Sarah Jane Weaver: What I learned from the history of Relief Society

In August of 2011, I found myself in a brief meeting with several other women and Sister Julie B. Beck, then the Church’s general Relief Society president. We were discussing the promotion of the new Relief Society history, “Daughters in My Kingdom.”

Sister Beck was sitting at the end of the table and had a stack of books for those of us in the room. She picked up the books and I instinctively put out my arms to take them from her, thinking I would pass them around the table. Instead she stood up, waited for me to stand up, hugged me and gave me a book.

“This is a gift to you from the Church,” she said.

She continued the pattern with each of the women at the table. When she sat down, she expressed regret that the books were not wrapped like a beautiful gift. And then she asked each of us to not forget the care in which they were given to us.

In the weeks following the meeting, I found myself thinking: What is so important about this book that the general Relief Society president took a large portion of a short meeting to personally “gift” it to everyone in the room?

Julie B. Beck holds up a copy of "Daughters in My Kingdom" as she speaks during the Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by Church History Library on March 15, 2013.
Julie B. Beck holds up a copy of “Daughters in My Kingdom” as she speaks during the Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by Church History Library on March 15, 2013. Credit: Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

Sister Beck told us in the meeting that as she and her counselors visited with women around the world, they would listen to their questions. She told us she would write the questions down and pray about them and then write down the answers the Lord gives her in response to them. She said some of the questions deal with family situations — wayward children, addictions, financial stresses. Some are questions from women who are not married or who do not have children and who want to know the Lord’s plan for them.

Many of the answers to the questions Latter-day Saint women ask can be found in the history of Relief Society, she explained. “History helps us learn who we are and our importance to the Lord,” she said. “It connects us and binds us with the covenants we have made. That’s why it is important.”

Sister Beck asked everyone in the meeting to write our name in the front of the “Daughter in My Kingdom” book she had just gifted us. She also asked us to write our questions in the back.

Two questions immediately came to mind:

“Does the Church need me and my family?”

“Are my efforts acceptable to the Lord?”

I felt loved in my ward. I knew my family and I were wanted in our ward. I had many friends in my ward. I just didn’t know if I was needed. I wondered what I and my family could contribute that could not be done — and done better — by someone else.

Just as Sister Beck promised, I found my answers in the history of Relief Society. In the introduction of the book, the First Presidency message said: “We express our love and admiration for you and recognize that you are beloved daughters of Heavenly Father and dedicated disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are part of a great worldwide sisterhood.”

As I read, I felt an immediate connection to the women in our history. I cherished the story of Emily S. Richards. On one occasion, Eliza R. Snow, the Church’s second Relief Society president, asked Sister Richards to speak in a Church meeting. But when Sister Richards stood up, she said nothing. Finally, Sister Snow intervened: “Never mind,” she told her. “But when you are asked to speak again, try to have something to say.” Sister Richards did improve her speaking ability and one day addressed the National Women’s Suffrage Association Convention in Washington, D.C. A journalist who heard the address described Sister Richards as “self possessed and dignified” and wrote that her words “carried winning grace”  (DIMK, p. 49). 

I drew courage from the strong women in our history. They believed in themselves. For example, in 1870 — a time of general misunderstanding about members of the Church and their beliefs — a group of Latter-day Saint women in Utah called a press conference and addressed newspaper reporters from across the country.

“It was high time [to] rise up in the dignity of our calling and speak for ourselves,” said Sister Snow.

“The world does not know us, and truth and justice to our brethren and to ourselves demand us to speak. …. We are not inferior to the ladies of the world, and we do not want to appear so.”

Reporters in attendance called the meeting remarkable. “In logic and in rhetoric the so-called degraded ladies of Mormondom are quite equal to the … women of the East,” wrote one reporter (DIMK, pp. 46-47).

A woman reads "Daughters in My Kingdom" with personal notes inside.
A woman reads “Daughters in My Kingdom” with personal notes inside. Credit: Deseret News archives

I also found confidence in a statement from President Lorenzo Snow, who said the Church hopes “to instill into the hearts of the sisters [a desire] to be useful in their sphere and not be discouraged because of difficulties in the way, but trust in God and look to Him.” And, President Snow promised if we do that, the Lord’s marvelous blessings will be poured out upon us (DIMK, p. 43).

Sister Beck said just as the women in our history, we can ask for and receive direction as to where we are needed. She taught that “the ability to qualify for, receive and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life” (DIMK, p. 158).

It was while pondering, praying about and studying my worth as a woman in the Lord’s kingdom that I received my own personal revelation: I was asking the wrong questions.

In the back of my book, the one with my name written in the front, I wrote a new question in bold permanent ink.

“What is distracting me from the important responsibilities my Heavenly Father has given me?”

It made all the difference.

Sister Beck spent a long time in a short meeting gifting a few women the history of Relief Society. Why? Because we all have questions.

— Sarah Jane Weaver is the editor of the Church News.