The Relief in Relief Society

Everything went wrong on Tuesday. That’s why I had to make it to Relief Society.

Tuesday morning everything went wrong. Our new baby had kept me awake most of the night. Four-year-old Roberta spilled a glass of sticky orange juice all over herself and the floor. Kenny, our first grader, couldn’t find his boots and there was a foot of snow outside. Problem piled on problem. Arriving late, I slumped down into a chair in the back row of Relief Society and wondered grouchily why I’d even tried to come.

Then, in spite of everything that had happened, I was very moved by the lesson. And I gained insight into how I could handle myself and my family in a manner more pleasing to my Heavenly Father.

That’s why I attend Relief Society. I need it.

Of course, all those things don’t happen every Relief Society morning. Still, along with many mothers of young children, I sometimes feel my life consists of scrambling from changing dirty diapers to separating fighting children to picking up tinker toys. Consequently, I take the “relief” part of Relief Society very literally. Pressures and frustrations that otherwise might become overwhelming have a safety valve in Relief Society.

I need the association with other adults. Somehow, I never really get to know other ward members at Sunday School or sacrament meetings. They’re larger and more formal, and I seem to spend so much of them trying to keep my little ones quiet. Relief Society offers the intimacy of small classes and the luxury of a nursery for the children. One friend who has moved frequently says her husband is amazed at how quickly she gets to know the members in a new ward. “I go to Relief Society to make friends,” she tells him.

And it goes beyond companionship to the deep, meaningful relationships that often come from working with other sisters. Whether it’s singing in a Relief Society chorus, visiting teaching, or serving as an officer or teacher, striving toward common goals inevitably helps people grow together in empathy and love. I value the choice friends I’ve made through Relief Society.

One of them expresses gratitude for another dimension: “Relief Society bridges the age gap,” she says. “Without it. I don’t think I would ever have come to be such close friends with some of the older sisters I’ve grown to love. I appreciate and learn from the wisdom of these women and I have gained an understanding of stages in life ahead of me.”

Even if I didn’t need the adult association of Relief Society, my children would surely need the nursery. Frankly, I was surprised that the program included even our two-year-old. She always comes home exhilarated from the stories and songs, delighted to show us what she’s made there. Since she is a particularly shy little girl, I am grateful for the socializing experience she’s getting.

Spiritually and intellectually, I need the stimulation of the lessons. One sister I know talks about how Relief Society recharges her “spiritual battery.” Another told me she had been so motivated by a lesson on repentance that she wrote an apology to a girl she had offended seven years earlier. Imagine the wonderful feelings both these sisters experienced. Another sister credits the Relief Society with helping her to maintain her equilibrium during a period when she felt that some of her values were being undermined by worldly influences.

I have heard many women express feelings of inferiority because they don’t know the scriptures as well as their husbands do. The doctrinal focus of the Spiritual Living lessons should help solve this problem. Personally, I have found great strength this year by accepting our Spiritual Living lesson teacher’s challenge to read the Book of Mormon.

Then, too, I love Relief Society testimony meetings. Soul-sharing is so much easier after a spiritual lesson in the security of a small group.

The first aid lessons have given me a different kind of security. I always assumed my husband’s Boy Scout knowledge of first aid was sufficient for our family; so when he started traveling extensively for his business, I became a chronic worrier. Now I feel assurance that I can deal with accidents. When one of our girls spilled boiling water on herself, I knew exactly what to do. And I also discovered that some of the old Boy Scout methods are outdated.

But my favorite lessons this year have been on mother training. Hearing others’ experiences reassures me that I have company in my struggles. And comments and suggestions from mothers who have solved—or at least lived through—what I’m experiencing give me a truer perspective of my situation. In one class we were discussing various ways of helping children not to quarrel. Several sisters offered solutions that had not always been so successful for me. “I think we need to remember,” the class leader suggested, “to try a variety of methods. The same one does not work all the time.” This wise bit of advice has helped me immensely. And the lesson that used Elder Boyd K. Packer’s comparison of the spirit and body to a hand and glove came to my aid when I tried to help our children understand the death of their great-grandmother.

