I hesitated as I stood at the door of the Relief Society room. I had been in this room many times before, but this would be the first time I entered the room as a recent high school graduate and as a member of the Relief Society. To me, Relief Society meant women quilting and making casseroles, women with crying babies, and aged widows. I wasn’t sure I could feel a part of that—wasn’t sure I even wanted to.
Since that moment years ago, I have learned a better definition of Relief Society, a definition found in the lives of its members and best stated by the Relief Society motto: “Charity Never Faileth.” Paul, in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, enumerated the qualities of one who is charitable:
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
“Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Charity never faileth” (1 Cor. 13:4–8).
When I read Paul’s description of charity, I see more than words on a page. I see the faces of women who have touched my life, women who exemplify charity. Let me introduce some of them to you.
Adela became a widow with four small children while she was in her early thirties. She not only had a family to raise but a farm to run, as well as serious health problems. One day, when I was a teenager, my mother took me with her to visit Adela, who was just beginning to recover from yet another surgery. She lay in a hospital bed in her living room. Her primary caregivers were her teenage sons and her eleven-year-old daughter. They were getting along “just fine,” she insisted when my mother questioned her. Then, for an hour, she kept us laughing, telling one funny story after another. On the ride home, my mother asked, “Did you notice how much pain she was in?”
Pain? I hadn’t noticed. In fact, she had been happy and fun to be around.
“Did you look at her eyes?” Mother questioned. “You could see the pain in her eyes.”
Adela has had many surgeries since then, but her love for the gospel is apparent even when she is in pain. She was a diligent visiting teacher until she became homebound. She enjoys her children and grandchildren. She makes sure those around her are smiling. To see the pain, you still have to look deep into her eyes. Charity suffereth long.
When I met Eva, I was a young bride far from my family for the first time. The branch we were in consisted of a small core of residents in addition to a number of military families, like ours, stationed in the area. We arrived in town, nearly penniless, with all of our belongings in our car. A curt staff sergeant promptly told my husband that he had no business bringing a wife with him because there was no housing. Not knowing where else to turn, we found the address of the church and drove to the building. There we met Eva and her husband, and they took us home to dinner. Their house was small and old, and obviously devoid of worldly goods, but we soon learned that it was their habit to help and assist others in need. Eva was mother and grandmother to the entire branch. She fed the hungry, tended the sick, took care of babies, and offered a place to sleep if someone needed it. Charity is kind. Charity seeketh not her own.
Later, Jenny became my friend. Jenny had married Jim,* a returned missionary, in the temple, served diligently in Church callings, and was rearing a family. Jim had some problems with greed, causing hardships for the family. Jenny stood by him, though, believing that things would get better. Then one day he told her he had been unfaithful. He was repentant, but Jenny felt as if her world had been torn apart. When she told me her story, I wanted to tell her to leave him, but she said, “I’ve prayed about it, and I know I have to stay. I don’t know how I can ever forgive. I don’t know how I can go on. But I will, because the Lord wants me to. He will help me.”
Jenny did go on, relying on prayer and the scriptures for comfort, trusting in God and in Jim. For her, it was the right decision. Jim re-earned her trust. They slowly rebuilt their relationship—this time with both partners working hard to make it an eternal one. Charity beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
There are many other wonderful sisters who are living Paul’s definition of charity. They are meeting the challenges of life and facing them with courage, faith, and, oftentimes, joy. With charity, we will not fail.