Filling Your ‘Empty Bucket’
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“Filling Your ‘Empty Bucket’” Ensign, Apr. 1991, 42

Filling Your “Empty Bucket”

LDS women tell how they replenish their spiritual reserves.

Phyllis Peterson of Lindon, Utah, once mentioned to a friend that her children seemed to quarrel all day while they were with her. But when their father came home, there was instant peace. “Maybe the problem is me,” she said—and her words hit like lightning.

As Sister Peterson thought about areas in which she might need to improve, she recalled that Marion G. Romney, who served as a Counselor in the First Presidency, had said if parents would read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, the spirit of contention would depart from their home. (See Ensign, May 1980, p. 67.) Though the Petersons had been reading the scriptures as a family and Brother Peterson read regularly, Sister Peterson had let her personal study slide. “I determined then to change,” she says. “And within a week, the children started getting along better. Why? I found that I was calm and could better reason with them.”

Like Sister Peterson, Latter-day Saint women the world over say that family life goes more smoothly and that they can better weather ups and downs when their spiritual energy is high. But how does a woman build spiritual reserves when she has so many other demands on her time?

When the Ensign asked this question, 160 women from 33 states in the U.S. and 5 other countries responded. They told us the only way to keep spiritually fit is through personal commitment to gospel principles and through constant effort. Specific suggestions from a few of their letters follow.

Make Spiritual Growth a Priority

“I have discovered that you don’t ‘find time’ for anything,” writes Janet E. Buck of Loveland, Colorado. “You make time. This is especially true when speaking of spiritual nourishment. Often we do not recognize our spiritual hunger pangs for what they really are. We give them other labels: discouragement, depression, anger, resentment, loneliness, self-pity. Yet these are all indications of spiritual starvation.”

Julianne Anderson of North Logan, Utah, remembers a time when she wanted to replenish her reserves but didn’t know when she could do it. As she pleaded with the Lord, she remembered the words: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.) Was it possible that God could take care of the wash, the homework, the fussy baby?

As she prayed, the answer came: yes, he could help. “I studied more in a few months than I had in many years,” Sister Anderson remembers. “At the same time, I found that I could do more work in less time. The baby fussed less when I sat down to read, the children seemed more cooperative. Probably many other things happened for which I have not given the Lord credit.”

“Finding time for spiritual growth in my life is not much different than finding time for other activities,” writes Karen Freeman of Colesville, Maryland. “I just put it on the list, right along with trimming the shrubs and making PTA phone calls.” Janene Hansen of Gresham, Oregon, evaluates the real importance of a task before she does it. She asks herself, “Will this be important tomorrow? Next year? Eternally?” And Linda Sue Allen of Mesa, Arizona, takes her “to do” list to the Lord each day. “The Lord will direct us in all things if we will allow it,” she says.

Probably the most important skill for making spiritual growth a priority is being realistic. It’s also the hardest to learn. “When I was an athlete running for distance, I learned that I must go slower and take longer but fewer steps if I wanted to make it to the finish line,” says Toni Thomas, of Santee, California. “I have applied this principle to my life by doing less, but improving the quality of each action. I attempt to read fewer scriptures, but ponder them more; we have fewer extracurricular activities for the children, but teach them to excel and focus on those few. I adjust my temporal desires so that they do not smother my spiritual needs.”

Schedule Time for Yourself

“We have no qualms about scheduling our lives to accommodate our family’s obligations of lessons, meals, meetings—or even our own obligations,” says Louise Brown of Logan, Utah. “But we would sooner excuse ourselves from an activity by saying ‘I have an appointment with the hairdresser’ than by saying ‘That’s the hour I have set aside to spend on myself.’ We need to see ourselves as deserving (and needing) solitude and regeneration to replace the energy we so freely give away.”

To ensure that she makes herself a priority, Marilee P. Gallacher of Gilbert, Arizona, schedules time for herself in her planner each day. Annette S. Hill of Missoula, Montana, finds that taking a three-hour block of time once a week works better for her, even though it means that she has to set some tasks aside until later and that some things simply don’t get done.

When she first began, she spent her hours reading scriptures—and loved it so much that she made it part of her daily routine. Now she visits museums, reads, walks, sleeps, does needlework, talks with friends, works on family history, and practices the piano during the time she sets aside each week.

