Erin Bennion, a BYU-Idaho Nursing Department Chair, delivered a message on “The Best Self-Help” at devotional on Feb. 2.
She began her address with a personal anecdote about a 50-hour Navy Seal military training she participated in nine years ago. This was a high-caliber training meant to test the mental, emotional and physical stamina of its participants.
She recalled during this venture, that all participants were required to pass a physical training run with heavy rucksacks for several miles with sand-filled tubes as rifles, and carry large logs down to the beach all while wearing clunky combat boots which were weighed down by sand and water.
“If you quit or didn’t pass any component, you were put in a cab and sent home immediately,” Bennion said.
She admitted to having underestimated the difficulty of the training. As her body grew increasingly exhausted, Bennion wondered if she could last all 50 hours. Her mind started making excuses why she couldn’t push forward.
“At a really low point, I looked around at all the other people and found that the person next to me was really struggling too,” Bennion said.
She explained how she began talking to the man and learned his considerations for giving up. She encouraged him to press on and offered her sand-filled tube as a support for his as they ran.
“We went on to do much harder things in the subsequent hours, but I never again in that 50 hours doubted myself or why I was there,” Bennion shared. “I learned a valuable lesson in my dark moment. If I was going to survive, I needed to help those around me.”
Bennion used her experience in military training to highlight the benefits of serving others. A study conducted by Dr. Carolyn Swartz, a researcher from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, also demonstrated similar benefits of service for the giver.
The study examined phone call interactions between individuals with multiple sclerosis, offering verbal support to one another. Interestingly, the results of the study showed that those giving the help benefitted more from the interaction than those receiving help.
Schwartz examined that, “These individuals experienced substantial improvements in their quality of life, much more than those they were helping.”
In a separate study to retest the same concept, Swartz observed 2,000 Presbyterian church-goers and found similar positive results in people who engaged in service.
“When participants were helping others in such acts as donating to charity, the mesolimbic system of the brain was activated,” Schwartz said in the study. “This is the part of the brain that is often referred to as the reward pathway. It is a pathway that is fueled by dopamine.”
In conjunction with the findings of these studies, Bennion also pointed out how the book of Isaiah in the Bible teaches about the saving grace of service.
“And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday” — Isaiah 58:10.
From this topic, Bennion transitioned to telling the mission story of Gordon B. Hinckley. While serving, Hinckley wrote a letter of discouragement to his dad, the response to which has become widely referenced.
His father wrote back to Hinckley’s letter saying, “Dear Gordon. I have your letter … I have only one suggestion. Forget yourself and go to work. With love, Your father.”
These words have been used many times in regard to missionary service to highlight the concept the scriptures teach about finding yourself in the service of God.
Bennion continued by asking an important rhetorical question.
“If helping others is the source of man’s greatest happiness, then why is it so hard for us?” Bennion asked. “Often we can be easily bogged down in the mire of our own busyness or worries to lift our heads up and see that there are people around us that need our help.”
She used another anecdote about her time as a nurse to a quadriplegic student. She described how busy her schedule was but how rewarding it was to help someone in need. Her experience taught her a lot about life.
“It is not about avoiding or dodging the downs, but picking others up will help me to get up when I am down with far more ease and resiliency,” Bennion said. “I learned that reaching out of my own bubble helps me to see the beauty of life. I am then able to rise above the drudgery of day-to-day life and troubles and find real joy and happiness.”
Bennion ended her talk by extending a challenge for each of us to find someone to serve through simple acts of kindness. Bennion’s full devotional address can be found here.