Sister Beck Shares Lessons from Relief Society History

  Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events

  • 4 May 2011

"It is important to know our spiritual heritage and history, what themes emerge in that spiritual heritage, and what the Lord wants us to accomplish." —Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president

During the Friday morning general session of Women’s Conference, Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, shared important lessons she has learned from studying the history of Relief Society. 

Sister Beck noted that over the last year, she and her counselors have visited with thousands of women around the world and have taken the opportunity to listen to and answer their questions—“very good” and “inspired” questions about our mortal experience that have touched her, she said.

She then briefly reviewed topics covered in Women’s Conference and the general Relief Society meeting over the last few years—including the preparation of a publication of the history of Relief Society, which will be distributed later this year. 

“As we have prepared this history for you, there have been many opportunities to learn,” Sister Beck said. “There are some things that have come out in that preparation that have delineated some themes for learning. It’s not so important to have a linear history in the Church, but it is important to know our spiritual heritage and history, what themes emerge in that spiritual heritage, and what the Lord wants us to accomplish. … History helps us learn who we are and our importance to the Lord.”

She then shared several things she has learned as she and others have prepared that history. 

First, Relief Society Strengthens and Supports the Unique Identity of Daughters of God

“Our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, love, value, and rely on their daughters,” she said. “God’s daughters have equal importance in His sight with His sons.” She then pointed out that women have some unique duties and responsibilities in the plan of salvation, and that they share other responsibilities with men. 

Female identity in that plan as understood in the gospel of Jesus Christ is “interesting and exciting and unique” and “is one of greatness and richness, choice beyond comparison,” Sister Beck said. This is also in direct contrast with the debased and devalued identity of women often portrayed in the world today, she said, including identities based on sensuality, prestige, power, money, and leisure.

“The identity we have from Heavenly Father can be fully understood only through spiritual confirmation,” she said. “An intellectual study can be made, but a spiritual confirmation teaches us who we are and what we are to do. … The identity of a daughter of God is precious beyond compare and rich and full.

She then said that as “guardians of hearth and home,” women “have responsibility for the hearts and souls” of Heavenly Father’s children. 

“They are given this powerful and influential leadership role,” she said. “The female responsibility of being a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend … is all about nurturing, teaching, and influencing. These are non-negotiable responsibilities. We can’t delegate them. We can accept them and live them. These are things we understood before we were born, and we can’t negotiate with the Lord whether they’re part of His plan. These are our responsibilities.”

Sister Beck also said that women often ask her questions about whether to work outside the home. In many places, she pointed out, if women don’t work, they don’t eat. So that question may be the wrong one. A more appropriate question, she said, is this: “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become?”

“Heavenly Father loves His daughters,” she said. “And because the reward at the end [of this life] is so glorious, we do not get a pass from the responsibilities we were given. We cannot give them away. They are our sacred duties, and we fulfill them under covenant.”

Sister Beck said that she is also asked about the things she worries about the most. Those things, she said, are well described in 2 Nephi 28, where “we hear what’s happening in the hearts and souls of women in these last days.” These include anger, resentment of things that are holy and important, apathy, and entitlement. 

“There are a lot of feelings of entitlement, feelings that someone owes [us] something,” Sister Beck said. “This even happens in families. I hear a wife say ‘my husband owes me this,’ usually [regarding] time or help. … When I remember the Savior Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us, I remember who owes Who. No one owes me anything, and I owe everything to the Lord for His sacrifice.

“These things happening in our day are to be guarded against,” she added, “so they don’t happen to us.” And we learn at the end of 2 Nephi 28, Sister Beck said, that the Lord is merciful to those who come unto Him.

Second, Relief Society Is a Restoration of an Organization That Existed in Earlier Times

“There are links or nuggets that teach this,” Sister Beck said. She then explained that evidence of this is found in the scriptures, in the teachings of living prophets, and in the confirmation of the Spirit. Knowing this heritage, she said, “helps us understand that women of Relief Society are not a footnote in history or a sidebar in the Lord’s work. We are an essential part of the Lord’s work and are organized” for it.  She then cited the example of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, where the Lord invites them to be “official participants in the work of discipleship— … not to be bystanders but to be actively involved.” That, Sister Beck said, “was ‘the good part’”(verse 42) that would not be taken from them. 

Relief Society Has a Specific Purpose

“Why do we have a Relief Society president on the general and the local level?” Sister Beck said. “So we can have an organization. And we have an organization because we have a purpose. And when we have a purpose, there is an expected work and outcome. 

