“New Lamps for Old,” Ensign, Apr. 1976, 67
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was writing in America during the period that the Relief Society was organized, composed these words:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time. …
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labour and to wait.
“A Psalm of Life,” One Hundred and One Famous Poems, Chicago: Reilly and Lee, 1958, p. 123.
The footprints of all those who have gone before us in this great Relief Society work have left a clear path guiding our way. We are grateful for their vision, their faith, and their good works. And now as this final general Relief Society conference draws swiftly to a close, we must be “up and doing.”
As I have traveled about the world this year, from Europe to the Orient, and as I have come back to Salt Lake City, I have been made aware that no matter where we live, God has created a world of much beauty. We should each, now and then, stand still and contemplate his wondrous works; perhaps in so doing we will begin to see life in its eternal perspective.
It is told of the composer Haydn that he walked in the fields near his home one day, and when he went back to his piano, he began the creation of his mighty oratorio. As he finished the last notes, he declared, “There it is; it is my response to the wondrous creations of God.”
So I have felt as I have traveled among you in your homelands and through the states of my own land. We live in a beautiful, exciting world and, like Haydn, we should be responding to it by “doing,” “achieving,” “pursuing,” and “creating” in our own lives.
Many of you remember the story of Aladdin and his wondrous lamp. It was old and tarnished, but had the magical power to make his every wish come true. One day someone realized the power within the lamp and conceived of a way to obtain it. He dressed as a peddler, walked by Aladdin’s home calling out in a loud voice, “New lamps for old, new lamps for old!” Tempted by the appealing offer, Aladdin’s wife seized the opportunity and chose to trade the old lamp for a new lamp of momentary brilliance.
During this past year, hundreds of pieces of mail have come to my desk from all parts of the world. Some are statements of platforms about new goals for women; some are cries for help from individual sisters who do not understand clearly what the Lord expects of them; a few are angry statements from sisters who have been hurt or treated unfairly; some are questions about the role of women in today’s world. Wouldn’t it be unfortunate if these women—like Aladdin’s wife—were deceived, and chose to trade eternal blessings for momentary satisfactions?
I am becoming increasingly aware of the need to consider problems facing women today in the light of gospel principles. It seems to me that the concerns of women fall largely into three main categories: self-fulfillment, issues of home and family, and issues of community and society improvement.
In each of these areas, the Latter-day Saint woman has already received wise counsel either in the scriptures or through the words of prophets of the Lord.
In the area of self-fulfillment, she is commanded to love the Lord with all her might, mind, and strength. There is no enticement of modern living that should replace this personal, fundamental relationship.
Next, she should love her fellowmen as she loves herself. As Robert Southwell said, “Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live.” She should realize that she is a daughter of God and is here in mortality to obtain a physical body and to give the opportunity of life to others, to nurture others, and to learn to live according to eternal principles that lead to exaltation. Such an understanding gives her both self-esteem and purpose.
She should develop her talents—all gifts, capabilities, and potentials—fully. The Lord will not be pleased until each sister responds by caring and giving her best.
She should experience that dimension of growth that can come only from giving liberally to the building of the kingdom of God on earth—a kingdom that should include all God’s children.
She should choose marriage and a family when and if the right opportunity presents itself, knowing that a family provides the best laboratory in mortal existence for developing Christlike qualities.
She should realize that marriage and a family are eternal commitments that require a joyful exertion to build strong marital ties and healthy family relationships with husband and children, parents and relatives.
She should accept the fact that every right brings with it responsibilities.
She should take responsibility for decisions and reject any counsel that suggests the doctrine of selfish personal gratification at the expense of one’s personal exaltation, or one’s children, husband, or other close associates.
She should realize that, married or single, she should seek those opportunities that will allow her to grow to be worthy of eternal life.
She should make a plan for an adequate life span within the scope of the gospel, and then prepare herself in whatever ways are necessary in order to successfully meet the changing demands life will bring to her. For example, the years before and after child rearing should be productive. If she is left as a single head of a family, she should take advantage of the many good resources available through Church programs.
She should evaluate the needs and/or reasons for gainful employment and be sure that her children are not neglected before she and her husband decide she should enter or reenter the labor force.
She must understand that she cannot be independent from life. She should accept and learn with willingness the lessons of life; there is something to learn from everyone and from every experience she has. Sterling W. Sill explains this in his book, The Laws of Success. (Deseret Book Co., 1975, p. 139.) He says:
He who loves me teaches me tenderness,
He who hates me teaches me caution,
And he who is indifferent to me
Teaches me self-reliance.
A Latter-day Saint woman has been given specific counsel from the Lord in the second area of concern, that regarding her home and family. She should remember that God has established the family as the basic unit of society here, one which continues in the eternities; therefore, she should do all in her power to maintain that God-given pattern of family life.
She should, with her husband, train their children effectively, realizing that parenting should be done with love and great care and that it is never permissible behavior to allow one’s children to run wild—undisciplined and uncared for.
She should have reverence for human life, which means she will understand that:
a) there should be no abortion except when the mother’s life is endangered or in the case of rape;
b) there should be no sexual promiscuity;
c) there should be chastity before marriage and fidelity after; and
d) there must be wisdom used in decisions concerning multiplying and replenishing the earth.
She should understand and practice the Lord’s counsel that men and women have separate but equally valid roles in society and that they are companion and supportive roles. In these roles, husbands and fathers are given a directing role, and men and women reason together and counsel with one another on family problems so that when decisions are made there is harmony in the home between parents. The principle applies also with children in the home.
