I am trying very hard to read this book with an open mind. It is difficult, because I had an extremely hard time with the Young Women's program and my antipathy has more or less translated to Relief Society. I begin to read the book with two expected possible paths before me. Either I will love the book and be frustrated that the real world is so far from it and I don't know how to change it, or I will be frustrated that what the book describes is hopelessly fluffy and unrealistic. However, I am reading it with faith that there may be a path I haven't yet seen, and trying to pick out whatever good I can. I am also reading it slowly, to make sure I don't miss anything.

So far, I have two impressions that I would like to share. First, I am delighted to discover that in the beginning, Relief Society membership was not automatic with Church membership. Rather, there was a grueling application process, and only those deemed to be genuinely engaged in the work were accepted.

I like this idea because I believe that the purpose of Relief Society (ostensibly to provide relief to those who are in need, in the name of the Lord) has become watered down by those who are not engaged in it. (Me, included, I'm afraid.) When things such as Visiting Teaching and Relief Society membership are base-level and mandatory, they lose a great part of their value. What purpose is there in being visited by women who are visiting you because they want to turn in their numbers for the month? What good does a home-cooked meal do when it is an expectation, and not a gift? (Particularly when things such as Little Caesar's Hot-N-Ready $5 pizza or frozen supermarket dinners are possible.)

I have never been a fan of busy work. I think that service projects should be a vehicle for learning charity, not an item on the list that is crossed off. I am slammed with my single working mom life. Despite being disgustingly busy, I would happily make time and find money to make a meal or clean the house of someone in the ward who is genuinely in need, but I find myself unable to muster the same zeal to make a meal for a woman who has just had a baby, her husband, and her six visiting adult family members. Or donate money to a wedding gift for a Relief Society Sister's child whom I have never met.

Things like that make me grumpy.

If the Relief Society had ACTUAL, PURPOSEFUL, relief-driven, problem-solving meetings, I would participate gladly. Rather than being deeply grateful that I have been assigned to teach in Primary so I don't have to sit through one more insipid "lesson" on the "gospel," even though I really don't like teaching 11-year-old smart-mouths.

The second thing that I have been impressed with is that originally, Relief Society efforts were voluntary, tailored to the individual skills and inclinations of the women. Not everyone was asked to canvass the neighborhood, or knit socks, or sew clothes for the temple workers. Each one was able to contribute to the overall temple building effort with HER skills, and what SHE was comfortable doing. I never in a million years would want to go to non-member merchants and ask for cloth donations, but I would have been happy as a clam sitting in the corner and knitting socks, or making home-cooked meals.

The point is that a problem was presented to the Society, and each woman was able to chime in with what she, personally, could do to help the effort.

My greatest dream is to someday belong somewhere where I can use what I am good at, what I like to do, to contribute to the group, somewhere I could be a working, contributing member of a whole. I have never felt that in my life. But it sounds to me that the Relief Society used to be just that.

And that is a Relief Society to which I would want to belong.
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