“Thrust in Thy Sickle with All Thy Soul”

Talks and Lessons

Often we view home teaching assignments as opportunities to serve those we are assigned to teach; however, there is so much more we can learn from this assignment.

Today, I’m going to share a few stories about 3 home teachers. In each story, I hope you see that home teaching is “a program that touches hearts, that changes lives, and that saves souls” (E.T. Benson, May 1987).

First Home Teacher
A young man turned 14 years old and held the Aaronic Priesthood. He was assigned to be a home teaching companion to a convert member of his ward, Marty Klein, because the young boy’s father was not active in the church. When Marty learned that his young companion wanted to go to Scout Camp but could not afford it, he arranged for him to work for a few months in the orchards of a family they home taught. This 14-year-old boy went to the orchard each week, dug wells around the trees, watered the trees, spread manure and picked fruit to earn the money to go to Scout Camp. He thought it was unfair that other boys didn’t have to work so hard to go to Scout camp.

Years later, he understood the lesson Marty wanted him to learn. He wanted him to learn the value of hard work, patience and how to focus on laboring for something he really wanted. The young companion learned that lesson as he attended high school then college and served a mission. He also played football – lots of it. This young man was Vai Sikahema, pro football player on three different NFL teams, two-time All-Pro, and a member of BYU’s 1984 National Championship team.

Second Home Teacher
My husband’s father died shortly before Bryan turned two. When Bryan was a teen, his family moved into the Huntington Beach Stake. The stake Patriarch, Spencer Hatch, was assigned to have a new home teaching companion: my husband, then 16 years old. This man had many sons, but he was assigned to work with my husband – a fatherless young man. Patriarch Hatch was assigned to home teach some of the toughest families in the ward. He was diligent in visiting these families each month. Some of them would not allow Patriarch Hatch and my husband on the property. So they’d talk to them from the sidewalk as they gardened. A few months later, they were able to get into the driveway. Later they were welcome on the porch. In some homes, they were able to make it through the door. This companionship was important to my husband who needed a strong father figure in his life. It taught him much about loving the Gospel and sharing it with others. My husband was well prepared for some mission experiences because he was partnered with a man who challenged himself to share the Gospel in his own neighborhood.

Third Home Teacher
As a young girl, I only remember one home teacher. He was assigned to our family for close over 20 years. Reese Layton was a native of Georgia but moved his family to California to setup his own construction company. He did residential and commercial construction and was reasonably successful.

In preparing this talk, I interviewed my family about Reese. The words, “wonderful,” “dutiful,” and “loving” were repeated often. The word “impatient” also was. So the stories I’m going to tell you are of a real man. Not a perfect man, but a man who did his duty and magnified his calling as a home teacher.

Reese was diligent. He came to our home every month. But as I’ve gotten older, I have learned that he wasn’t like other home teachers. The norm is that home teachers visit a family once a month (often the last Sunday or last day of the month), read a spiritual thought from a church lesson, and ask if there are any needs in the home. My family’s home teacher had a severe reading disability. He could not read a lesson to my family. For some, this “disability” would be used as an excuse to not do their home teaching. Reese Layton did not do that. Before setting up an appointment, Reese’s wife, a well-educated nurse, would read the lesson to her husband. They would discuss it. Reese would bring the printed lesson with him to our home knowing where on the page the short lesson was. Then he would ask one of the family members (a child or teen) to read the passage. The message always related to our family. He was very aware of what each family member (even the children) needed and would ask the kids questions to ensure that we understood the lesson. Reese did not let his reading disability stop him from doing his home teaching.

Reese also served in another way. He used his construction skills to help those he cared for. One Sunday in July, it was VERY hot with no wind blowing. My family was lying on the living room floor with the fan blowing as we waited for Reese to show up for his appointment to teach us. When he came in, he saw that we were melting. He asked my dad to show him our home’s fuse box, then Reese went home and came back with two used window air conditioning units. Reese had been working on a job site in which he removed the units since he was installing a central air system. That Sunday afternoon, Reese and my father installed one unit in the living room. That was his lesson to our family that day. He came back later that week to help my father install the second unit in the master bedroom. I spent many summer nights with my siblings “camping out” in the living room because that’s where the air was coolest.  My family was not the only one who received this type of “lesson” from Reese.

