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38

My Yoke Is Easy and My Burden Is Light

An original recording of this discourse is available at churchhistorianspress.org (courtesy of Church History Library).

Relief Society General Conference

Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

October 1, 1969


Alice Colton Smith (1913–2006) brought a cosmopolitan and scholarly perspective to the Relief Society general board. Smith moved from Vernal, Utah, to Washington DC after her father, Don B. Colton, was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1921. Upon her graduation from Columbia University in 1934, she married bacteriologist-in-training Whitney Smith. Whitney completed his graduate education at the University of Wisconsin, and the Smiths then moved to southern California for his teaching job. They relocated in 1946 to Utah State University in Logan, Utah, where Alice earned a master’s degree in sociology and subsequently joined the faculty.1 She became an assistant professor and taught at Utah State until the mid-1970s, when she resigned so she could focus more on her general board work.2

Two major international experiences complemented the Smiths’ academic careers. First, they lived in Israel from 1953 to 1954, where Alice Smith served as chair of the Embassy Committee on Israeli-American relations while her husband worked as research advisor in bacteriology to the Israeli government.3 When they returned to Utah, Governor George D. Clyde appointed Smith to the Utah State Textbook and Curriculum Committee, where she served from 1958 to 1960.4 From 1960 to 1963 they lived in Vienna, where they established the first Latter-day Saint mission headquartered in Austria, serving as mission president and Relief Society mission president.5 When they returned, Governor Calvin L. Rampton appointed Smith to the Utah Committee for the White House Conference on the Family.6 She joined the Relief Society general board in 1964, serving for fourteen years under presidents Belle S. Spafford and Barbara B. Smith.7

Joseph Fielding Smith, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, set Smith apart for her Relief Society board work. She recalled that he told her in the blessing, “You have been put upon this board not to be silent. You are to take an active role in everything that occurs.” Spafford told Smith that such counsel had never been given to a board member during all the time she had been on the board, and Smith remembered Spafford repeating it at their next board meeting: “Now that really applies to all of you but I want you to know it applies to Alice.”8 Smith’s board responsibilities included reviewing, editing, and critiquing Relief Society lessons, which assignment made good use of her candor and professional experience.9 She also wrote the visiting teaching lessons.10

Smith believed that loving service was at the heart of following Christ: “I used to protest about ‘Patty Perfect’ all the time. I used to say that’s not real, that’s not the real world, nor is it the gospel. They would bring up this perfection and I’d say, yeah, but I think that the Lord meant be perfect in being loved. Be loving, kind, and merciful. He wasn’t talking about getting up in the morning and combing your hair.”11 In 1979, Smith described herself as belonging “to the school that feels that Jesus was not a salesman but a teacher. … I believe that he was there to create behavioral changes that were permanent.”12

Smith gave the following talk on visiting teaching at an officers’ session of Relief Society general conference in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. The practice that came to be known as visiting teaching began when visiting committees in Nauvoo, Illinois, were formed in the spring of 1843. Committee members visited families both to identify and to supply their needs. They also visited church members to ask for donations. As part of the reestablishment of the Relief Society in Utah in 1868, Sarah M. Kimball and Eliza R. Snow drafted a document that further developed the responsibilities of teachers, adding that they should visit persons on their assigned blocks once per month.13 The Relief Society general board began providing a uniform message for visiting teachers in 1921, and visiting teachers stopped collecting charity funds in 1944.14 Smith composed visiting teaching messages for the year beginning in October 1969 under the theme “truths to live by” and focused them on messages from the Book of Mormon, “a shining light in our turbulently troubled times.”15

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.16

Across the centuries from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean comes this warm invitation from our Savior.

As Jesus climbed the dry hills of Galilee or trod the dusty roads of Judea, he met poverty, disease, afflictions of every kind. He found the sinner repentant and unrepentant. He met the suffering. And out of these experiences and his vast understanding came his compassionate solicitation, “Come unto me.”

In 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that God is “the same unchangeable God.”17 So, it is no surprise that on July 28, 1843, sixteen women were appointed “to search out the poor and suffering … to relieve the wants of all.”18 Sixteen in a world of millions. But there had to be a beginning. In 1843, 16 visiting teachers; today, well over 100,000; tomorrow 200,000; the day after tomorrow two million.