“Relief Society isn’t just a feel-good, get-together, let’s-enjoy-each-other, do-anything-anytime-anyplace-for-any-reason” organization, she said. “This is part of the Lord’s work.”

Because the purposes of the Relief Society—to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need (see Church Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 9.1.1)—have been determined by the Lord, the outcome is that  “we will improve women individually and as a whole,” Sister Beck said. “… We’re not entertainers. This is the Lord’s business of salvation. That’s the business we’re in. We teach like the Savior taught, and we teach, and we teach. And we build the Lord’s kingdom. 

“We’re not about causes or advocacy groups,” she said. “We have an advocate. The Savior Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father, and we stand by Him, doing His great work for His great cause.”

Relief Society, she explained, helps women be organized under priesthood direction to move the Lord’s work forward. “We’re here to provide relief and rise above life and live more fully the gospel,” she said. “Relief Society is not a passé or worn-out organization. It is in its ascendency. It’s growing and developing and becoming world-class. ... We will increasingly provide an example to the world of how the Lord’s people should be organized and live.”

Relief Society, When Organized Properly, Is a Manifestation of Charity

Charity, Sister Beck taught, is more than a feeling of benevolence, and it’s more than virtuous living. It is more than niceness. It is living as Christ lived, and it is what we are to become. 

“One hundred years ago when the Relief Society general presidency selected ‘Charity Never Faileth’ as the Relief Society motto, they knew what they were doing,” Sister Beck said. “This motto was distilled by women who had been taught by Joseph Smith and understood the purpose of Relief Society. Joseph taught them about becoming holy and using this organization to learn how to become like the Savior.”

Becoming like the Savior happens when our faith in Him allows us to “do hard things” and overcome opposition. “We have learned that trials can be endured and overcome only through strong faith—faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ and His atoning power and His capacity to heal and strengthen us, faith in the Father’s plan and His mission and His ability to fulfill every promise,” she said. While without faith we become fearful, distracted, lost, and depressed, the Lord can use faith to “heal and strengthen us,” she said. And like the blind men in Matthew 9, we too can ask the Lord to have mercy on us, she said. 

“We will have happy days and difficult days,” Sister Beck said. “He can heal us from faults and failings, and He can change us. I have learned from studying the Relief Society history that faith is possible, and with the strength of the Holy Ghost and the companionship of that faith we become stronger, and our difficulties become our opportunities and our blessings.”

Relief Society Is Connected to the Priesthood

“I’ve learned through studying the history of Relief Society that we have and live with inseparable connection to the priesthood,” Sister Beck said. No one need confuse the idea of those who hold the priesthood with the gifts, blessings, and privileges associated with the priesthood, she explained.

“The priesthood is God’s power,” she said. “It is His power to create, to bless, to lead, to serve as He does.” The priesthood duty of every righteous man is to qualify to hold the priesthood so he can bless his family, while the priesthood duty of sisters is to create life, nurture God’s children, and prepare them to make covenants with the Lord. 

“Don’t confuse the power of the priesthood with the keys and offices of the priesthood,” Sister Beck said. “The power is limitless and is shared with those who make and keep covenants. Too much is said and misunderstood about what brothers have and sister’s don’t. This is Satan’s way of confusing men and women so that neither understands what they really have.”

Our responsibility, Sister Beck said, is to make sure that our homes are blessed with priesthood power, as the Primary song says, “every hour” (Children’s Songbook, 190). “It isn’t just when Dad is there. It isn’t just when Mom is there. It isn’t just when a priesthood ordination or blessing is being performed. It’s every hour as covenants are made and kept.”

Sister Beck concluded by telling sisters that she hoped that as the Relief Society history becomes available to them, the strength of these things will settle upon their hearts and that other things the Lord has to teach them will emerge in their study.

“Rather than prepare for a product (the forthcoming book), prepare yourselves,” she said. “Prepare to receive the Lord’s message for you. Go to the temple. Pray. Live to become what the Lord would have us all become.”

“I am grateful for Relief Society not only for its beginnings but for what it is today,” Sister Beck said. “I’m just beginning to have a glimpse of what the Lord has in mind for His daughters. The vision that comes to me sometimes is so glorious and staggering and humbling and thrilling that it is difficult to contemplate. It’s part of the vision of Daniel and the stone rolling forward to bless the whole earth (see Daniel 2:34–35). The Lord expects and requires His daughters to be involved.”

Women’s Conference, cosponsored by the Relief Society organization, was held on April 28 and 29 on the campus of Brigham Young University. For more information, visit womensconference.byu.edu