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General Relief Society Meeting (28 September 1996)
Strengthened in Charity
by President Elaine L. Jack
Relief Society General President
I am so thankful today to be with you sisters, the great women of our Church. You represent many different parts of the world, many languages, customs, and cultures. And yet, your righteousness is constant and far-reaching. No matter when you joined this Church or where you attend your meetings, your righteousness is evident in your goodness. Your contributions and example reflect your love of God.
In a radio interview I was once asked, "If you could have any wish for women, what would it be?" I said, "I would want women to know how good they are. I would want them to feel valued for their own goodness."
As I speak to you I can't help but think of my mother, who died 26 years ago. Like many of you, I learned so much from my mother. She taught me the importance of grammar, manners, cleanliness, and education. She was a gracious woman. She taught me the principles of the gospel and doctrines of the kingdom of God. She was an example of great faith, hope in abundance, and pure charity.
I doubt my mother would ever have imagined that someday her daughter from the little community of Cardston would be speaking by satellite broadcast to women around the world and that I would be sharing those things that I learned at home. So many years have passed since the two of us were together, but I often feel my mother is right with me. This prompts me to ask, sisters, how can we ever gauge the effects of our touch, our reach, or our influence?
As I have served in this calling, I have prayed that the Lord would help me understand the hearts of women in His Church. The heart is the key to our influence, for it counts and measures each kindness, each effort, each time we lift, praise, teach, or cheer one another. I have come to know that the hearts of Relief Society women are full of love. I have seen examples in every branch, ward, and stake I have visited, and I have heard of the goodness of the women of this Church in letters that bear testimony that "Charity Never Faileth."
Charity is work of the heart.
The Savior said that "the great commandment in the law" is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:36-37). When we love the Lord with all our mind, soul, and heart, we love others. And charity abounds.
This isn't news to you, because you spend your days doing good for others--for your family, your neighbors, your sisters, even strangers. Your efforts to assist and help others have become so much a part of your personal style that, for the most part, they are spontaneous, instinctive, immediate.
Most of you think I am describing someone else. You may be saying, "There's nothing special about me. I'm just ordinary."
I'd say the same thing. "I'm just an ordinary woman with the same joys and frustrations of every other woman." Sometimes the frustrations are great; and sometimes the joys simple, like having an even number of socks come out of the dryer. We all work at feeling joy and finding peace. One of our greatest tools in the process is charity.
In the scriptures, we find many examples of women whose daily efforts reflected charity. With their hearts filled with the pure love of Christ, they responded to needs quickly and effectively.
Rebekah, who eventually became the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau, was just such a woman. In the normal pattern of her daily tasks, she was kind to Abraham's servant who was visiting her village on the dramatic mission to secure a wife for Isaac.
The Lord knew Rebekah's heart; he knew how she would respond when she observed a need. He answered the servant's prayer that the young woman who was to become Isaac's wife would offer him water.
In Genesis we read, "Behold, Rebekah came out... with her pitcher upon her shoulder" and went down to the well (Gen. 24:15). You know that story. The servant asked for a drink. Whole family trees hung in the balance of her answer.
She said, "Drink, my lord," and then added, "I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking.
"And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels" (Gen. 24:18-20).
Her brother Laban invited him to lodge, and not until the servant was introduced did she discover he was the servant of her uncle. Her charitable response to this stranger was automatic. She did not stop to think, I am giving service, nor did she consider the station of the one in need. She hastened to serve water--to camels.
Respectfully, she offered an act of service, a simple one, and from that act was born a family of great influence for whole dispensations. Rebekah loved with worthiness and willingness as a daughter of God. Remember the question, Who can gauge the reach of our goodness?
From her we learn that charity, though often quantified as the action, is actually the state of the heart that prompts us to love one another. She offered water. It was in the offering that charity was manifest.
I recently received a letter from a sister serving a mission in Siberia that showed how a small group of Russian sisters was engaged in this active kind of love. Sister Okelberry said:
"I am proud to report that the women of Siberia have caught the vision of the Relief Society. Sister Kappenkova, a six-month Church member, has risen to the mighty challenge of Relief Society president of this northernmost group in Russia. She, along with her counselors, understands the importance of visiting teaching and is helping these sisters serve each other and build each other--saving them from the dangers of inactivity. They are teaching each other precious gospel principles and valuable skills in leadership as mothers, wives, and women in the Church. Conditions are not easy for them. Yet they understand and have already embraced those immortal words 'Charity Never Faileth.' It has been an honor to watch this develop fight before my eyes.
"With only one short and very precious week left of my missionary time, I know that my sisters will be left in good hands--they are all taking care of each other" (letter from Michelle Okelberry, 31 Jan. 1996).
Alma emphasized the importance of "having the love of God always in your hearts" (Alma 13:29). Charity is that love. Charity is a gift of the Spirit, for "all things which are good cometh of God" (Moro. 7:12). And this gift is multiplied as it is used. Both the giver and the receiver are blessed. For charity purifies and sanctifies all it touches, and "whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him" (Moro. 7:47).
