A quest, I contemplated, a pursuit. I understood that. I had recently completed my career training, and soon afterward my husband had achieved his graduate degree. We were now living in a new home in a new city, pursuing further ambitions, striving not to let the accomplishments we had just reached excuse a halt in continuing forward.
I realized, however, that it was not Heavenly Father's commandments individually that first jumped to my mind when I thought of long-term goals, even though those goals, such as home and family development, would follow the gospel. I wanted to be righteous, but didn't always think about what that should entail over the next several years. At the same time, I did not consider my visions for the future in my daily plans, either. Suddenly I understood that the two must work together.
"We are beloved spirit daughters of God," the RS Declaration had proclaimed, "and our lives have a meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity who:
- Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.
- Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
- Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.
- Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.
- Delight in service and good works.
- Love life and learning.
- Stand for truth and righteousness.
- Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth.
- Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation" (Relief Society General Presidency, as presented by Mary Ellen Smoot, "Rejoice, Daughters of Zion," Ensign, November 1999).
I remembered that my initial response to this declaration had been one of excitement and inspiration. I was certainly reminded of the Young Women's theme, which also asserts, "We are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us," and identifies the values needed in life and the blessings that can come from living them. It came to me as a beckoning to improve and come closer to my Heavenly Father.
Not everyone had felt this way, however. I recalled a discussion that arose in a Relief Society lesson regarding the declaration, in which I was surprised to discover how many of the sisters were immensely depressed and weighed down by it, considering it a demand for perfection that they were expected to achieve but certainly never could. While an expectation for the immediate ability to stand to all of these qualities had never come to my mind, this had showed me that perhaps I'd had a more laid-back view than was intended. I had been loving the beauty of the idea, but not fully putting the principle into action. For several days and weeks I thought about everything that had come to my mind during that lesson, wondering how best to improve my efforts. Now, almost a year later, I pondered even further the "meaning, purpose, and direction" my life should take.
With Sister Smoot's words ringing in my ears, I went to Sunday School the next day. As the lesson progressed I realized that the exact Book of Mormon chapters I had been reading through that last week reinforced what I had been thinking about, and in fact showed a type for our day and the quest in my own life.
In 3 Nephi, the time of the coming of Christ was at hand. The prophesies of Samuel the Lamanite were being fulfilled, and the prophet Nephi had continually taught the people, "baptizing unto repentance, in the which there was a great remission of sins. And thus the people began...to have a great peace in the land" (1:23).
There were people, however, who had become "less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds" (2:1). Indeed, "Thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and vain thing" (2:2).
It was the Gadianton robbers to whom the wicked people dissented, joining with them out in the cities' mountainous outskirts until they "did infest the land; for so strong were their holds and their secret places that the people could not overpower them" (1:27). In fact, this band became so strong that the Nephites and Lamanites united to fight off utter destruction. When the Lamanites united with the Nephites, "their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites" (2:15).
Lachoneus, the Nephite governor, received an epistle from the Gadianton leader Giddianhi, allegedly recognizing the strength of the Nephites but nonetheless demanding that they join with them wholeheartedly, "and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us - not our slaves, but our brethren and partners" (3:7). Otherwise, Giddianhi vowed, he would send his armies in one month, "and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you...even until you become extinct" (3:8).
Being a just man who "could not be frightened" by such words, Lachoneus first and foremost told his people to pray, to "cry unto the Lord for strength"(3:12). Then he "sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, into one place" (3:13). The people began immediately to build fortifications around their dwelling, and armies of the Nephite and Lamanite people were commanded to guard day and night (3:14).
Lachoneus also knew that the people needed spiritual strength with their physical strength. Thus he told them, "As the Lord liveth, except ye repent of all your iniquities, and cry unto the Lord, ye will in nowise be delivered out of the hands of those Gadianton robbers" (3:15). The fear of God that these words brought upon his people compelled them to follow their righteous leader fully.
