Labor Day is becoming one of those holidays that everybody looks forward to because it’s the first break in the school year. But what is its significance? And does it truly hold any meaning for us today? Labor Day is really a tribute to the hard-working people who helped to build America. It is a day that, as a nation, we honor their contributions of strength, prosperity, ingenuity and sweat equity that laid the economic and social foundations of our great nation. And it is a day that all Americans should be asking themselves this question: What is my contribution to the well-being of our nation? Am I doing enough, or is there more that I can do?
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in the value of work. Mormons believe that we were put on this earth to accomplish the work of our Heavenly Father. The scriptures state His purpose clearly:
For behold, this is my work and my glory— to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses1:39)
So what is our work? President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
I invite you to look beyond the narrow boundaries of your own [lives]… and rise to the larger vision of this, the work of God. We have a challenge to meet, a work to do beyond the comprehension of any of us—that is, to assist our Heavenly Father to save His sons and daughters of all generations, both the living and the dead, to work for the salvation not only of those in the Church, but for those presently outside, wherever they may be. No body of people on the face of the earth has received a stronger mandate from the God of heaven than have we of this Church.
Although this seems to be a monumental task, Mormons believe that this is done one step at a time. President Hinckley said:
Each of us can do a little better than we have been doing. We can be a little more kind. We can be a little more merciful. We can be a little more forgiving. We can put behind us our weaknesses of the past, and go forth with new energy and increased resolution to improve the world about us, in our homes, in our places of employment, in our social activities.
We have work to do, you and I, so very much of it. Let us roll up our sleeves and get at it, with a new commitment, putting our trust in the Lord.
The work of God builds upon itself, and each person has a job to do. It begins in the home, continues at church and in our communities—and eventually, ripples throughout the nation and the world. Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so does our work begin with the simple things.
Home and Family—Where the Little Things Matter Most
Mormons believe that home and family is where our work begins—not where it ends. It is here where we learn the true value of work. Elder M. Russell Ballard said,
… The family is the basic unit of society, of the economy, of our culture, and of our government.
The family is the bedrock upon which all other systems are built. Strong families anchor strong communities. Strong communities strengthen cities, states and even nations. President Hinckley said:
A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes. If you want to reform a nation, you begin with families, with parents who teach their children principles and values that are positive and affirmative and will lead them to worthwhile endeavors. … Parents have no greater responsibility in this world than the bringing up of their children in the right way, and they will have no greater satisfaction as the years pass than to see those children grow in integrity and honesty and make something of their lives.
President Thomas S. Monson identified the reasons that families are so important to society:
When the seas of life are stormy, a wise mariner seeks a port of peace. The family, as we have traditionally known it, is such a refuge of safety. “The home is the basis of a righteous life and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfil its essential functions.” Actually, a home is much more than a house. A house is built of lumber, brick, and stone. A home is made of love, sacrifice, and respect. A house can be a home, and a home can be a heaven when it shelters a family. When true values and basic virtues undergird the families of society, hope will conquer despair, and faith will triumph over doubt.
Such values, when learned and lived in our families, will be as welcome rain to parched soil. Love will be engendered; loyalty to one’s best self will be enhanced; and those virtues of character, integrity, and goodness will be fostered. The family must hold its preeminent place in our way of life because it’s the only possible base upon which a society of responsible human beings has ever found it practicable to build for the future and maintain the values they cherish in the present.
In the busy-ness of today, it’s easy to overlook the little things. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:
We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities.
We take the lessons that we learn at home with us as we venture out into the world. Our character, values, priorities, integrity (or lack thereof)—all are shaped by our families. This is the reason that stable homes are the strength of every society. And this is the reason that Mormons believe our work begins within the walls of our own homes.
Laborers in the Lord’s Vineyard
The scriptures often speak of the laborers in the Lord’s vineyards. Mormons believe that one aspect of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard is by serving in callings, or positions, in the Church. President Uchtdorf explained:
Believing in God is commendable, but most people want to do more than listen to inspirational sermons or dream of their mansions above. They want to put their faith into practice. They want to roll up their sleeves and become engaged in this great cause.
And that is what happens when they join with us—they have many opportunities to transform their talents, compassion, and time into good works. Because we have no paid local clergy in our worldwide congregations, our members perform the work of ministry themselves. They are called by inspiration. Sometimes we volunteer; sometimes we are “volunteered.” We see assignments not as burdens but as opportunities to fulfill covenants we gladly make to serve God and His children.
These assignments include teaching the children, youth or adults; preaching sermons (or “talks” on Sunday over the pulpit); all leadership positions in the Church; humanitarian work—all of the work done in The Church of Jesus Christ is performed by volunteers who are called (or asked) by those who are in authority to serve in that position.
