Restoration and Church History
34. Cultivating Life’s Eternal Values: Mary J. Wilson

“34. Cultivating Life’s Eternal Values: Mary J. Wilson,” At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women (2017), 149–53

“34. Mary J. Wilson,” At the Pulpit, 149–53


Cultivating Life’s Eternal Values

Relief Society General Conference

Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

September 29, 1949

An original recording of this discourse is available at (courtesy of Church History Library).

Mary Jacobs Wilson (1896–1990) had substantial experience serving in the Relief Society when she was appointed to the general board in November 1946.1 She had been president of two ward Relief Societies, a counselor in two stake Relief Societies, and stake Relief Society president, all in the Ogden, Utah, area.2 Wilson and her husband, David, had five children.3 When welcoming her to the Relief Society general board, fellow board member Maureen C. Neilsen described the home the Wilsons had created as possessing “welcome hospitality, music, laughter, humor, and the Spirit of the Lord.”4 Wilson had studied music and drama at Weber College and served as a student body vice president.5

Wilson served on the Relief Society board during the early years of Belle S. Spafford’s presidency, along with sixteen other women (not including four presidency members).6 In addition to serving on the music, literature, and poetry contest committees, she represented the Relief Society on the Women’s Legislative Council, which studied state problems and legislative issues. In December 1946, the Relief Society was put in charge of developing the family home evening program with the assistance of its advisors in the Quorum of the Twelve, Joseph Fielding Smith and Mark E. Petersen.7 Wilson chaired the Relief Society home evening committee. When Wilson began her service, board members were just completing fund-raising efforts to build a Relief Society building.8

During the years after World War II, many Americans, including Latter-day Saints in the Mountain West, enjoyed expanding professional and educational opportunities. The postwar era also saw increased emphasis on a vision of the nuclear family that included distinct roles for women and men. Even though many Americans experienced rising prosperity, others—particularly racial and ethnic minorities—met barriers that hindered their economic movement. Neighborhoods and schools were segregated, and institutionalized racism prevented upward mobility.9 These social and cultural changes after World War II form the context in which Wilson gave the following talk on prioritizing eternal salvation over wealth.

My dear brethren and sisters, as a text for my message today I have taken verse seven from the 6th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.”

The most important responsibility resting upon any individual is to build a worthwhile and meaningful life. This objective is not achieved in a day, a week, or a month. In the words of J. G. Holland:

Heaven is not gained at a single bound;

But we build the ladder by which we rise

From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,

And we mount to its summit round by round.10

With every person is born the God-given assignment to build a life. What then are the materials that we should use in building this worthwhile life?

America’s great inspirational poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, caught the vision:

For the structure that we raise,

Time is with materials filled;

Our todays and yesterdays,

Are the blocks with which we build.11

Nothing enduring can be built without a pattern or a plan. We must have purpose and direction in our building. What is the great plan by which we shape our lives? We, as Relief Society sisters, know the answer, for it is to know and to do the will of our Heavenly Father. “God,” in the words of Tolstoy, “is he without whom we cannot live.”12

Our time, our energy, and our means are limited, so we are of necessity confronted with the responsibility of making choices. How necessary it is, therefore, that we develop a pattern of life containing imperishable values and that we build them into the structure of our individual lives.

May I suggest some of the eternal qualities for which we must strive. They are sincere and abiding faith, prayer, interest in and love for our fellow men, and sincere devotion to our Heavenly Father’s plan for the achievement of eternal life.

Faith is that which gives you vision to carry on and confidence in ultimate success, even in the face of personal discouragement. It is well to recall the story of Marie Curie.13 How she worked or struggled, and went on and on, not letting any adversity defeat her in her plan, for she had faith; she knew that someday the goal for which she was working would be achieved.

In First Nephi, seventeenth chapter, we learn that Nephi was commanded to build a great ship. His brothers ridiculed him and laughed at him and called him fool, but he stood up before them and said: “If God had commanded me to do all things, I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.”14

Such implicit faith.

Through faith we have the power to be selective, to know the wheat from the chaff. It was this kind of faith that made it possible for our pioneer forefathers to give up everything of a material nature and to turn to religion, and then to build this great western empire of ours.

