Many years ago, I attended a satellite broadcast of General Conference with my family. I was still a kid, old enough to know what was going on but young enough to be bored. One talk stood out to me. I don't remember who the speaker was. What caught my attention was a phrase he kept repeating "lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the Feeblenese". I kept thinking "who are the Feeblenese?"
I imagined a tiny tropical island filled with dark-skinned natives dressed in brightly colored clothes. They were impoverished but smiling. As he repeated the phrase over and over, I imagined that they had some kind of rare desease that made them weak so their hands dragged on the ground. They toiled from morning to night to do the basic chores of survival.
By the time the speaker had finished, the image of these poor people was burned into my memory. It has been over 20 years and I still remember that experience vividly. As I got older, I became familiar with the phrase he had repeated. It was from the scriptures, admonishing us to "succor the weak, lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees."
Because of that talk, and my imaginative misunderstanding of what was being said, I have taken a special interest in this phrase and its true meaning. In the years since I have often asked myself "Who are the Feeble Knees"?
We all become weary at times, with hanging hands and shaking knees. We are in need but don't know how to ask for help. I have found that it doesn't take much to lift those hands and strengthen those knees. A simple, unexpected, unrequested act of kindness can go a long way.
This year, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of service, relating many simple acts of service that had been rendered in honor of his birthday. As he spoke, I thought of the many acts of service that I have received. There are two that stand out to me and I would like to share them with you. Both of these instances occured during my husband's deployment to Iraq a few years ago. Though simple and small, they still touch my heart today.
One priviledge of being a member of the US military is the use of military commissaries. This was an especially comforting service while living overseas where familiar products were otherwise unavailable. The commissaries employ baggers to bag the groceries and load them into your car. They are often retirees or high school kids. The baggers work for tips only. The suggested amount is $.25 per bag. I have long made it a habit to tip the baggers as generously as possible.
We lived in a small community and whether I wanted to or not, I stood out. The commissary workers were always friendly and helpful, distracting the children or helping me load the groceries onto the conveyor belt.
During this particular deployment, I had 4 young children who needed to be strapped into their car seats. This was a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating chore, especially at the end of an equally long and frustrating shopping trip.
One day, a young man bagged my groceries. I assumed he was a student since I only saw him there if I went shopping on evenings or weekends. He was quiet and efficient. I really had not paid much attention to him until that day. As I struggled to get my children buckled into their seats, he loaded my groceries into the back of my van and closed the door. I stopped what I was doing and went to the back to give him his tip. He was gone. I looked around and did not see him anywhere.
I was stunned. Although the baggers were not demanding about their tips, they usually hung around waiting for you to notice them. Even if they walked away, they were slow about it so you could catch them if you wanted to give them a tip. I know it seems small but I was moved to tears by this young man's simple service to me. It wasn't that I couldn't spare those few dollars. It was that he had helped me without a word, without a thank you. He had noticed my struggle and done what he could to help. I cried all the way home.
An equally moving experience happened after another such shopping trip. My twins were old enough to walk and struggle up the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment. I was always torn between leaving them in the van or the apartment while I made multiple trips up and down with groceries. I usually employed the older two kids(who were 3 and 4) to help with at least one light bag as we made our trip up the stairs.
One day, my toddler son insisted on helping. I gave him a plastic bag with one box of tissues in it. I fully expected to be adding this bag to the ones in my hands after just a few steps. As we started our climb, he cheerfully pulled the bag up one step after another. After a while, he began to slow down. He was obviously struggling. Afterall, the box as almost as big as he was!
I offered over and over to take it from him but he refused. He was determined to help. He dragged that bag all the up to our apartment, carried it into the house, removed the tissues from the bag and put them on the counter. He was so proud of himself.
I realized that carrying that extra bag would not have made much difference to me. I was big enough and strong enough to do it with minimal effort. But for him, that was tremendous. He had made a huge sacrifice to help me with the groceries. He had struggled and worked and smiled the whole time. I was reminded of the parable of the Widow's Mite, the woman who gave so little and yet so much. I was humbled by my child's willingness to serve me.
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin teaches that when we are in the service of others we are serving God. Sometimes it is hard to serve others. It can be embarrassing and scary, especially if we think our service will go unnoticed or unappreciated. If we think of it as King Benjamin said, that we are not serving people but serving God, it becomes easier. It doesn't feel like service, a duty to perform. It feels like a privilege.
I have learned a lot about the Feeblenese. They don't necessarily live far away or have a crippling disease. They may not even look like they are weak or needy. They often don't need much, just a smile or a conversation, a simple act of service to show them they are not alone and forgotten. They are not always weak either. It turns out that when you strengthen a Feeblenese, they are able to strengthen others. I guess I was all wrong about them!