About five years ago, I volunteered in a small food pantry at a local church on a Saturday morning. I was a first-time volunteer, and my job was to add fresh produce and meat to the food bags being handed out.
While helping, I was able to observe the pantry director as she greeted the clients. Some of the regulars she knew by name, and all others she welcomed warmly without judgment. As she gave them the food bags, she made conversation, asked about their kids, looked them in the eyes and shared a warm smile. While giving food was an important goal, she knew they needed something much more important than food. They needed love and connection. I was in awe at her gift for filling that need. To my surprise, while I had gone that day to give others help, it was I that was helped. I came home filled with a feeling of God's love for me and for the people we met that day.
At another time, I helped at a different pantry carrying food bags to the cars of the clients. Despite only having one or two minutes with them, it was my chance to be the one to share smiles and connect. On this particular day, I helped a woman who opened up to me about her troubles as I loaded her groceries in the car. I listened, and then she gave me the chance to share what I felt in my heart -- which was that God loved her. She looked back at me with a big smile and thanked me.
How is it that we can give of ourselves and feel more ourselves than we gave? It's what I call the miracle of service. It has helped me better understand what Jesus taught in the New Testament,
"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." (Matthew 25:40)
God fills us with His love when we give of ourselves without an expectation of a returned favor. When we show love and lift others through our actions, it connects us as children of God. It connects us to God and allows both the giver and receiver to feel His love. I'm always amazed that He does His best work in small and simple ways. Recently I learned about a study that showed youth, particularly those who are not regularly attending church, find their greatest connection with God when doing community service. It makes sense that when we meet people in their hour of need, we meet God. It's that miracle of service.
Jennifer Van Slooten is a regular volunteer in the Northwest Arkansas community and regional representative for JustServe.org. JustServe.org is an international volunteer website and app for nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations to post their volunteer needs and is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.