The General Women’s Meeting is on Saturday and it’s gotten me thinking about being a woman in the Mormon Church.
It seems that often when I talk with female friends about church it’s a lot of good followed by a resigned sigh of frustration. We have testimonies, we love the church, we’re not interested in starting a revolution. But there are things that can hurt.
Recently I read the story of Abish — not coincidentally one of the only female stories we have in the Book of Mormon — and I wanted to talk about it in the spirit of discussing Mormon womanhood.
The story lies mostly in my memory, in the voice of my mother who is Abish’s #1 fan. It happens in Alma 19, and it’s sort of a whacky one —
To set the stage:
Ammon is doing undercover missionary work, living among the Lamanites as King Lamoni’s servant, and has proven his valiance by cutting off all the would-be-thieves arms.
He has just preached the Gospel to King Lamoni, the power of which caused Lamoni to fall into a deep sleep. The Queen is distraught thinking her husband is dead, but Ammon assures her he is not, but that he “sleepeth in God.” Ammon tells the Queen to watch over King Lamoni, promising her the King will arise.
The King does arise, and shares a joyous reunion with the Queen, during which he testifies of the truth of the Gospel. They are both so overcome by the spirit that they collapse back into their sleep.
Ammon sees this and is so overcome, he collapses. The servants see this and are so overcome, they collapse. It’s this unsettling game of human dominoes.
Where Abish comes in:
Abish sees this all happening but somehow escapes the domino effect. She is a Lamanite, but had been “converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father.” Then the scripture goes on to tell it better than I can:
Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore, when she saw that all the servants of Lamoni had fallen to the earth, and also her mistress, the queen, and the king, and Ammon lay prostrate upon the earth, she knew that it was the power of God; and supposing that this opportunity, by making known unto the people what had happened among them, that by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God, therefore she ran forth from house to house, making it known unto the people.
How the drama unfolds:
Abish acts with the best of intentions, but her plan sort of backfires, as the crowds who have gathered at her urging assume everyone laying prostrate in the King’s court is dead. They blame Ammon, being a Nephite, and are fixing to kill him.
Abish is “exceedingly sorrowful, unto tears” at this unintended reaction. She approaches the Queen, reaches out a hand to touch her, and the Queen wakes up! Everyone is astonished!
The King, the servants, and Ammon all wake up and the King preaches to the entire crowd, bearing testimony of the reality of God and his power to redeem them from sin. Some of the crowd is converted, some aren’t, but King Lamoni and the Queen are forever changed.
It’s a great story, but see I’m left unsatisfied because I want to know more about Abish! She is the real hero here!
I want to know more about her father’s “remarkable vision” that led to her conversion.
I want to know why she kept her belief to herself – would she have been punished if she’d publicized it? Cast out? Killed?
I want to hug her for her immediate action, even if the result was a bit clumsy, and to tell her how well I know the feeling of being a clumsy missionary.
I want to know how long she waited in her steady, quiet faith. Was she frustrated? Did she feel hurt and alone? Did she wish for change to come more quickly?
How many Abishes are there whose stories we don’t have?
What breaks my heart about Abish is the thought of her bearing whatever she had to bear in isolation. Because I, in my hurt or frustration, am not alone. I feel that way when I have questions that seem too big to ask, I feel that way when I go to a new ward where I know no one. But I have at my fingertips this little (huge) organization called the Relief Society, and the point of Relief Society is supposed to be just that – to offer relief.
I believe Relief Society is not just a passive categorization given to women, but a call for every one of us to be one another’s friends and bear one another’s burdens.
And I don’t just mean cooking meals or watching children, although those things are great – I mean loving every sister, no matter where they are in their faith. We are meant to be unified, which is different than being the same. Why do we foster any and all questions from an investigator and yet sometimes don’t give the same level of understanding to a member of the church?
When we entered Relief Society we became part of probably the largest and most organized source of female friendship in the world, the point of which seems to be that none of us should have to suffer on our own.
So if you are frustrated, know you aren’t alone. If you are hurting, tell a friend. And if you’re doing just fine, reach out to someone who might need it.
This weekend, some of the below women will speak and we will have the option to listen.
Sometimes I look at these women and am frustrated, because I see myself nowhere in them. I am not a mother, I don’t necessarily feel I am “sweet,” I do not own pearls. But then I imagine Abish — a lifetime of waiting, silently worshipping in a Relief Society of one. I imagine what she would feel if she could attend the meeting at the Conference Center this weekend.
I imagine how overwhelmed she would be at the sheer numbers of women gathered there to share in her faith. I can just see her bolting from the building and running down the streets of Salt Lake City yelling for everyone to come and see.
I have questions that don’t yet have answers. I love being a woman in this church and am also vexed by it. But this year I am watching the meeting for Abish, the unsung hero — for the Relief Society she never belonged to and the sisterhood she may never have felt.
We are not a perfect group; we don’t need to be. We are a balm for aching women and a place to find relief.
We’re a force to be reckoned with, so let’s be a force for good.