Lucy Mack Smith was reeling from the deaths of her sons Hyrum, Joseph, and Samuel when she began writing her history in late 1844. Committing her history to paper offered Lucy the opportunity to reflect on the great and miraculous events the Smith family witnessed in the unfolding Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ while preserving a history of the family for future generations.
This record filled in critical voids in Church history about Joseph Smith with information that only his family knew while illuminating Lucy’s maternal influence over the small yet growing Church. This article highlights episodes in Lucy’s history that demonstrate both her role in the Restoration and her faith in the power of God on her behalf.
As mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Lucy possessed a unique opportunity to witness events of the Restoration prior to the organization of the Church. Lucy recalled that after the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in September 1823, his final instruction to Joseph was to tell his father all that he had seen and heard. The following day, when Joseph was working in the field with his father and brother Alvin, Joseph paused several times and became very pale. Joseph Smith Sr., thinking that his son was ill, told him to go home to rest. As Joseph did so, he paused shortly under a tree, where Moroni appeared to him again, rebuking him for not telling his father about the visitation.
“I was afraid my father would not believe me,” Joseph said. Being reassured that his father would “believe every word,” Joseph did as the angel directed. Upon hearing Joseph’s account of the visitations, Joseph Smith Sr. “charged him not to fail of attending strictly to the instructions which he had received from the angel.”1
Joseph’s visitations and tutelage from the angel Moroni were initially kept from the public but eagerly shared within the Smith family. After the angel revealed to Joseph the location of the golden plates, Joseph related to his family the circumstances under which he found the plates and the nature of the angelic visitations. Joseph also instructed family members that because the world was wicked and would seek their lives, the family should not tell others of the work God had appointed Joseph to do until a later time. The family received the ongoing news from heaven with great joy.
The Smith family gathered nightly to hear instruction Joseph received from the Lord. Joseph described with great ease the ancient inhabitants of the American continent, including their dress, religion, methods of travel, cities and buildings, and warfare tactics. Reflecting upon these events years later, Lucy stated, “I presume we presented an aspect as singular as any family that ever lived upon the face of the earth” listening to an 18-year-old boy with “profound attention.”2
Joseph annually went to where the plates were buried and received further instruction from Moroni. However, in the excitement and temptation of potentially finding other valuable objects in the stone box, Joseph put down the plates in violation of the command God previously gave to him. Joseph was thrown violently to the ground; when he recovered, the angel Moroni was gone, and Joseph returned to the house “weeping with grief and disappointment.”3
This incident filled the Smith family with great uneasiness that Joseph might fail to get the plates due to his own negligence. “We therefore doubled our diligence in prayer and supplication to God,” Lucy recalled, “in order that he might be more fully instructed in his duty.”4 Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck the Smith family when the oldest son, Alvin, died. His deathbed instruction to Joseph was to keep the commandments God gave him and to do everything in his power to obtain the record. Joseph in time received the plates to translate.
In addition to being an early witness of the Restoration, Lucy exercised faith that was undaunted by seemingly insurmountable circumstances. After the Church was organized in April 1830, persecution stagnated Church growth in New York while the number of members increased in neighboring Ohio. By winter, a revelation commanded the Church members to “go to the Ohio” and gather with the Saints there (Doctrine and Covenants 37:1).
Lucy and several dozen Saints responded to the command of the revelation and traveled by boat on the Erie Canal to Lake Erie, then crossed the lake to Ohio. When they arrived at the banks of Lake Erie, however, the water was frozen with no foreseeable passageway. Many Saints on board the boat began to complain. Lucy rebuked them, asking, “Where is your faith? Where is your confidence in God? … Suppose that all the Saints here should raise their hearts in prayer to God that the way might be opened before us, how easy it would be for Him to cause the ice to break away so that in a moment’s time we could be on our journey.”5
After testifying of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, Lucy pleaded with the Saints to pray for the ice to be broken up so they could continue their journey. In that moment, a noise “like bursting thunder” was heard and the ice parted, leaving a narrow passage for the boat that closed no sooner than the boat had passed.6 The Saints then held a prayer meeting to thank God for His deliverance.
Lucy also exercised faith and liberally drew upon the power of God to heal her from physical affliction. While living in Kirtland, Ohio, she made a concerted effort to study the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. Then, an accident occurred in her home, where she fell down the stairs face first and severely bruised her head. Her eyes became inflamed until she went blind. The ensuing distress Lucy endured for days was indescribable. Turning to priesthood power when medical remedies had failed, Lucy called upon elders to administer to her. Instead of asking for the restoration of her sight, Lucy asked for something better. She requested that the elders ask God to not only heal her eyes but ensure she would never have to use glasses again. After the elders administered to her and removed their hands from her head, Lucy read a passage in the Book of Mormon and never wore glasses again.7
Lucy’s written witness reveals the vested interest of the Smith family in the Restoration and their willingness to plead with God on Joseph’s behalf. They cared deeply about Joseph’s role in the Restoration. Through Lucy’s words, we see a deeply human Joseph struggling to become the prophet that God wanted him to be, offering an example of the human struggle each of us faces. Lucy’s life illustrates her undeviating faith and how limitless God’s miracles can be when one doesn’t impose restrictions on what God can do for His children.