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.