On 17 March 1842 the Prophet Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society—the Lord’s organization for women. Relief Society is important to the Lord. I know that. He provided women a safe haven from the harshness of the world when He gave us Relief Society. From the beginning our association together and our direction from priesthood leaders have helped us come unto Christ. There was no greater cause then; there is no greater cause today.
Relief Society was not man-made or woman-made. It was, as President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) explained, “divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men.”1 There is no other organization for women that has such a place in the Lord’s kingdom. So the question is, do we value this divine organization? Do we value our membership in Relief Society? Do we value Relief Society as individual sisters?
When asked to share one phrase that described how she felt about Relief Society, a sister in her 80s wrote: “Relief Society has been, and is, a divine university for women. Even though I received a college degree, I credit Relief Society for enlightening my whole being with a most valued and meaningful education. Certainly it has blessed my life with eternal perspective.”2
Regardless of age, do we see ourselves as part of the sisterhood of Relief Society? Sister Marjorie Hinckley said: “Oh, how we need each other. Those of us who are old need you who are young. And, hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old. It is a sociological fact that women need women. We need deep and satisfying and loyal friendships with each other.”3 We need each other, and Relief Society needs to be a safe place where women care for each other, where they nurture each other and come to understand each other’s hearts as they hear one another testify of Christ.
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has cautioned us not to drift from the cause of Relief Society: “Too many sisters … think that Relief Society is merely a class to attend. The … sense of belonging to the Relief Society rather than just attending a class must be fostered in the heart of every woman.” And then he makes this earnest assignment: “Sisters, you must graduate from thinking that you only attend Relief Society to feeling that you belong to it!”4
Belonging is more than having your name on a roll. Both individually and collectively as sisters of Relief Society, we are called to make a difference in these six ways:
Build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and teach the doctrines of the kingdom.
Emphasize the divine worth of each sister.
Exercise charity and nurture those in need.
Strengthen and protect families.
Serve and support each sister.
Help sisters become full participants in the blessings of the priesthood.5
These are the objectives of Relief Society. They show the vastness of our purpose and the breadth of our mission,6 and they define us, setting us apart from all other associations.
Let me share an experience of a Relief Society sister who made a difference and exemplified the objectives of our organization.
This young adult sister, who was teaching English language classes in Japan, found herself on the playground surrounded by a group of Japanese children who were full of questions. “Do you like Japanese or American kids better?” “Do you eat sushi?” “How do you say basketball in English?” Amid the commotion, the young Relief Society sister felt someone tapping her arm. She turned around to see a little girl with pigtails and glasses. “I bent down to look her in the face and waited for what was sure to be some trivial question,” she says. “It was as if all the commotion stopped when she asked in a soft, almost timid voice, ‘Do you know Jesus?’ I was stunned by such a poignant and important question. I smiled and felt amazing love as I told her, ‘Yes, yes, I know Jesus.’”7
Dear young adult sisters, you know Jesus. And with that knowledge you bring a clarity, a freshness, and an energy that our sisterhood needs. We value your membership in Relief Society, and you bless us with your faith in the Savior and in His work. An older sister described you in these words: “We are spiritually nourished as we observe you younger, vibrant women who not only have so much vigor and vitality but also who are spiritually mature, with tremendous inner strength of character and testimony—just beautiful to behold. We count our blessings because you are the ones who reassure us and give such faith and ‘a perfect brightness of hope’ for the future”8 (see 2 Ne. 31:20).
On the 100th anniversary of Relief Society in 1942, the First Presidency issued a message stating, “We ask our Sisters of the Relief Society never to forget that they are a unique organization in the whole world, for they were organized under the inspiration of the Lord.” And then they reminded us, “No other women’s organization in all the earth has had such a birth.”9
I wonder if we have somehow forgotten the uniqueness, the divineness of our organization. I wonder if we have not become too casual about our membership. Sisters, we can’t let that happen. We must prize our Relief Society and our sisters. The Lord counseled Emma Smith, the first president of Relief Society, “Lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10). Wise words in 1830; wise words for us today.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said to us as a Relief Society general presidency that “our women need fellowship with one another in an environment that will bolster their faith. That’s the work of Relief Society.”
For many years Relief Society was part of the National Council of Women in the United States. Shortly after Sister Belle Spafford was called as the Relief Society general president, she said to President George Albert Smith (1870–1951) that going to the meetings in New York was costly and of little benefit. “President Smith gently chastised [Sister Spafford], ‘Do you always think in terms of what you get? Don’t you think it’s well to think in terms of what you have to give?’”10
Sisters, what do you bring to Relief Society? What are you willing to share? Do you view Relief Society as a place to go on Sundays because you have nowhere else to go? Do you view it as a place to give as well as to get? Would we value our membership in our beloved society more if we lost ourselves in giving?
With a giving mentality, we would prepare for Sunday lesson discussions in order to make a contribution. We would faithfully attend home, family, and personal enrichment meeting because we had something to offer—maybe just a word of encouragement to the sister sitting next to us. We would use our visits with each other to witness of the Lord’s truth as we discuss the Visiting Teaching Message. The value we place on our membership in Relief Society should be evident in all we do and say.
One sister shared an experience she had with her mother at a community sewing class they attended together: “As we worked, my mother just sat. One woman said, ‘Margaret, you’re not doing anything.’ My mother paused and then shared how we had spent the last several days at the doctor, that she had a tumor on her back. All the women in the group put their work aside and looked at her. One group member said, ‘Oh, Margaret, can we fast and pray for you? We’ll do that as a group,’ not even thinking that half the women were not members of the Church. The teacher looked at me and said, ‘What do we do when we fast and pray?’ I explained that we set aside the things of this mortal experience and turn ourselves to the Lord, seeking divine assistance. The teacher stood there a moment and then said, ‘I can do that.’”11
A group of God’s daughters met together; they exercised charity and nurtured one another. A Relief Society sister, sure of who she was, showed her faith in the Savior as she invited all to fast and pray. These women made a difference.
I love Relief Society. It has helped define me as a woman. I am who I am because of good women I have associated with in Relief Society—women who have encouraged me, who have loved me, who have believed in me. Such women include my mother, my grandmother, and a dear sister named Pauline Tholmander. Pauline was in her 60s; I was in my early 30s. She strengthened me through her love of the Savior. It was clear in every way that she loved Jesus Christ. When I bore testimony, Pauline was there to tell me her spirit was stirred. When I served in a calling, she was there to share with me my success or failure. I needed that in my 30s and 40s. There just aren’t enough Paulines in this life. If there were, we would all feel accepted, friendshipped, included, and loved. I wanted to be like her, and I still do.
I invite you to devote yourself to Relief Society. Work at it. Organize and participate and sustain this great work we have been given by God. Trust each other. Lift each other spiritually in your thoughts, teachings, and discussions. Show charity and love—not by assignment but from the heart.
Relief Society should be a safe place where we feel the love of the Lord in our lives as we learn to strengthen families, exercise charity, and value our covenants. And when we value sacred covenants, we value our membership in an organization, in a church, that will bring us to Christ. Dear sisters, oh, how we need each other!