In speaking of faith, I enjoy thinking back over the years to the faith possessed by my father and mother. One of our little brothers was taken suddenly ill. My father was not at home, but mother called her seven other children into that room where he was lying ill and we all knelt around his bed.15 I do not now remember the words that mother spoke, but I do remember the feeling that was there, for she spoke to our Heavenly Father as if he were really present with us, and not one of us had a doubt but that mother’s prayer would be answered, and it was, for that same evening our little brother was up again and playing with us.

Blessed indeed is the home, blessed are the children, who have parents with such implicit faith, the kind of faith that lifts us over the discouraging experiences of life, the kind of faith that enables us to project ourselves toward eternal goals and to see life’s experiences in their eternal setting.

There is no more important element in building faith than prayer. It is the means of getting closer to God, and through this medium we learn his will. Do we always, though, say meaningful prayers, or are they a matter of habit and routine with us? The prayers that will enrich our souls and give us new vision and faith are the prayers through which we open our souls completely to God, with a faith and confidence that he will give us strength to face and overcome the things that are keeping us from achieving true spiritual growth, which is the destiny of all God’s children, particularly each Latter-day Saint, who are entitled, if they live righteously, to the direction of the Holy Spirit.

An elder in the Uruguayan Mission recently told of a visit he had with an elderly Spanish couple. At their first meeting he told them of his being able to express his inner feelings and his ideas to God each time it was his turn to take part in family prayer. These people had only been able in their church to say a memorized prayer and one that they did not understand. They became very interested through this conversation and in a very short time were baptized members of our church.

Faith and prayer, however, cannot function in our lives in an effective way merely as abstract principles. In James we are told that faith without works is dead.16 We must, therefore, reflect our faith in our service and love for our fellow men. The Savior himself said: “He that has served his fellow men has served his Heavenly Father.”17 One of the greatest statements in the Bible concerning the Savior is that he went around doing good.18

When service is mentioned, we are prone to cast about for an opportunity to serve in some big way in remote places. Our tendency is to forget the acres of diamonds lying around our own doors, in the same community or on the same block—or, perhaps, in our same households are those who are discouraged and impoverished for the want of words of love and words of hope.19 There are those who are spiritually sick as well as those who are mentally and physically ill. On the whole, our fields of service lie within those acres about our own homes.

Two visiting teachers on one of their visits found a sister crushed with grief. She had passed through great sorrow, and she had lost faith in herself and faith in God. This afflicted sister had passed through a great deal, and these visiting teachers had a newly found interest in this unfortunate sister. They visited her often. They knew that they must in some way create an interest for living within that sister’s heart. They must also rekindle within her a love for her God and faith in herself. This was accomplished, and this is only one example of true love and service that comes from our visiting teaching. There are thousands of such cases where people have been helped within our own Relief Society organization.

We must remember that no one ever finds life worth living. It has to be made worth living.

The true meaning of love is given to us in the 11th chapter of First Nephi, 21st to 23rd verses. The angel was speaking to Nephi and he said:

“Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.”

Latter-day Saints have a marvelous concept of the meaning and necessity of growth through acquisition of knowledge. In the 18th and 19th verses of the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.”

How can we then cultivate knowledge and intelligence in our quest for eternal life? First, we must awaken within us the need for growth, and then we shall find the means and the opportunity for development.

When Michael Pupin, the great inventor, was leaving his home in Hungary for America, his mother said to him—she was blind because she could not read and write, and said she: “My boy, if you wish to go out into the world you must provide yourself with another pair of eyes, the eyes of reading and writing. There is so much wonderful knowledge and learning in the world which you cannot get unless you study.” And then she concluded by saying: “Knowledge is the golden ladder over which we climb to heaven.”20

We not only gain knowledge through the study of great books, but through prayer we also find ways and means of development. Let us not waste time.

Benjamin Franklin said: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is what life is made of.”21

One often hears this expression: “If I just had time to do this or that,” but we overlook what can be accomplished by small snatches of time. The late Charles W. Eliot of Harvard compiled the Harvard Classics as an answer to his claim that anyone could become well educated by spending fifteen minutes a day in intelligent study.22

Be ever alert to your opportunities. Study. Seek good companions. Insist upon filling your life with eternal riches. You have a great birthright. You live in a land choice above all others.23 You have accepted as a pattern of life the gospel of Jesus Christ. Your opportunities are unbounded, but only you can fashion your individual lives into glorious eternal mansions.