SuZann Lund of Idaho Falls, Idaho, realized that when she was enrolled in a class, it was easy to arrange the family’s schedule around the night she would be gone. So now she goes to “a class” once a week for two hours. She leaves the house and does something “uplifting and relaxing,” such as working on her Pursuit of Excellence goals or catching up on reading.

Go to the Source

“The best place to find spiritual renewal is at the source—and prayer is the key,” writes Janet Lammers, of London, Ontario. “In prayer we can find the Spirit, which will sustain us in all areas of our lives. It is a flexible ‘anywhere, anytime’ tool that needs only a sincere heart to make it work.”

“Isn’t it wonderful how Heavenly Father knows if we will need help with patience on one day, physical strength on another day, and maybe just peace of mind on another?” asks Jennifer Sant of Sandy, Utah. Sister Sant has found that she must pray at least night and morning to receive the guidance she needs in rearing her children. And if she needs answers from Heavenly Father right away, she has her children quietly join with her in prayer.

Charlee Diane Sandell, who lives in Sequim, Washington, starts every day by praying for opportunities to develop her relationship with the Lord and with those around her and to bring the Holy Spirit into her life. “We need to be on the lookout for blessings God presents to us,” she says. “For instance, he may introduce us to a new friend to whom we can show Christlike love. He may make the flowers seem a bit more colorful or the sun a bit brighter so we can learn appreciation for our blessings.”

Keeping a prayer in your heart throughout the day is essential, too. “I was frustrated when I began spending less and less time drawing close to Heavenly Father because I was on call to my family twenty-four hours a day,” recalls Carol Tuttle of Danville, California. “But surely Heavenly Father knew each day was chopped up into small chunks of time. Maybe he could teach me in the middle of the lively events of my days! The Savior taught Peter out in a boat; Zacchaeus was in a tree; and Christ taught two men on the road to Emmaus as they walked. Wouldn’t Heavenly Father do the same with me? I could talk to him while I folded clean laundry, peeled carrots, or drove the car. He could help me as I rocked a crying child or soothed a pain.”

Feast on the Word

“As I found myself getting lost in the mass of priorities, I turned to my Father in Heaven for help,” writes Eva Laurent, of Elk Grove, California, a single mother of six children. “What I wanted was actual physical help—another pair of hands, a strong back, a cognitive mind. What he sent me was a message: Read the Book of Mormon every day. What that book has opened up to me I still find amazing.”

When women consistently study the scriptures, it can change not only their perspective but also the way they deal with problems. At the end of an especially tiring day, Susan Wyman of Canton, Georgia, was preparing dinner while balancing her baby on her hip and trying to entertain her active three-year-old. In the midst of the confusion, her toddler pulled a carton off the counter, splattering eggs all over the newly scrubbed floor. Sister Canton says her normal reaction would have been anger—but this time she noticed the shock and remorse on her son’s face. She knew that he had not made the mess intentionally. She was able to calmly clean up and cope with his awkward attempts to help.

“Even as I did this,” she remembers, “I wondered where my patience had come from. The Spirit let me know that it was because I had risen that morning and studied the scriptures.”

But how do busy women study? Lori R. Gibbs of Corvallis, Oregon, has a goal to read from the scriptures every day. On some days she reads a chapter or more, on others just a verse or two. But as she continues, her spirituality and thirst for knowledge increase—and that greater desire has helped her “find” time to study the gospel.

Other women read for a few minutes each day. “Missing ten to fifteen minutes of sleep in a twenty-four hour period isn’t going to make much difference in my physical well-being, but it can make a world of difference in my spiritual well-being if I spend it in study,” writes Lisa Newman of Salt Lake City. “Those minutes make me a more cheerful and patient wife and mother.”

And the Lord can help a woman follow through on her commitment. When Loretta Doll of Boynton Beach, Florida, decided to put other duties second to scripture study, “a miracle took place,” she remembers. “I was baby-sitting ten children at the time, and they all took two-hour naps at the same time each day!”

Be the Lord’s Instrument

“In reviewing my own experiences,” says Geneva Smith of Tacoma, Washington, “I find that the spiritual highs were not planned. They came unexpectedly while I was serving family, church, and community.” When she was assigned to visit teach a sister who had cancer, Sister Smith sat with her in the hospital every other day for six weeks. “I thought I knew and loved this sister already, but I soon realized I had only begun to scratch the surface,” Sister Smith remembers. “As I massaged her legs, combed her hair, and bathed her pain-wracked body, I began to really love this sister. In giving of myself, my cup was filled to overflowing.”

