Service Makes the Difference

A conversation with the Relief Society General Presidency: Sister Barbara B. Smith, president; Sister Marian R. Boyer, first counselor; and Sister Ann Stoddard Reese, second counselor

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    Editors: How does Relief Society help women meet the challenges of today?

    Sister Smith: The Relief Society organization is dedicated to strengthening women and their homes and families, to helping women become better educated, to encouraging them to give charitable service in their communities, and to helping them learn to live peacefully and joyfully in today’s world.

    Sister Reese: The education program in Relief Society is designed to help women meet the real spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social challenges of today. Our lessons are all based on gospel principles that every woman can relate to—no matter what her culture or level of understanding. Lessons emphasize application of principles and concepts, so they also help a woman teach the gospel by example.

    Editors: It seems that our world today encourages us to focus largely on our own needs—how we feel and what we want. How can Relief Society help Latter-day Saint women to look beyond that, to our responsibilities to serve others?

    Sister Smith: First, Relief Society helps us develop talents in all areas of our lives. And as we develop these talents, our capacity to serve automatically increases. Second, Relief Society teaches us how to serve. As the Relief Society handbook points out, one of our main goals is “caring for the poor, the sick, and the unfortunate; ministering at the time of death.” (page 3.) Relief Society provides the greater vision that some in the world lack—that, as we use our talents to serve others, we begin to feel joy and peace ourselves.

    Editors: How do we focus on other people’s needs and still fulfill our own needs?

    Sister Smith: Actually, one of our most important personal needs is to serve. You know, when we serve, we begin to do away with greed, selfishness, hate, and envy—all those things that can destroy us. And we begin to feel the selflessness, love, and dedication that the Savior’s life exemplifies. A person cannot fulfill the truly important needs of life without those Christlike attributes.

    Editors: What is our responsibility to look beyond our own circles of family and friends in our efforts to serve?

    Sister Smith: I think we can begin with those closest to us, but we must also be careful not to make the family our boundary for our ministrations.

    Women can begin in their own spheres—with their little children at home, among adult friends, in their extended families, and in their professions. But the important thing is to reach out in love to serve someone every day. Sometimes we may feel our loving efforts are wasted. But love is really never wasted—whether it is extended to a little child or a lonely sister, or whomever. The power of love to refine our souls does not depend on whether the one we love returns or appreciates our affection. When we love, we grow.

    Sister Boyer: All women, whatever their situations, can perform service in their homes. For example, our general secretary has not had children of her own. But she loves and serves the children of others. In fact, while we are talking here, she’s taking care of a niece and her niece’s brand new baby and three-year-old son. As long as we are thinking “What can I do for someone else?” we are on the right track. And the woman living alone can come to appreciate the great blessings she does have.

    Editors: What about those who are widowed and divorced—who must combine motherhood and a career? How can Relief Society help them?

    Sister Boyer: We must do all we can to help prepare women for any eventuality. We realize that sisters who do not have adequate training face a real financial struggle in raising a family alone. And so many women are raising families on their own. They need to know many more things than we thought necessary just a few years ago. We are suggesting that the homemaking meetings help women learn practical skills such as the wise use of financial credit, how to budget their money, and how to do simple home repairs.

    Editors: What about those sisters who, for one reason or another, don’t enjoy the situation we consider ideal—being in the home with children? How do you see them fitting into the Relief Society plan?

    Sister Boyer: Everyone has a home, whether there is one person there, or ten. And we would like every home to be a gracious, orderly place of learning, where you bring friends and let them feel love and warmth. We don’t have to always be alone, even though ours may be a one-member family. That home can be a blessing to many who may come within its influence.

    Editors: What is the role of visiting teaching in helping sisters serve each other?

    Sister Reese: I think visiting teaching is one of the greatest strengths we have as an organization. Every woman in this Church has the right and opportunity to serve as a visiting teacher. As the visiting teacher takes the gospel message to her assigned homes and reaches out to serve another’s needs, she experiences personal growth. Sometimes a woman just needs to talk with another woman. The visiting teaching visit fills that need. Visiting teaching also plays a significant role in welcoming the newly baptized sister into the Church. Women, with their sensitivity to the home, are often able to identify needs that may otherwise go unobserved.

    Sister Smith: We would like every woman to pray that she might be assigned to visit the women she can best influence for good. We hope visiting teachers are also praying for the Spirit of the Lord to direct them in meeting their sisters’ needs. I think we have that responsibility and the right to know that the Lord really will work through us to serve each other. We know that wherever visiting teaching is being done well and fully that we have more people attending Relief Society and other church meetings and enjoying the blessings of the gospel.

    Editors: Have there been any recent changes in the visiting teaching program?

    Sister Smith: Yes. Relief Society presidents were once directed to have a specific number of personal verbal reports with the visiting teachers each year. In our latest handbook, we have not specified a certain number. The local Relief Society president must determine how the visiting teachers can help her understand and meet the needs of each woman. It is now the president’s individual responsibility to decide how often she holds visiting teacher interviews. Of course, when there is a specific problem, that should be immediately reported to the president by the visiting teacher.

    We hope by now Relief Society leaders will recognize the value of the verbal as well as written reporting in visiting teaching.

    Editors: Looking at another aspect of Relief Society, we’ve heard it said that some women come into the Church because they see a positive difference in the women in the Church. What makes this happy difference?

    Sister Smith: Again, it’s the service we give that makes the difference. I recently visited a stake where the women had been having problems until they were asked to work together on a project. As they worked in harmony, a sweet sisterhood developed because of their united efforts. The minute we begin to give of ourselves, we experience happiness, and when we have a spirit of peace and happiness about us, people notice it.

    Another key to happiness is to have a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

    The Lord has given us a world of great diversity. He makes all kinds of people and allows us to be in different situations. Each of us has different gifts and a different potential. But the gospel of Jesus Christ should be basic in all our lives. We have within us the power to reach beyond our present limits in Christlike living.

    The Relief Society general presidency, from left: Sister Marian R. Boyer, first counselor; President Barbara B. Smith; and Sister Ann Stoddard Reese, second counselor.