Originally from West Valley City, UT, Mike Brady currently resides in Chubbuck, ID, adjacent to where his amazing wife Chelsie grew up. Together they have five children and have heard every “Brady Bunch” joke in the book. Among other callings, Mike served as a full-time missionary (Japan Tokyo South), early morning seminary teacher, elders quorum president, ward mission leader, and multiple bishoprics despite his large, young family.
“[Service] is the dividing line which separates the two great groups of the world—those who help and those who hinder, those who lift and those who lean, those who contribute and those who only consume.” — Bryant S. Hinckley
Two different experiences in church meetings separated in time by two years changed my life by completely reframing my understanding of and approach to the second great commandment: love thy neighbor as thyself. The first experience took place during a ward council, and the second was during a convert baptismal ceremony. The Lord planted a seed in the first experience, and two years later He brought my attention to the resulting fruit.
What image or thought come to you when you hear the word burden? Got it? What was your perception? I think of a beast of burden loaded with gear led through the mountains. It’s tired, its feet hurt, its back and knees ache, and it would prefer to be grazing than being driven for miles on end by the man whose gear it is bearing. Consider those aching knees and back again. Can you feel the weariness of this poor animal as you imagine the burden it is carrying?
I ask again: What was your image? Maybe your financial bills? Perhaps the workload at your job? Maybe your church calling? Your children? Schoolwork?
What exactly is a burden? Bills can undoubtedly be burdensome, and so can children. But so can you. And so can I.
Bryant S. Hinckley, the father of President Gordon B. Hinckley, said:
“Service is the virtue that distinguished the great of all times and which they will be remembered by. It places a mark if nobility upon its disciples. It is the dividing line which separates the two great groups of the world—those who help and those who hinder, those who lift and those who lean, those who contribute and those who only consume. How much better it is to give than to receive. Service in any form is comely and beautiful. To give encouragement, to impart sympathy, to show interest, to banish fear, to build self-confidence and awaken hope in the hearts of others, in short—to love them and to show it—is to render the most precious service.”
Since I first came across that quote, I have repeated the phrase “those who lift and those who lean” in talks I’ve given or discussions in which I’ve participated. We all have times in our lives when we help and lift, and there are times in our lives when we hinder and lean. The trick, I’ve come to learn, is to know that we are always leaning on Christ and His Atonement.
Some years ago I was part of a ward council. As in any ward, we had a lot to get done, but most of the organizations in our little, undermanned ward were running with two-person presidencies. Even the bishop, at one point, had only one counselor for about five months. Here’s another image: towing a 30-foot camping trailer with a 1985 Toyota Corolla.
Ward leaders were continually adapting and prioritizing. Some objectives that bigger, better-staffed wards had the luxury of doing were merely “pie-in-the-sky” dreams for our struggling ward council.
Experience One: The Burdens?
Into this strained setting, the missionaries were teaching and preparing to baptize two individuals. Now, the ward has no input on convert baptisms; that authority lies with the missionary program. Every ward would love to see faithful, vital, driven men and women of initiative and heart join their ranks, and immediately begin to share the burden. We want helpers! We want lifters! I have seen individuals who meet this description join the church. I have seen yet others join who are not immediate helpers, but over time become stalwart leaders. And there are others who, though worthy of baptism, perhaps lack resolve, initiative, and support, and after baptism, they may attend services once or twice and then disappear.
The two individuals previously mentioned seemed to be the latter type. Discussion in ward council centered around how to help them transition into the congregation, who would work with them, etc.—just as it should have been. All of us seemed to understand that these two would require more attention, help, and hand-holding than most to get them to attend for an hour on a Sunday morning. Expectations of them sharing the burden were, realistically, next to nothing. Finally, one leader said something that I cannot forget.
Please understand that I’m not trying to blame anyone. If you were on that ward council, it might well have been you who said it, considering the ratio of lifters to leaners that seemed to be against our success.
This leader said, “We’re already as thin as we can be! Every person in this room is overextended, and we’re spending less time at home with our families than is ideal. It is so hard to think that the mission is baptizing people into our ward whom we know will add to our burden.”
Again, having been a member of that council for about four years by that time, I could empathize with the weariness that precipitated that thought. Nevertheless, the words struck a sour note inside me. I didn’t dwell too much on it at the time, but I knew that I certainly disagreed with the principle, though in good conscience, I could not hold it against the person who said it.
