Put your shoulder to the Wheel
Put your shoulder to the wheel, push along,
Do your Duty with a heart full of song
We all have work, let no one shirk
Put your shoulder to the wheel.
So that’s a cheerful song right! I love it when a song about doing hard stuff that you don’t want to do for a really long time, maybe forever, has a really cheerful melody. It either inspires you to joyfully continue or makes you really feel like, Geesh! I am NOT doing this right.
But I think the sentiment of Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel is a great start to a new year! William L. Thompson, who wrote the song, was not a member of our church but he did live in Ohio the same time as the early saints and was also a believer in Christ. He composed this song and “Have I Done Any Good in the World Today,” which both are in our hymnal. William L. Thompson practiced what he preached. He was a young composer and repeatedly attempted to get many of his songs published, but had no success. So, instead of giving up he put his shoulder to the wheel and decided to become a publisher himself and published his own compositions! Pretty smart. His publishing business began to thrive as did his compositions. Not only did he publish music, he also opened a store and sold his sheet music and eventually instruments as well. His songs are sung and performed in many various Christian churches throughout the world today.
This song has always made me think of the pioneers and actually pushing a wagon or handcart across the plains. And it was written during that era, but it is clearly more than just a pioneer song. It is also an invitation to engage in the Work of the Gospel and to move that work along by DOING instead of idly looking on.
I think for many of us this is also a song of perseverance, enduring to the end, working through trials, and somehow finding joy while we do it.
The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.”
The longer I live, the more I discover this is really true. It doesn’t make any sense that when we are so exhausted from struggling through our own trials that we can find strength and joy through working hard to serve others, but it’s true. How do we know it’s true? A prophet just told us and we can find out for ourselves by giving it a try.
In preparation for this talk I began to look at the song a little more deeply and as I did three truths jumped out to me.
Truth #1: You Are Needed—you are needed in the world and you are needed in the Church.
The call is to come and help. “We need willing men and women with helping hands and hearts that know and feel.” There is work for you to do. In Doctrine and Covenants section 4 we learn, “if ye have desire to serve God ye are called to the work.” We can all do little things and big things every day for others in our homes, church, and communities. If we feel like we are not needed in our homes, church, or community we probably need to offer to do more and not less. We don’t need to wait to be asked. We can thrust in our sickles and help with the harvest and reap the rewards of service and serving in the gospel. We are each loved and we are each needed here in Christ’s Church.
Truth #2: We don’t have to do it alone.
“Come help the good work move along…we all have work, let no one shirk” implies to me that we are working together and helping each other. We don’t have to do it all alone. We have people here with us to help us and encourage us. You know how they say that most often the answers to our prayers will come through others here on earth being prompted by the spirit to help us.
Sometimes we think it’s gonna be like we will pray to God and He is going to give us step-by-step instructions on what we should do to solve our problems. Once in a while He might, but more often He uses those around us to answer our prayers.
Because the Lord is using people to answer our prayers, we have to let people help us. We are a ward family; we love each other. Let us help you, let us help each other. If you are praying to God for help and you keep saying no to the people He sends to help you. That’s frustrating! For Him and for you. I don’t know why it is so hard for us to let others serve us but it is. But look, I started doing something the latter half of this year that has really helped me with this. What I’ve started to do is if I am asked to serve in any way I say YES first and then I figure out how I can make it happen.
I don’t know if you guys know this about me, but I think I’m pretty capable. I feel like I can handle most things on my own and as a bonus I’m not easily bugged by things. I have learned how to not sweat the little stuff. However, because of this belief, despite however false it may actually be, I have a hard time saying yes when people offer to help me. Do you need help? I mean I don’t NEEEEEED help even though I may want it, so I often say no to this generous offer.
Sometimes giving help is hard too. We are so busy and we are asked to do so much already. The world often tells us we need to set boundaries, me time is important, learn to say to No so you have more time to refuel yourself. And that is true at times and good advice. Some of us probably are doing way too much and need to take some time to refuel and if that is you right now then do it. It’s okay to say I would love to help but I can’t right now. I have had to learn to say “no” better in the past and set some pretty strict time and effort boundaries or I would have exploded or more accurately imploded but I’ve learned that skill! I can say “no” pretty well now.
But, if I am asked to serve in any way I say YES. Give a talk, bring a meal, donate to the homeless shelter, offer a ride, help with homework, hold a baby, give up my seat, teach seminary, as well as pray, fast, sing, forgive, help—yes, yes, yes and yes! Now because I am giving more service if someone asks “Do you need help?” I say Yes! What do I need help with?... I don’t know, but I say YES first and then I figure out what help I could use. You guys, it’s been amazing. I feel really happy. I think I feel happy because I get the joy of serving others and I get to feel the love that comes from receiving service from others.
This giving and receiving of service helps witness to me that God sees me, He knows me, He knows what I need and when I say yes to those offering me service he brings it to me through his angels here on earth. These actions also draw me closer to those around me, all of you—sons and daughters of God who are working their way through life just like me. So please lean into your ward family and if someone is lovely enough and in tune with the spirit enough to want to help you…let them! Don’t be afraid to offer and don’t be afraid to receive. We need each other and we don’t have to do it alone.
