When I was roughly 15, I said to my Mother in reference to Emma Smith, “Yeah, Emma was pretty cool except for that whole leaving the Church thing and starting her own.” Now, my Mother took the permissive approach to parenting. Up until that moment the only thing I was forbidden to do was watch The Exorcist. So you can imagine my surprise when my fun-loving and warm-hearted Mother snapped her head toward me and said pithily, “You do not speak about Emma in that way. You have no idea what that woman went through. You have no right to judge her.”
I was shocked and my teenage arrogance was curbed. I wanted to know more about this woman my Mother passionately defended.
Emma’s life was profoundly difficult. She was 23 when she married Joseph. They lived a life of service and poverty – often relying on the generosity of friends and Church members for their basic needs. Of their eleven children, only four lived to full adulthood; they lost four infants in four years. After losing a set of twins, shortly after birth, the Smiths adopted infant twins whose mother had died. Emma suffered the persecution inflicted on the Saints. Joseph was repeatedly arrested and attacked. Many nights she would sit alone or with friends in prayer pleading for the safety of her husband. She was widowed at the age of 40.
Nevertheless, Emma was faithful to the Lord and devoted to her husband. She was one of Joseph’s scribes during the translation of the golden plates. She was entrusted with organizing the woman to address the needs of the early church – the Relief Society. Emma, also, edited the first hymnal for the church.
Emma’s mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith said of her, “I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she had had to endure. … She has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other woman.”1
In July 1830, when she was 26, she received a revelation that would later become known as Section 25. Wherein the Lord says, “thou art an elect lady, whom I have called” (v.3). At the first meeting of the Relief Society, Joseph read this revelation and explained that Emma was an elect lady because she was “called to preside.”2
She was, also, instructed be a comfort Joseph, “…in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness” (v.5). And to, “[c]ontinue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him” (v.14). Now, she was also told not to fear because, “…thy husband shall support thee in the church…” (v.9).” This echoes of Eve’s directive to be a helpmeet unto her husband. The lesson focuses on the ways that we need to be supportive of our spouses. I suggest reading it and this Ensign article by Valerie Hudson and Richard B. Miller.
I, however, am going to focus on meekness. Emma is told twice to be meek. Often meekness, is thought of as being subservient, demure, quite. Emma was anything but. She was assertive, passionate and articulate. Her conflicts with Brigham Young are well documented. So, was the Lord asking Emma to adhere to the social expectations of women of the time?
I don’t think so.
In ancient Greek, meekness referred to a horse that was ready for battle. A meek horse’s power and energy had been channeled for purpose deemed necessary by its master. It is not the diminishing of power, it’s the focusing of it. I love this definition of the word meek, particularly in religious context. I believe that when the Lord was asking Emma to be meek, He was asking her to dedicate her assertiveness, passion and energy to the building up of the early Church.
She needed all of her attributes to fulfill her callings. In this section, she is called to be Joseph’s scribe, “..thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit” (v.7) and to create a hymnal “…which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church. For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me…” (v. 11 & 12). In this exchange, we learn of the Lord’s love of music. We, also, see the nature of His and Emma’s relationship; it is in the realm of familiarity and affinity that one expresses delights.
The manual states that the purpose of this lesson is to learn how to apply the revelations given to other people to ourselves. Last year, part of Emma’s revelation was revelatory for me. At the time, I was struggling with a decision. I felt compelled to chose a course of action that was contrary to guidance I’d been given. As I plead with God for discernment, I read an essay that referenced this verse 13, “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.”
I instantly had the clarity I longed for – all I needed to do was keep my covenants and find the joy in the experience. This course of action gave me immense joy and was in keeping with my covenants. I moved forward as I felt compelled and a year later I have no regrets.
This scripture is a wonderful resource in those moments of indecision. We can ask ourselves two simple questions – 1. Is this thing in keeping with my covenants? 2. Is this something I can rejoice in?
If so, then move forward with faith.
I’m grateful for that day when my Mother advocated for Emma. My life has been enriched for having studied her life and words. I’ve developed a great admiration and love for her. She inspires me to dig deep and persevere.
1 History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley , 190–91
2 “Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book,” 9, josephsmithpapers.org.
Other Related Women’s Voices
“Our faithfulness and service are signs of our conversion and commitment to remember and follow Him. In July of 1830, at the beginning of the Restoration of His Church, the Lord selected His first female leader of this dispensation, and in a revelation to her, He said, ‘I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.’
The history of Relief Society teaches us that our Heavenly Father knows His daughters. He loves them, He has given them specific responsibilities, and He has spoken to and guided them during their mortal missions. Additionally, the history of Relief Society elevates and validates the standing of women and demonstrates how they work in companionship with faithful priesthood leaders.”
Ripples, Virginia U. Jensen
“One significant event in particular propelled Dan Jones from a careful observer to an active investigator of the Church. He wrote this: ‘Purely by accident, there fell into my hands … a letter which [Emma Smith] had written. … I shall never forget the feelings which that … letter caused me to have. I perceived clearly that not only did [she] believe the New Testament, the same as I—professing the apostolic faith, and rejoicing in the midst of her tribulations at being worthy to suffer all … for a testimony of Jesus and the gospel—but also it contained better counsel, more wisdom, and showed a more … godly spirit than anything I had ever read!’ (Ensign, Apr. 1987, 50, 52).
Inspired by Emma’s words and example, Dan Jones sought to learn more about this church. In 1843 he was baptized in the Mississippi River and became one of the most influential missionaries in the history of the Church, bringing hundreds of people to the gospel in his native Wales. In a very literal way, Emma Smith’s influence continues to ripple through generations. Who can say how many hundreds, even thousands of the descendants of those Dan Jones introduced to the gospel may be listening to this meeting at this very hour?
Each of us can act in ways that can ripple through a life as powerfully as Emma Smith’s words did in the heart of Dan Jones.”