Coming Out of Hibernation

A sign of a spring in Minnesota

The sign of spring here in Minnesota is not daffodils or tulips but the seasonal load limit sign that appears on streets around the city, reporting how much weight the road can legally bear when the ground begins to thaw. Those appeared a few weeks ago, but today, I noticed another sign—I can see the ground. Now, we know it’s time to come out of hibernation. Soon we’ll see neighbors walking, people out on weekends, the church pews filled instead of empty, and more cars on the road. Then, we’ll see we’re not by ourselves, after all.

The seasonal sociality that accompanies hard Minnesota winters perplexed me for our first couple of years. When it turned cold, so did the people. Or so I assumed. Really, they just retreated indoors to do the winter stuff they do. It took several years to learn this seasonal cycle of winter activity versus summer activity  The good news is that Minnesotans do eventually emerge in warm welcoming ways.

Today I emerged from another sort of hibernation. I volunteered with other women from my church in community service at the local high school where we collated test packets for next week’s standardized tests. A friend identified a need, organized us and together we met the need.

I served for many years with the philosophy, “When I see a need, I fulfill it.” I loved to serve, especially individuals. I prayed for opportunities to serve every day.  I wore myself out in service, but still felt lifted by it.

Then, my circumstances changed in a way that was akin to a winter hibernation. My husband, Paul, became the bishop of our church congregation, an unpaid but nearly full-time service.  As a result, my service went indoors.  I didn’t stop serving; it just became less visible. Like I learned from the seasonal cycle of Minnesotans, there’s important lessons to learn when the season changes from visible service to nearly invisible service.

Respect The Load Limits of Your Season – I didn’t realize until I pulled back my visible giving that I had exceeded my load limit for many years. Many of us are diligent givers, but we don’t need to overreach to make an important difference in the lives of people, especially those who surround us whether we venture outside or not. My husband recently retold the story of Goldilocks and the three bears to a gathering of women at church.  Goldilocks found the porridge to be too hot or too cold. She found the chair to be too big or too little. She found the beds to be too soft or too hard. But in every instance, she found one to be just right. He challenge us to serve “just right,” not at the extremes.

Stop Worrying What the Neighbors Do or Think – I also didn’t realize how lonely my hibernation from visible service would be. Service builds association with other people and keeps us in the know, so it can be lonely when our service is done behind closed doors without much interaction. While we would all probably say we don’t serve to receive affirmation or approval, when it is gone, there is a notable loss of acknowledgment. Even more troubling is that sometimes those who’ve seen you out in front assume you have stopped serving altogether when your service is less obvious or hidden from their view. This has taught me two important habits: recognize and appreciate all those who serve, especially those behind the scenes, and not rush to judgment about what other people are or are not doing.

Look Within Our Own House or Heart – I never hesitated to take an opportunity to serve. But the last time my friend asked me to help out in the same type of project, I did. A better word might be, considered–not hesitated. In the end, I declined. This time, however, I accepted. What changed? Circumstances, perspective, attitude and, most importantly, my motivation changed. I looked to the Lord in personal prayer and pondering for not only who, where, and when I serve  but also the affirmation about how well I fulfilled His service.

My necessary retreat from visible service refined my reasons for giving. “We are happier and more fulfilled when we act and serve for what we give, not for what we get,” as Dallin H. Oaks said at LDS General Conference.

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3 Comments

  1. Rachel
    Apr 8, 2009

    Amen!

    BTW, how is your husband doing? Has he recovered from his accident last year? It seemed pretty severe.

  2. ph
    Apr 8, 2009

    Rachel – Thanks for the thought. I’m doing pretty well. Still have some swelling (a “fanny pack”) and a little bit of soreness in the ribs.

    One thought that comes to mind is our tendency to feel obligated to provide service when no natural obligation exists. If you are a covenanted Christian, the by virtue of your covenants, you are obligated to provide certain types of service–generally that which deals with uplifting and helping individuals. This is the type of Spirit directed service that we should not ignore.

    Other service, though shouldn’t cause us to feel guilt if we don’t do it. It’s really an issue of attitude. If we help when we can, volunteer as we’re able (not just when it is convenient, but when we’re able) we need not feel guilty for those times when we don’t serve. This is the type of service that needs to be neither too hot, nor too cold, but “just right.”

  3. An Ordinary Mom
    Apr 9, 2009

    That quote by Elder Oaks stood out at me at conference, too.

    And I really appreciate your husband’s analogy about serving “just right.” I think I need to keep that in mind.

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