How Their Faith Still Guides Us: A Tribute on the 175th Anniversary of the Relief Society
In honor of the 175th Anniversary of the Relief Society—the oldest organization of women—guest poster Kristen Howey is sharing her tribute to the bold faith of women who have gone before her, and how their faith has buoyed her own.
Tolstoy wisely said “Faith is the force of life.”
Doesn’t that say it all? Faith is what keeps us going into the great unknown called life. And I’ve never felt it so much or so palpably as in the past few months.
Let me get a bit personal here…
Last October, at the not-so-young age of 43, I got married. It’s quite a love story, if I do say so myself. I reunited with an old college friend (on whom, admittedly, I had a bit of a crush) 25 years after we first met. We both experienced a lot over two plus decades—good and bad—and now we were beginning a new chapter of our lives together. I also became a new step-mom, and moved to Western New York, leaving friends, family, and a career. Jokingly, I called myself “the reverse pioneer.”
Ohhhhh, moving. If you want to reconnect with every single emotion in your soul, move somewhere brand new. There are highs and lows, joys and trials, excitement and anxiety. I felt so alone some days—even though I had the best new husband a girl could ask for. Suddenly, I didn’t have a job, which was both refreshing and horribly frightening. I felt unsure about my purpose and insecure about my abilities to contribute in meaningful ways. Adjusting to major life changes has been such an exercise in faith for me. To help buoy up my own faith, I’ve earnestly sought out examples of women of faith and have, some days, relied on their conviction to help my own.
American women who publicly shared their faith—women who were pioneers physically and spiritually—inspire me because they found a voice against all cultural odds. Although females made up a great majority of the congregations, they didn’t speak much in churches. They weren’t allowed. Culturally, it usually wasn’t permitted and many people believed that, doctrinally, it wasn’t acceptable either (see First Corinthians 14:34).
One of the earliest accounts of a woman speaking up in church was in the 1630s in Boston. Anne Hutchinson studied the Bible and began teaching select groups of women, usually in their homes and often during labor and childbirth. Eventually, she gained a bit of a following and began holding additional meetings. She spoke with a bold faith. Tragically, she was chased out of the state and she was killed. It wasn’t until the early-to-mid 1800s that women really started speaking on faith and religion, particularly the Quaker and Methodist women. Around this same time, the LDS Church established the Relief Society, a faith-based organization for women to “seek out and relieve the distressed,” both spiritually and temporally.
We don’t have many first-hand accounts from these early faithful women because they weren’t recorded as readily as men’s talks. But I have loved reading some of the discourses that are available and learning about women’s faith history. Maybe it’s because I worked so closely with the women’s history specialists while working at the LDS Church? Maybe it’s because now I live in the historic northeast? Maybe it’s because my New York house is older than my hometown of Las Vegas? Who knows why, but now, more than ever before, these histories have come alive for me. I see how these ladies faced challenges, and yes, they felt anxious, but they put their trust in God. It has helped me to read how they too strived to discover God’s will for them. And how their faith carried them through tricky times.
I look at these women in our history who spoke up and shared their faith as laying the groundwork for us today. They laid the foundation for women’s faith leaders, clergy and chaplains, teachers and academics, even writers and bloggers. They even paved the way for me in my former job as a church spokesperson and my current role as a “reverse pioneer.”
There’s a short passage written in 1882 by a multiracial woman, Ellanor Jones, that struck me. Based on the years of her life, her race, and the hardships she faced, her words seemed so calming to me. She said:
Should you at any time find yourself overwhelmed with disappointment and sorrow, remember that although your prayer may be like the wailings of the most feeble infant, God, being more loving than the more tender mother, will hear and answer you. But we cannot say that he will always answer according to the desires of your mind; but in his great wisdom he sees and knows what is for your best good and will answer according to his wisdom.
So now, nearly six months into this new life of mine, I still haven’t quite settled into things. I can’t find my way around town without Siri and I haven’t landed a proper job. But I do know I can be still, I can seek guidance, I can pray, I can learn from the past and look forward to the future, and I can have faith.
Hooray for these bold women whose voices can still be heard. May their legacies live on and may we continue to allow faith to be the force of life.