The Promise of Belonging
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The Promise of Belonging

From a Brigham Young University Women’s Conference address given on April 29, 2021.

The promise of Relief Society is that we can become a Zion society. Our job as Relief Society sisters is to encourage one another.

Women hugging each other

We all come to earth with a longing to belong. Sometimes we can find a close bond with others, and sometimes it is difficult. How can we help one another feel the same secure acceptance and love we experienced in our heavenly home?

In the Church, every woman aged 18 and older is a member of Relief Society. Today there are more than 7.5 million members of this unique organization. Whether you are currently serving in Primary, Young Women, Relief Society, or Sunday School, you are still a part of Relief Society. Whether you are fresh out of high school, a career woman, a mother of small children, a woman who has experienced divorce, or a widow—or any combination of these situations—you absolutely belong to Relief Society.

The Promise of a Zion Society

The promise of Relief Society is that we can become a Zion society. When we remember who we are and the covenants we’ve made, we will come to see one another as eternal sisters. We will recognize one another from that long-ago time when we fought side by side against the dragon and his angels (see Revelations 12:7) for the right to choose and we all trusted Jesus to fulfill His promise to become our Savior. As we prepared for our time on earth, we fervently hoped that all who joined with us in that successful effort to conquer Satan would come back to our heavenly home after their proving period as mortals.

When we look at one another from an eternal perspective, we can see each one as an eternal sister. We are happy for one another’s successes, we share one another’s sorrows, we forgive one another’s mistakes, and we strengthen one another in our weakness. We may not be perfect at it, but all the Lord requires is that we start by having a heart that is willing (see Doctrine and Covenants 64:34). As we are “willing to bear one another’s burdens,” as we are willing to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” as we are willing to “stand as witnesses of God” (Mosiah 18:8–9), we are keeping our covenants with Him.

Admittedly, there is need for improvement. Studies have shown that the number one reason people leave religion is that they feel judged or unwelcome. That is cited more often than doctrinal disagreement or lack of belief. The good news is that situation can practically be eliminated if we really open our arms and hearts to everyone. We can seek to “be a light, not a judge.”1 That is something left only to the Lord. Our responsibility is to extend an open hand and heart. As we do that, we find that we have created a safe place for sharing, a safe place to grow, a safe place to become our best selves.

Look, Listen, and Respond with Love

To practice responding with love so that Relief Society is a place every woman feels she belongs, we thought it might be fun to share a situation and propose a couple of responses. Which response do you think would be best?

Situation #1: At sacrament meeting, you see a missionary who has returned home early from his or her mission.

  • A: “What are you doing here? You just barely left. Did you have to come home?”

  • B: “I’m so glad to see you. Tell me about [the place you served].”

The best response is “B.”

Situation #2: You see a young adult couple you know who are out on a date.

  • A: “It’s great to see you two. How are school and work going?”

  • B: Wink and nudge the young man with your elbow and in a loud whisper ask, “Is that wedding bells I hear in the distance?”

The best option is “A.”

Situation #3: At church, you see a couple who have been married for some time and do not have any children.

  • A: “Why don’t you have kids? When will you have kids? You are not getting any younger!”

  • B: “Enjoy this time not having any kids. Do you want one of mine?”

This is a trick question. Both responses are awkward and insensitive!

Situation #4: At a ward service project, you are assigned to work with a single member.

  • A: “It’s nice you could come help. I think you’re awesome. How come you are not married?”

  • B: “I’d love to know more about you. Tell me about your work [or family or interests].”

The best response is “B.”

Situation #5: Your friend tells you that she is divorcing her spouse.

  • A: “I’m so sorry. I am always here to listen if that would be helpful.”

  • B: “Have you really tried to work this out? I worry about the kids. Have you fasted and prayed about your decision?”

The best response is “A.”

In this exercise, did you identify ways we can all work to better look, listen, and respond with love? The following three ideas can also help us create a safe place for our sisters.

1. Find a Place for Everyone to Contribute

Consider the women in your Relief Society. Who hesitates to join, is reluctant to speak up, or declines to participate? We surely want every sister to be part of our Zion society. How can we become “of one heart and one mind”? (Moses 7:18). How can we include every sister?

One key is to look on the margins. One ward Relief Society president, Chris, has a habit of looking for those people who may not be involved. When she sees them, she greets them with a smile and looks them in the eye, listening intently to what they say. Because of her genuine, focused attention, they feel seen and understood. As she listens, she often discovers their strengths and ways they can contribute. She recognizes that there is untapped potential or hidden talents waiting to be developed in everyone. In that inspired process, individuals are brought into the circle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and whole families are blessed.

We can widen our circle until every sister is linking arms. We can become one, ready for the Zion society that will be an outgrowth of our united Relief Society of today.

President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, has said: “Even … differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution.”2 Differences can make our world richer. When we recognize and celebrate strengths other than our own, we can better accomplish the Lord’s work in His way.

2. See beyond Obvious Differences

Most of us want to be welcoming, but sometimes we are tongue-tied or afraid of making mistakes. We don’t know what to say or how to change the way we respond to people. In Matthew 8:1–34, we see how revolutionary Jesus was in helping others belong as He

  • cleansed a leper;

  • helped a Roman centurion’s servant;

  • healed Peter’s mother-in-law;

  • cast out devils from many in the crowd;

  • encouraged a Jewish scribe;

  • called a man who was mourning his father to follow Him;

  • rebuked the storm and calmed His panicked disciples’ hearts;

  • healed two men living among the graves who were possessed with spirits and shouting at Him; and

  • agreed to depart from the coast when the superstitious villagers begged Him to leave.

The Savior Jesus Christ has eyes to see beyond differences and into our hearts, potential, and desires. Our presidency extends an invitation to be kinder, show more sincere interest, and offer a friendly hand.

3. Include Those Who Might Be on the Outside Looking In

We live in a time when God’s promises to His covenant people have started to be fulfilled. As children of God, we have been scattered from His presence. In this world, we are subject to trials and sorrows. However, our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that He will gather us as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings if we repent and turn to Him with full purpose of heart (see 3 Nephi 10:6). The Savior gathers us with His care and love. Like the chicks, we are vulnerable, and we depend on His grace. As disciples of Christ, we too can help gather His people. This brings us joy.

We all have different paths, but we can walk them together. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–27, Paul compares the human body to the Church to show that each individual plays an important role in the body of the Church. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have something to contribute in bringing others to Christ, and, at the same time, we are all in need of coming closer to Him.

We can all, including children and youth, actively gather others so they can feel God’s love and become Christ’s disciples. If we seek revelation, the Spirit will guide us, and we will know what to do and say to help others feel they belong.

An Invitation

Can Relief Society provide the promise of belonging? Yes! There are so many differences in our circumstances, and yet we women share fundamental characteristics and eternal hopes. Women have a great need—and skill—to connect with others, and we all need to belong.

Our work as disciples of Christ is to make it easier for people to come unto Him. We are all trying to keep the commandments and to follow the example of Jesus Christ, but we all fall short in different ways. But we can keep trying to be better with the Savior’s atoning power. Our job as Relief Society sisters is to encourage one another.

We encourage you to continue to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood with every woman in your ward or branch, ages 18 to 108. Each individual has incredible value and infinite potential, so ask yourself: What can I do to bring out that potential and help them feel valued? Relief Society needs to support all women, to help them always feel a part of our divine, eternal sisterhood.

We testify that the Lord, our Savior and Redeemer, waits with outstretched arms to bring each one into His fold. He fervently hopes that we will help in this essential effort of gathering to prepare for His Second Coming. May we extend the promise of belonging to every sister within the circles of our influence.