“What do you think of Relief Society?” Brother Bystrom, a counselor in the bishopric, asked me one evening.
“I think it’s great! I just wish I went to all the meetings!” I replied, and listed its virtues. But when he asked if I would talk in sacrament meeting the following Sunday on the value of Relief Society, I laughed and told him he had probably picked the wrong person.
You see, although I had lived in this ward over three years, I was still somewhat of a stranger to Relief Society, and I was frequently mistaken for a visitor. Oh, I had always had a good reason for not attending Relief Society. When Gary and I married, I worked full-time and helped Gary raise his two teenagers from a previous marriage. Every other weekend his two younger children would also spend the weekend with us. Some nights I could barely drag myself out of the house to attend night session.
And sometimes I just didn’t make it. The responsibilities of marriage and of mothering divorce-stricken children overwhelmed me. I did not feel that I really fit in with my sisters. Gary and I could not have our own children, and I felt acutely isolated from this community of nurturing women.
Every so often, I would venture back to Relief Society. One summer I dyed my hair blonde, and no one recognized me. Each week I was asked if I was a visitor or new to the ward. Then I went back to my natural color and the whole routine began again. Yes, there were plenty of reasons for not going to Relief Society—illness, erratic cars, laziness, troublesome children, depression—I knew them all.
But whatever reasons I had for not going to Relief Society, I had so many more reasons for attending. Something there compels me to come back, something that I do not find in work, homemaking, or leisure activities. I always find something at Relief Society that I must bring back home with me—an insight, an attitude, or an ideal that I can apply to my daily living and my interaction with others.
Writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh said in Gift From the Sea, “I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.
“But I want first of all—in fact, as an end to these other desires—to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live ‘in grace’ as much of the time as possible. … By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. … I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.” (20th anniversary ed., New York: Pantheon Books, 1975, pp. 23–24.)
Relief Society, I feel, is the LDS woman’s guide to achieving this grace, this spiritual lifestyle. It’s hard to explain to a nonmember why you go to Relief Society and what you get out of it, but I know this: When I am not attending Relief Society regularly, something of purity and grace is missing, and I notice it immediately. A week without Relief Society is like a day without scriptures.
President Joseph F. Smith stated that Relief Society has not only to “deal with the necessities of the poor, the sick and the needy, but a part of its duty—and the larger part, too—is to look after the spiritual welfare and salvation of the mothers and daughters of Zion” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, p. 385).
Relief Society is replenishment for me. I find it extremely difficult to go home and fuss about petty things when I’ve just had a thought-provoking mother education lesson. I find it hard to say “no” to a sister when she calls for a favor when I am reminded that she really is my sister. I find it easier to face the challenges of being a Latter-day Saint woman in today’s society when I have the support and encouragement of the Relief Society behind me.
When I’ve needed strength most, Relief Society was there. Almost two years ago I returned to Relief Society after a time away. The Relief Society president welcomed me and said she hoped I would be attending often. I told her that I was making a special effort to attend because I needed the blessings. A difficult child-custody situation was ahead. She offered her prayers and interest, and the concern of several sisters helped me through a hard time.
The arrival of our adopted son six months later was a long-awaited blessing, but it was accompanied by trepidation. Again, Relief Society was there. George was three days old when we picked him up from the hospital. I dressed him in the nursery and came home, nervous, irritable, and scared like any other new mother. The Relief Society sisters sent cards, phoned, made dinner and dessert, admired the baby and gave advice, and later gave me a baby shower. Their interest and love made this event even more special and satisfying.
Visiting teaching has been another valuable part of Relief Society for me. Through visiting with sisters in their homes and getting to know them personally, I have learned that I am not alone in my shortcomings, fears, and experiences. At the same time, I delighted in the uniqueness of each sister and realized that the contributions of each are valuable and appreciated. I began to think about what was expected from me rather than what I expected.
Before I joined the Church and married Gary, he kept telling me, “You were meant to be a Mormon.” He meant that my interest in homemaking skills, needlework, and the arts, as well as my values and love of family, would make me feel at home with my sisters, and he urged me to attend Relief Society as soon as I began taking lessons from the missionaries. I took his advice, and Relief Society has been part of my personal growth ever since. The first time I acted was in a Relief Society birthday play. My first testimony was delivered in Relief Society. My first attempt at gardening was with a visiting teaching companion. I learned the importance of genealogy, a personal journal, and food storage through Relief Society.
I feel very positive about my future activities in Relief Society. I appreciate the advantages of the new meeting schedule and see the potential for exciting lessons ahead. And I feel strongly that however briefly we know each other in my ward and my Relief Society, we can still make bonds that transcend time and space and familiarity and that allow one woman to say to another, “I don’t remember your name, but I know you. You’re my sister.”