Standing Up in a Sit-Down World (Paperback)
"It is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others."
—President Gordon B. Hinckley
Every single good thing you do can make a difference because the power of one person is immense. One person can change a home. One person can change a community. One person can even change the world.
Favorite author and speaker Merrilee Boyack explores the challenge of serve and of standing up for what you believe in. Drawing on personal experiences, real-life examples, truths from the scriptures, and prophetic counsel, Sister Boyack describes how we can be a beacon to those around us as we embrace good works, help those in need, and foster the courage to stand up and speak up for truth goodness, decency, and virtue—even when the whole world shouts at us to sit down.
The Lord is depending on us to stand for truth and righteousness. Will you answer His call?
- Pages: 110
- Published: 07/2012
About the Author
Merrilee Boyack is a crazed woman who loves eating out and taking naps when she can. She is an estate-planning attorney who conducts her law practice from home. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in business management—finance, and from University of Santa Clara Law School. Merrilee is also a professional lecturer, featured for many years at BYU Education Week, and a published author. Her interests include reading, camping, talking, eating, and helping children in Africa. She’s now a pesco-vegetarian and is having to relearn how to cook!
She is the author of several books and talks, including The Parenting Breakthrough, Strangling Your Husband Is Not an Option; Toss the Guilt and Catch the Joy; and her most recent, In Trying Times, Just Keep Trying. Merrilee and her husband, Steve, reside in Poway, California, and have four sons, one grandson, and a granddaughter on the way!
Decide to Be a Giver
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
I have a strange hobby. Now it might have something to do with my career—I am an estate-planning attorney, and I work with families to help them be prepared for death or disability—but I think it has more to do with my fascination with what people choose to do with their lives.
My morbid hobby is reading the obituaries. My mother used to read them, and somehow I began to do the same. I don’t read the whole article, usually, but I do read the headlines. They make for fascinating reading. Who was this person? What did they choose to do with their life?
One day I was reading the obituary headlines to my husband, Steve, who does not share my strange fascination, and I burst out laughing. There in big bold print was an obituary headline I’d never seen before. After listing the person’s name and age, it said, “Expert bowler.” Expert bowler! I was amazed. Can you imagine living for seventy-six years and the most important thing someone could say about you was that you were an “expert bowler”? I couldn’t believe it.
I asked my husband what his obituary would say. He mumbled an “I don’t really care,” but I thought about it for a minute. I think Steve’s headline should read, “Steve Boyack, 104, beloved Scout leader, dies on top of Mt. Whitney.” Steve was a Scoutmaster for eleven years and a Scout leader for more than thirty years, and I am grateful for his service not only to our four sons but to all those boys and men to whom he has given his time and energy, so that seems like an appropriate headline.
I want you to take a minute and think about this question: What will your obituary say? Will it say “Mary, expert shopper” or “Mary, PTA volunteer”? Will it say “Jim, devoted employee” or “Jim, devoted grandfather”? It’s rather sobering to think about reducing your life to a handful of words, but it is also extremely enlightening.
To quote Montaigne, “The glorious masterpiece of man is to live to purpose; all other things …are but little appendices and props.”1
So what is your purpose? What are you doing here on this planet? And, most important, have you chosen to be a taker or a giver?
Takers and Givers
Takers and givers are very different kinds of people. Takers are never truly happy. They can never take enough to fill that hole in their soul. They are glued to their workplace at the expense of everything else: take, take, take. They roam the malls: take, take, take. They are busy people who don’t have time for anyone or anything else.
Takers expect to be rich. They expect to have lives of total happiness. They expect to be perfect, in a worldly way. They expect to have power and influence. They expect to have it all. They may be rich, but the money will never be fulfilling to them because it will never be enough. They will never be happy enough or perfect enough, and someone will always have more power or influence than they have. Takers live miserable, small little lives, never extending their view beyond their own selfish desires. Some takers sit back and expect everything to be given to them, with no thought to contributing. Takers will never find happiness in that which does not fill their soul, and the only thing their obituaries will say is “expert taker.”
