My sister practically forced me to attend the single's ward the summer after I graduated from high school. As a girl who had only recently and reluctantly left Young Womens, I wasn't ready for the what some of my friends teasingly called the "marriage market."
Most people would have never guessed. On the outside, I laughed a lot, spoke often, and acted confident. Years of a rather difficult home ward experience helped me feel comfortable reaching out to strangers and those on the fringes. But inside, I was struggling with an acute realization that nothing quite fit and recovering from health problems that made me feel completely drained after work, school, and church.
That's when I was called as a second counselor in the Relief Society—an organization I knew next to nothing about. On top of that, I was to oversee the compassionate service in our ward. Me, a little teenager, and I was supposed to help girls who were in college or engaged or working full time navigate life and get the help they needed?
Panic, anxiety, self-consciousness, and confusion all set in. How in the world was I supposed to do this? On top of that, the constant pressure to attend the frequent YSA church and stake activities left me with little time to organize and figure out the rest of my church duties, let alone heal, find balance, and have a life.
I didn't get it. I read and studied all I could on my role in the Relief Society. I listened to talks. I followed my Church leaders' counsel. I tried to tone down my outspoken contrariness and keep disagreements to myself. And I did everything I felt everyone else expected me to do. But instead of feeling the Spirit, I only felt overwhelmed, miserable, and uncomfortably out of place. Why wasn't Heavenly Father helping me? Why was I drowning? What was I doing wrong?
While struggling with this question one day, a dose of the Spirit smacked me upside the head. I had been thinking of the women leaders of the Church I had seen in general conference and in my home ward growing up, wondering how I could become more like them. That's when I felt seven words sear into my mind: I didn't call them. I called you.
I was surprised, stunned, and still a little confused. That wasn't the answer to the questions I had been asking. I had asked the Lord to teach me how I could change my attitude, change my understanding, and change what I was doing. But suddenly, I realized, He didn't want all that.
The Lord had called me as a counselor in the Relief Society at that time. Not an auxiliary leader of the Church, not the sister in my ward I had admired all my life growing up, and not the girl who had served as a second counselor just before me.
He called me.
While well-intentioned, I had taken all my guidance about who and how I was supposed to be in my calling from comparisons to other women and other people's expectations. But Heavenly Father made it clear that's not what He wanted.
He wanted me.
And while I might be dismal at some of the roles I had been so fixated on fulfilling, there were lots of things I was good at. Genuinity, inclusion, empathy, speaking my mind, prioritizing, focusing on what matters most. Those were the things I was good at.
So, with the direction of the Lord, I began doing things my way. I began prioritizing, speaking up, cutting back, getting balance, and moving ahead with new excitement on those things I felt mattered.
As time went on, I didn't know if I was making any difference in my calling, but I knew I was happy. Then, one day, my Relief Society president pulled me aside. She was a social worker who worked full time and often overtime helping to intervene in situations where children may be in danger. Yet she still found time to take on any challenge or attend any meeting. She was in her mid-twenties, smart, capable, and involved with the ward. In short, I saw her as a verifiable Wonder Woman.
But, this 26-year-old woman told me, a teenager, something that completely surprised me. "I look up to you so much. You helped save me." I guess I hadn't been the only person overwhelmed by my calling. Our president was on the point of a stress-induced breakdown when I began suggesting we change things up in our presidency and try focusing on a few things, instead of trying to attend and do everything.
That moment in my life taught me at a young age that so often the stress or overwhelming feelings we experience in a calling have little to do with the gospel and more to do with comparisons or what we feel are our inadequacies. And yes, while there are bumps, mistakes, and adjustments we'll experience, we need to remember that the Lord has called us to that calling at that time for a reason. Whether it's to save one stressed out Relief Society president or to help one small child feeling alone, we have a purpose. Instead of focusing on our to-do list and everything we wish we could do better, we should instead seek to find what God wants us to do.
Though President Russell M. Nelson directed his remarks to the sisters of the Church, I think his counsel in the October 2015 general conference is crucial for anyone who holds a calling in the Church:
"My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils. We need each married sister to speak as 'a contributing and full partner' as you unite with your husband in governing your family. Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God. We brethren cannot duplicate your unique influence.
"We know that the culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman! We need your strength!"
So, I hope you remember to speak up and to remember the Lord has called you, and no one else, because you have something to offer that the Church so desperately needs right now. Now go out and strive to find it.