I thought this might be interesting to a few – and the rest of you don’t have to read it.
First a disclaimer: I am not a spokesperson for Relief Society. I just really love it and was asked to speak about it at church last Sunday. This is partly why (chicken pox and strepp throat are the other parts) I hadn’t published a blog post for a week and a half. Also, I didn’t do a very good job of citing my sources. I’ve gone back through and tried to put in links as a reference, but all my Chicago Style or Manual Style or whatever style I was supposed to be using at the time, has gone out the window so sorry, but you get what you get.
What is the Relief in The Relief Society?
By Anna Mock
May 29th, 2016
I would like to start my talk out today with two scenarios. Although the scenarios are very different, try to find the common culminating emotion. Feel free to close your eyes if it helps you imagine –but don’t fall asleep.
- Imagine yourself on a very long hike. You’ve been hiking all day and now it is really, really hot and dry. There isn’t any shade and you’ve run out of water hours ago. Your thirst is becoming unbearable. Your feet ache – Your shoes are filled with sand and you’ve developed numerous blisters now rubbing against your socks with every heavy step. Your muscles are past aching, they feel almost numb from exhaustion. The sun is beating down on your head and your shoulders, sweat is pouring off your face and neck and making your clothes sticky. And your tongue feels like a big cotton ball in your mouth. Your head hurts and you are getting dizzy. And again, it is so very, very hot. – Finally, the trailhead comes into view, there is your car under a huge shade tree. You sit down, pull off your shoes and prop up your bare feet. You find the cold bottle of water stashed in your glove box and lay back as a cool breeze, the first of the day, washes over you and you can finally relax.
- Imagine you are at the hospital in the waiting room of the ER. There has been a tremendous and horrific emergency and a member of your family has been rushed into surgery. You barely had time to see them, for what may be the last time, before they were strapped to a bed, swarmed with doctors, nurses, IVs, beeping machines, and whisked back into the OR. You aren’t sure what is going on, how they are doing, or if they are even going to make it out. You are panicked, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted physically AND emotionally, and you feel so very alone. You have so many worries and so many questions but there is no one you can ask and no one who can help. There is nothing you can do. You slump down and start to cry – Finally, the doctor comes out to see you. He smiles peacefully and tells you with joy and reassurance in his voice that everything worked out better than any of the medical professionals had hoped, the emergency is past, your loved one is comfortable and resting and is expected to make a quick and full recovery.
The overriding emotion conveyed in the conclusions of both of these scenarios is relief. Extreme, overwhelming, and glorious relief.
There are two different definitions for the world “relief” found in dictionaries. The first usually has to do with the release of emotional stress, “a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.” Synonyms for this definition include: reassurance, consolation, comfort, and solace. (Dictionary.com)
The second definition has more of a physical or material meaning. “Assistance, especially in the form of food, clothing, or money, given to those in special need or difficulty.” Synonyms include: help, aid, assistance, sustenance, and succor. (Dictionary.com)
When Heavenly Father sent us to earth he knew we would be in need of both kids of relief. Thus, the Savior, in organizing His church, created a system to offer this relief to all. This program is led by the priesthood, but run and made up by women whose natural and divine intuitions make them the most qualified and effective, in fact the ideal, candidates to relieve the suffering of the world. In Jerusalem, Christ organized the women of the church into this organization. And in our day Joseph Smith clearly and confidently affirmed that “The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized. (see this link)” This is the Relief Society. Truly you cannot have a testimony of this church if you do not have a testimony of the organization that makes up more than half of its members.
How does the Relief Society fulfill its purpose of bringing relief?
At various times in our lives we all need help. The plan of happiness is set up that way. It is not possible for us to do everything on our own. Sometimes the help we need seems small- maybe we are feeling down and need encouragement, a smile, and a friendly visit. Sometimes we have questions or doubts – not just about gospel related issues but about all sorts of things. We may need assurance that we are on the right path. Perhaps we need to see where the correct path is so we can get back on. In these areas and more, faithful visiting teachers who listen to the spirit and pray for those they visit teach are in a position to comfort, support, reassure, and give assistance.
Sometimes life is stressful and things seem to be falling apart. Maybe there is a crisis or emergency. Oftentimes we feel trapped in overscheduled day-to-day living and important things are left undone. Meals become irregular, houses and yards become more and more disorderly, and children aren’t getting the attention and instruction they need. In order to deal with competing temporal matters, we may be neglecting the more important spiritual matters. We may feel like we a failing. We may feel like we are sinking. In these areas and more, faithful visiting teachers who listen to the spirit and pray for those they visit teach are in a position to comfort, support, reassure, and give assistance.
Visiting teachers are not the only ones who bring relief to the downtrodden and overwhelmed. The entire Relief Society meets together weekly on Sundays and monthly on a designated weekday evening to edify, sustain, succor, encourage, cry with, and rejoice in one another. Sisters in Relief Society truly do love and care for one another. They do not judge. They do not criticize. They do not blame. They mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. They strengthen the feeble knees and lift up the hands that hang down. Is this not true relief? Is this not the errand of angels and the work of the Lord on the earth?
Just as we all must accept service at times, we will also find ourselves in positions to serve. Giving freely of our substance, of our time and talents and energy and love, provides us another opportunity to find relief for ourselves. By sacrificing those things we think are important in order to instead be on God’s errand, we let go of our carnal nature. We put off the natural man – the selfishness, the conceit, judgments, anger, pride, and stubbornness. We become saints – meek, submissive, humble, patient, and full of love (Mosiah 3:19). Through rendering relief to others we find the happiness and acceptance we were looking for for ourselves. Where before there may have been an emptiness and an unaddressed need, we are filled with love and charity. We are relieved of the unseen burdens we have been struggling with as we forget ourselves by doing good works for others. Our true divine nature is able to break through unrestrained, just as the Lord promised, “and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Mathew 10:39).