When I served my mission in Europe, it always bothered me that so many people regarded us as an American church. When I got home, I found that some American Saints had the same opinion. In our Cultural Refinement lessons. I love to hear sisters in other countries share their cultures and testimonies with us. Besides, before hearing the lesson on Colombia, I would never have imagined an earthworm could be five feet long!

Regardless of the lessons taught I always go home feeling uplifted—there is always some new idea. And it’s exciting to discuss what I’ve learned with my husband. As my aunt says, “I always serve Relief Society for Tuesday night’s dinner.”

Along with the formal lessons, I also enjoy the opportunity to acquire craft and homemaking skills. Too often we limit ourselves by our stereotypes of ourselves, and Relief Society has forced me to develop skills I never thought I had. Recently, someone asked me to decorate for a homemaking luncheon. I was aghast! I managed, however, and I learned. Until I started attending Relief Society, in fact, I disliked working with my hands. Now I have done a stitchery, made several macrame plant hangers as Christmas presents, decorated a cake with pink roses, made a baby quilt, and started a needlepoint pincushion. I even learned to sew with knits at a miniclass. I may never excel at any of these crafts, but it has enhanced my feelings of self-worth to learn them. The new emphasis on basic homemaking skills has also helped me feel closer to my forebears for whom such tasks as canning, breadmaking, and gardening were all part of daily life. I like creating some permanent items, since the results of my cleaning, cooking, and washing are so short-lived.

Relief Society has provided me with opportunities for other kinds of creativity, too. I have enjoyed writing opening social skits and programs for the annual birthday dinner. I also taught the Cultural Refinement lessons for three years. Organizing, enriching, and presenting material to a particular set of women to help them to change for the better is a creative process. I need the personal growth that these experiences in Relief Society have given me.

Another very basic need that Relief Society helps fulfill for me is that of spiritual growth. Of course, this kind of growth results from a variety of activities. Praying, studying the scriptures, and associating with good people are all important. For me, however, a most significant part of the feeling of kinship with Christ comes through serving his children. It is always rewarding to serve as a teacher or officer, but so often in these callings we are dealing with groups. To help us “reach the one” we also have visiting teaching. In visiting teaching we are really serving the individual. It’s also a calling in which most Latter-day Saint women are constantly functioning.

I’ll never forget the kindness of the visiting teachers to our family when my mother developed a serious infection. I recall one visiting teacher who brought us a huge and most delicious fruit salad. That salad, such a delicacy for us, gave me positive feelings about the visiting teaching program when I was only twelve years old. Now, my children love helping me bake for a “sick lady.” And they need to see that my concern for others extends beyond the home.

It is a challenge to become so in tune with the Spirit that we can respond meaningfully to the needs of sisters in our stewardship. One sister arranged a regular outing with a mother who was feeling the pressure of her large family. Another sister checked out a print from the local library and took it, along with a plant, to a bedridden member. Yet another stayed for several nights with a woman whose husband had just left her. I, too, can be far more effective as a visiting teacher by trying to serve each individual sister’s needs. Serving others is the surest way I know to develop a Christlike love for them. Spiritual growth for ourselves is a beautiful by-product of this service.

Naturally, it’s possible to become so involved in any organization that we neglect our husbands and children. We all need to set and continually reassess our priorities. If I yell at my children, neglect fixing breakfast for my husband, or leave a messy house just to rush off to Relief Society, something is surely wrong. As I learn to organize myself to leave for Relief Society on Tuesday morning, however, I find myself getting organized on other mornings too.

The Lord has given the Relief Society to the women of the Church to bless their lives and to enable them to bless the lives of their families and associates. I love to participate in Relief Society because I need its blessings.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Athelia T. Woolley, a homemaker, is president of the Young Women in Cody Second Ward, Cody Wyoming Stake.