Being Useful for the Sake of Use

Last weekend, I reread the amazing scrapbook so many of you had a part in creating. I’m still filled with wonder that so many people were willing to give their time to say such kind things about me and about us. When I expressed appreciation to someone, they made a statement I’ve often heard: “Why did people wait until someone is leaving to say all these nice things?” Some have even added, “I might not be leaving had I heard these things earlier.”

It is certainly true that all of us could stand to be more appreciative of the people around us, and I would encourage everyone to express gratitude more readily when we notice someone doing a good job. But I want to reflect on why people wait so long to show big appreciation, because I think it is in the Lord’s providence that things happen this way. The Lord offers strong teachings about how good people do good for its own sake rather than for the sake of being recognized or rewarded: “Those governed by good are moved by an affection to do good for its own sake and without thought of reward.” (AC 4788:3) “The actual affection that charity arouses, that is to say, the calm and blissful feeling a person enjoys when he does good to his neighbor without thought of any reward, is the internal aspect of the Church.” (AC 6299:3) By contrast, “good itself ceases to be good when there is thought of reward on account of it, for a selfish end in view then instantly attaches itself” (AC 3816). These teachings can feel dishearteningly strong because we can easily see in our hearts a desire to be noticed for of our good actions.

The Lord knows that we are a work in progress. Part of us might want to serve for a good motive and another part might be too focused on recognition. The question we could ask is, “Would I do this anyway even if nobody noticed?” If we would, we are on the right path. The possible danger of getting a lot of external recognition is that we might become more and more drawn to doing the activities that garner recognition, rather than doing the right thing, and we may lose sight of the quieter “calm and blissful feeling” that goes with doing good for its own sake because external praise is more immediately satisfying.

I am so enjoying reading the kind words people have said in the scrapbook. And I’m aware that maybe it might not have been good for my soul to hear them five years ago. The effect of receiving the scrapbook with all those wonderful tributes in one place has had the opposite effect. I feel humbled because I don’t think I deserve so much kindness and gratitude. I am aware that only the Lord could have made all this good happen.

In summary, I think we can and should show more gratitude than we often do. And at the same time I think it is part of providence that we are protected from the kind of praise that would distract us from doing the job in front of us for the sake of service to others. As ever, the Lord is most interested in our long-term development, and the peace and innocence that comes with it.