Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Circle of Christmas Service

As the Christmas season began in 2008, I was struck by the instruction President Monson gave in that year’s Christmas devotional. He spoke of Christmas memories of the past and making new memories that year, but the stories he shared and the experiences he highlighted focused on service rather than giving or receiving gifts.

As I thought back on my Christmases past, only gifts that came during my childhood came to mind—like the Christmas my parents gave us our family dog, the Christmas when we received a new TV, and the Christmas when the giant present in a large garbage bag, neatly tied with a giant bow, turned out to be what I thought was an uneventful new set of family bath towels. Although these memories were pleasant and humorous, I couldn’t think of any meaningful Christmas memory that focused on service, as President Monson had talked about, instead of gifts.

President Monson’s talk about Christmas service was still on my mind when I went visiting teaching that month, so I decided to incorporate what the prophet had taught in the Christmas devotional as part of my visiting teaching message. I told the other sisters about my problem—that my Christmas memories were focused on gifts instead of service—and asked what we could do to strive to focus on service more than gifts in future Christmas seasons.

My visiting teaching sisters all had wonderful ideas and shared memories that matched what President Monson had taught. Their stories, however, were more familiar to me than I had anticipated. As they shared special Christmas service experiences, I realized that my problem was not that I had never done Christmas service but that the gift memories came to mind before the service memories. When my visiting teaching sisters shared their Christmas service experiences, I was finally reminded of my own.

One sister’s memory was especially significant to me. She told of a Christmas when her family was struggling financially because her father was unemployed at the time. She tenderly told of loving neighbors, friends, and community members who came to her family’s aid that year by providing food, decorations, and gifts for Christmas.

This sister’s story reminded me of a service project we did as a ward mutual group when I was a youth. We used part of the ward auxiliary budget funds and donations from ward members to provide Christmas for families in need. On a mutual night, each class or quorum was assigned a member of a family in need to purchase gifts for or a special Christmas item, like the tree, decorations, or Christmas dinner. After an hour or so of shopping, we all met back together to deliver Christmas to the needy families. I can still remember our Young Men’s leaders carrying a Christmas tree into a home. Even though I didn’t know the families we were serving, this service project was a very special experience.

It was not my visiting teaching sister’s family that our ward had served, as she lived in a different area at the time, but connecting my nearly forgotten service experience with the Christmas that she remembered best made that Christmas service project much more meaningful to me.

My visiting teacher’s story brought that service experience from a mutual activity years ago back in a full circle. Learning that my visiting teaching sister had been served in the same way that our ward had served someone else made that service experience much more personal to me, even years later. One small and simple, and nearly forgettable, act of service to me was a great and memorable thing to someone else.

This sister’s story was only the beginning. Once I got started, the memories of Christmas service from my childhood came flooding back. There was the family that came caroling to our house with a plate of cookies every Christmas Eve. I remember my mother baking loaves of nut bread and sending us off with our red wagon to deliver them to the neighbors. I thought of doorbell ditching the Twelve Days of Christmas to families in our ward that my parents thought could need a little extra love. All these memories were there in my past all the time, gifts of experience to propel me into making service a part of my Christmases now.

So how do we live and teach that giving Christmas service is more important than the gifts we receive? We keep remembering by doing, each year, over and over again, at this time when we celebrate His birth, what the Savior would do and “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Each experience of service that we embrace affects the people we serve and the people that we serve with altogether to make this special season a gift of service.

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