Relief Society's purpose is the same as the Lord's purpose
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After being called as Relief Society general president, Sister Julie B. Beck and her counselors, Sister Silvia H. Allred and Sister Barbara Thompson, began pondering the purposes and objectives of Relief Society. They read the history of the organization, the Church Handbook of Instructions, and other lists of objectives. They found that everything about Relief Society could be summarized with three things Latter-day Saint women should be doing every day.
"Every day of your life, if you are working toward eternal life, you should be increasing in faith and personal righteousness," Sister Beck said. "Every day you should be strengthening families and homes, because the family is the eternal organization. We don't think that is just for married women to do. Every sister lives in a home. She ought to have a strong home and she should be strengthening families — her own family, families that are around her, families in the Church, the ward family. ...
"And then she needs to seek out and help those who are in need. There are all kinds of needs. There are, obviously, needs of financial poverty, but there is poverty of spirit, there is poverty of emotional strength, there is poverty of intellect."
Relief Society doesn't have a purpose that is different than the Lord's purpose, Sister Beck said. "That is why Relief Society was organized."
Referring to these responsibilities, "faith, family, relief," Sister Beck said, "Everyone should be able to remember three things."
Sister Allred said the words "faith, family, relief" are not new. In fact, this message is formulated from the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who instructed women during the Church's first Relief Society meetings. "He told them that this organization was not only to specifically help the poor and the needy, but also to save souls. So saving souls has great implications on what the work should be."
In other words, Sister Thompson added, the purpose of Relief Society is to help sisters become holy women. "The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the sisters in much the same way as he taught the priesthood brethren in the School of the Prophets. He attended six or more of those early Relief Society meetings. He instructed sisters on how they should expound and exhort and search the scriptures.... He taught them how they should teach their families. ...
"Then, of course, the charitable part is the part we hear most often about — caring for the poor and the needy — and Relief Society has been known far and wide for that."
In essence, she said, Joseph Smith instructed the sisters on what they should do to gain eternal life. "That is what the purpose of Relief Society still should be today."
Sister Beck said women in the Church should use personal revelation to know how to make Relief Society more meaningful for them.
"With personal revelation, the Lord can help the sister know if she is doing well in her life," Sister Beck said. "She doesn't need a grade book or to be measured against anyone else. The Lord can tell her through the Spirit how to increase her faith. Is she doing what she needs to do? Does it mean she needs to study the scriptures more diligently or maybe she already does that well. Maybe it is something else for her. How can she increase her personal righteousness and become closer to the Savior in her actions?
"How is she going to strengthen family and home? Is it by strengthening a coworker who has to go home to a difficult family situation? Is it looking after nieces and nephews or neighbors? If we believe the family to be central to Heavenly Father's plan for the happiness of His children, then we should be defenders of that in this life."
Sister Beck said the power of Relief Society to offer relief lies at the local level. "We are the ones that respond to the immediate needs of individuals and families," she said. "If a sister immediately needs a ride to see a doctor, someone in her Relief Society can provide that relief. If someone immediately needs a gallon of milk or a cup of sugar, she knows where to go. If she needs emotional support for something, if she is in trouble, she can get that immediate help through Relief Society."
Ward and stake Relief Society leaders have the responsibility to teach the purposes of the organization to sisters in the Church and help them learn to live in a way to qualify for, receive and follow personal revelation, Sister Beck added.
"If you are looking to the Lord for revelation you will get it," she said.
That's the way to implement "faith, family, relief," she said.
In reality, she explained, the three goals are all interconnected. "If you are increasing your faith, you are strengthening your family. Helping others is a demonstration of your faith and helping others strengthens your home and your family."