Today I am thankful for Relief Society. For those of you who aren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka "the Mormons"), allow me to explain:
The way the church is set up (and all are welcome to join!), is every Sunday there is a 3-hour block of meetings. Typically, members attend all 3 hours of church, but it's not a requirement, per se. The first hour is known as "Sacrament Meeting". In this meeting ALL members of the congregation (including children) sing hymns, join in prayer, listen to a couple of speakers (also members of the congregation who have been asked a few weeks in advance to offer a few words about a given topic), and most importantly, partake of the Sacrament (bread & water to remember Christ's atonement of flesh and blood for our sins).
The second hour consists of Sunday School. Lots of things happen during this hour. The kiddos each go off to their own class. Each class is comprised of an age group (ie: 8 year olds, 9 year olds, etc). In their classes, they are taught lessons from the scriptures by a Sunday School Teacher (again, an ongoing voluntary assignment by a member of the congregation.) The littlest children (below age 3) go to what is known as "Nursery". In nursery, they also have lessons about the scriptures, but get to play with lots of toys and eat snacks, too! Because they have so many important things to do, they stay in Nursery for the last two hours of the meeting block of time, so their parents can be involved in other aspects of the Sunday services. Those adult members of the congregation who don't have a Sunday School teaching assignment, attend adult Sunday School class. All the men and women and children age 18 and older attend this class.
During the 3rd hour, the children who have now finished their Sunday School classes go to what is called Primary. In Primary, they sing children's church songs, play "reverent" games, have "sharing time" (where a few kids are chosen each week to share about themselves or a certain topic), etc. A few of the children are also asked in advance to give a "talk" (a 1-3 minute speaking assignment about a topic like prayer, family, etc.) This helps children develop and strengthen their own understanding of the gospel principles they are learning. The "youth" (ages 12-17) split up by gender. The girls go to what is called "Young Women", where they are taught principles about growing up and making good decisions, etc. The guys go to classes about similar subjects, also including how to treat the yound women with respect. Also during the 3rd hour, the men and women (ages 18+) split up and go to different classes. All the men go to a meeting called Priesthood, where they talk about how to be better men, husbands, fathers, etc. (I love to hear from my husband and brothers about the "lessons"/"sermons" they receive in this class--they usually tend to involve something about learning to treat women better and to be more sensitive, helpful, and understanding!) While the men are in Priesthood, the women go to what is called Relief Society. The reason it's called that is that when the organization first began, back in the 1800s, the women of the church got together to find out how they could be of service to one another. Having strength in numbers, they were able to work together to help each other and others in their community through difficult and challenging situations. One of their main objectives was to give aid or "relief" to others. Ergo the name, Relief Society.
Today, the Relief Society (RS) is still a strong organization full of women of all races, ages, backgrounds and talents. As a group, there is so much that the RS does to help both within the church, as well as the surrounding communities. During our 3rd-hour RS lessons, I always feel such a strong love for all the other women sitting beside me. Even though I am still learning the names of many of the other women, and I don't even really know many of them, I just love the feeling of connectedness when I'm there. It's like we're all united in a good, worthy purpose. Everyone always tries to be so welcoming and kind to each other, and that feels good.
Sometimes, because life can be so overwhelming, it can be difficult to get up on Sundays and go to church. It can, at times, even feel like a chore rather than a blessing. But, then I get to RS and there's always a morsel or two of just what I need to keep me going another week! The instructor (another voluntarily assigned woman from the congregation), always works really hard to bring a good "lesson" to us. Just yesterday, we talked about how women need to make sure they keep their own "inner well" filled. We can't properly take care of our own families, let alone reach out to others, unless we have something to give. If we're "running on empty" all the time, our lives will be out of balance and we'll end up feeling like it's all just a futile effort. Different women in the class shared thoughts of ways they try to keep their lives balanced by first filling their own inner wells. For some it means taking just a few minutes a day to spend in prayer--real prayer, not just the repititous versions we rush through at dinner; for others, it means leaving a pile of laundry undone another day, while taking an hour to go sit in her favorite recliner and read a new book. Everyone had her own idea of what she needed to be filled. All agreed that our spiritual wells must be filled before anything else. We all felt similar frustrations with the hectic pace of life, individual and family stresses, and feelings of not being able to measure up to the expectations we feel others have for us, or we set for ourselves. It was really good to be able to share that feeling with others, but also be reminded that not only is it okay to do things for yourself, but it's necessary. You can't give to someone else if your well is empty.
Upon continuing to think about this principle, I came home and went to the church's online archives to find more articles on this topic. I came across a few that were really encouraging: The first one is called, "Was I Meant to Be a Mother Today?"
Even though I'm not a mother yet, I can certainly identify with the things Mary Ellen (the author) discusses. Another great article I found was recently given at our bi-annual General Conference. (Every April and October there is a conference for all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and anyone else who is interested, held in Salt Lake City. The conference is broadcast via satellite and cable everywhere, as there are members of the church throughout the world--actually more are outside the United States than inside!) One of the worldwide leaders, Joseph Wirthlin, talks about how we can get through challenges and difficulties we all face. It's inpsiring.
My point is this. I love Relief Society because I feel like I always get something good from it! I leave feeling inspired, uplifted, or at the very least, comforted. I'm so thankful for the RS program. I wish every woman I know would come to church with me so she could experience the blessing of it that I do!