Now givers are quite another story. I want to tell you about Millie. (That’s not her real name, but this is a true story.) I knew Millie quite well. She lived in a little house in the poorer section of our city. She had many children. She never drove a car. She didn’t have much money, and both her appearance and her dress were plain. Most people would have said there was absolutely nothing outstanding about Millie. Except for one thing—Millie was a giver.
Throughout her whole life, she was a volunteer and a leader in her community and church. She was a Scouter, true-blue and devoted, and she worked tirelessly for more than thirty years in the Boy Scout organization helping young boys become men. She was involved in her community groups and civic clubs, and, once her kids were grown, she literally spent most of her time involved in volunteer work.
A few years ago, Millie died suddenly on her way to the National Boy Scout Jamboree where she was to receive an award for her service. I attended her funeral where there was standing room only as one person after another saluted this woman. And there in the paper was her obituary: “Millie, dedicated volunteer and Scout leader.” Now that’s a great life.
Millie’s life was full of lessons, but one of my favorites was this: Don’t wait. She didn’t wait to get involved. She didn’t wait until she had enough money. (She had none.) She didn’t wait until she had enough free time. (She had six kids and arguably no free time.) She didn’t wait until she’d settled into a new community or made new friends. (She started working as soon as she moved to our neighborhood.) She didn’t wait to find the right charity that matched what she wanted to do. Millie did whatever was asked of her—even the humblest of jobs that no one else wanted to do. Don’t wait to give; Millie didn’t.
Look Out the Window
I remember when I was in college. School was hard, and I was always broke. I had no free time. I wasn’t dating. I was really bummed out and depressed. So I wrote my dad a letter. I seem to recall it was an extremely lengthy epistle filled with “Woe is me! My life is the pits!” I catalogued all my complaints and problems and went on and on about how depressed I was.
About a week or so later, I received an envelope in the mail. It was from my dad. I was really excited because my dad almost never wrote. I eagerly opened the envelope and found a 3×5 card with a message written in big bold print: “Stop looking in the mirror and start looking out the window. Love, Dad.”
I was furious. Absolutely furious. Hadn’t he been listening? Didn’t he read my letter? Didn’t he care? Where was the loving, supportive dad I needed? This was so like my simplistic father. All he ever thought about was helping other people. Didn’t he realize that sometimes I was the one who needed some help?
I had been helping others all my life—my dad had raised us to do that. But didn’t I deserve some attention once in a while? I stewed for quite a long time. After about a month, I grew up a bit and faced facts. The truth was that my concerns and problems were miniscule in the big scheme of things. Not dating paled in the face of my sister going through a divorce. Homework was nothing compared to those yearning for an education but unable to afford one.
I started to look out the window and to reach out to others, and, as I did so, an amazing thing happened (as it always does): I changed. My problems shrank and most went away completely. My dad’s note on that 3×5 card was the best advice he has ever given me.
Start looking out the window. Be aware of others. Don’t wait; decide to give. These are life-changing practices.
Do Good and Be Good
We have been counseled to get involved and to do good. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated,
You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others. . . . In this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity, above indifference. You can become involved and speak with a strong voice for that which is right.2
Why have we been counseled to get involved? Because we have the truth. Because we have the Spirit. Because we can make a difference. And because, in the Church, we’re well-trained by constant service!
But thinking of doing good and serving others often feels overwhelming. We immediately think of all of our responsibilities, projects, commitments, and to-do lists, and we can stop before we even begin. We worry that we can’t add one more thing to our lives, and we wonder how we can balance it all without dropping it all! But perhaps there is a way to serve that won’t burn us out or do us in.
To begin, we must choose to live our lives as givers. Now I’m not recommending that you quit your job and join the Peace Corps. What I am recommending is that you take a stand right here, right now, in your life and choose to be a giver. And I mean for this decision to extend beyond your family, your closest group of friends, and your ward. I am hoping that you will take a chance to set your mind in a new way and stretch a little. I want you to look at life as a giver would.
