Sister Burton: Make Relief Society a Haven for New Sisters
Contributed By Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president
We live in a world where “new” is often synonymous with “better.” But “new,” when used in the context of “change,” can sometimes be synonymous with “uncomfortable.”
I am thinking in particular of our “new” Relief Society sisters who are coming to us from Young Women. But there are also others who are “new” to Relief Society: new converts, recently activated sisters, those who have been serving in other organizations in the ward and perhaps have been away from Relief Society for a long time.
There are sisters who are “new,” as they have relocated across country, oceans, continents, cultures, and sometimes within only a few miles. How I hope that Relief Society is a safe place, a haven and a refuge from the storms of life for every Relief Society sister, no matter her age, marital status, culture, or number of years of activity or membership in the Church.
I met a devoted sister this past year, a convert to the Church, who was anxious to share her story. She told me how, as a young girl, she and her family met with the missionaries and were excited as they learned and believed the truths of the gospel. Unfortunately, her mother passed away before she was able to be baptized, but pled with the missionaries to baptize her children after she was gone, which they gratefully did. She then shared how, as a teenager, she longed for the association of the older sisters in her ward because she missed her own mother so desperately. When she turned 18, she eagerly embraced the opportunity to be mentored by the Relief Society sisters in her ward. She currently serves in the Young Women organization in her ward. She enthusiastically strives to instill in the young women the love she has for Relief Society as she prepares them to progress into Relief Society.
My dear friend Sister Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president, recently reminded us, “We have so much to learn from one another, and we often let self-imposed barriers keep us from enjoying associations which could be among the greatest blessings in our lives” (General Women’s Meeting, Mar. 2014). I couldn’t agree more!
When I think of “new” sisters in Relief Society, I am reminded of the Savior’s invitation to Peter in John 21 when He said, “Feed my lambs” (vs. 15) Following that invitation, He then told Peter to “feed [His] sheep” (vs. 16). Order in the scriptures is interesting to consider. Could the “lambs” in Relief Society be those who are “new” in at least one of the ways described earlier? Are we expanding our circle of sisterhood first to those who are most vulnerable? Do we love them without judging them as we have been admonished by our dear prophet, President Thomas S. Monson? It was he who said, “I consider charity—or the ‘pure love of Christ’—to be the opposite of criticism and judging. … True charity is love in action. … It is resisting the impulse to categorize others” (General Relief Society Meeting, Sept. 2010).
While I was growing up, my family would memorize little poems or quotes during family home evening. A memorable one was this: “He drew a circle that shut me out—Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout, But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!” (“Outwitted,” Edwin Markham). What might that look like or feel like in Relief Society? How might we include others in our circles of sisterhood, especially those who are “new?”
Recently, an elderly woman whose husband had just passed away moved to a new home. On moving day, she quietly whispered her anxiety to her granddaughter regarding the major changes she was facing in her “new” life in a new place without her husband. Unfortunately, her concerns were soon justified when she was “shut out” by a woman she sat beside. The woman told her she was sitting in a place reserved for a friend of hers and she would have to find someplace else to sit.
Fortunately, the new widow has the “wit to win” and is determined to expand her circle of friendship, rather than spend time holding a grudge against those who should have warmly welcomed her. She has learned over a lifetime what we would all do well to practice—in order to have a friend, we must first BE a friend!
One of the concerns most “new” sisters to Relief Society face is visiting teaching. I remember having that same concern as a new Relief Society sister. One day when I came home from work, I remember finding a piece of paper under my door with a few names and phone numbers scribbled on it. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that piece of paper. The names were unfamiliar to me, and I was serving in the Young Women organization at the time.
A couple of months later, I received a phone call from a lady who asked if my visiting teaching was “done.” I was too embarrassed to tell her I didn’t know what that meant, and I’m not sure how I responded to her question. I had never had a visiting teacher myself and did not know what was expected of me in that role or even what the purpose of visiting teaching was.
How might we better help those who are “new” and those who are “not so new” understand what visiting teaching is? Do we help them understand that visiting teaching is all about developing true friendships with other sisters in the ward and ministering to or watching over each other in meaningful ways? One way we can help is to try to remember how we felt as we were “new” ourselves. How can we help mentor “new sisters” to succeed in our essential part of the work of salvation? The book Daughters in My Kingdom is a tool that can help “new” sisters and all of us understand our sacred work in God’s kingdom.
Sisters, may we link arms and open our hearts to each other as we prepare for the blessings of eternal life. Let us have “the wit to win” and expand our circles to include all who are “new” in any way. By so doing, we will be fulfilling Lucy Mack Smith’s desire for her first Relief Society sisters: “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together” (Daughters in My Kingdom, 25).