Years ago, an older man at my church addressed our congregation about service and his sister Joy, and his talk comes to mind whenever I think about the topic.
Joy was born when he was 4 years old and at first, everything was uneventful. It wasn't until Joy was two that his parents realized something was wrong.
Through a series of doctors appointments and medical procedures, they learned that Joy was never going to develop normally.
Eventually she learned to get around from place to place on her own, but she was never able to talk and it wasn't clear how much she understood. For her whole life, she would be spoon-fed every meal and have every one of her diapers changed by her mother.
Joy lived to be 34.
To put that in perspective, her brother (the guy giving the talk in church that day) grew up, had children of his own, toilet-trained them and sent them off to elementary school — all while his mother continued changing Joy's diapers, day in and day out.
People would sometimes watch his mother feeding and changing her adult daughter and say, "You don't have to do this, you know. You could turn Joy over to the state. She doesn't even know you're doing it."
His mother would respond the same way every time: "But I do."
The funny thing about helping others is that even if it doesn't change their lives, it usually changes ours.
Sometimes, the things we do to help others may not seem to make much of a difference, and that's hard.
We lend a hand to a struggling friend but it doesn't take away her problems. We volunteer at a soup kitchen but we know there'll be more hungry people the very next night.
I don't know about you, but when I put my effort into something I want it to make a difference. It stinks to spend a day sweating over cleaning the house only to wake up the next day to see it's even dirtier and messier than before.
But often, it's not about the net effect of our service.
It's kind of weird, but we really do come to love those we help. And when we love others, we begin to see them as God sees them. We get out of our own heads, stop worrying about ourselves, and become more compassionate.
My oldest daughter gave her first talk in church on Sunday, on this same topic of kindness. She quoted the president of our church, Thomas S. Monson, who said:
Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish — and in effect save their lives.
If God wanted to send angels to help people in response to their every prayer He could, but I think He usually leaves it to us because helping other people gives us the opportunity to become a little better ourselves.
Just something to think about as you go about your day.