Being a giver can be as simple as saying in our minds “I will be a giver.” It needn’t be a complex list of to-do’s or should-do’s. We can begin by establishing an outward-focusing spirit. We can decide that we’ll be a person who gives—in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings.
As we make the choice to be a giver, it is helpful to look at the best example we have of a person who chose to live the life of a giver: Jesus Christ. As we examine His life, something interesting emerges.
The story of the life of Jesus is filled with what I call little moments. Jesus had all power; He could have literally waved His hand and healed the masses. But He didn’t. Instead, His entire life was filled with little moments—one-on-one personal contact. Think about that.
The Savior touched the eyes of the blind man and healed him. He held the children one by one on His lap. With His hand, He raised a palsied man from his couch. He taught not only groups of people but the individual as well. Why did He do all that?
I believe He lived His life that way for us. He ministered to people one by one so we could see how it is done. He taught the greatest lessons by His example, and His example may not have been quite as powerful to us as individuals if He had used His power to heal everyone at once.
In our own way, we have the power to do what Christ did. We have the power to serve in little moments every day. How long does it take to pat your teenager on the back and say, “I’m proud of you, son”? A split second. How long does it take to smile at the grocery clerk? A split second. How long does it take to tell your assistant that she did a great job? A split second.
That split second of service can be an amazing gift for you and for others. Indeed, Jesus told us clearly that we are to follow His example: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:21).
Now clearly, we may not be called upon to heal the leper or raise the dead, but we can do His works. His works were to minister to the needs of those around him, moment by moment, person by person. We can do that. His works are to spread love and kindness and care and teaching. We can do that.
So how do we go about it? I would like to suggest a little experiment. Decide right now that you will give away five split seconds a day. Raise your hand and repeat after me: “I, [fill in your name], pledge to give away five split seconds a day.”
Now, imagine your morning. You remember your pledge and begin looking for opportunities to give away your split seconds. Perhaps you say to your spouse or roommate, “Wow, you are looking fantastic today!” How will their day begin then? They’ll be off to work or school with their head held high and a smile on their face!
You go into your nursery and hug and kiss your baby. Oh, the smiles you get! One split second of joy to start the day.
You don’t stop there. You poke your head into your teenager’s room and exclaim, “Hey, sweetheart, I just want you to know I think you rock!” (OK, your teen might be seriously startled over that so pick your own positive comment.)
You go to the family dog and rub his head and ears. Oh, the tail-wagging that will ensue from that one second of attention. You’re on a roll now! You head out on the freeway and smile and wave at the person trying to merge and let them in.
By now you’re smiling, you’re singing, you’re feeling so happy you’re amazed. And every person (or animal!) whose life you touched for a second is having a happy, joyful day because you gave them a split second of love and attention. It cost you nothing, and it took almost no time at all.
Now I have to warn you, giving away split seconds becomes rather addictive and contagious. Five seconds will feel so good that you’ll decide that just for today, you’ll try to give away ten split seconds. You’ll be spreading smiles and love through the grocery store, at the PTA meeting, and around your office. That wave of love will have an enormous impact as it ripples out from you everywhere you go. Can you see the power of living this way?
As you choose to live as a giver, every day will be transformed and you will find yourself doing the works that Jesus did, moment by moment. As you consciously make an effort to serve, you will find changes occurring in the way you think. You’ll find yourself noticing others more and seizing opportunities to extend love. You’ll find yourself thinking more like the Savior as you choose to act more like the Savior.
Five split seconds. An easy way to live our life as a giver. All it takes is one decision and a few moments of our time.
But making the decision is crucial. It is that choice that drives the behavior that follows. Making the choice to be a giver sets us on the path of charity. Those few moments of service can change our minds and begin to create in us a charitable heart that leads to even more charity. President Henry B. Eyring described it well:
It was King Benjamin who said to his people, “Learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are . . . in the service of your God.” [Mosiah 2:17.] And it was Mormon who taught in his words in the Book of Mormon, “Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” [Moroni 7:47.]