May God bless all of us that we may get the vision necessary to see life at its best, and give us the strength to live according to an eternal pattern, is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus, amen.

  1. Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 26, 1946–1947, Nov. 13, 1946, 137–138, CHL.

  2. Maurine C. Neilsen, “Mary Jacobs Wilson Called to General Board,” Relief Society Magazine 34, no. 1 (Jan. 1947): 23.

  3. Mary and David married on May 31, 1916. (“Death: Mary J. Wilson,” Deseret News, May 31, 1990.)

  4. Neilsen, “Mary Jacobs Wilson Called to General Board,” 24.

  5. Neilsen, “Mary Jacobs Wilson Called to General Board,” 23.

  6. Relief Society Magazine 34, no. 1 (Jan. 1947): masthead.

  7. Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 26, 1946–1947, Dec. 11, 1946, 155, and list of general board standing committees, 169, 403–404; vol. 27, 1948–1949, Oct. 5 and Nov. 9, 1949, 340, 365, and list of standing committees, 211–212, 401–402. The 1948–1949 minutes also contain an early family hour pamphlet; see page 30a. Family hour was renamed family home evening around 1965. (Matthew O. Richardson, “Family Home Evening,” in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, ed. Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000], 360–361.)

  8. Relief Society General Board Minutes, Jan. 5, 1949, 224.

  9. Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988), xviii–xx; Robert J. Norrell, The House I Live In: Race in the American Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 162–186.

  10. The first line of the original reads, “Heaven is not reached by a single bound.” (Josiah G. Holland, “Step by Step,” in Hymns for All Christians, comp. Charles F. Deems and Phoebe Cary [New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1869], 195.)

  11. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Builders,” in The Seaside and the Fireside (Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1850), 56.

  12. Another early-twentieth-century translation renders the line thus: “He is that without which one cannot live.” (Leo Tolstoy, My Confession: Critique of Dogmatic Theology, trans. Leo Wiener [Boston: Dana Estes, 1904], 69.)

  13. Marie Curie made crucial theoretical breakthroughs in her studies of radioactivity, a term she coined. Her work resulted in the isolation of two new elements, polonium and radium. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics with Henri Becquerel and Pierre Curie, her husband. The Nobel committee also awarded her a prize for chemistry in 1911. (Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Marie Curie: A Biography [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004], ix–xiii.)

  14. 1 Nephi 17:50.

  15. Wilson’s parents were Emma Rigby and Henry Charitan Jacobs. (Neilsen, “Mary Jacobs Wilson Called to the General Board,” 23.)

  16. James 2:26.

  17. See Mosiah 2:17; and Matthew 25:40.

  18. See Acts 10:38.

  19. “Acres of diamonds” refers to a famous speech in which Russell H. Conwell told of numerous enterprising men who sold their homes and land in search of wealth elsewhere, only to learn that the land they sold had been worth millions because of the oil, or gold, or diamonds they had failed to recognize in their own backyards. This speech, one of the most popular in American history, was a seminal work in the prosperity gospel tradition. Conwell repeated it thousands of times throughout his life. (Agnes Rush Burr, Russell H. Conwell and His Work: One Man’s Interpretation of Life [Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1917], 313.)

  20. Michael Pupin, “From Immigrant to Inventor,” Scribner’s Magazine 72, no. 3 (Sept. 1922): 264. The original quote reads, “My boy, if you wish to go out into the world about which you heard so much at the neighborhood gatherings, you must provide yourself with another pair of eyes; the eyes of reading and writing. There is so much wonderful knowledge and learning in the world which you cannot get unless you can read and write.”

  21. Benjamin Franklin reworded common sayings and then published them in Poor Richard’s Almanack. This saying is from Richard Saunders, Poor Richard, 1746: An Almanack for the Year of Christ 1746, June 1746. (J. A. Leo Lemay, The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 2: Printer and Publisher, 1730–1747 [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006], 194.)

  22. Charles William Eliot began publishing a fifty-volume library of world literature, the Harvard Classics, in 1909, toward the end of his tenure as president of Harvard. Eliot believed that anyone who could read these classics for fifteen minutes a day would have a sound substitute for a liberal education. (John T. Bethell, Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998], 41.)

  23. See 1 Nephi 2:20; and 2 Nephi 1:5.