The greatest acts of charity come from giving of yourself and receiving expressions of charity with humility as well. President Spencer W. Kimball illustrated this truth in an inspiring example. He said: "[The Savior's] gifts were rare ones: eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were... forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing. His friends gave him shelter, food, and love. He gave them of himself, his love, his service, his life .... We should strive to give as he gave. To give of oneself is a holy gift" (The Wondrous Gift , 2).
I've thought about this: "To give of oneself is a holy gift." "We should strive to give as he gave." What wise counsel! When we give our time, our energy, our commitment, our testimony to others, we are giving of ourselves. We are sharing intangibles, not easily left on the doorstep but easily deposited in the heart.
So it is with kindness. Nothing will bring the Spirit of the Lord into your meetings, your homes, and your personal associations more quickly than showing kindness. "Charity... is kind" (1 Cor. 13:4). Kindness should be right at the top of everyone's list of things to do. Write it down every day: "Be kind." Kindness comes in many different packages. Be thoughtful to your neighbors. Be patient in a crowd. Be considerate of your children and your husband. Be honest with your sisters. Trust them and they will trust you. Go out and bring them into this grand circle of sisters we call Relief Society. As we increase our kindness, we add charity to our storehouse and we are strengthened.
A Relief Society sister who had moved to Texas to continue her education and then was moving again wrote to me this summer. She told of her experience with the sisters in her ward, of their quick action, willing hands, warmth, and kindness. But it wasn't what they did that prompted her letter; it was why. They loved her, and she could feel it. As they shared with her, multiplying their gifts, she too was strengthened in charity. Listen to her story, because it represents all of you and your quiet goodness:
"As I write these words, I have to squint at my computer screen and keep blinking away tears of gratitude. From the first day I attended the Austin Fourth Ward, I was touched by the spirit of love and caring I felt in the Relief Society. These sisters are very diverse. There are converts and lifelong members, native Texans and Mountain West transplants. They are married, divorced, and single, some with sufficient means, others with very few resources. Yet it doesn't seem to make any difference.
"I can't tell you of the untold kindnesses they've done for me. They aren't earthshaking events, but an accumulation of small blessings: stopping by my apartment to take my dog for a walk, offering to take care of some mending, tracking down packing boxes for me, and including me in their personal prayers. This Sabbath day, the words of the hymn 'As Sisters in Zion' [Hymns, no. 309] keep running through my mind. I want you to know that the sisters are indeed 'build[ing] up his kingdom with earnest endeavor,' and 'comfort[ing] the weary and strengthen[ing] the weak'" (letter from Katherine Boswell, 11 Aug. 1996).
Is there any question of the righteous influence of the women of this Church? In this tabernacle, in Texas, in tiny branches, sprawling wards, and stakes around the world, our efforts sound the theme "Charity Never Faileth.' What a promise! As it is heard here and recorded in heaven, may we remember, sisters, this is our theme and our message to the world. It isn't what we do; it is the heart with which we do it.
President Joseph F. Smith said of his responsibilities when serving in the First Presidency, "I am called to do good" (Collected Discourses, comp. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. , 5:92). Such a simple, sincere statement. As followers of Jesus Christ, we too are "called to do good." Sisters, you do great good; you are so very good.
Belle Spafford, former general Relief Society president, stated, "Relief Society is only on the threshold of its divine mission" (History of Relief Society , 140).
I echo that sentiment. Sisters, we are poised to stride across that threshold into a new era of spirituality and light. Can we, in our daily lives, draw others to Jesus Christ? Can our faith, hope, and charity be the critical forces of significant influence? Yes, a resounding yes.
Sister Clyde has spoken eloquently of being steadfast and courageous in our convictions. With her special talent for teaching, Sister Okazaki has shown us how to choose hope in Christ. I add to their messages my conviction that we will be strengthened in charity. To all the sisters in this Church, I ask that our love of God be reflected in our willingness to serve and be served. May we in our homes teach concern for others, sacrifice, and service. I earnestly pray that we may share our gifts from God whether they be our minds, our music, our athletic ability, our leadership, our compassion, our sense of humor, our peaceful countenance, or our resilience and rejoicing. With charitable hearts may we do remarkable work in these last days. And then we will merit the pronouncement from Jesus Christ, "For this is Zion--THE PURE IN HEART" (D&C 97:21).
I bear you my testimony of the truths spoken here tonight and the significance of each of your lives. Jesus Christ is the head of this Church, and we are led by a prophet of God. I am grateful for that blessing and for priesthood leaders who work diligently and effectively in our behalf. They, too, bless lives with hearts full of charity. I leave you with the joy I feel in my heart for this glorious gospel and with my love for all of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
(See October 1996 General Conference)
Copyright © 1996. THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints. All rights reserved.
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