Janet MacLennan of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, agrees. “As I give time to a neighbor or to a ward sister and really listen as she shares a hurt or a concern, I am more able to ‘see as the Lord seeth,’ and I receive an outpouring of Christlike love which, to me, is the greatest spiritual reserve one can have.”

As a ward Relief Society president in Las Vegas, Nevada, Marcie Thomas heard many stories of ways sisters had been blessed by a phone call, a visit, or a note from another sister in the ward. Later, as Sister Thomas would express her gratitude to the sisters who had acted so compassionately, “I could tell they felt special to be able to help someone feel better about her circumstances,” she recalls. “But even more fulfilling was the knowledge that Heavenly Father knew them and trusted them to be his instruments.”

Serving one’s family can be a great source of spiritual renewal. Ann Hoffmire Riding of Salt Lake City writes, “I have the opportunity to care for the beautiful children of our Father in Heaven. As I tend to their needs of food and shelter and give them comfort and love, I am grateful to my Father in Heaven for the chance to serve him as a mother.”

Make the Most of Church Callings

“Visiting teaching is the key to my spirituality,” reports Debbie Osborn of Anchorage, Alaska. “It gives me the opportunity to be spiritually tuned in toward another’s welfare—and I can do that only by growing myself. Even though I use the monthly visiting teaching message, I do not give exactly the same lesson to any of the women I visit, so I have to think about them day after day during the month to sense what they really need.”

Learning to rely on the Lord in Church callings can bring the Spirit in abundance. Rachel Murdock, a Primary president in American Fork, Utah, found that when she needed to recommend someone to fill a vacant position in the Primary, she often simply submitted the name of the person who had most recently been released from a calling in another organization or who had just moved into the ward. But now she prays about each calling. “I don’t know that the results have been any different,” she says, “but I have given myself the opportunity to receive confirmation from the Spirit that the choice is acceptable to Heavenly Father.”

“Being a Primary worker has helped to bring me spiritual strength,” says Joan W. Katz of Chino, California. “I have developed a sincere desire to teach the children the gospel. So I started to read the next week’s lesson on Sunday evenings, and I sometimes practice on my family during home evening. My testimony has grown as I have taught the gospel’s simple truths to God’s children.”

Leadership meetings, too, can be a source of nourishment. “When I attend those meetings, I gain spiritual guidance I could not have had alone,” says Nora Humphreys of Simi Valley, California. “There I can learn from the example of spiritual people.”

Exercise Body and Soul

“As I mature, I realize that a strong bond exists between our bodies and our spirits,” writes Mary Ellen Flake of Gilbert, Arizona. “If the body isn’t working well, it is all the more difficult for the spirit to rule over it.”

When a doctor advised Kay Salveson of Nibley, Utah, to exercise as a treatment for her frequent stress headaches, she couldn’t imagine how she would be able to do it with little time or money. In desperation, she got an old stationary bike and pedaled while her children watched “Sesame Street.” It worked. Now Sister Salveson takes brisk walks for exercise. “As I take in the view, I am uplifted by the magical changing seasons and I am humbled by God’s beautiful creations surrounding me, which seem to put everything back into perspective,” she says. “Some people say they walk off pounds. That is true—but I also walk off problems and discouragement.”

While she is exercising, Sherry Mackay of Cody, Wyoming, pours out her heart to Heavenly Father, then listens for the Spirit to direct her. “My spiritual level has grown, my understanding of spiritual matters has increased, and along with the reading that I do, my knowledge of gospel principles has also increased.”

Recognize the Spiritual Things You Do Every Day

“The more I review my daily activities, the more I realize that I need to attune my spiritual eyes and ears to the experiences of everyday life,” writes Marion Allen of Southampton, England. She remembers a time when, as part of their floral decorating business, she and a friend who is also a Latter-day Saint were cleaning silk foliage in a disco. In the middle of an exciting sharing of gospel concepts, they realized the incongruity of their discussion and their surroundings. “We exploded into laughter as we pictured others’ possible misconceptions of our ‘Babylonian’ activities—missing entirely the fact that spiritual strength can be nurtured in the most unlikely environment!”