The Lord is keeping His promise to you as you keep yours. As you serve others for Him, He lets you feel His love. And in time, feelings of charity become part of your very nature. And you will receive the assurance of Mormon in your heart as you persist in serving others in life that all will be well with you.3
A Lesson in CPR
My friend shared a story with me that profoundly affected my outlook on this idea. She had been at the beach one day and she saw a man come out of the ocean holding what appeared to be a rag doll. He laid it down in the sand and stood over it. Curious, my friend walked over to investigate.
The man turned to her and said, “I thought this was a doll rubbing up against my legs in the surf, but when I picked it up, I realized it was a little girl.” Horrified, my friend looked down at the body of a toddler.
“What should we do?” the man asked.
“I don’t know,” replied my friend. Soon several others had gathered and they all stood around the child, all asking what should be done.
Now let’s pause and ask a question. Did these people care about the child? Of course they did!
Now the next question: Did that help the child? No, alas, caring alone did not!
Another man came up to the group, saw the toddler in the sand, and announced, “I’ll go get a lifeguard!” Off he ran. The lifeguard arrived, performed CPR, and saved the child’s life.
I now think of CPR in a much different way:
CPR = Caring Plus Response
It is not always enough to just care. To actually help someone, we must respond in some way to those feelings of empathy.
The Savior taught through His teachings and His actions that it is the response that makes a difference. My very favorite scripture is Matthew 25:40
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Christ taught many powerful lessons in this verse, beginning with the truth that He wants each of us to serve. “Inasmuch as ye have done it”—ponder that statement. Why does the Lord want us to serve? There is, of course, the element of providing a benefit to the needy person, which is a wonderful thing, but there is another element that is equally important to Him and that is what service does to us.
Service makes us more like Christ. It increases our charity and our love for others. It increases our understanding of the human family because as we serve, our relationships with our spiritual brothers and sisters grow and expand. Service can also put our own lives and trials in perspective. The Lord is concerned about both parties in the service equation, and both parties—those who give and those who receive—are blessed.
President Henry B. Eyring tells of a time when the thought came to him, “Everything I have that’s good is a gift from God. How would he have me use my gifts to serve someone?” He then asked his wife, who was busy with many tasks, if he could help. She asked him to make the bed, which he did. He then reflected,
It was such a small thing that I’m sure it doesn’t sound very impressive to you, and it probably wasn’t very impressive to her either. . . . But as I did that simple little thing, I felt something that I’ve felt before. When I gave of my time in a way I thought the Savior would want me to for my wife, not only did my love for her increase—I also felt his love for her.
I promise you that if you’ll use your gifts to serve someone else, you’ll feel the Lord’s love for that person. You’ll also feel his love for you.4
This is that “caring” part of the “CPR.” As you serve, you will feel His love flowing both ways.
The Lord’s instruction continues in Matthew 25:40 as He says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it” (emphasis added). The Lord tells us that the action is important. We are to take action on our feelings.
So not only does
CPR = Caring Plus Response
But we can also remember His counsel the same way:
CPR = Christ Pointed the Route!
Our actions can be big or small. Abinadi managed to convert only one person in King Noah’s court, and he didn’t even know that he had succeeded in that! And yet that one conversion led to the conversion of thousands. The Lord doesn’t always ask that we do only great, large acts of service. He just asks that we do something. Do some good. Even if it takes only a split second. Start there and watch where it leads. We may never know the power or the impact of that one small action that took us only a moment.
Make It Personal—for You and for Them
I love the Savior’s phrase “unto the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40). What a tender teaching. We are to serve everyone we encounter, even those who we might consider “the least.” My aunt used to say that every person is wearing an invisible sign that says, “Please make me feel important!” Indeed Christ teaches us to make our service personal. He reached out over and over to everyone—the unpopular, the social pariah, the different. Each person received His attention. We, too, can be personal in our work.
Moroni says, in talking of our day, “Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” (Mormon 8:39; emphasis added). Where is our focus? Are we noticing those around us who could use our attention?
