Mormon Women Strive to Improve Themselves
Mormon women have the “drive to strive”
I am convinced that women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is often mistakenly referred to as the “Mormon Church”) want to make the world a better place—even if it means doing so by helping one person at a time. As a youngster, I remember going to the store with my mother to buy groceries for a family in need. I watched her prepare meals, take people to the doctor ,and spend hours sympathetically listening to the problems of others. Her service was tireless and constant. She didn’t say much about it and never complained or criticized others. I thought it was what women were supposed to do.
Since that time, I have learned not everyone in the world is as generous or charitable as my mother. But I find that many Latter-day Saint women (“Mormon women”) try to be. We come in all varieties—married, single, widowed, serious, jubilant, retro, trendy, working, stay-at-home moms, quirky, gregarious, or shy. But we share a common sense of purpose and direction. Jesus Christ and His teachings are at the center of our beliefs, providing a pattern that leads to peace and contentment.
This heartfelt love of the Savior leads Mormon women to worship Him by being doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). I am often impressed with the genuine goodness and purity of so many sisters as they strive to develop the characteristics in our 13th Article of Faith:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Early Mormon women set the standard
Latter-day Saint women today benefit from the example of pioneer women at the time the “Mormon Church” took root. Their sacrifice and devotion established a pattern of strength that Mormon women continue to follow today.
There was nothing easy about being a Mormon in the beginning. Members were often persecuted for believing that the gospel organized by Jesus Christ had been restored. Despite unrelenting hardship, the Mormon women offered willing hands and sympathetic hearts to ease the suffering of the ever-growing group. Driven away by disapproval, they peacefully moved from place to place. The women worked alongside the men to build homes and new communities, only to have them overrun by mobs. Still, they remained steadfast in their beliefs to follow Jesus.
When men were in short supply because of missionary work or military duties dictated by the U.S. government, the women plowed the fields, tended to the crops, ran the finances, and acted as both father and mother as best they could.
Finally, when the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred in 1844, mobsters drove Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois, a thriving city along the Mississippi River that they had built from a desolate swamp. Leaving their homes and most of their belongings, they hurriedly left to go west. But they were not defeated. Sarah De Armon Pea Rich explained:
“To start out…in the winter as it were and in our state of poverty, it would seem like walking into the jaws of death. But we had faith in our Heavenly Father, and we put our trust in Him feeling that we were His chosen people and had embraced His gospel, and instead of sorrow, we felt to rejoice that the day of our deliverance had come” (Daughters of the Kingdom, “Autobiography, 1885–93,” Church History Library, 66).
Once the Mormons arrived in their desert destination, they endured several years of scarcity, but led by strong leaders, mothers and fathers, communities thrived. Mormon women were treated as equals. They were even given the right to vote until Utah became a state and it was unlawful by the standards of the U.S. government.
The Relief Society was organized to do something extraordinary
In 1842, Joseph Smith organized the Mormon women’s group called Relief Society by divine inspiration. He told the sisters that they were to “encourage the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor—searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants” (Relief Society Meeting Book, Nauvoo, Illinois, March 17, 1842, Church History Library, 7). His wife, Emma, was named as the first president of the group and stated, “We are going to do something extraordinary…We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls” (Relief Society Meeting Book, Nauvoo, Illinois, March 17, 1842, 12). Today, the organization has more than 5.5 million women in over 170 countries.
The Relief Society motto, “Charity Never Faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8), has always encouraged Mormon women to minister to those within their spheres of influence. In following Christ, Mormon women seek opportunities to provide compassionate service as soon as a need arises. My feelings are especially tender towards those sisters who simply took over the daily work of our household at the unexpected death of our adult daughter. Within minutes of returning home from the hospital, help was there. We were numb, but their tender concern surrounded us, allowing us to make hard decisions without worrying about the daily routine. How blessed we were to have that kind of love.
Such charity is a way of life for Mormon women. In my own ward (congregation), at various times we have made leper bandages, hygiene kits, quilts for victims of disasters such as the Columbine shootings, and burial clothing for infants; we have gathered blankets, food, clothing, and school supplies; and have provided classes for women at a battered women’s shelter. Similar service can be seen in almost every ward throughout the world.
On Sunday, Relief Society holds a one-hour meeting as a part of the Latter-day Saint Sunday services. The meeting provides instruction that helps us as Mormon women understand how to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Education is highly valued in Mormon doctrine. Mormon women are encouraged to attain the highest level of education possible and to prepare for a successful future—whether in the workplace or at home. We focus on provident living and homemaking skills during additional monthly meetings. I’m certain my five children had much better lives because of Mother Education classes I was able to attend. Being with other sisters lightened my load as we compared techniques and discussed daily disasters. We studied parenting practices, laughed a lot, and developed close bonds. Those women are still my best friends.
Perhaps one of greatest benefits of Relief Society is the visiting teaching program. Mormon women are assigned to visit several ladies monthly to give a spiritual lesson and to provide support and friendship. Similarly, men visit families as home teachers. This highly organized system creates loving relationships and fulfills needs, but also creates an instant contact network in case of an emergency. Members can account for the entire congregation within minutes. It has been my pleasure to become close friends with those I have visited, but I have also been the recipient of many acts of kindness, including meals or child care when I was ill, or having a crew of women clean our home when we moved.
Mormon women work with their husbands to raise strong families
While sexual purity is becoming rare in today’s society, Mormons believe in abstinence before marriage and absolute fidelity between spouses. If we are pure, we are able to marry in holy Mormon temples for time and eternity. I was fortunate to have Mormon parents who included God in their relationship with each other and with each child. This environment provided security and confidence—I knew home was the safest place and that I could accomplish anything I wanted to.
Husbands and wives are equal but have different roles. The men are given the Holy Priesthood, which is the authority to act in God’s name, and women are born with the sacred right to bear and nurture children.
President Spencer Kimball explained: “Men and women are complementary…And in his wisdom and mercy, our Father made men and women dependent on each other for the full flowering of their potential. Because their natures are somewhat different, they can complement each other; because they are in many ways alike, they can understand each other. Let neither envy the other for their differences; let both discern what is superficial and what is beautifully basic in those differences, and act accordingly. And may the brotherhood of the priesthood and the sisterhood of the Relief Society be a blessing in the lives of all the members of this great Church, as we help each other” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 315).
Jan Mayer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). A “Mormon woman,” Jan is a graduate of BYU and mother of five children. She has written for numerous publications, including The Denver Post, The Villager, and NorthStar.