September 24, 2011 was the General Relief Society Meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was a wonderful meeting. Our local stake held an activity prior to the broadcast with light refreshments and a kind of show-and-tell from each ward Relief Society in the Stake. It was wonderful to see the service each group offers to the sisters in their ward and community.
I have attended many of these broadcasts. I have enjoyed the fellowship of Relief Society sisters from several countries and many states in the US. I have developed life-changing friendships with women of many different ages and family structures; single, married, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, childless, adoptive mothers, mothers with any number of children of every age. I have benefited richly from this fellowship. And I owe it all to Relief Society.
I was thinking all of this as I sat with sisters from my ward, munching treats and gabbing about random stuff. It felt good. Really good. I have always believed that no matter where in the world I go, if there is a Relief Society I will be home. What an amazing gift our Heavenly Father has given us! I really don't feel deserving!
(Now, hopefully you are all feeling this cozy, happy, comfort that I felt that night. You are reflecting on your own blessings from Relief Society.)
Just before we went into the chapel for the broadcast, our stake Young Women's President stood up. She shared her concerns for the young women of the stake. She pleaded with us to open our arms and hearts to them so they would not be turned off by the "old ladies" in Relief Society. She reminded us of the terrible losses during the single years when the young women are no longer "Young Women" but don't feel like they have a place in Relief Society either.
I honestly didn't hear most of the broadcast. I was so preoccupied with this issue. I know it is a serious one. It is not limited to our little corner of the world.
I thought about my own transition. It didn't seem so bad. Why?
Well, for one thing, when I was a teenager my mom was the Relief Society President in our ward so I got pretty familiar with the program. That year there was a request for us to do an on-going service project. Our ward made over 80 quilts for the local homeless shelter. The Young Women were invited to many Relief Society meetings to help tie quilts. While they did their "old lady" stuff we worked and talked. Because teenage girls can never talk enough, right?
After my mother was released our Young Women's President was called as the new Relief Society President. She had 2 daughters who were close to my age. I know that the Young Women of our ward were important to her. When my fellow Laurels and I were nearing graduation we were invited to Relief Society activities and there was even a special ceremony to welcome us. The details are a bit hazy but I remember being given a flower and thinking that it was really sweet of the RS Presidency to go to so much trouble. I guess they had the same concerns all those years ago.
Another factor that made my transition easy was the fellowship of the sisters in our ward. They were kind and friendly to the Young Women. I knew most of them and they were so eager to welcome me. I had my mother, grandmother, aunt, my cousin's wife, not to mention more distant relatives (yes, I came from one of "those" families!). We would joke and laugh and share gum or candies down the row. I felt I had joined some sort of club or... women's society...which I had. And they LOVED new members!
I also went to college in Utah. (That's kind of cheating, I know) I attended a student ward with students teaching and leading and doing Visiting Teaching. It was like playing "old lady". It wasn't that serious. Except that there were some girls in our ward with real problems. I discovered that while I was worried about which boy might like me and whether or not my hair was dumb, other girls my age were being raped, molested, and otherwise abused by boyfriends, neighbors and even family members. There were eating disorders and even substance abuse. Some were at BYU in the hopes that they could break out of their messed up worlds. For them, it was like going to a spiritual rehab clinic.
For me, it was like a crash course in how to put what I had learned into practice. For all the fake cheeriness that goes on in the church there is also suffering. Learning this lesson helped me grow up. Relief Society is not about knitting or baking. It isn't treat bags and scrapbooking. It is offering support to the suffering and comforting the needy. Befriending the lonely. It is lifting the fallen, strengthening, preparing, guiding, loving. It is WORK!!! And it is NOT for the faint of heart!
If we think Relief Society is for fun, for entertainment, for leisure, for friendship, we don't get it. Oh, sure. Relief Society provides all of that. But that isn't the true purpose. Relief Society is SO much more!
That is the message we need to send to our Young Women. And maybe ourselves. Service, kindness, love, these are not limited by age or marital status. They are not the interests of "old ladies" alone but all of Heavenly Father's children. With these stones in place, the bridge to Relief Society is easily passable.
How was your transition from Young Women to Relief Society?