Note: I found little in this that inspired me in regard to the history of women. However, after some patience and work, I found a practical application that I could feel confident in sharing. In recognition that this message was difficult for me, feel free to generously share your own thoughts about the message and this post.
The February Visiting Teaching message is by Silvia Allred, first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency. When I first read it, it reminded me of two of her recent talks, Every Woman Needs Relief Society and Steadfast and Immovable. I personally did not find either of these talks very inspirational because both seemed focused on a woman’s role of nurturing within a family unit, while the single and infertile are assigned to the periphery with the standard nod: “some of our sisters have not yet received the blessings of marriage or children. I assure you that in due time you will receive all the blessings promised to the faithful.”
In this sense, this can be a difficult message to deliver. Even the most righteous and diligent mother has days where she is overwhelmed. So the reminder that “the faithful” will receive blessings can be isolating and even hurtful if thoughtlessly lobbed on the exhausted mother, the single sister, the divorcee, the lonely, etc.
Setting these thoughts aside, I tried to focus on the essence of the message. In re-reading these talks and the Visiting Teaching message, I found it interesting that the term essential is used so much. It is used four times in the short Visiting Teaching message, and for me, it became a distraction. In summary, the message is that 1) Relief Society is essential to the church, 2) Relief Society is essential in our lives, 3) We have an essential role in Relief Society and 4) Women have an essential place in the Church within the Relief Society. That’s a lot of essentials. It starts:
The Prophet Joseph Smith organized Relief Society as an essential part of the Church. As a presidency, we hope we can help you understand why Relief Society is essential in your life.
There is a problem in using a term repeatedly. Overuse of a term causes the meaning of the term to be lost. It can even weaken the intent of the term. Consider Shakespeare’s Macbeth wherein the sense of repetitious assignment, duty and tasking is addressed:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The repeated cadence of the term “tomorrow” is intended to show how echoed terms can erase meaning. In this, it represents that for Macbeth, every day (tomorrow) is such a routine march of tasks that his life is only an exercise of exhausted apathy.
Like Macbeth, we also gain exhaustion from the long list of tasks we much accomplish. We “strut” (think march, not catwalk), we “fret” and we can become lost and frustrated in the endless daily, weekly, monthly tasks that begin to feel meaninglessly repetitive, even when we know these tasks are essential: dishes, scripture reading, laundry, family home evening, prayer, meal preparation, motherhood, motherhood, motherhood, marriage, marriage, marriage … our “essential” task list becomes an endless and numbing reverberation. But unlike Macbeth, we are taught that our tasks call for an eternal reward; and with infinite significance that is Celestially recognized:
We know that New Testament women showed faith in Jesus Christ and participated in His work. Luke 10:39 tells of Mary, who “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word”, In John 11:27Acts 9:36, 39 speaks of “a certain disciple named Tabitha, … full of good works. … And all the widows stood by … shewing the coats and garments which [she] made.” Phebe, in Romans 16:1–2, was “a servant of the church” and “a succourer of many.” Martha bears witness of Christ: “She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
This is an excellent reminder that repetitious tasks and pedantic assignments, no matter how small, are recognized and appreciated by God. I think the key here is that the “essential” part is remembering that we daughters of God, and that service of any kind is significant. Imagine yourself as Tabitha, being named as a woman of good works because you constructed a set of shepherd’s costumes out of bathrobes for a primary nativity. Or perhaps you are more like Phebe, defined as a righteous servant because you orchestrated a last-minute Sunday school lesson, or rolled in and out the elderly neighbor’s rubbish bins every week for years because she struggled to do so on her own. These are the things that are essential in God’s kingdom, no matter how repetitious, small or unappreciated by others: These services are essential in inviting the spirit into our own lives.
These patterns of faith, testimony, and service continued in the latter-day Church and were formalized with the organization of Relief Society. Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, taught: “Just as the Saviour invited Mary and Martha of New Testament times to participate in His work, women of this dispensation have an official commission to participate in the Lord’s work. … The organization of Relief Society in 1842 mobilized the collective power of the women and their specific assignments to build the Lord’s kingdom.” 1
We accomplish our work as we focus on Relief Society’s purposes: to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need.
I testify that Relief Society was divinely organized to assist in the work of salvation. Each Relief Society sister has an essential role to play in accomplishing this sacred work.
This opening statement can be uncomfortable… formalizing service has a habit of developing into the thankless drum of “to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow”. In light of this, I looked up the repetitious term “essential” in the dictionary (it is not in the Bible dictionary). Synonyms I found included the terms vital, important, fundamental, central, elemental, infinite. I thought that was kinda cool.
So I wondered, what really is essential in the lives of the sisters I teach? What is vital so these sisters can do their fundamental and central tasks so they can reap an infinite reward? (A work-out? Chocolate? A good chat? A quiet moment? Prayer?) I realised that in discovering what my sisters personally need, I can better encourage them. This isn’t a need such a food or water- this is a psychological and emotional need that helps them to be themselves. In knowing what my sisters psychologically find relieving and necessary, then I can encourage them to fill their wells so they can happily balance their responsibilities at work, home and church. I think this is the meat of the message: We accomplish our work as we focus on Relief Society’s purposes: to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need.
In the march of our daily lives, we can easily be caught up in such a routine that we befall exhaustion and can fail to recognize inspiration. For example, (I feel a little naughty sharing this): I come from a large family. My father worked a full-time and a part-time job whilst my mother worked a full-time job all in addition to the full time job of parenting a ridiculous number of children. My parents rarely had time to themselves… or each other. So, as soon as all the children were in primary, they started to slip out of church during the last two hours of the block for a date. On a Sunday! Heaven forbid! But… their marriage improved as a result. This was inspiration! They were happier, so we were happier, which made our home a better place for the spirit. And sure, some people in the ward were concerned, because our parents preferred to have time alone together to uninterruptedly talk on a Sunday whilst they “should have” been in church. But…all I knew was that my parents were happier on “Secret Date Sundays” than any other day; and that made our home happier. In short, sometimes practical needs are just as essential as spiritual needs in creating a benevolent environment where the spirit can thrive.
I originally thought that the title, “A Restoration of All Things” was misplaced. But, in consideration of what is personally essential as individuals, it becomes clear: when we are restored to a healthy psychological and emotional state, we function at a higher spiritual level. As a result, our personal relationships are strengthened and we can further the work of the gospel. As in Joel 2: 28-29 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”
There is a great opportunity to discuss and ask why the Relief Society is essential, and why your sisters are essential to relief society. But I think this offers an even better opportunity to really get to know the sisters you Visit Teach. You may already know about the secret licking-peanut-butter-from-a-spoon-because-there-is-no-time–to-eat habit of your sisters. But in learning about and encouraging them to meet their essential psychological needs, it is easier to encourage them to believe they are essential participants in the Relief Society. Because we are essential for the Relief Society. Even if we are lonely, single, infertile, overwhelmed, depressed, happy, or otherwise. We are all essential in the Restoration of His Kingdom on earth, and the Relief Society is essential in His kingdom.
What is one of your secret and nearly necessary indulgences that puts you in a more-benevolent state of mind?
What is the personal indulgence of the sisters you teach? What do the sisters you teach need so they can increase the spirit in themselves and therefore, in their work, homes and callings?
How can you enjoy and encourage each other to indulge in small private joys that are essential in developing personal peace and restoration?
Silvia H. Allred, “Steadfast and Immovable”, Ensign, Nov. 2010, 116–18
Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5.