When I was a little older, my mother, a credentialed K-6 teacher, became a construction site foreman. She had no training in how to do this, but she was willing to learn. My father had worked on construction crews in college; also our bishop and home teacher were contractors. She knew that she had the support system necessary to do this task, and she wanted to give her 3 teenaged sons the opportunity to learn skills they would use throughout their lifetimes. The contract was to oversee the construction of 5 homes. As my mom began this project, Reese answered her many questions and gave her and my brothers many tutorials. It took months to construct the homes, but at the end of it, my older brothers had the skills to construct homes; they excelled at roofing homes since they had been solely responsible for roofing 4 of the 5 homes at this job site. My brothers went on to roof 15 more homes. The skills Reese taught my brothers helped pay for 3 missions. It also taught my brothers how hard it is to work by the sweat of their own brow.

I lived with my parents when I went to college. At that time, my father’s mother moved in with us. She was in her 90s and could no longer live alone. Reese was still our home teacher and got to know my grandmother. There came a time when she needed more care so my family placed her in an assisted care facility. She was officially no longer a member of our ward since the facility was in the adjoining ward, but Reese still visited her. When my grandmother passed away two years later, Reese took the day off work and flew to Phoenix for her funeral. He rented a car and found his way around an unfamiliar town without a GPS device (days before GPS). He managed to do it by himself with his reading disability because it was important to him to serve our family in this way.

Reese has not been “assigned” to our family for over a decade, but he continues to come to the special events in my family. Even though I live in California and Reese now lives in Utah, I saw him in Arizona last year at a family funeral. He was always been there for us. I cannot think of a better example of Christ-life love for our family than this man – a home teacher who exemplified Christ’s love for each of us by loving us and serving others as the Lord would.

When we are baptized, we make a covenant with the Lord to keep his commandments. Which ones? All of them. However, the Lord knows that keeping ALL the commandments is an impossible task. If we focus on the first two, then the rest of the commandments seem to fall into place. The first commandment is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” The second commandment is like unto it: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Mark 12: 28 – 31) This means the Lord wants us to devote our time, our brains, our talents, and our energy to serving one another.

In keeping these commandments, it is essential that we use the talents we naturally have. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Each person in this life is endowed with … talents and capacities which his pre-earth life entitle him to receive.” (Rasband) In discussing talents, it seems appropriate to focus on the Parable of the Talents, located in Matthew 25 (verses 14-30). What’s unique about this chapter is that the parables in this chapter are to be applied to our times according to the Joseph Smith translation (see JST, verse 1).

The Parable of the Talents
Jesus told the story of a master who gave each of his three servants a sum of money. The amounts were set according to each servant’s previously demonstrated capabilities. The man then left for a long time. When he returned, he asked each of these servants to report what he had done with the money.

The first two servants revealed they had doubled his investment. The master replied, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21; see also Matt. 25:23).

The third servant then came trembling before his master. He had already heard what the others had reported and knew that he could not give a similar report. “I was afraid,” the servant said, “and went and hid thy talent in the earth” (Matt. 25:25). The master was upset. “Thou wicked and slothful servant,” he said. Then he commanded, “Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents” (Matt. 25:26, 28).

The Savior then gave the interpretation of the parable: Those who obtain other talents receive more talents in abundance. But those who do not obtain other talents shall lose even the talents they had initially (see Matt. 25:28–29).

There are three principles one can learn from this parable:

  1. Seek earnestly to discover the talents the Lord has given you.
  2. Use your talents to build up the Kingdom of God.
  3. Acknowledge God’s hands in your success.