A few weeks ago, I met a wonderful friend of mine. She has been active in Relief Society for many years. I love her. I was delighted to see her. I wanted to know all about her. I asked her what she was doing in the church now. There was a noticeable pause. Then, she answered, “Oh, I’m just a visiting teacher.” Just a visiting teacher! After we parted, I thought, how would she feel if the Savior came to her next visiting teachers meeting and said to her, “I want you to be my emissary. I want you to tell the women in your district that I love them, that I am concerned about what happens to them and their families. I want you to be my helper, to watch over these sisters, to care for them so that all will be well in my kingdom.”19 If we met after such a meeting, wouldn’t her reply be different? Hasn’t he already called her through his priesthood as surely as if he stood in her presence?

How many of our visiting teachers think of themselves as “just visiting teachers”?

To the visiting teacher is given the great responsibility of searching out those in need. More, she tells all sisters by her visit that someone cares and that God cares.

The visiting teacher should be the best friend of everyone in her district. Oh, I don’t mean the most intimate friend, but the best friend.

I hope everyone here has a best friend, for then you will know what I mean. What is a best friend? It is a friend in whom one can confide and know that her secrets will be safe. It is someone who listens and someone who wants to listen. It is someone who is interested in all that happens to her friend. It is someone who always helps when needed.

When I go to the door and find my best friend standing, waiting to come in, my heart glows. I can’t open the door fast enough. I am delighted to see her. I know that she loves me as I love her.

The visiting teacher should evoke such a response in everyone over whom she watches. She should not be someone who rushes in the last day of the month and says, “I’ve just a few minutes—I know you’ve read the message and know it better than I do, and you don’t need it anyway. How are you, and I’ll see you at Relief Society next week.” The visiting teacher should leave behind her a love that blesses both the visited sister and her home.

Years ago as I was leaving the chapel after a Relief Society meeting, my visiting teacher stopped me. “Alice,” she said, “you have everything you need. I wish I could do something for you.”

“You do something for me every month,” I replied. “You bring me a message of love. I am comforted and strengthened by your concern for me and my family.” But she did not seem entirely satisfied.

Less than two hours later she came to my door. In her hand was a loaf of freshly baked homemade bread. “After I left you today,” she said, “I remembered that you told me once that your university duties keep you so busy that you never have time to bake bread. So there is something special I can do for you.”

Five years ago we returned to our home after a three-year absence.20 We were tired from a long overseas journey. We hadn’t yet had time to go to the market. Twenty minutes after we walked in there was a knock at our door. There she stood, my visiting teacher (now long since released) with a loaf of freshly baked homemade bread and a jar of raspberry jam. I love the emblem of the Relief Society with its motto, “Charity Never Faileth,” but my own private emblem of visiting teaching will always be a loaf of freshly baked homemade bread.21

We are “to relieve the wants of all.”22 In our confused and complex world, as in the world of Jesus, there is loneliness, despair, sin, and suffering. Who knows which day we will find them in the homes of our friends? We must be prepared.

Compassion is a way of life. Darlene, young, pretty, charming, the mother of a young baby, developed multiple sclerosis. Swiftly the disease progressed so that she could not take care of her baby. It was at this time that she was visited by two compassionate visiting teachers. “Pour oil and wine to the wounds of the distressed,” counseled the Prophet Joseph Smith.23 They continued to call and help.

Her other friends, at first attentive, began to visit less and less often as the years went on. Her husband deserted her. Darlene grew bitter. She met overtures of help with angry hostile words. Why should she lie helpless when others traveled, played, and worked as they wished? Why should she lie in bed and grow weaker and weaker? She railed against her fate. As she did, her friends ceased to come.

One of the visiting teachers moved away. The other was released, but her loving care did not stop. Through the years this dedicated ex-visiting teacher visited frequently, offering her continuing help. She saw through Darlene’s angry, bitter words. Even when they were directed at her, she did not forsake the hurt and suffering one.

Recently Darlene’s family moved to Utah. Darlene, now completely bedridden and still under forty, moved here also. Was that the end of her old visiting teacher’s care? No. A long distance telephone call to a member of the visiting teacher’s family in Utah: “Please visit Darlene. Let her know that I think of her and love her. Please go and see her whenever you can.”

Compassion is a way of life. Years of care and distances do not matter when a visiting teacher is a concerned, loving best friend. The visiting teachers’ messages are important. The rules that govern our visiting teaching are important, but beyond and above them all and far more important is the understanding, concerned, and loving heart.

Never were visiting teachers more needed. The visiting teacher may never meet a Darlene, but every month she finds those who need love and acceptance.

