April 2011 Visiting Teaching Message: The Purpose of Relief Society
Don’t let the title fool you. This really is an excellent message. The problem with it is that it could go in so many directions. So, in the interest of time, I just picked out my personal favourite bits. Please feel free to share other points that catch your attention!
Most clear to me was that this message seems to be NOT for the sisters (teachees), but instruction specifically for the visiting teacher.
Consider the discussion questions at the end of the message:
1. What inspiration have I received to help my sisters increase in faith and personal righteousness and strengthen their families and homes? What relief can I provide?
2. How will I use this message to strengthen MY faith and increase MY own commitment to personal righteousness? (caps added)
Inspiration can be a tricky thing. I personally don’t think that it can be taught, if only because people are inspired in different ways. So I think we should ask ourselves if we are seeking and following inspiration in our assignment as visiting teachers and otherwise. This is not intended as a source of guilt or admonition to go visit more often or deliver parcels of baked bread, cookies and cakes. I think it is as uncomplicated and anti-time-consuming as habitually praying for the sisters we teach. Thus seeking inspiration in your own time as we are all busy people. Period.
The formal message starts:
When our presidency was first called, we were given some resources about the history of Relief Society. We studied them prayerfully, wanting to know the purpose of Relief Society and what the Lord would have us do. We learned that the purpose of Relief Society as established by the Lord is to organize, teach, and inspire His daughters to prepare them for the blessings of eternal life.
The beauty of this is its simplicity. It shows with clarity that women are to obtain inspiration and develop a direct relationship with God, just as the Beck Presidency prepared for inspiration and prayed directly for guidance. It is added that the Relief Society is intended as an organization that would encourage women to have a relationship with God, but that this relationship is direct and personal to the individual. The Relief Society is not a medium for God; it is a medium for God’s work. The same is that of Visiting Teaching. The message does not force inspiration or direction any more than reading a recipe produces a cake for either the teacher or the teachee. We obtain inspiration personally and heed direction individually. In this, our testimony and relationship with God is of singular and unspoilt flavour.
To fulfill this purpose of Relief Society, the Lord has commissioned each sister and the organization as a whole to:
1. Increase in faith and personal righteousness.
2. Strengthen families and homes.
3. Provide relief by serving the Lord and His children.
One of the first “Why we do Visiting Teaching” Relief Society lessons I went to as a teenager was taught by a woman only a little older than me. This teacher bemoaned the drudgery of Visiting Teaching. She described Visiting Teaching as a type of involuntary servitude and that the good thing was that we were only obligated to do it once a month. I can’t imagine that anyone left the lesson feeling inspired to be a part of this implied slavery. Likewise, the checklist of commissioned Relief Society tasks in this month’s message can appear to be little else that a collection of chores. But… there is reprieve:
We can do this work in the Lord’s way only when we seek, receive, and act on personal revelation. Without personal revelation, we cannot succeed. If we heed personal revelation, we cannot fail. The prophet Nephi instructs us that the Holy Ghost will show us “all things what [we] should do” (2 Nephi 32:5). We must allow ourselves to be still enough and quiet enough to listen to the voice of the Spirit.
How is this reprieve for Visiting Teachers? Because rather than volunteering for chores, tasks and time-consuming projects, we are to seek personal inspiration in our own time, and not at someone else’s bidding. The scriptural reference here is Luke 10: 30-37, which is the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan is not described as one who walked the streets daily seeking chores for service and baking cookies for his neighbours. The Samarian simply acted in a reliving manner when the situation presented itself. I think it is a reminder to act when inspiration when it strikes. There will always be chores as a means to be of service. But when we seek for inspiration, we are opening ourselves to uninterrupted direction from God. By doing this, we are promised that we cannot fail.
For example, when I was a new YSA, I was a passenger in a car with a group of friends. We were sitting at a red stop when suddenly the driver of our car opened his door and ran! It took the rest of us a few more seconds to see why. Pushing across from the light in front of us was a couple behind a clearly non-driveable car. They had waited for the light to go green on their side so they could safely force their car across the intersection, disrupting traffic as little as possible. While our car was still running, we abandoned it to assist in quickly pushing the defunct car to a safe place off of the road. We then ran back to our car, just in time for the lights to change, wherein we continued along safely. We could not have planned to push this other car, nor could we have timed it as perfectly. And to be honest, if a stranger asked me to push a car at 9:00 at night, I likely would have found every reason not to do it. (Couldn’t they ask someone else? Why me? It’s too late for this stuff- no way!). If I still did it, I may very well have resented the service. What’s more, while it was probably a blessing for this couple to have some youths suddenly help push their car, the example of our driver and his instantaneous action has blessed me. I learned that sometimes inspiration takes bravery, action and maybe even a little bit of craziness. That still small voice not only inspires, but can energise and direct in carrying out appropriate service, even when the inspiration is out of character for us.