Mormons believe that helping is more than a nice thing to do—it is a fulfillment of covenants that we made with God. The Savior spent His life teaching and helping other people. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must follow in His footsteps. It is for this reason that Mormons pay their own way to serve proselytizing missions for The Church of Jesus Christ—as young adults and/or as retired couples. President Boyd K. Packer said:
The willingness of Latter-day Saints to respond to calls to serve is a representation of their desire to do the will of the Lord. That arises from the individual witness that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and contained in the Book of Mormon, is true.
Our baptism is a call to lifelong service to Christ.
Strengthening the Feeble Knees
But our commitment to serve others extends beyond the walls of our own homes and our congregations at church. President Uchtdorf taught:
While it is important to have our thoughts inclined toward heaven, we miss the essence of our religion if our hands are not also inclined toward our fellowman. …
As always, we can look to our perfect example, Jesus Christ, for a pattern. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. taught, “When the Savior came upon the earth he had two great missions; one was to work out the Messiahship, the atonement for the fall, and the fulfilment of the law; the other was the work which he did among his brethren and sisters in the flesh by way of relieving their sufferings.”
In a similar way, our spiritual progress is inseparably bound together with the temporal service we give to others.
Indeed, our relationships with our fellowmen are vital to our spiritual well-being. President Uchtdorf said:
We build this relationship one person at a time—by being sensitive to the needs of others, serving them, and giving of our time and talents. I was deeply impressed by one sister who was burdened with the challenges of age and illness but decided that although she couldn’t do much, she could listen. And so each week she watched for people who looked troubled or discouraged, and she spent time with them, listening. What a blessing she was in the lives of so many people.
Sometimes the work that we do is big and helps many people—and other times we just help the one. But all is important to God.
Serving in our Communities
Serving others extends to helping out in our communities. Communities need the support of volunteers in many arenas. A good friend of mine has worked hard to preserve our local history. Another works with the community choir to organize beautiful concerts for the community. And others volunteer at the thrift stores and food banks.
For me, this means joining the PTA. For years, I hesitated because I didn’t want to overextend myself. I was already volunteering in the classrooms of my elementary school-age kids once a week. But then a couple of years ago, our school didn’t put on the annual spring carnival. I was really disappointed because our family loves the spring carnival. I found out later that the PTA didn’t have enough volunteers to man the event, so it was canceled. I decided that the next year, I would attend the meetings and make sure that I did my part to put on the event. So I did, and in the process I joined the PTA. I have a greater appreciation for the effort that it takes to host school events.
Each summer all of the local churches work together to stack and deliver firewood to families in need. The Church of Jesus Christ is involved in many other humanitarian projects locally, nationally and even across the globe. The Church of Jesus Christ stated:
Humanitarian service may include emergency response to natural disasters, such as an earthquake or a tsunami, or man-made disasters, such as the effects of war and famine. It may also be part of a longer-term effort to meet serious and more entrenched human needs, such as the need to alleviate disease.
All of this is done to minister to the needs of others—and to emulate the love of the Savior for others. Elder C. Max Caldwell said:
Jesus’ love was inseparably connected to and resulted from his life of serving, sacrificing, and giving in behalf of others. We cannot develop Christlike love except by practicing the process prescribed by the Master.
The Apostle John was not only loved by the Lord, but he also loved others like the Lord. John affirmed the process by saying, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16)
Work—A Commandment and a Blessing
Mormons believe that work is both a commandment and a blessing. Bishop H. David Burton said:
Work is not a matter of economic need alone; it is a spiritual necessity. Our Father in Heaven works to bring about our salvation and exaltation (see Moses 1:39). And, beginning with Adam, He has commanded us to work. …
As with any other commandment, there is joy in its keeping. To work—honestly and productively—brings contentment and a sense of self-worth.
For Latter-day Saints, their work often helps others as much as themselves. President Monson said:
The Savior taught His disciples, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.
Mormons believe in the value of work. And as we honor the Americans who helped to shape our country through their labor, we need to evaluate the labor that we are performing today. As we do so, we would do well to remember President Monson’s words:
We become so caught up in the busyness of our lives. Were we to step back, however, and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find that we have immersed ourselves in the “thick of thin things.” In other words, too often we spend most of our time taking care of the things which do not really matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, neglecting those more important causes.
… We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.
This is the work that we are on the earth to do—to become our best selves and help those around us do the same. Sometimes our work is grand and touches many lives. And other times our work is small and reaches only the one. But each task helps to shape America—one person, one family, one community at a time.