought I was asked to do, but suddenly, without warning, I was sitting in sacrament meeting and heard the announcement over the pulpit that I had been released. This should never happen, of course. The bishop was a kind, loving man and I was almost instantly over the slip-up, recognizing that it was an innocent mistake. I’m sure someone had meant to have an interview to properly notify me of the release and the person conducting the meeting thought it was all taken care of. That’s not the real problem, though.
The problem was that I had failed. I had been failing to fulfill the bishop’s expectations of me. I hadn’t inquired enough to understand that my duties involved much more than showing up at meetings and carrying out direct orders. He always seemed to be scheduling interviews on his own without involving me, and so I didn’t realize that he wanted me to take the lead in setting them up. Even though I was “in the loop,” I really felt out of it and unaware of what the bishop was doing and what he wanted. In a sense, it was a lonely calling, in spite of having regular contact with the bishopric, all great people. If such a calling could be lonely and frustrating for an active member with a strong testimony and solid grounding in the Church, think how much more challenging some other callings can be for those who might be new in the Church or on their way back to activity.
One of the blessings the Church offers is the opportunity for every willing member to serve in various roles. Teachers, organists, clerks, Young Men and Young Women leaders, priesthood leaders, missionaries, welfare specialists, employment specialists, and numerous other positions give us opportunities to help others and grow in service. While callings can be exciting and rewarding, sometimes they are difficult and lonely burdens. It depends on many factors such as the skills, experience, and background of the person called, as well as their employment and family situation. The perception of the calling also depends on those the person works with in the calling. A person can feel neglected and out of the loop after they are called, especially if there are no regular interviews or other signs of real people caring and helping.
I think we would be a stronger community if we more frequently considered what others in their callings might be facing and feeling. Their poor performance might not be because they are slackers, but because they don’t know how to start or didn’t know what was expected or are intimidated by the demands. Sometimes the barrier to success is something as simple as being given a ward directory or explaining the most relevant part of a manual or introducing the person to someone with experience in the calling.
We can help others in their callings by participating, showing appreciation, and communicating. A ward event might seem like a drain on our time, but by showing up and helping the event to succeed we may be doing a great favor to the person who organized the event. These small things can change a person’s life, one way or the other. We need our people to succeed in the challenging callings they are given.
If we are in leadership positions over or linked to the calling, extra efforts to understand the person’s feelings and needs can really help. We can’t expect everyone to grasp what the calling is about and be self-starters who dig and live up to our expectations. A lot of guidance and patience may be needed to help it be a positive experience for the person called.
Of course, some of us really are slackers. Yes, that’s me, sometimes. But a few words of encouragement and some tactful reminders can really help. People generally want to do well in their callings, but love, help, guidance, and inclusion are always part of the recipe for success.
As a final note, the calling of full-time missionary can be one of the most lonely of all. Sure, you’ve got a companion, but sometimes the friendship doesn’t really blossom. Then you can be stuck in some strange corner of the world with someone you don’t feel close to, day after day trying to help people who don’t want your help and and perhaps don’t even want your presence in their town. This is where letters from home can really help, plus kindness from local members or non-members. Letters from home, meals from ward members and strangers, and especially just a few minutes to sit down and talk with good people all really helped. I will forever be grateful to some kind souls in Switzerland and Germany who recognized that a couple of bewildered American kids might benefit from a little kindness. Some of the most appreciated weren’t members of the Church but were open-minded good people who reached out to us and fed us or just talked with us and showed real human kindness. They helped make a rather lonely but joyous calling into a much more joyous one. We were trying to lose ourselves and serve them, but God bless them for reaching out to us as well.