In Relief Society, “No means No!”
Posted by Kerry on February 29, 2008
Like many other Burning Bosom Bloggers, my wife and I have both recently served in ward leadership positions. It was Elder’s Quorum Prez (EQP) for me and RS Prez (RSP) for my wife (still serving). I have to admit that we have both been absolutely flabbergasted, completely bewildered, and utterly SHOCKED at the behavior of some of our fellow active members of the church, regarding the acceptance of service from others.
It seems that when a person is first called to a ward leadership position, said person tries to fulfill every single service request at whatever cost, believing that “magnifying your calling” requires that. One common example would be spending an exorbitant (i.e a dozen hours) amount of time helping an unprepared family to move. Over time, however, even the sweetest of hearts becomes somewhat “hardened” and begins to understand that it is okay to say “no” to some inappropriate service requests.
Now of course I am not saying we shouldn’t serve…loving, charitable service is in reality “pure religion”. And obviously in some cases, spending an exorbitant amount of time serving someone is very appropriate.
The hardening that I mention above is the often slow recognition that as leaders, we need to be careful in asking our brethren and sisters to consecrate their time to serve – especially when that service is what I would call “inappropriate”. I would define inappropriate service as those situations when individuals knowingly take advantage of consecrated time from their brethren and sisters.
Here are some of my favorite inappropriate service stories (all true, as they happened to either my wife or me):
1. Sister A is pregnant and asks for meals to be brought to her after she has the baby (my wife thinks that many members simply expect this now, like we are somehow entitled to receive meals from sisters because the husband can’t boil some hot dogs or grab fast food). Sister A doesn’t ask if meals can be brought over, but instead asks “now how many meals do I get when my baby comes?” Note that Sister A’s family is financially stable. So, Sister B, a working, single sister with 3 small kids, accepts the service opportunity and prepares a meal. When she gets over to Sister A’s house, there is a herd of extended family members inside the house with a party atmosphere eating from a stack of fresh pizza boxes on the counter. Sister A asks Sister B to “put the food on the counter…I am sure it will get eaten”.
2. Brother X has obtained a new high-paying job and is moving out of the ward. He asks EQP (ridiculous, in my opinion. If you are moving, feel free to make an announcement on your own in EQ and call some helpers yourself) to find a team of helpers to move. Oh, and of course, the helpers will “only be moving the big stuff.” EQP finds half a dozen brethren (the same brethren who volunteer for everything else) who commit to leave their families for half a Saturday and end up helping Brother X’s family pack, load, move, etc. At the end of the move, Brother X mentions in passing to EQP that his new employer had actually given him a moving bonus of $10,000, but he wanted to pocket the $ instead and use the “free services” of the EQ. Brother X almost received a punch to the face that night.
3. Brother Y is going to be working some extra construction jobs over the next 6 weeks and will be out of town. All sounds peachy, right? Sister Y then calls RSP and asks if RSP can assign some sisters in the ward to babysit 3-times-a-week while Sister Y runs errands and exercises. Why doesn’t she want to pay for a babysitter (Family Y is NOT poor)? Because Brother and Sister Y want to save the extra money they will be earning and “apply it towards their dream house”.
4. Sister M, a single sister with 4 young kids, is having a “voluntary operation” and requests a meal from the RSP for the night after the operation. So Sister P, who has 3 young children and whose husband is in Iraq, volunteers to prepare a meal for a family of 5. Upon arriving at Sister M’s house, Sister P is told that the kids are on a vacation with biological Dad, but Sister M still wanted a meal for her boyfriend, who was over at the house that night. Was boyfriend incapable of making a P&B sandwich for himself that night?
5. Countless other stories where financially-stable members ask professionals (accountants, auto mechanics, attorneys, etc) in the ward to offer their services for free. Like being in a ward together somehow means we are exempt from paying for professional services…usually the professionals are too nice to ask for proper payment.
Does anyone else have any favorite stories like these? I do not shed light on these stories to belittle certain members of the church, but to suggest that it is okay for local leaders to say “no”.
I would like to know how the Savior Himself served. Did He ever do anything that the service-recipient could have essentially done him/herself? Is it appropriate to ask members under my stewardship to take time out of their schedules, their families, and sometimes even their work, and consecrate it for an individual that could have avoided the entire situation with some simple preparations? Should we only serve when it is a scenario where the service could NOT be done by the recipient?
Maybe I am way off base. Maybe I shouldn’t judge and simply ask those members under my direction to serve with love and a non-critical heart. I have always really liked how Elder Maxwell stated it:
“Part of discipleship should be to become high-yield, low-maintenance members of the Church.” 
I think it is appropriate to not only seek to become “high-yield, low maintenance members” ourselves, but to also encourage each other to become “high-yield, low maintenance members” by sometimes saying “no”.
 Neal A. Maxwell, “The Holy Ghost: Glorifying Christ,” Ensign, Jul 2002, 56–61