Pure Duty

I remember as a young boy a particularly difficult morning getting ready for a regional conference (Multi-congregational gathering). We were late and frustration levels were high, but eventually we got on our way. In an effort to calm things down and get us in a better mindset for the meeting (for which we were already very late), my mother asked us, “OK, why are we going to this meeting?”

My dad tersely replied, “Pure duty and not another SHRED of reason!”

We’ve always enjoyed that story (well, everyone except my dad), and I’ve used it as an example a couple times to point out the importance of duty. In the LDS Church, we hope that our actions are always motivated by charity, the pure love of Christ. Unfortunately, it seems to me that sometimes we end up implying that doing something out of a sense of duty means that we are not being motivated by love. Duty becomes a second-class citizen this way. Perhaps if our motivation is only duty, then we are like the evil man who gave a gift unwillingly. According to the scriptures, a man who gives a gift unwillingly receives no blessing.

My assertion is that at the very least duty helps to fill the gap in our service to God and our fellow man. We should be motivated by love; and sometimes we are… and sometimes we are not. Usually it’s actually somewhere in between. We are disciples of Christ, trying to follow in His steps as best we can, but we are not perfect by any means (see Elder Holland’s excellent talk about eventual perfection). We love the Lord and we mostly love our fellow man, but it can be difficult to muster up the courage to try to become friends with someone we barely know; it can be hard to volunteer again for a requested service. While I often feel like I am that unwilling man, giving a gift because I am compelled, that compulsion comes from a sense of duty to a Savior I love and whose disciple I am.

This morning in our services the bishop noted how remarkable it was that the young men in the Aaronic Priesthood did their duty today collecting fast offerings (going around the neighborhood gathering donations to help the poor) despite the recent snow storm and cold weather. Those young men were not excited to be doing it, but they still did it. And it really is remarkable that they are learning to serve others and do difficult things even when they don’t want to. They are learning (as we should also learn) to look outside themselves and their own concerns and to work to help others. They are learning to work for the good of the group. They are learning to do their duty.

It is absolutely true that as Christians, our actions should be motivated by love. I hope that there will come a day when everything I do is a joyful service, and I feel a strong sense of fulfillment, joy and purpose as I complete each task of every day. But I’m not there yet. As it turns out, life is full of work. The dishes need to be done. The toddler wet the bed again. I finished my work day two steps back from where I began. I thought finances were looking OK, but then we got that bill that I had forgotten about. These are not fun things.

Strangely enough, sacrifice is hard. It’s difficult to go and visit my neighbor. It’s hard to shovel the widow’s walk as well as my own. It’s beyond frustrating to try and have scripture study time with the family when no one seems to be paying the slightest attention.

I probably should be singing through each moment of every day, but I don’t.

That’s not to say that life has no joy, and that we don’t have any fun. I have experienced profound joy and have had some incredibly fun times with friends and family. Those are wonderful things to look forward to and remember. But life is not (and is not meant to be) solely made up of such wonderful moments. And for me, it is often duty that helps me to continue through the day-to-day. I do these things because I know I’m supposed to. I have a responsibility to fulfill, and I will try to fill that responsibility, even if I’m not particularly filled with love at that particular moment.

What’s interesting to me is that as time goes on, I’m seeing that fulfilling my duty often leads to greater love, and greater enjoyment. Doing my duty helps me to reach those moments of life that are filled with joy and even with fun. If I were to neglect my duty or shirk my responsibility, then my ability to find meaning and fulfillment would be seriously hampered.

An example of this occurred to me recently: We try to do vacations, outings, and day trips with our kids periodically. Sometimes the initial idea and plans for these trips happen well in advance. We talk with the kids and we all get excited at the prospect of visiting this or doing that. But then as the time draws near there is a lot of work and preparation that has to be done. Life happens. Things pile up, Often there are scheduling conflicts requiring us to give something else up. On occasion I have been ready to give up and cancel our plans. The activity itself no longer even sounds fun anymore. If I do proceed, it is certainly out of a sense of “pure duty and not another shred of reason.” So far, I have yet to regret pushing through those difficulties. Every time we have proceeded, we have ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable time.

This is how I see duty. Duty gets us through the frequent hard (and/or boring) parts. Duty helps us keep focused on our larger goals and the bigger picture. Duty helps us to see beyond ourselves. We are moving more and more into a culture of constant entertainment and instant gratification, but where the effort is minimal, the reward is minimal. Duty helps us put in the work for much larger efforts where the rewards are much greater.

P.S. President Monson spoke a number of times on duty, here’s a great example: Willing and Worthy to Serve