Makers of Homes

By Barbara B. Smith

Relief Society General President

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    The woman was attractive, bright—and obviously angry. I had been telling her how Relief Society could help a woman be a good homemaker.

    “Homemaker!” she said, the hostility in her voice startling in its intensity. “That’s just another example of sex stereotyping. It means a woman should be stuck in the home, doing endless rounds of diapers and dishes, locked away from personal growth and fulfillment.”

    I have thought of that woman many times, wishing I had found the right words to help her understand the challenge that faces the woman who chooses to be the maker of a home.

    Even if a woman is without a family to share her home, she can build a haven established on gospel principles. The homemaker is healer, comforter, and counselor; architect, builder, and maintenance engineer of a learning and research center equal to any university; artist, sculptor, creator of the greatest masterpiece: a human being. How can any thinking person say that being a homemaker lacks challenge?

    I know a young mother who has an advanced degree in microbiology. Some of her friends think her training is being wasted because she is now a homemaker instead of a college professor or research scientist. Sometimes she wonders about that, too. Then she sits down and writes about the joy of teaching her own young “students” about the marvels of such daily miracles as photosynthesis—and about the loving Father who made all wondrous living things.

    Another young friend still hopes to gain a master’s degree in astronomy. But in the meantime her lively, laughter- and book-filled home is open to the starry heavens; and when her children chant “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are,” they know the answer. As a tribute to a favorite astronomy teacher, this creative homemaker even designed a quilt accurately depicting the constellations. And yes, she is also a ward Relief Society president.

    Obviously, a true homemaker is far different from the stereotyped dull woman drowned in drudgery and soap operas, with no ambition to develop her talents.

    The home in which growth is fostered may be an apartment where one person lives alone, or it may be a house filled with children, parents, and a grandparent. The gospel principles upon which good homes are built are the same for all people everywhere.

    Love is the first and greatest principle—love of God and of his children—love that, as Paul said, “suffereth long, and is kind; … Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4–5). The “love at home” of which we sing is its own sure foundation. The loving partnership of a man and woman committed to an eternal covenant is the highest expression of such love.

    A soft-spoken, dark-eyed Indonesian woman once answered my question about what the gospel meant to her with this thought: “In Indonesia,” she said, “a man may put his wife away without formal ceremony. There is a great lack of permanency. A wife has no call upon the law. Then the gospel came to us, and you can imagine our joy to know that the marriage sealed by the power of God was to be a continuing relationship for now and for the eternities. Marriage is a different thing for us than it was before. It is a joyful thing.”

    The righteous husband and father presides in the home with the same principle of sacrifice that Christ demonstrates to his church, as President Kimball has pointed out. (See address in Conference Report, Scandinavian Area Conference 1976 p. 21.) The blessings of the priesthood are shared by the priesthood holder’s family. He and his wife create a “household of faith” in which the spirit of heaven is felt by acting in accordance with the laws and patterns of heaven. The Lord has revealed that “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

    “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    “By kindness, and pure knowledge.” (D&C 121:36, 41–42.)

    Women, who through marriage share in the responsibility of building the household of faith, must recognize that the help and partnership of heaven is only available on heaven’s terms. If we would have marriage for eternities, we must abide by the laws of heaven. And the laws of heaven are supremely just.

    He who told Adam to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow and Eve to bring forth children has instructed us that the husband shall be responsible to give sustenance to his wife and children during the tender years: “Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken; … All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.” (D&C 83:2–4.)

    Clearly, this shows the importance God puts on the work he has given to women to bear and rear children. He has not ranked the role of provider ahead of the role of bearing and nurturing, but has wisely divided these highest, most essential duties equally between men and women. There may be exceptions but the pattern is clear: an ideal home has both a mother-homemaker and a father-provider.