For two years the Nephites watched the robbers plunder through all the lands they had left behind. It became quickly evident that there was nothing in the lands they were taking up, however, and that they would have to stand against the Nephites after all. After years of preparation and then patience, these righteous people took up armor and weapons as their leaders instructed them. They had taken upon themselves a quest in following the direction of the Lord, and because of this quest there was no irritation. When the men of Giddianhi came to fight the men of God, "there were many thousands who did yield themselves up prisoners unto the Nephites, and the remainder of them were slain" (4:27). Because of their valiant obedience, the Lord brought the Nephites to victory over Satan and his band.
Unfortunately, only a few years passed before some people became prideful, irritated once more by the principle of obedience. Satan began again to lead hearts away, until the government of the people was overthrown and these united people became divided into tribes of wickedness (chapter 7).
I recognized as I pondered the lesson that we need to follow today the same principles the Nephites were following then, doing many of the same things they did. In fact, a lot of what Lachoneus taught his people in these chapters we are being taught now, in sources such as the Relief Society Declaration.
Just as this Nephite leader first told his followers to cry unto the Lord, so we are first directed to "increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study." He also taught them to "seek spiritual strength," as we should do "by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost."
The directive to "dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes" does not refer only to our own marriages, families, and homes, of course. As the Nephites joined together to strengthen, uphold, and defend one another's families, individual homes and families also became stronger. In addition, they built a strong home foundation for one large family, the kind of family that the Church encompasses today.
Surely the women of that day were able to "find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood" as they also worked to bring this strong city together! Surely the nobility they saw in their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, friends, and leaders brought joy and nobility to them as well! "Delight in service and good works" filled their hearts as they helped one another, looking for little things that would lighten another's load and strengthening each other in the work the Lord had given them.
"Love life and learning," the declaration states. Since not all of them would have already been architects or carpenters, these and many other capacities were developed among them as they undertook their projects, in addition to spiritual learning Consider, too, how precious their lives became to them as they were threatened!
These people were bold in their "stand for truth and righteousness," even willing to risk their lives before joining with the Gadianton robbers and their evil practices. They knew that all they were doing depended on whether they could truly "sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth." Even as some went to Gidgiddoni, the armies' chief captain and "a great prophet among them" (3:19) for permission to go up into the mountains and attack in the robbers' own land, they told him to "pray unto the Lord" to see if it was right (3:20), and when he told them he would not, they stood with him.
The last goal in the declaration, to "rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation," was a unique part of the Nephites' quest in relation to our own. While marriages, though not performed in the temple by the law of Moses, were celestial under the law of the gospel and the holy priesthood (see BD Marriage), the endowment was not given until after Christ's resurrection, several years after the time of their quest (see Luke 24:49, TG Endowment). Their temple held in it different blessings for them than ours holds for us, and may not even have been directly involved in the stand against the robbers. Yet, in accord with the declaration, they recognized the Lord as their God, saw in him their goal, and strove toward his desires for them.
Today, our quest cannot be complete without the blessings now found only within the walls of the temple, and our efforts to maintain worthiness for these blessings. This is the ultimate fulfillment of what the Lord can give us in this lifetime, and what we can reach toward in the hereafter. It is not something we all can attain in this lifetime; in truth, I believe none of us will fully understand our divine destiny while on the earth. Nonetheless, each of us can strive for exaltation joyfully in this era.
As we prepare today for the Second Coming of Christ, Satan finds ways to gather people around and even among us to fight on his side, cunningly spreading waste and carnage nearly everywhere we turn. It is our time to take up this quest of the people led by Nephi and Lachoneus, following the direction given by our prophet and other leaders of this day.
It is not possible or realistic for us all to join in one location, build up literal walls around ourselves, and shut out Satan's modern-day army. We cannot take away all of his resources, as the Nephites did those of the robbers when they hid away their food and flocks, nor is it the Lord's desire for us now to seclude ourselves waiting for an attack. The war has already begun, and the attack is here upon us. We must spiritually unite to strengthen one another in our battle against wickedness. The standards we have set, the commandments the Lord has given us, these are our shields and our weapons for this latter-day war. There is no time for us to allow pride or irritation to dissipate our battalion as we face this quest, for our war is not yet over.
