Sarah Jane Weaver: What I learned about salvation and service while serving for a season in the Relief Society

On a quiet fall afternoon a year ago, I sat at the bedside of my dear friend, Darlene Lamb. She was 87 and her daughter told me she did not have long to live. I took her hand and expressed my love. In response, she looked me in the eyes and insisted I take home all the plastic containers that I had used to bring meals to her home in the preceding months.

I still smile when I think about that moment — a time when heaven brushed earth. Darlene’s pain had been all-consuming for many weeks. During her lifetime, she had buried two sons. The first time we spoke after I was sustained to serve for a season in the Relief Society in our ward, she had talked to me about her desire to endure well and then move on.

Yet, her very nature compelled her — in a simple, final gesture — to think about me and my plastic containers.

In a column, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver recalls how plastic food containers remind her of her friend Darlene and ​her final act of service — her moment of looking outward when she had every inclination to look upward.
In a column, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver recalls how plastic food containers remind her of her friend Darlene and ​her final act of service — her moment of looking outward when she had every inclination to look upward. Credit: Africa Studio – stock.adobe.com

My thoughts turned to Darlene this past Sunday as I was released and my season of service as Relief Society president came to end — three years to the week after I was called.

In that time I assisted with funerals for many beloved ward members — including four cherished Relief Society sisters.

Helen Hancey was assigned as my ministering companion almost 20 years ago. She was fearlessly consistent and kind. An educator by profession, she was quick to share her talents as a seamstress and quicker to take an interest in the talents of others. Her funeral was held the same day as the funeral for a young man who had grown up in our ward. She would have loved to see support flow that day for both her family and the other family.

Mary Ann Clyde had also buried a son. With my teenage ministering companion, I sat in her living room after her doctor and family had encouraged her to stop driving. She was determined to remain self-reliant. Worried about how she would get to the temple, she and my ministering companion spoke about phone apps that can facilitate rides. She died a short time later after taking a vacation with her family and suffering from a short illness.

My friend Jeanne Ludlow also died suddenly after health issues had limited her interactions with ward members. During our last visit together, she asked me to not get too close so I would not get sick. She loved roadshows and ward dinners and perfectly pressed tablecloths — all of which were manifestations of her love for Jesus Christ. And as with Darlene, Helen and Mary Ann, our hours together were much more about me than her.

It is hard to imagine now that three years ago I thought I was too busy to accept a calling in our ward Relief Society, that I doubted the Lord’s ability to amplify my small and humble efforts when it came to His kingdom.

I regret now that my vision had been so narrow.

The Relief Society logo
The Relief Society logo Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I discovered that Relief Society was established by the Lord to organize, teach and inspire His daughters to prepare them for the blessings of eternal life — a most important work that assists in the salvation of all of God’s children.

I learned that through ministering, we care for one another and, in the process, become a little more like Him.

I learned that men and women in the Lord’s Church work side by side to bless God’s children. It was important for me to counsel with the elders quorum presidency about ministering. It was powerful to me that Relief Society counselors (with counselors in the elders quorum presidency) had responsibility to support temple and family history work and missionary work in the ward — the very essence of the Lord’s work and glory. It was humbling to me that, with the elders quorum president — and often with the support of the ward council and always with the guidance of a loving bishop — the Lord finds ways to care for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of His children.

My friend Carol Matheson also served many years in the Relief Society more than two decades ago. She stood on my doorstep when I first moved to the ward and when I needed a friend. Just before I was called to serve in the Relief Society, she buried her husband and then dealt with her own health challenges. I remember being grateful for the circular work of the Church that was allowing me to serve her the way she had once served me.

Then one day a letter arrived at my house. She had made the card by hand. She had noticed I was tired — bone-achingly tired. I read her note every day in the weeks that followed. It offered encouragement, strength, assurance and testimony. I had thought this was my season to serve her — but just as was the case with Darlene, Helen, Mary Ann and Jeanne — she was still serving me.

The Relief Society general presidency — first counselor Marianne Sharp, President Belle Spafford and second counselor Velma Simonsen — in 1950 read a letter authored by Japanese members of the Relief Society to the all American sisters in the Relief Society.
The Relief Society general presidency — first counselor Marianne Sharp, President Belle Spafford and second counselor Velma Simonsen — in 1950 read a letter authored by Japanese members of the Relief Society to the all American sisters in the Relief Society. Credit: Courtesy of the Church History Library

It is the miracle of Relief Society — a work and reflection of discipleship, a restoration of an ancient pattern, and the means by which we can work side by side with the Lord’s sons to accomplish His most important work of salvation.

Near the end of her nearly three decades of service in 1966, Relief Society General President Belle Spafford expressed her feelings about Relief Society. Back then, the organization — now 7 million strong — had 300,000 members. With remarkable vision, President Spafford said: “Relief Society will stand increasingly firm and strong, a beacon light and guiding star for women of all nations. It will continue to rise until it becomes a mighty bulwark against the forces of evil that would engulf women and threaten their homes and loved ones. It will bring peace to the soul and love into the hearts and lives of endless numbers of our Father’s daughters. … May the women of today and tomorrow cherish Relief Society, advance its work and love one another” (“History of Relief Society 1842–1966,” p. 140).

Sometimes I pause when I pick up a plastic container. They remind me of my friend Darlene and her final act of service — her moment of looking outward when she had every inclination to look upward. For me, plastic containers will always be the sweet symbol of Relief Society, as will pressed tablecloths, phone apps that can facilitate rides, the consistent visits of a ministering sister, and a hand-written note. Each represents serving and being served, of exemplifying true discipleship of Jesus Christ and becoming more like Him, of looking upward and outward and feeling His peace.