I think it is also imperative to note that -contrary to popular opinion- while we are taught to serve and sacrifice, we are not instructed to endanger ourselves or our family. To incite resentment or danger will not enlist the spirit of success. That is why inspiration is essential: when we are inspired, we will know what we are to do, as well as what we are NOT to do.
Sisters, we have a vital role to play in helping build the kingdom of God and preparing for the Lord’s coming. In fact, the Lord’s work cannot be accomplished without the help of His daughters. Because of that, the Lord expects us to increase our offering. He expects us to fulfil the purpose of Relief Society as never before.
The direction to fulfil our offering “as never before” implies that there is an increased responsibility upon us to seek and act upon inspiration. For me, this is another reminder or even admonition to prepare for changes in the Relief Society organization. This is where this message gets interesting, as reference is made to the story of Rebecca Swain Williams:
A family biographer later described Rebecca as a kind of Eve in the Garden of Eden: she was “the first to see the necessity” to step into full fellowship in the gospel covenant.
This is a subtle, but important nod to the inspiration assocated with Eve in the Garden of Eden, because shewas the first to act as soon as she recognised the way in which the fall had to occur. Adam did not have the quick foresight of Eve in acting upon inspiration. Hence, she bit the apple first! What an excellent example of acting immediately upon inspiration! As Bruce R. McConkie said, “There is no language that could do credit to our glorious Mother Eve.”
It is in this that I think Beck is talking about when she says “we have a vital role”. In acting upon inspiration, rather than procrastinating promptings for more structured forms of service, we can accomplish even greater good works. Acting upon inspiration equals a greater reward. Like Eve, it makes us leaders. I think this is what this message is telling us: The purpose of the Relief Society is to increase our personal inspiration which will make us leaders.
Now, to be honest, I am not a huge fan of the history section of the message, because it just sounds like so much of a burden:
At a June 9, 1842, meeting of the Relief Society, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the sisters that their society was “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.” This statement of a spiritual as well as a temporal purpose has characterized Relief Society throughout its history. In 1906 President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) taught: “[Relief Society] has not only to deal with the necessities of the poor, the sick and the needy, but a part of its duty—and the larger part, too—is to look after the spiritual welfare and salvation of the mothers and daughters of Zion; to see that none is neglected, but that all are guarded against misfortune, calamity, the powers of darkness, and the evils that threaten them in the world.” In 2001 Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reiterated, “Every sister in this Church who has made covenants with the Lord has a divine mandate to help save souls, to lead the women of the world, to strengthen the homes of Zion, and to build the kingdom of God.”
It would be a huge task to do everything instruected here for everyone on our list- especially if we are trying to look after our own family. The mandate to “save souls” seems a rather heavy and disproportionate affliction to be assigned only to women (and it isn’t only assigned to women to save souls). But again, I think this is where we are being instructed to act upon inspiration, rather than burden ourselves with tasks that build resentment and can put us in danger.
So- follow inspiration. In simple ways. If inspiration directs you to bake bread, clean another’s house or otherwise- do it. But don’t forget the simple and powerful ways we can be inspired and inspiring to others. Tell a quiet sister that she looks nice. Call someone you are thinking about and just say, “Hey, I was thinking about you, so I decided to ring.” Did someone give an excellent talk five years ago that you still think about? Tell them. Thank them. Hug a stranger at a veterinary clinic (Been there. Done that. Totally worth it.) Let the karma associated with sincere, simple actions open your heart and develop your relationship with Elohim as one of Elohim’s daughters. In this doing this, we are looking after the spiritual welfare of each other because we are sharing what is good. Because these are simple, yet brilliantly effective acts of service, we will better open ourselves to spiritual opportunities. In this manner we will do what has been assigned to us, which is to protect each other from misfortune, calamity and darkness.
I can’t suggest this without doing it- so here is a shout out to all of my Exponent sisters: I love you and I am inspired by your words more than I will ever be able to express. Like Eve, I admire each and every one of you for your leadership, inspiration and example. Thank you for being YOU!
How can I better act upon personal inspiration to increase my relationship with God, and thereby be a source of His love for others?