The Lord has given each of us talents. It is up to us to use them, to develop them and to improve upon them. By doing so, we are blessed by the Lord. He has promised that if we magnify our talents, we will receive eternal joy. He has also warned us about not using them. The Lord provided modern day revelation in D&C 60 stating: “But with some I am not well pleased, for … they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. … Though shall not idle away thy time, neither shall thou bury thy talent that it may not be known.” (v. 2, 13)

So what is your talent? What are you good at? For some, they have the talent to be friends with everyone. Others are shy so they are friends with only a few. Maybe your talent is with music or art or food or sports or technology. Determine what those talents are and amplify them as you serve others. Do not bury your talents. Take your talents and magnify them in your callings to serve others. In this way, you are showing the Lord that you love Him.

Gordon B. Hinckley stated “It is the responsibility divinely laid upon us to bear one another’s burdens, to strengthen one another, to encourage one another, to lift one another, to look for the good in one another, and to emphasize that good.”

The stories I shared with you today are about home teaching that happened over 30 years ago. These men took their calling as a home teacher and magnified it. They taught, but they also mentored, loved, sweated, cried, and worked. They used their talents the best way they knew how to serve the Lord.

Marty Klein worked with Vai Sikahema because he knew that young boys needed to learn how to work. Even though he was a convert, Marty knew assisting Via achieve his dream of going to Scout Camp would help Vai later in life. What Marty could not have predicted was how Via’s work ethic would enrich the lives of his family, friends, associates and fans.

Patriarch Spencer Hatch developed his inherent talents so much that he was the Lord’s mouthpiece to the Huntington Beach Stake. His love of the Gospel was evident in all that he did and he shared that with those he served as well as those he served with. Patriarch Hatch had a talent for sharing the Gospel with those who knew it, as well as those who were learning it. He shared that talent with those whom he home taught, but he also shared it with his companions.

Reese Layton, my childhood home teacher, did not have a talent to read. So he served the Lord through his time and his construction skills. Reese was not a perfect man. He was a demanding teacher. The young men who worked for him learned how to work at a construction job site and do it well. But Reese knew how to help people and improve their lives through teaching them skills.

These men all had or developed the talent to serve others by adhering to the first two commandments. By choosing to magnify their calling as a home teacher, they showed their love of God to the Lord. By serving others, they showed their love to their fellow men. They kept the two greatest commandments by being “just” a home teacher. These men did that task the best way they knew how. They lived the scripture: “Therefore, thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you. And you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live.” (D&C 31:5)

By “thrusting in our sickles with all our soul,” our sins will be forgiven and our families will be eternal. The Lord’s promise is clear if we will do as He asks.

There is a time when each of us will meet with the Lord to account for our personal stewardship here on earth. Like the three servants in the Parable of the Talents, each of us will meet with the Master to give an accounting of the talents we were given and those we developed. Jesus Christ is the “keeper of the gate … and he employeth no servant there.” (2 Nephi 9:41) These home teachers were not too proud, nor too busy, nor too shy, nor too “whatever” to serve the families assigned to them.

Only one man in the stories I shared today is considered famous. One. The others are not. They are not important to many people, but to those they served, they were stalwart examples of having Christ-like love for their fellow men. Each of us can learn from these ordinary men.

Let us be like these men and not like the person in the well-known poem who said:

Father, where shall I work today?

And my love flowed warm and free.

Then He pointed out a tiny spot

And said, “Tend that for me.”

I answered quickly, “Oh no; not that!

Why, no one would ever see,

No matter how well my work was done;

Not that little place for me.”

And the word He spoke, it was not stern;

He answered me tenderly:

“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine.

Art thou working for them or for me?

Nazareth was a little place.

And so was Galilee.” 

President Thomas S. Monson has asked each of us to be ever “mindful of the needs of those around us and be ready to extend a helping hand and a loving heart.” This happens through simple acts of kindness, not necessarily random, in which we actively choose to enrich the lives around us. It is my prayer that we will look at the callings that are extended to us and do so. The world will be a better place as we do so.

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