She should recognize that each home is entitled to and should receive the blessings of priesthood leadership. She should encourage her husband and sons who hold the priesthood to honor it, magnify their callings, and use the priesthood righteously for the blessing of their family and the Church.
She should realize that both men and women are counseled to set the family as their top priority as decisions are made and individual patterns of family life established. She should remember that to bring children into life is both a privilege and a responsibility of marriage, for it allows eternal spirits the opportunity for agency in mortality.
She should be self-reliant but when necessary seek help from the proper Church authority in case hers is a single-parent family.
With the issues of community and society improvement, the Latter-day Saint woman is asked to be actively involved in learning about her community and the culture in which she lives.
She should be aware and concerned about problems that exist and be actively involved in the solution of such problems, either through volunteer service or through legislative action. She should be aware of global problems and creatively concerned about ways to be meaningfully involved.
She should support those programs that will ensure men and women protection under the law for themselves and according to their special needs. She should favor fairness and actively support legislative action that will help correct specific problems. Relief Society from its beginning has taught women:
a) to assist in correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of community life,
b) to raise human life to its highest level, and
c) to elevate and enlarge the scope of women’s activities and conditions.
In support of such specific counsel, perhaps the most significant thing I can say to Latter-day Saint women is that today there is a light given us by the Lord. It is the same light that he gave yesterday and that he will give forever. It is meaningful; it is powerful. It will give direction to make every dream of eternity come true. But one has to choose to keep it or, as Aladdin’s wife foolishly did, trade it away. The ultimate responsibility for living lives in accord with that heavenly light rests with each of us. What we say and do is by our own choice. We cannot shift the responsibility for our actions to anyone else—to our friends because they are more capable, to our children because they make us tired or because they have greater opportunity than we had, to our husbands because they hold the priesthood, to our bishops because they preside over our wards, to our prophet because he is the mouthpiece of the Lord, or to the problems of our existence because they are difficult or weighty or seem overwhelming. Ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness. It is our attitude, our acceptance, our intelligent understanding that make the difference.
I know a beautiful young woman who was seriously injured in an automobile accident while serving a mission for the Church. Many in similar situations have become filled with bitterness and reproach as they found themselves paralyzed from the neck down, but Becky is full of hope, determination, and even understanding. Oh, I’m sure there are many days of despair, discouragement, and heartache along with the pain, but the major part of the time she is courageous and happy. Countless friends, acquaintances, and family members are strengthened by her great faith and indomitable spirit.
Becky has weighty problems and concerns. But she knows, by the light of the gospel, that she came into this life a free agent, and she accepts her problems and seeks satisfactory solutions. So should we. We came into this life with the power to act for ourselves, and that we must do, because the Lord will know our hearts. We must determine if we earnestly wish to be engaged with him in the work of the eternities, which extends far beyond this sphere of action. I know that as women receive the light of the gospel, they will have the knowledge and intelligence needed when decisions, problems, concerns, and voices cry out loudly, “New lamps for old!”
I was impressed by a poem entitled “Woman Talk,” by Lois Wyse, and would like to share it with you today.
Does it have to be this way?
Do we really have to accept
The mediocrity around us?
I’m sick of excusing bad manners,
and every kind of evil
With a bland “But everybody does it.”
It just isn’t true.
“Everybody” isn’t everybody.
I still want to be me.
I don’t want to accept
From third-rate moralists.
Somewhere out of the confusion
of the life that was
And the life that is,
I want to pick up the pieces
and build a suitable me.
And if one soul awakens,
Is not the whole world strengthened?
The whole world is strengthened by each good woman. Every Latter-day Saint woman should attend Relief Society and become strengthened. I am grateful for the organization of Relief Society, for the women of the Church, and for the words of promise by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said, “I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord … and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth.” (The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4:607.) I continually witness the fulfillment of these prophetic words in the lives of women of the Church throughout the world, who realize their souls can be awakened and the whole world strengthened as they accept this divine gift.
I am grateful for our beloved prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, who declares with all the prophets of former days that we should be obedient to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. I rejoice in the age-old counsel given by the Lord, knowing that we will be prepared if we are up and doing, achieving, and pursuing those things that will bring us everlasting joy just as they did the five wise virgins in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. Ten virgins went forth with lamps to meet the bridegroom, but five were unprepared to use their lamps when the time came because they had no oil with which to keep them burning. The five wise virgins, however, had the oil and were able to rise at the proper time, trim their lamps, and go forth, prepared for the opportunities that were presented to them.
I realize that as women we must have knowledge so that we may recognize the things of great worth and not be deceived. We must also be intelligent and live each day in such a way that we prepare for that which is to come.
In the 33rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read:
“Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom.” (D&C 33:17.)
In these critical days, when new lamps for old are offered, take the responsibility for your own actions with intelligence; unlock all the treasures of heaven and the powers of God to bless you and your family. Be an instrument in his hands to help solve those age-old problems with which humanity struggles. Wisely choose Him and proclaim:
“The Lord is my light; then why should I fear?
By day and by night his presence is near.
He is my salvation from sorrow and sin;
This blessed assurance the Spirit doth bring.”
Hymns, no. 103.
I humbly bear testimony that he is “the light and the life of the world.” (D&C 34:2.)
I pray that we may follow in his footsteps and make our lives sublime, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.