No Woman Is An Island

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.

Who can forget that visual of a pile of severed arms?

Not pictured: pile of severed 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!

Someone thinks this is what she looks like! Image source here.

“Maidservant Hero” by James Fullmer

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.



Add yours
  1. 2

    Dearest Rebbie, I am so glad that you know that I love Abish! Someday we will get to hear the other side of all these great Book of Mormon stories from the women’s point of view. I love that you doubt your doubts and you never doubt your faith. While there are some answers we may never know in this life, it is that Faith that will get us back to our Father. Bless you for that.
    Now let me just say something about the 9 women you pictured here. I know only 2 of them personally but I have been in a place to know that they all have an “Abish” heart. We should pray for them because they want to raise up any who are collapsed for any reason. But they are much like you and me. They do laundry regularly and they have questions and frustrations. The Lord is working through them to help each of us. May they strengthen us the way He wants us to be strengthened.!
    I love that you have a testimony of Relief Society. When I was your age I was still clueless. Thanks for your thoughtful words of invitation to us women of Faith!

  2. 3
    Susan Carroll

    A few years ago I was asked to present something about the original members of Relief Society at the Relief Society Birthday Celebration. As I researched them, I was surprised at the variety of their situations. Some were married with children, some were older widows, some were young widows with children still at home, some were older spinsters, some were young single women. I seemed to see them as the sisters in my ward, also a mixture of old and young, married and single, mothers and not yet mothers. The Relief Society was given to all women, in all situations. Emma was married, had born children, but lost many in death, she had also adopted children, and became a young widow, eventually left the church and married a second time. Eliza Snow was single for much of her life, served in the Relief Society, never bore children, but stayed faithful; her thoughts and opinions were respected by women and men alike. Today we have examples like Sheri Dew, who has never married or born children, served in the Relief Society General Presidency, is head of Deseret Book, has written biographies of our prophets, and often sits in council with the brethren. Our ward has many single women, married and divorced women, widows, mothers and not yet mothers, daughters of pioneers and converts from around the world, long time active members and reactivated members. They serve in Relief Society, Young Women and the Primary as teachers, in presidencies and as presidents, and we are all Relief Society members. We serve each other as Visiting Teachers, in service projects and as friends. The Relief Society really is a great organization for all women. There is a place here for all of us.

    • 4
      Brad Masters

      Okay I’m cursing technology because somehow I am just seeing this comment! I love hearing this, Susan. It’s great to look back at the history and where we came from to realize that even though the organization is ‘streamlined’ now, there always have been and always will be women in a variety of situations. Thank you for sharing your faith, it helps strengthen mine!

  3. 6

    I love this. I would like to point out, though– the verse says that Abish had been converted by “a remarkable vision of her father” but it doesn’t actually clarify if this was a vision her father had OR if Abish had a vision OF her father. So there’s that to think about, too!

  4. 9

    There are definitely things that hurt when you are a woman in the church. Finding a place that feels equal and right is hard… I do feel that when I express these concerns, people either dismiss my concerns or make me feel bad for having them. I wonder if women really do have a place there (besides our “procreating” purposes). This was a good read, though. I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

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