Truth # 3: We’re gonna be pushing for a long time.
Why? Probably because we are slow learners. If we learn through trials and it takes us a long time to learn, our trial will probably be long. We as humans also seem to be very good at forgetting. I love how in all the standard works of scripture we hear the word REMEMBER a lot, usually before really important things. So, we have to continuously keep pushing along to remember what we have learned and share what we have learned to help others keep pushing along. We also have to push for a long time because ‘the fight with sin is real’. Satan seems to not be giving up anytime soon and in fact seems to be doubling and tripling his efforts. If we are in the last days we should realize it is the last days for him as well and he wants to get whoever he can to be as miserable as he is before his time is up. To combat that the charge is to ‘push every worthy work along’ and there is so much that is worthy and good and valuable and enriching in this life and in this gospel that we must push forward with all or our might and zeal not only to help ourselves but to help all humankind.
In addition to those three truths that jumped out to me through the lyrics, I had a couple more things come to mind.
First, I thought about putting your shoulder to a wheel. Why would you put your shoulder to a wheel? Well, you put your shoulder to the wheel and push because you’re stuck or at risk of moving backwards. No one puts their shoulder to a wheel that is moving freely along. We may put our shoulder to the wheel because we are working hard to accomplish something great like climbing a great mountain to reach a beautiful summit. Or we may need to put our shoulder to the wheel in more desperate times like because we are caught in the mire and are pushing with all our might to get out of a bad place or situation. For good or bad there are many times in life we have to put our shoulder to the wheel and really push for a really long time.
I once overheard my mom talking with one of my siblings who was going through a very difficult time. My sibling was so mentally and emotionally exhausted they were praying for this struggle to just be over, for the pain to be taken away. My mom said you know, we came to earth to get a body, and to be tried and tested but also to gain experience. But here is the thing, it’s called experience because you have to actually EXPERIENCE it—and there is purpose in that. If there wasn’t, the Lord WOULD remove it for us. So maybe instead of asking for our trials to be removed we should try to discover why He’s asking us to carry them.
In a talk by Elder Uchtdorf titled “Fourth Floor, Last Door” he says, “We cannot force God to comply with our desires—no matter how right we think we are or how sincerely we pray. Consider the experience of Paul, who pleaded with the Lord multiple times for relief from a personal trial—what he called “a thorn in the flesh” but that was not God’s will. Eventually, Paul realized that his trial was a blessing, and he thanked God for not answering his prayers the way he had hoped.”
Sometimes in life we may need to stop praying for a lighter load and start praying for a stronger back! I honestly think that is going to be my personal guiding light for this year—maybe the rest of my life. I know as I choose to cling to Christ during my trials I come to know Him in a way I never could have without those trials. And I’ve been amazed to realize how well He really knows me. It is hard for me to say I am thankful for trials, but gaining that knowledge is probably worth any difficulty we have to encounter, endure, or push through.
Lastly, I thought about the wheel itself. The invention of the wheel was a massive leap in technology. Could you even imagine what our modern lives would be like without the wheel? Imagine the pioneers crossing the plains with no wheel to put their shoulder to, it would seem pretty hopeless.
A wheel, in a very basic sense, is an instrument used to create change. To move something from point A to point B. So maybe the wheel we put our shoulder to is not always a burden, a trial, or a goal, maybe the wheel is a blessing, maybe the wheel is a miracle, maybe the wheel is Christ. Christ also creates change and movement. He creates change in you and me as we come unto Him, as we press into Him, as we lean in and put our shoulder on Him and push towards where He wants us to go—He moves us. He changes us. We can go from point A to B and even A to Z with all the stops in between. I want Christ to be my wheel. I want to lean into Him with every trial I have. I don’t know everything. I don’t even know a lot of things. I don’t understand why we have to experience the trials we do. They often don’t make sense, or don’t seem fair, they often leave us hurt or discouraged or feeling lost, overwhelmed, or heartbroken. They can bring us to our knees and make us doubt ourselves, lose our faith or even doubt God. And that makes me sad. But I do know if we seek God especially through our most difficult trials we will find Him! As we keep working, as we push, as we keep moving, as we seek guidance and understanding, and strive to align our will with the will of the Lord, He will be with us.
Jeffrey R. Holland said, “You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life.” And that is a pretty great silver lining that can come with trials—It makes you realize why Paul could be thankful his trial was not removed and perhaps we can find gratitude in that as well. I think our attitude has a lot to do with our trials and probably almost everything else.
Let me close with this Quote by Jeffrey R. Holland from the April 2016 General Conference.
“My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all our heart, might, mind and strength—that’s the first great commandment but the first great truth is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind and strength. If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow—and every other day—is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for his children! All things work together for good to them that love God—So keep loving, keep trying, keep trusting, keep believing, keep growing [and may I add keep pushing along.] Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow and forever.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.