    What are some other elements of a good home? First, it is a provident home in which the needs of food, clothing, and shelter are met not only on a day-to-day basis but also in storage against a time of need. And just as the “gathering” concept in the early days of the Church included not only the gathering of new converts but also the gathering of knowledge, beauty, and all other good things, so the concept of a provident home includes more than daily bread.

    The Church counsels us to be constantly learning, to enrich our lives, and to improve our job skills so that we will be prepared against a time of need. This counsel is urgent for women as well as for men, because the ideal home is often not realized. Statistics indicate that in the United States more than twenty percent of all women never marry, more than twenty percent of the families are now headed by females alone, and nearly twenty percent of the working women are married to men whose wages are below poverty level. These statistics are for the United States; studies of other countries indicate that as many as ninety percent of the women work out of economic necessity. If need forces the providing role upon a mother, it is critical that her skills be such that she can work as few hours as possible, leaving time for homemaking and for nurturing her children. The counsel to all members to acquire training and knowledge as a hedge against a time of need is one of our best “storage” concepts.

    Another element of homemaking is an atmosphere of order and beauty. Order and cleanliness are the first steps toward beauty. Beauty is not synonymous with costly adornment or ostentatious show. It is found in the simplicity of line, in the light and shadow of our world. Above all, beauty is excellence, whether in the cultural arts or in personal character.

    Another element of homemaking is creating an environment that stimulates continual growth and development. To make this kind of home, a woman must develop her mind and talents to a high degree of excellence and discipline. Part of the vision of the Restoration is that men and women continually grow, pushing back the curtains of darkness behind which lurk ignorance, superstition, and misunderstanding. The light of the gospel should dispel ignorance and lead us to seek more light.

    Latter-day Saint women who seek such enlightenment can find it, in part, in their own organization, the Relief Society, which provides lessons to stimulate the mind. One Relief Society member declared that her constant and thoughtful participation in Relief Society for many years had been her college education. Another sister, age ninety, reported that she had just finished her work for the bachelor of arts degree, having been stimulated to return to college studies by the cultural refinement lessons in her Relief Society.

    Leadership skills, service opportunities, human pleasantries, spiritual heights, personal development, and shared sisterhood—all are available in the Lord’s organization for women. Joseph Smith said that the Church was never perfectly organized until the sisters were thus organized.

    Relief Society teaches women to build a home based on gospel principles. This kind of home as possible for the woman who lives alone as for a woman with a family—becomes a place of warmth and renewal for all who enter.

    Most significantly, we need to create a home environment in which the highest qualities of the human spirit—those that bring us individually back to our heavenly parents—can be developed. From the Savior’s example we see that we must develop loving, caring, one-to-one relationships. The Lord has instructed us to seek knowledge and wisdom, to give love and service, to love him with all our might, mind, and strength.

    A saying, popular a few years ago, was “He’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” Those words imply a mind of love where family members want to help each other. Though an opportunity for loving family service may not be apparent every day, we have to teach our eyes to see, and we have to school our hearts to act on such possibilities.

    Recently some Relief Society presidents shared with me their ideas on what makes a Latter-day Saint woman good. Each gave a different example, but one thing was constant: a good Latter-day Saint woman is a good homemaker, with love and great compassion.

    It is often said to me that the ideal is too much to strive for, because in falling short of perfection there is too much pain, too much sorrow, too much guilt. But it is the responsibility of the Church and its leaders to teach correct principles. Each individual must apply those principles as best he can—trying, failing, repenting, trying again, and finally succeeding.

    The purpose of the Church is not to condemn or discourage. Instead, the Church gives us identity and direction, stars to steer by. The purpose of the Church’s instruction on homemaking is to develop homes where people gain compassion, refinement, and moral strength.

    The kingdom of God is made up of sovereign individuals who use their agency to choose to live the laws of heaven. This is the way to exaltation. Eternal truths are best taught and immortal lives are best shaped in a good home. What a challenge it is to be the maker of such a home!

    Photography by Marilyn L. Erd