Sister Julie B. Beck was serving as first counselor in the Young Women general presidency when she was called as general president of the Relief Society in the spring of 2007, succeeding Sister Bonnie D. Parkin. Serving approximately six million women in 170 countries can seem like an insurmountable task, but Sister Beck found strength to continue the Relief Society’s legacy of love and service by studying its history and the lives of her predecessors and by relying on the Atonement. In a 2012 interview with LDS Living, Sister Beck shared some lessons she learned during her time as Relief Society general president. In celebration of the 176th anniversary of the Relief Society, we are sharing them again.
About the general Relief Society presidents in the Church, Beck says. “They’ve all worked in different times, had different problems come to them, and worked with different prophets. Learning about them is learning their patterns, not the specifics of their callings.”
Sister Beck has discovered that throughout history, Relief Society presidents have been concerned about a lot of the same issues, such as helping women through life transitions or strengthening families. “Any transition is an at-risk time,” she explains. “From singleness to marriage, moving, or any experience that pushes you in your life is a transition. And they’ve all worried about families and supporting mothers because they’ve all known how influential a woman is in the home.”
When she is asked to address a specific group of women, such as single sisters, Sister Beck responds, “Which ones? The 18–22s? The single women over 30 who’ve never been married? The widowed? The divorced? Single mothers? You never quite hit your mark if you’re so worried about a constituency. All of us are having a variety of experiences that eventually should have the same end—eternal life. Our paths are always different, and we’re all unique. I don’t know of any two women who’ve had identical experiences, but I can see patterns in lives that teach me how to cope with mine.”
She continues, “I’m not a women’s advocate. The Lord is our advocate, and I serve Him. He knows them; He knows their issues, their struggles, their challenges, their hurts, their heartaches, and their needs a lot better than I could. I don’t have to demand for someone to notice Heavenly Father’s daughters because I already know how He feels about them. So anything I can do to help Him to help them, I’m willing to do.”
Myths and Stereotypes
“I feel a lot of empathy for sisters who are having difficult challenges,” Beck says. “In the end, it’s between them and the Lord, and no one else can solve it. And I’ve learned that’s okay.” She clarifies, “It isn’t that I don’t care or don’t notice. I’ve been out in the world and I’ve seen hard things—heartbreaking circumstances, just about every challenge, and I can wear out my life on every challenge. It’s overwhelming and I’m not equipped. I have limited abilities. We can’t expect to be ‘fit companions of the gods,’ like Eliza R. Snow said, if we haven’t had to do the work to become that. A lot of that is lonely work between us and the Lord and calling upon His Atonement to help us through our experience. The journey is what makes us.”
LDS women are often asked—or wonder themselves—about their roles or their importance in the Church. Here are Sister Beck’s responses to a few common concerns.
“We aren’t second class,” she says. “We are as important as His sons.”
She explains, “I think sometimes people confuse stardom with influence. A lot of conversation focuses on what we don’t have and what we don’t do rather than focusing on what we do have and what we can do. It’s like any blessing in our lives—if you focus on what you don’t have instead of what you do have, usually you miss the real richness of what you have. One of the easiest ways to jettison the Lord’s plan is to get us off our game. Who’s going to do our part if we’re chasing around saying ‘I want a different one’?”
She continues, “Eliza R. Snow once said of the women in the Church, ‘Let them seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise.’ So even women in Eliza’s day were asking, ‘Where does my power come from?’ Our influence comes from being trustworthy and keeping our covenants. It comes from who you are inside, not from an external mandate. We are in control of how influential we are and how powerful we are. The Lord’s blessings and gifts and privileges are ours, and it’s how we value and develop those blessings and gifts and privileges that increase our influence.”
Having It All
Sister Beck believes one of the greatest myths that has been told to women is that they can have it all. “Nobody can have everything, and you especially can’t have it all at once,” she says. “There’s an opportunity cost to everything.”
So how can we know if our choices are correct? Sister Beck suggests asking questions like, “First, am I aligned behind he Lord’s plan for me? Is what I’m doing moving me toward eternal life or am I just enjoying my time in Babylon? I have to ask myself that all the time,” she says. “And then, how do I feel? Is the Spirit confirming my choices? Balancing is best done by revelation. I’m surprised what I can get done in a day when I’m aligned.”