Not only can we strive to be personal in our good works but we can and should teach our children to do so as well. I was driving with my young son one day, and he saw a homeless man with his boy standing on the median strip asking for help. Tanner wanted to help so we drove to a McDonald’s restaurant and he bought a meal for the man and a Happy Meal for the little boy. We drove back, and he handed the food to the man and his son. The man was thrilled and told Tanner that his little boy had wanted a Happy Meal but he couldn’t afford it. Tanner was so happy to help. How much more personal was this experience for my son and this man than if Mom had just handed over five bucks? The personal touch blessed all of us.
One mother helped her children establish a tradition of service at Christmastime. She would let the children look through the store catalogs to pick out their Christmas gifts but would also include charity catalogs as well. The children were thrilled with being able to “buy” an animal for a village in need. The first year, the family considered buying a camera phone for themselves, but decided to “purchase” a cow from one of the charities instead. They kept a picture of the cow and named it “Camera Phone.” The next few years they “purchased” goats that they named Sega Genesis I and Sega Genesis II. The children loved to donate because they were able to see the pictures of the people who needed their help.
The mother then related, “We need to teach our children that all people on the globe are more alike than different. We need to tell them that we are blessed with a great bounty we can share, that we can make a difference. Children are practical. We fear that they will worry and feel sad when shown the world’s greatest needs, but much more often their response is action. They love to help. People in need are helped, human bonds are forged, children grow up with hearts more giving and more open. And every family should know the joy of owning its very own cow.”5
Christ concludes the verse in Matthew with this glorious statement: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (25:40).
What a privilege it is to serve others and to serve Him!
My son once asked me, “Mom, why do you do so much community service?” At first I was concerned that perhaps he felt I was spending too much time in those pursuits, but then I realized what he really wanted to know was “why?” What was my motivation?
I pondered for a while because I felt his question deserved a serious answer. I realized what it was that inspired me to serve, and I told him, “Honey, the Savior did something for me and for my children that I could not do for myself. He atoned for me and for you. I owe Him everything. With all that He has done for me and for my family, how could I not serve? I do it because I love my Savior.”
The reason that I find the scripture in Matthew to be so thrilling is that in it the Lord is instructing us all on how we can in some very tiny way, give something back to Him. Every time we help, every time we are kind, every time we relieve suffering we have done it unto Him—Him who has saved us all.
And we can start today by giving away five split seconds of love!
^1. “Of Experience,” in The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, trans. Charles Cotton, ed. William Carew Hazlitt (South Australia: University of Adelaide, 2010), http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/montaigne/michel/essays/book3.13.html.
Everyone can do SOMEthing!
by Sierra - reviewed on August 23, 2012
I love the information and suggestions offered. Mostly, I loved how she stressed doing things that speak to our own unique skills or personal experiences. I was reading through the list, I thought: "I could do that!" or "Hey, I've done that before!" Which made me feel really good. So a very uplifting and inspiring book!
Great book and a quick read
by Kris - reviewed on September 03, 2012
This is a very short book - it's only 108 pages long. But it is packed with ideas about how to become better people and examples of the gospel of Christ. I really liked Boyack's "Strangling Your Husband is Not an Option," but I haven't read anything else by her. After reading this one, I think I will have to seek out more of her books. She has a very fun, conversational, easy to read way of writing that I really enjoy. Her ideas on becoming more involved in the world around is are great and can apply to anyone from the working single mom of many children, to the widowed retiree, to the young single adult. In addition to her great ideas, she has some excellent references to scriptural accounts and talks by Church authorities. I really loved one part in particular where she talks about how Christ could have waved his hand and healed everyone right then and there, but he chose to minister to crowds of people one at a time in order to better serve them. There were several parts where she changed my view of the scriptures and brought up stuff I'd never even considered before. I would recommend this to anyone, but particularly to the audience it's intended for (LDS Females.) It's a quick read, so you can't say you're too busy to read it!
Can't sit down after reading this book
by Customer - reviewed on December 25, 2012
I read this book with a few other family members. We all loved it. I was inspired to do simple things as well as plan how to get more involved in my community.