Relief Society—Divinely Ordained of God

By Sharon Eubank, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

The following is the text from an address Sister Sharon Eubank gave at BYU Women’s Conference in Provo, Utah, on May 5, 2017.


 

 

This is one of those pinch-me moments in my life—standing in the Marriott Center on the BYU campus with all of you, and I am inexplicably representing the general Relief Society. I’m going to take a gamble and tell you about the last three months of my life and hope that there’s something in it you can use.   

In February, I was standing in my office at LDS Charities when the phone rang. Very rarely am I just standing at my desk to answer the phone, but I did. The voice on the other end asked if I could come meet with President Eyring at 1:00. In my head was a very gracious reply I’m sure, but my mouth said: Uh, today?  In all my work at LDS Charities, I don’t interact much with the First Presidency. I wasn’t even sure which office was President Eyring’s. When I arrived, he was warm and tried to put me at ease by asking about my family and background. Eventually he sat down and opened a folder and extended a call for me to be the First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency. I was happy because I love Relief Society. And sad because I hated to leave all that I was doing in LDS Charities and the Church’s humanitarian efforts around the world. And then he said, “Now this is your Church calling and we would like to ask you to keep your job as director of the humanitarian division as well.”

I think he spoke for several minutes after that, but I don’t really know, because I didn’t hear one word more after that point. My head exploded. My brain shut down. My eyes rolled back in my skull. The phrase that kept running through my head was “How am I going to do that?” Then I thought, “Who is the new president? Is it kosher to ask?” I have no idea. But I didn’t want to wonder about it for six weeks, so I asked. 

When he told me it was Jean Bingham, I had the most amazing calm come over me. I knew Jean Bingham was serving in the General Primary Presidency. In the summer of 2016, I had asked the women’s presidencies if they would designate someone of their nine to accompany me on an LDS Charities refugee camp visit to Uganda. Eight months before, they had selected Jean Bingham. She and I were leaving on that planned trip in 48 hours. If the Lord knew eight months prior that Jean Bingham and Sharon Eubank were going to travel together and be called into Relief Society together at the exact same time, it must not be a mistake. Something about that fact gave me great courage and calmness. 

Two days later Jean and I made the long trip up to the border between Uganda and South Sudan. I’m sure General Officers are used to much better traveling conditions than what I offered. In one place the lodging room was thick with flying ants and we had to very carefully keep the mosquito netting tucked tightly around us in the night. For three days we ate boiled eggs and bananas and drank ginger ale for our limited options. But Sister Bingham was spectacular. She ignored all of that, and everywhere we went she put her arms around people, talked to them, asked questions, drew people out, made them laugh. Sanitation isn’t always great in the settlements, but she held little babies who had crusty noses and bent down at eye level to talk to hundreds of little dusty smiling kids. She played head, shoulders, knees, and toes with the crowds and held the shaking hands of young women who were recovering from sexual violence. In short, she did exactly what the Relief Society does. She loved and listened and ministered and learned.    

Shortly after we returned from Uganda, we received a notice that the other name Sister Bingham presented, Reyna Aburto, had been called and accepted to be the Second Counselor. Reyna and I had met only casually twice, but she is the kind of woman whose spirit can be felt right away. When she prays I believe the heavens split wide open. I sometimes open my eyes to see if there are angels in the room. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to get to serve in a presidency with women like this. 

But inside I had a string of panic. I had three really big problems. The first one was I felt positive that if President Eyring really knew me on the inside he would not have called me to this position. If Jean Bingham spent more than a couple days with me she was going to find out all the “un-Relief Society” things about me. Case in point: I haven’t been to homemaking/enrichment night in about three years. And then I remembered … I don’t even know the new name for homemaking/enrichment night!

The second one was I couldn’t figure out how logistically to do my job and take care of my family and fulfill this calling and not kill some part of my own spirit. I knew I didn’t have the capacity to do all that was required in those four areas, and I felt as if the seeds of my own destruction had been sown. At the least, I was going to do all of them poorly, and the chance was great that I would fail at more than one of them.   

And the third one was I was already really tired. 

One day I was cleaning out a drawer in my bedroom and I found this little note written in small script on the back of a tithing receipt from September 2011.

As I thought back to where this came from, I dimly remembered being in a Relief Society board meeting with Sister Julie Beck. I recall I was sitting on the piano bench for some reason listening to her talk to a room of about 11 women. She was a great teacher and knew how to take advantage of casual teaching moments. She is a woman who can tap into the spirit of revelation so that her words mean so much more than their definitions.

As I read the scrap of paper in my hand I felt immediately that this yellow, crumpled scrap floated to the top of my littered drawer for a reason. The paper says—as nearly as I can make out:

“When you are with people, remember they are each filled with troubles. Lift them to a higher plane. People come to be lifted. Build. Bring comfort from the Spirit. Don’t bring new programs or duties. People need lifting. 

“Remember to keep your own kingdom intact. This is your first stewardship—mother and father, brothers and sisters, children, husband, friends. These are eternal and they are given to you first. 

“When you can’t give more, when you’ve gone beyond your ability to give, then sit still. Call on the Holy Ghost and angels to come to you. Be still and get full.”

I knew that this was an answer to my three problems. It came from Relief Society and it was about Relief Society. It lived up to its name because it came as a relief to me. 

I didn’t have to quote the handbook and memorize the presidents from Emma Smith to Linda Burton and dress up every day in pearls and make my voice sound reverent. My job in Relief Society was simply to lift and build others. 

My family, my “kingdom,” was still my most important stewardship. I had to make sure it didn’t fall by the wayside while I was off being the General Relief Society Counselor.

And finally, perhaps most importantly, if I was too tired and couldn’t see a way to juggle a calling and a job and a family and myself, I could call upon the Holy Ghost and angels to help me. The Lord would open a path or show me what not to do. 

I testify to you that the Lord did just that. I have found answers to all three of those problems. And you can too. That little formula scribbled on the back of a tithing slip was revelation to me. 

The topic for this session is “Relief Society—Divinely Ordained of God.” We could speak for days on the truth of that statement, but I will leave you with simply my own testimony of Relief Society. God wants us to help each other with our problems. And Relief Society is the place where we are united to do it. Just like Julie Beck, we teach at any opportunity. Just like Jean Bingham we visit and listen and hold each other’s hands. Just like Reyna Aburto we pray mightily for other people and ask for answers to what they need. And just like me, we keep trying when we are tired.

As your sister in Relief Society, I pray that you might find the answers you need for your own problems and for those you love, and I express my abiding respect and love for you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.