But she admits that, just like everyone else, she doesn’t always prioritize correctly. “Sometimes I miss opportunities to do important things, but I’ve learned to minimize guilt,” she says. “I used to be a very guilt-ridden person, but I’ve learned that the Lord uses opportunities to teach me that this didn’t feel good, so next time do it this other way. Don’t carry it around your whole life.”
She continues, “I’ve learned that the world teaches us that we can have the dream now. They express the dream as what Adam and Eve had in the garden—you don’t have to work for anything and everything is peaceful and happy. That’s really where the adversary still is. But we chose to have a mortal experience to prepare for the real dream, and that dream is eternal life. Eve was willing to go through a long, hard mortal experience in order to work toward the promise of the dream—I don’t think most women realize that. They’re trying to make it be the dream now. We don’t get that here. What we get here is the experience.”
Sister Beck often hears women in the Church express concern that they don’t fit in with the other sisters. But she believes those feelings of isolation are often self-inflicted. “We tend to put the labels on ourselves,” she says. “The Church doesn’t, and loving leaders definitely don’t—we’re just focused on our own experience.”
In fact, “worldwide, the majority of women in Relief Society are under the age of 30,” she explains. “About half of all women are single, and the rest will probably be single at some point for one reason or another. Relief Society is for everybody. Relief Society is a society that is distinct and separate for women who’ve made covenants and are helping each other keep them. That’s what makes it possible for my daughter to move 14 times in 13 years and belong everywhere she goes. It makes it possible for my niece to live in 7 countries in 10 years and fit in.”
Photo courtesy of Sister Julie B. Beck
From her travels around the world when she served as Relief Society president, Sister Beck has learned that even though women describe themselves as a certain nationality or certain experience, such as being single or divorced, LDS women everywhere have a true desire to be happy. “Sisters want to please the Lord,” she says. “They’d like to have things more perfect than they are. I’ve also learned that life is pretty hard for most women around the world—from the lady on the farm in Africa living with in the dirt floor and a stick house to the woman in Hong Kong living in a high rise penthouse apartment, there’s not a lot that separates them heart to heart. Life is still hard for the sister in the penthouse.”
Not only do LDS women struggle to fit in with each other, but with the rest of the world. To address this concern, Sister Beck quickly flips to page 95 in her well-worn copy of Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society and shares the following quote from President Spencer W. Kimball:
Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from women of the world.
“We’re not weird,” Sister Beck assures. “We’re not strange. We’re distinct, and we have stature in happy ways.”
What She Knows
During her five years as Relief Society general president, Sister Beck learned a lot about the needs of LDS women and hopes they can gain a greater understanding of certain principles.
“I wish [women in the Church] better understood who they are and what those covenants they make empower them to do and to become,” she says. “We have it all—we just don’t live up to our privilege.” She continues, “I wish they knew how loved they were by the Lord and a lot of other people. Each of them is so important. And I wish they knew their responsibility—their inescapable responsibility. With the gift of who you are, the other end of that stick is that you are responsible for that identity. It isn’t a free gift.”
Sister Beck has also learned a lot about herself and the divine purpose of Relief Society.
“I know a lot more now about how the Lord speaks to us and how He wants to help us if we qualify for that help,” she says. “I know more about how He feels. And I know how to feel after Him more than I used to—it’s a privilege I’m still trying to hold up to, but it is the most delicious feeling.”
She continues, “I have a testimony that Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees in New York State and prayed and received an answer, and as a result, the Lord’s Church was restored. All the keys and ordinances we need to get back to our Father in Heaven reside in this Church. I have a testimony of prophets, seers, and revelators. I have a testimony of how Heavenly Father sees me in His plan, that I’m an essential half—the female half—of His plan. I know the Church is true and that Relief Society is part of it. It’s an important part of our identity as LDS women. We’re just starting to become a worldwide sisterhood that has all the scope for the imagination and inspiration the Lord would give us. We’re just starting to work in tandem with Heavenly Father’s sons in a unified way. We’re just getting a glimpse of what that would be. It’s not about who is the most special—our unity is where we access the power in our lives. It’s an amazing thing to see and be part of.”