Michelle Brumm Oliver of Wheeling, West Virginia, had a similar experience in her garden. “I was murmuring about the heat, the humidity, the weeds, the bugs, and the lack of a ‘bountiful harvest,’” she says. “I began to wonder why all this was necessary—I certainly wasn’t going to preserve enough food to make all this effort worthwhile. At that moment, a merciful and loving Father heard my cries. The veil thinned, and the plan of self-sufficiency became clear for me. Though I was still dirty and uncomfortable, I was at peace; I continued my work with assurance that it was indeed worth all my efforts.”

In spite of the obstacles, Latter-day Saint women agree that making time to grow spiritually is worth the effort. “By taking extra minutes to do things in relation to the teachings of Jesus Christ, I find the strength to get through the daily trials—and even the occasional more difficult ones,” says Barbara Stockwell of Springfield, Oregon. “As I continue to turn to the Lord, each problem becomes a little easier to face because my faith becomes stronger.”


A woman who is trying to nurture herself spiritually needs help from others—particularly her family. “Perhaps many families need to reconsider the role of the woman in the home,” writes Janene Hansen of Gresham, Oregon. “If everyone helps around the house, I have time to do something other than dishes.”

Spending time with a spouse in spiritual pursuits is also helpful. Sherielee Quilter and her husband, Karl, of Salt Lake City, walk and talk about their feelings and ideas each night. Other couples set aside time to read the scriptures or books like Jesus the Christ or spend their weekly date night attending an institute class, a Know Your Religion lecture, or a temple session.

Women can also encourage each other’s growth. Melanee Webster of Cheshire, Connecticut, and four of her friends decided to study the Book of Mormon together. Each week they read seven chapters, then meet on Wednesdays for a discussion.

In the Auburn Washington Third Ward, says Gaylyn Shoemaker, after sisters finish reading the current conference issue of the Ensign, they reward themselves with a potluck luncheon or dessert party.

A group of sisters in the Las Vegas Morning Sun Ward exchange baby-sitting and take turns getting away during the day. “Sometimes you can get a spiritual boost just from knowing you have helped another sister refill her well,” says ward member Tami L. Bradley.

But women don’t need to wait for group efforts to support one another—individual efforts are just as effective. For example, Dawn E. Rider of Caldwell, Idaho, schedules a temple day with a friend once every three weeks. When they have an appointment with each other, they are less likely to put off the trip.

“We need to spend more time fellowshipping with other sisters,” says Ruth Roberts of Atlanta, Georgia. “Several weeks ago I was feeling overwhelmed, so I called a friend and asked if I could come over. We ended up talking, laughing, and crying for more than three hours. What a spiritual uplift! If you talk with other sisters, you realize you’re not alone in your feelings and problems.”

Spiritual Snacks

“I once had a bishop who compared the partaking of spiritual food to his daily eating habits—three meals a day with lots of snacking in between!” says Sue Hodgson of Ferguson, Missouri. “While I need my regular meals of prayer and scripture study, I know that ‘snacking’ definitely improves my spiritual strength.”

Many women agree; they have found ways to fit spiritual moments into daily routine. Following are some of their suggestions:

  • Listen to audiotapes of scriptures, general conference talks, firesides, and inspirational music while you dress, work in the house or yard, drive, or exercise.

  • Watch Church videos, videotapes of general conference, or rebroadcasts of firesides and talks as you iron or do other stationary chores.

  • Think about your patriarchal blessing or a spiritual experience you have had or heard about, or have a gospel discussion with your children or spouse.

  • Sing, hum, or recite hymns or Primary songs. Learn new ones as well as rehearsing old favorites. Use hymns as lullabies.

  • Post selected scriptures and quotes from conference talks and Relief Society lessons on the refrigerator, above the kitchen sink, on the bathroom mirror.

  • Memorize a scripture, then call it to mind several times during the day. Think of ways you can apply it to your life.

  • Display the New Era magazine’s Mormonads or other gospel-oriented pictures.

  • Play uplifting music.

  • Look for specific ways the Lord helps you each day. Express your gratitude to him in prayer.

  • Ponder while driving, exercising, showering, doing chores, or waiting. Pray beforehand that your mind will be open to the Spirit.

  • Keep a book of scripture or a Church magazine in your purse so you can read while waiting to see the doctor or pick up children or while traveling by car, train, or bus. If other family members or friends are with you, read aloud and discuss what you are learning.

  • Read while nursing the baby. Take a few minutes to pray before you return to bed or finish your chores.

  • Instead of working while young children are asleep or are doing their homework, use the time for gospel study.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to bear your testimony often.

Illustrated by Beth Maryon Whittaker