Carole M. Stephens: Wide Awake to Our Duties

The following post includes my notes and thoughts on President Stephens’ first address for the General Relief Society meeting.

The theme for President Stephens’ address was a quote taken from Zina D. H. Young:

“Sisters, it is for us to be wide awake to our duties.”

It was an excellent way to start her talk as quotes from our early women leaders are used so sparingly and it is always thrilling to hear their powerful words. President Stephens shared that Sister Young’s words and those she also quoted from the scriptural prophets Paul and Alma caused her to consider what being wide awake to our duties should look like today. She started with the baptismal covenant that Alma spoke about and how the decision to be baptized causes us to change. 

“We look different, we act different…and what we wear is different because we are daughters of God, bound to him by covenant.”

After baptism, President Stephens reminds us that we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost but we must constantly check the condition of our hearts in order to be worthy of this gift. We must make sure that our hearts are soft and able to understand the promptings of the spirit.

Stephens talks about how we can have a change of heart today. She cites the early Saints as examples of those who experienced a mighty change of heart when they participated in temple ordinances. She quoted Sarah Rich, an early Mormon woman, who wrote about the experience of participating in these rites and how it strengthened them in their trials. President Stephens told us that we can rely on the atonement to change our hearts and can take comfort in the knowledge that the Savior understands our sorrows.

President Stephens has the unique distinction of sharing the only Pioneer Trek/Woman’s Pull story that I haven’t found completely cringe-worthy. She shared that she was physically unprepared for the difficulties of such an experience and so was unable to be helpful to her fellow sisters. What she wrote in her journal was incredibly profound and one that all of us should deeply consider:

[I] could not help those following me. I may never pull a handcart again but I never want to let my sisters down spiritually. Never.

President Stephens went on to talk about the many pioneer women who crossed the plains, 20% who were alone. These were women who had never married, were widowed or divorced, many of whom were single mothers. Regardless of their circumstances, the women on that journey pulled together and kept their baptismal covenants.

It was clear that President Stephens was drawing parallels with pioneer women to the women of our day. She noted that many of our sisters live in circumstances that are not “ideal,” but…

We continue to teach and strive for the ideal because we know that continually striving will keep us progressing along the path and will prepare us for opportunities to receive all of God’s blessings as we wait upon the Lord.

President Stephens exerts us to stay on the path of faith because the ordinances we receive in the temple will allow us to return home to our Heavenly Father in an “eternal family relationship…This is worth every sacrifice and every effort.”

Stephens reminds us that it isn’t enough to just be on the journey, we have to be awake to our duty. Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life. If we are spiritually awake we will be better prepared to strengthen families and home and other people. As President Stephens ended her talk she reiterated once more that we all need to be awake to our duty.

Now, just a few of my thoughts on President Stephens’ remarks. First, I appreciated the effort she went to include the words of women…I want more! I also appreciated her focus on using the atonement to improve ourselves and keep our covenants. I wish that she hadn’t incorporated into her interpretation of the baptismal covenant the way that we as women look and what we wear.

I was also disappointed that after acknowledging the reality that women have a variety of life circumstances she then dismissed the “not ideal” experiences and insisted that we teach the ideal come hell or high water. What made this all the more troubling to me is that she specifically connected the “ideal” with the priesthood and having a husband. I have a hard time believing that the sacrifice of the many single women who crossed the plains were any less worthy than those who managed to get to Salt Lake in a couple. Perpetuating the idea that women who are unmarried/divorced/childless/working mothers are not living up to the ideal is dangerous and can only serve to divide us as sisters.

That being said, it is not easy to be thrust into an overwhelming calling and then six months later be expected to address a worldwide sisterhood. President Stephens did a lot right in this address and I expect that as she grows in her calling and meets sisters around the world her horizons and empathy will also grow.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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6 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Thank you for this, Mraynes.

    “President Stephens has the unique distinction of sharing the only Pioneer Trek/Woman’s Pull story that I haven’t found completely cringe-worthy.

    Ha! Yes, I was worried when she got into the trek, but it turned out fine.

    I also loved that she based her talk on Zina Young’s words. We need more people holding up women as spiritual authorities.

    There were those brief moments of dissonance when she mentioned what we wear and ‘the ideal’ but at least she moved on to other things quickly. Overall, I thought it was well done.

  2. April says:

    I also perked up at the beginning when I heard a quote from Zina Young. Since she was a suffragist, I feel a sort of connection with her as a modern Mormon feminist. But the implication that our baptismal covenant has something to do with how we look and dress was disappointing.

  3. Rachel says:

    Your favorite parts were my favorite parts. Even her acknowledgement that she started reading about the women who previously held the calling (and those like it) that she holds felt meaningful. There is a rich history there, and I’m glad she plans to tap into it.

    I also liked her pioneer strength/lack-of-strength story, including and especially her emphasis and inclusion of the many woman who made the journey in difficult and diverse circumstances. I wasn’t as bothered by her next sentence about the ideal (maybe because I chose to ignore it?).

    I think she was also the one who expressed her love to all of us, and then acknowledged, “I don’t know many of you.” It was simple, but I really liked that admission. Perhaps because public admissions of love to whole bodies of people always strikes me as a tad bit off, but this seemed to say, “I want to know you. I want to love you.”

  4. Libby says:

    As much as I loved the quotes from early LDS women, I found myself disappointed that there weren’t also words of more contemporary women included. I’m tremendously grateful to the women who wrote, safeguarded, and insisted on the importance (and publication) of our foremothers’ wisdom. I would be thrilled to be able to read similar wisdom from my contemporaries, or my mother’s or grandmothers’ contemporaries.

  5. Diane says:

    ‘Perpetuating the idea that women who are unmarried/divorced/childless/working mothers are not living up to the ideal is dangerous and can only serve to divide us as sisters.”

    Yes, this is why more and more single sisters like myself are leaving the church. The dismissive attitude has really got to change. And its not just in the Women’s Broadcast. The whole General Conference speaks in such generalities of the “ideal” that leaves people like me feeling like we don’t belong because we don’t fit into any category that is deemed worthy by the leadership.

    Last October was the first broadcast I watched as a non member, but, I watched anyway because I was hoping that I could find some comfort, or some kind of redeeming message, but, it just left me feeling more depressed, I’m not sure that I’m going to watch it this year.

  6. Descent says:

    I admit that I did cringe at the photo of the cart trek with the men standing at the top of the hill with their arms crossed, watching, as well as her mention of them. I realize it shows that they didn’t step in when they knew the participants were perfectly capable of doing it on their own, but why did they need to be there at all, if it was a women’s activity? That said, I did find the story itself to be a good example of women helping other women, with a clear focus on women as capable and strong.

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