“A Sanctuary of Friends: Sisterhood and Testimony,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 12
Every Sunday for the past several years I have entered a sanctuary of close friends, a routine that I warmly anticipate. I know that when I join my sisters in Relief Society there will be a feeling of trust and closeness, a warm hug, and a word of love and encouragement. When I leave that sacred hour with them, my testimony will have grown from their teaching and their example.
I remember my feelings of awe when I first joined Relief Society as a young woman living with my parents in London, England. Since I was past the age of formal schooling for that country and because the Korean War had depleted the missionary force, my wise father, as mission president, set me apart to serve as his personal secretary for the duration of his assignment. I also worked closely with my mother in her calling as mission Relief Society president. I saw firsthand how this compassionate, testimony-building organization functioned, and, even though I was much younger than most Relief Society members, I felt the sisterhood Relief Society provides.
The subsequent thirty-five years of attending weekly Relief Society meetings have indelibly marked my life. Daily I am reminded of the feelings of unity that come about from the regular sharing of tears and joys, from talking and discussing as we seek answers to every subject from weight control to child rearing, quiltmaking to bread baking, learning truth to building faith.
One Sunday as I entered the Relief Society room I realized more clearly than ever before that these women are indeed my sisters; we have lived as friends and neighbors for a quarter century, longer even than with my own natural sisters. As young mothers we served in Primary and Young Women presidencies, working out solutions as we met around the dining room table, our toddlers playing nearby. Though our ages varied and our experience came from far-flung portions of the globe, there was always a common bond that drew us together in our meetings—the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As young families in new homes we planted our lawns, flower beds, and trees. The roots of our plantings have deepened, and the foliage has matured and become a beautiful part of our surroundings. In a similar way, my sisters in Relief Society have also planted firm roots, which at times have been transferred to other places but which on any Sunday confirm for me the maturation we have experienced together.
With some of these sisters I have shared the excitement of carrying and bearing babies; we have depended on one another as we have nurtured those children. With other sisters we have been close when illnesses struck, when death took a loved one, when financial reverses caused a setback. Now as we gather in the sisterhood of Relief Society, those experiences provide a bond.
Our hair is getting grayer, and our children have grown up; some have served missions, and many have married. Several sisters have buried spouses or children, and illnesses have taken their toll. Yet we don’t need to say much to each other to express our feelings because those events are borne through our testimonies and our weekly time together. Sometimes it is the smile or the handshake or hug or tear that says all we need; our testimonies provide the strength that builds.
The backgrounds of our ward membership confirm my testimony of the universality of the gospel and Relief Society. Our ward includes attorneys, teachers, nurses, doctors, business owners, young people in their first homes, and students. Close proximity to a university has brought us two dozen single sisters who are raising their children alone while pursuing degrees in order to better provide for their families. There are wonderful elderly sisters who offer the mellow, wise goodness that enriches us. And we are blessed with families from other countries. When one sister offered the opening prayer in Relief Society in her native Spanish, it reaffirmed my testimony that the Lord loves his children worldwide.
All these women join together on Sunday for our special hour, which then carries each of us into the next week, buoying our souls because we know we are not alone in our daily challenges.
From the Relief Society lessons I have gained a love for the scriptures. Countless times Jesus Christ is the center of our discussion. Often I have to mouth the words to the hymns we are singing because as the Spirit bears strong witness to me, the lump in my throat grows.
When President Spencer W. Kimball asked members to use their weekday time formerly spent in the auxiliary organization meetings to serve others, several sisters chose to attend temple sessions and give volunteer service in the community. Carpooling has fostered a camaraderie, and each of us has been personally blessed as we have hearkened to his counsel. Now the pattern is set, and we appreciate his wisdom in asking us to offer Christlike, self-initiated service in hospitals, at nursing homes, in schools, at libraries, and with the homebound and lonely.
Relief Society has strengthened my testimony as I have served in assignments with the priesthood. Too often we fail to recognize the quiet opportunities we have as couples under priesthood direction. On a recent Sunday our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums were asked to administer the sacrament to Church members in the local hospital. The wives were invited to accompany their husbands, and our Relief Society experience in serving the ill helped us to reach out without hesitation to all we met.
Another time, before seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, we were driving by the Logan Temple and noticed carloads of priesthood bearers leaving the parking lot following an early morning session. The Spirit again bore witness to the support of scores of wives and families so those brethren could complete their priesthood responsibilities at the temple. Untold good comes from self-directed service, and I am always impressed with the feeling of cooperation when the priesthood and Relief Society work together as instruments in the Lord’s hands.
While lessons and assignments in Relief Society have strengthened my testimony, so also have workshops, women’s conferences, birthday dinners and brunches, homemaking meetings and outings, welfare assignments, temple attendance and visiting teaching. Through the spectrum of Relief Society activities I have found the purpose of life and the value of service.
During the many years my husband served as bishop of a student ward and later a working singles ward, I watched the growth and testimonies of countless young women. Though most of the members of those wards were living in small apartments, there was abundant evidence that principles they learned in Relief Society lessons were being lived. Cleanliness, attractiveness, and a welcome atmosphere greeted us in each home. Women who had not previously enjoyed leadership opportunities blossomed with new responsibility. As teachers and leaders, their examples had a profound impact on me. But most noticeable was the feeling of genuine caring as those sisters bore one another’s burdens, working out solutions to deep, yet common problems.
I can’t remember a time when I have driven by the beautiful Logan Temple without a feeling of gratitude for the pioneers who built that edifice in its lofty location, a reminder of the blessings of the house of the Lord. By the same token, there is rarely a day that I don’t see an opportunity for compassionate service and experience heartfelt thanks for the heritage of Relief Society which tells me often that I am a daughter of God, that I have a sacred purpose, and that I am loved and cared about by those whom I call sister through the gospel of Jesus Christ.