At the 1999 Women's Conference, it was Sister Sheri L. Dew who said, "Tonight I invite each of us to identify at least one thing we can do to come out of the world and come closer to Christ. And then next month, another. And then another. Sisters, this is a call to arms, it's a call to action, a call to arise. A call to arm ourselves with power and with righteousness. A call to rely on the arm of the Lord rather than the arm of flesh. A call to 'arise and shine forth, that [our] light may be a standard for the nations' (D&C 115:5). A call to live as women of God so that we and our families may return safely home" (Sheri L. Dew, "We Are Women of God," Ensign, November 1999).
I did set a goal that month, and the next, and probably the next. Realizing recently that I lost track somewhere along the way, however, I have again pursued my personal quest to become as a woman of God. In part, I determined that I should keep a record, to be able to see what I am doing and have done, in what will become for me what my Young Women's Personal Progress once was.
I was grateful upon this decision to recall that even though I have kept volumes of hardbound journals, I had recently purchased one in binder form. This allowed me to insert a copy of the declaration, President Smoot's talk introducing the declaration and the principles behind it to help me find bases for my goals, Sister Dew's talk, and a page for each principle to record the goals on as I would set, work on, and fulfill them. I could also keep a bookmark copy of the declaration, given to me by the Relief Society leaders in my new ward, handy in my scriptures as a daily reminder.
Realizing that goalsetting would indeed be a gradual process and that knowing what goals should be set in each area would come when the time was right for them, I prayed to the Lord to help me get started. I was reassured that daily scripture study, the goal I was working on at that time and the first listed in the declaration, had been a wise place to start.
As I looked through other areas I would continue with, I saw some in which goals could be simple to identify, even if they were not so easy to follow through on. There are always opportunities for good works and service, both specific ("Do at least one batch of dishes and laundry daily," "Take dinner to Sister Baker's family when she has surgery next week," "Rake the Parks' back yard this Saturday") and general ("Watch next week for two unexpected times when people need my help").
But what goals could I set for finding nobility in motherhood while I have no children? Perhaps that would be best in helping my friend with her two young children for an afternoon, or even taking them off her hands so that she and her husband could share a quiet evening together. Serving in the nursery had certainly shown me the nobility of motherhood, as well, I realized. And I would no doubt have chances to find joy in womanhood. I noticed that the key word there was "find". This would be a chance to look, watch, observe, and record things I found in life that bring me joy in who I am, and in those with whom I come in contact.
Standing for truth and righteousness could mean finding a friend to bring into my home to share the gospel. It could also mean simply declining in another home what I know I should not share, or keeping out of my home what I would not want if the Lord were to be there. Keeping records of such experiences, however they might come, would build my confidence and surety in myself and the gospel as the Spirit testified to me that what I was doing was right - which, for that matter, would be along the lines of the second standard in the declaration. Once again, prayer should lead me to each appropriate goal as the time arises. My Heavenly Father would surely guide me on this quest.
One form of guidance began coming only recently in my January Ensign, when the Relief Society General Presidency declared that each Visiting Teaching lesson for 2002 would be based on a theme from the declaration. "Each message," they stated, "will include relevant scriptures, selected statements from Church leaders, and questions designed to prompt a discussion about the topic. As Relief Society sisters worldwide visit with one another, we will have the opportunity to consider a theme of importance to every sister and then to discuss it based upon what we learn from the scriptures and the teachings of worthy servants of God" (The Relief Society General Presidency, "For Such a Time as This," Ensign, January 2002). Reading this message brought joy and added energy to my heart as I looked forward to the coming year. I read the Visiting Teaching Message following the article from the Presidency, and soon knew in my heart what my goal for January should be.
As Sister Dew concluded at the 1999 conference: "We have such cause to rejoice, for the gospel of Jesus Christ is the voice of gladness! It is because the Savior overcame the world that we may overcome. It is because He rose on the third day that we may arise as women of God. May we lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better. May we commit this very hour to come out of the world and to never look back"(Sheri L. Dew, "We Are Women of God," Ensign, November 1999).