Immediately after that “sour note” experience in ward council, I came across this talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland in April 1983 General Conference, before he was an apostle. In this talk, he relates a personal story where he overly-scolded his five-year-old son, chased the Spirit from his home, and was that night given a dream. In his dream, he placed an impossible burden on his young son, and only after some time experienced a wave of sorrow and guilt for his parenting misstep. At the end of his dream, another person said to Brother Holland “You should not have left him alone to do this difficult thing. It would not have been asked of you.” This certainly resonated with me as a parent of young children myself, but upon a second reading of the talk, I realized that this principle also applies to how ward leaders and members ought to treat one another, especially those who lack experience navigating our church (let alone the gospel), particularly new and returning members. The expectation that novices to our cultures and practices should not require our time and attention is wholly unrealistic. We should not only expect a learning curve for some time, but we should welcome it—a conclusion that took me two years to reach.
Experience Two: The Leaner
Fast forward a couple of years. In the meantime, my family and I had moved to another state, and I was called to serve as the ward mission leader. I met regularly with the missionaries and their investigators and hosted countless lessons in our home. I became good friends with one of these individuals, an elderly brother, who was strongly considering baptism. A neighboring ward was holding a baptismal service for a convert, also an elderly brother, in their area. The missionaries and I invited our friend to attend the baptism with us.
I sat near the back next to my investigator friend, and together we took in the sights and sounds. I’d glance over at him every so often to observe his response to what he was witnessing. The elderly gentleman baptismal candidate had a gregarious personality and a pleasant glow of excitement and anticipation. He seemed “all-in” and very much converted to what he had been learning.
At one point during a musical number, I looked up at the front row to the man to be baptized, then looked over at my friend sitting next to me, and this question came to mind: “Is my friend as excited about baptism as the other gentleman seems to be?” The other man seemed to be a person who could step in with enthusiasm and be a helper and lifter in short order. But my friend? Ah, my friend. My dear, dear friend. No… no, he is not the same. He is undoubtedly a leaner.
As immediately as I thought the words “he’s a leaner,” in my mind I found myself back in that ward council meeting two years earlier, listening to the words “It is so hard to think that the mission is baptizing people into our ward who we know will simply add to our burden.”
My friend? No question: he was the “burden” type.
As I wondered what kind of church member my friend would be, realistically, YES, he would require a lot of effort merely to get him to come to Sunday services. I knew it. The Lord knew what I was thinking, and reminded me of how I already disagreed with the “burdensome” line of thinking.
Right away I felt wrong about considering the word “burden” about my friend. Then the Lord turned it up yet another notch. As those children sang that musical number, in that moment when I looked to the front row and then to the back, after I remembered the words spoken in that ward council meeting that day, and as I started to feel sorry for my attitude toward my friend, I was additionally given these words in my mind:
“Mike: you were never a burden to Me.”
As I consider the things big and small that widen the gap between my Heavenly Father and me, I would consider myself a burden to the Lord, who paid for my sins, who atoned for my transgressions, who sacrificed His life, all for me. And all for you.
Here is one of a million ways where the Lord and I differ: my attitude has me considering myself an enormous burden to Him, yet He lovingly tells me “Mike: you were never a burden to Me.”
And I felt His love for me. And I felt His love for my friend sitting next to me. And I felt His love bolster my ability to love, and I started to love my friend differently. I began to understand a little bit that my attitude can determine whether or not something, or someone, is a burden. Or rather: is not a burden.
Then in the next moment, He sent a final thought to my mind:
“There is no shortage of people to care for; no shortage of My children in this world to help you learn how to love.”
And I realized that I needed my friend. Did he need me to find the missionaries and the church? No. Heavenly Father knows where he is and could have reached out to him using any of his servants or methods or means. He allowed that method to be me, Mike Brady. Why? Because compared to God, the differences between my friend and me are relatively small. Just as my friend needs to come to Christ through baptism, I need to come to Christ through developing charity and changing my attitude, as a disciple of Christ and as a leader in that congregation.
God loves my friend and gave him an opportunity to improve his life by learning about Him through the missionaries. In the same way, God loves me and gave me a chance to better my life by learning about Him through developing my charity—loving as He loves.
I’m grateful for the lesson. I have unlimited opportunity to improve my practice of this behavior.
Please also know that YOU were never a burden to Him, either. He loves you more than to consider you as such. I hope I can love you like that, too. I hope that you can love me like that.
My friend is still not baptized. He has gone through an awful lot these past many months. I don’t know that I’d still be in contact with him today had it not been for that experience. I spoke with him immediately before writing this article. He thanked me for sticking by him and being his friend, and for all the help I’ve been to him. I don’t know that I’ve been such a big help, but I see where he has been a help to me.
I don’t know that he’ll ever get baptized, but that means less to me now since our friendship has moved beyond superficiality and into a place of real depth. He has helped me immensely as a disciple of Christ. We as members and leaders of His church have the blessing of people to care for, who will help us learn how to love, how to see others as Christ sees them, and make the world a better place “one by one.”