In giving service and accepting service, we come unto Christ. We are filled with charity, which never faileth, and gratitude, which is the parent of all other virtues. We find ourselves in the Savior’s embrace, encircled about in the arms of his love (2 Nephi 1:15). We may have thought we were just heeding the call to bring relief to the sisters and ward members we care so much about, but really, we were acting as the Lord’s hands on the earth.
Let’s focus on that phrase “being the Lord’s hands” for just a minute. Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, devoted an entire General Conference talk to this truth, “He Asks Us to Be His Hands.” She said, “When we reach out in love and service even in the smallest ways, hearts are changed and softened as others feel the love of the Lord… All of us can incorporate some service into our daily living.” Directly afterward, Sister Neill F. Marriott of the General Young Women’s Presidency continued this thought in her General Conference talk when she said, “When we ask ourselves, ‘What shall we do?’ let’s ponder this question: ‘What does the Savior do continually?’ He nurtures. He creates. He encourages growth and goodness.” Shortly after that, President Eyring gave a talk entitled, “Trust in the Spirit Which Leadeth to Do Good.” He quoted from Matthew 6:1, 3-4: “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. But when thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
The Savior did not organize the Relief Society solely to ensure new mother’s and families in need didn’t have to cook dinner for a few days, or to work the logistics of funerals, or even to give women cute crafts to work on and enough time to talk with each other. The relief given and received through the Relief Society brings sisters to Christ. The more we walk in his footsteps, become His hands, and take more seriously this errand of angels we have been given, the closer we come to Him, the more we are like Him, and the more of His love we are able to share with God’s children.
I’d like to close with a two similar stories of relief given and relief received.
“When Lynne was in her late teens, she and her mother learned that her stepfather had been seriously injured in a distant city. They quickly got on an airplane to visit him, but he died before they could reach him. Lynne later told about what happened upon their return home:
“As my mother and I, exhausted and heartsick, walked down the steps from the plane, [a] man and woman standing on the airstrip walked over and put their arms around us. It was the branch president and the Relief Society president. …
“Those days were confusing as we struggled to deal with the fact that [my stepfather] was dead. … But there was always a sister there, waiting quietly in the background—to take messages, to answer the door, to hold our hands as we made phone calls to our families and friends. They were there to help us pack, to deal with all that had to be done.
“Through it all, I developed such a sense of gratitude that I couldn’t imagine how I could repay those dear sisters. I desperately tried to think of a way, but imagination gave way to exhaustion.”
Several years later, when Lynne was married with three small children, she was called to serve in a Relief Society presidency. At times she wondered if she could meet the demands of her calling. But then she remembered the service she had received after her stepfather died. “Now,” she thought to herself, “it’s my turn.” She shared the following experiences:
“A woman in the ward had lost her fourteen-year-old daughter. The mother asked me to buy a beautiful gown and to dress her daughter’s body in it in preparation for the burial. I was able to do it—and found it a very tender experience. It was my turn to serve, as [other sisters] had served me.
“An elderly woman in the ward who lived alone overdosed on her medications and was in a helpless condition for three days. The other counselor and I found her still alive in her apartment and cleaned her up before the ambulance arrived. We then stayed to scrub the apartment—walls and floors—with disinfectant. My turn again.
“A young mother in the ward, one of my friends, suddenly lost her only child, a beautiful three-year-old daughter, to an infection that took her life before the doctors were even aware of how serious her illness was. The other counselor and I went to the house as soon as we heard of little Robin’s death. As we approached the screened patio door, we heard the father (who was not a member of the Church) sobbing as he talked long distance to his mother. Looking up, he saw us and, still sobbing, spoke into the phone: ‘It will be all right, Mother. The Mormon women are here.’ My turn once more.” (Daughters in My Kingdom, chapter 10.)
The second story was written by Sister Effie A. Greene who passed away in 1978. She wrote:
“My mind is rich with memories of my childhood in Idaho many years ago—and the visiting teachers. Sometimes these precious sisters would come on horseback or in a wagon, and sometimes they would walk for a mile or two over the countryside to make their visits. But regardless of their mode of transportation, they always came with smiling faces and hearts full of love.
When I was twelve years old, my younger sister passed away. The visiting teachers came. I can still hear their kind words and feel their gentle touch. It seemed that while they were with us, all was well.
The days after my sister’s death were long and lonely. My mother was not well, and Father’s work took him away from home a great deal. Next to Father’s homecomings, the hours we enjoyed most were those when the visiting teachers came. Even though many, many years have passed, I still remember those sisters as some of the strongest, sweetest influences in my life.
A few years later, our family moved to Smithfield, Utah. We were scarcely more than settled in our new location when one of my brothers died. There we were—not acquainted with anyone in the area, struggling with the death of a loved one. Friends and family who were tried and trusted were far away, and we felt alone.
I shall never forget the day I stood gazing out the window with tear-stained eyes and a heavy heart, and there came into my view two women, walking toward our home. “Mother,” I exclaimed, “the visiting teachers are coming!” I heard her grateful, reverent reply—“What a church. What a church.” (“Angels on Horseback”.)
Brothers and Sisters, we cannot truly understand or have a testimony of this church if we do not understand and have a testimony of the Relief Society. In the words of a prophet, Relief Society “is divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men.” (Joseph F. Smith). Relief Society is Christ’s organization to bring souls to Him and relieve the burdens of the world one sister and family at a time.