Each year as the church grows, the need for visiting teachers will grow greater. What is their future? They will help combat the loneliness which plagues our world and impersonality of the big cities. They will look after the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the wounded, and distressed, after all sisters with concerned, loving care. They will be needed as my grandmother was when she left her warm pioneer bed on stormy nights to drive miles with a horse and buggy in response to a cry of need.24 As my mother during the depression found the hungry, so will they.25 As my visiting teacher brought me a loaf of freshly baked homemade bread and love, so will they. They will help relieve physical, emotional, and mental suffering. They will aid the sinner and comfort the sorrowing. They will carry a message of gospel love to all our sisters throughout the world. As their warm, tender care spreads its web around the world, they will become a standard to the nations.26

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.27

God bless the visiting teachers. For when all work together the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

By this shall all men know that we are our Lord’s disciples, if we have love one to another.28 May it ever be so, I pray. Amen.

Footnotes

  1. [1]W. Whitney and Alice C. Smith, interview by Christen L. Schmutz, July 12, 1979, preface, James Moyle Oral History Program, CHL.

  2. [2]Alice C. Smith, interview by Harvard Heath, Oct. 25, 1985, 73, transcript, BYU.

  3. [3]W. Whitney and Alice C. Smith, interview, preface; “Alice Colton Smith,” Relief Society Magazine 51, no. 12 (Dec. 1964): 897.

  4. [4]W. Whitney and Alice C. Smith, interview, preface; “Alice Colton Smith,” 897.

  5. [5]Peter J. Rabe, “A Conversation with Sister Smith,” Austrian Mission Memories, 1960–1963, [13–14], CHL.

  6. [6]W. Whitney and Alice C. Smith, interview, preface.

  7. [7]“Alice Colton Smith,” Deseret Morning News, Aug. 3, 2006. Belle S. Spafford was the ninth Relief Society general president, from 1945 to 1974, and Barbara B. Smith was the tenth, from 1974 to 1984.

  8. [8]Smith, interview, 29.

  9. [9]Smith, interview, 41–42.

  10. [10]After reading Smith’s first lesson, Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote Marianne C. Sharp that no one was to alter Smith’s style or change what she wrote. (Smith, interview by Heath, 42–43.)

  11. [11]Smith, interview by Heath, 74. The term Patty Perfect first appears in print in 1939 in reference to the perfect secretary. It has been used since the middle of the twentieth century to refer to stereotypical, idealized women in general—including those in the church. (Business Education World 20 [1939]: 761.)

  12. [12]W. Whitney and Alice C. Smith, interview, 14–15.

  13. [13]Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 8, 288.

  14. [14]Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 244, 288; Belle S. Spafford, interview by Jill Mulvay Derr, Jan. 12, 1976, 29, CHL.

  15. [15]Alice Colton Smith, “Visiting Teacher Messages,” Relief Society Magazine 56, no. 6 (June 1969): 469–471.

  16. [16]Citation in original: “Matt. 11:28–30.”

  17. [17]Citation in original: “D&C 20:17.”

  18. [18]Citation in original: “Former Relief Society Handbook, p. 29.” See Handbook of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The General Board of the Relief Society, 1931), 29; see also Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, July 28, 1843, [101–102], in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 110. Annie Wells Cannon and Vera White Pohlman assisted Amy Brown Lyman in producing the 1931 handbook, which was intended to inform Relief Society members and officers about the organization’s history, regulations, and procedures. The authors relied heavily on records from past general secretaries, including Eliza R. Snow, Sarah M. Kimball, Emmeline B. Wells, Olive D. Christensen, Amy Brown Lyman, and Julia A. F. Lund. The book was first issued at the April 1931 Relief Society conference. (Amy Brown Lyman, In Retrospect: Autobiography of Amy Brown Lyman [Salt Lake City: General Board of Relief Society, 1945], 84; Handbook of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 12–13; “Relief Society Handbook,” Relief Society Magazine 18, no. 5 [May 1931]: 297.)

  19. [19]Visiting teacher meetings at this time took place the first week of each month—excluding four months each summer—immediately before the spiritual living meeting. During each thirty- to forty-five-minute meeting, visiting teachers reported on home visits, an officer presented the visiting teaching message for the new month, and the Relief Society president gave instructions as she saw necessary. (Handbook of Instructions of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: General Board of Relief Society, 1968], 32.)

  20. [20]Smith here refers to her time in Austria, during which she presided over the Relief Society and her husband was mission president. (Rabe, “A Conversation with Sister Smith,” [13].)

  21. [21]In 1942, art professor Jack Sears designed the Relief Society emblem familiar to church members today. It includes two sheaves of wheat, representing Relief Society members’ labors to save wheat against times of famine. (Connie Lamb, “Symbols of the LDS Relief Society,” Mormon Historical Studies 14, no. 1 [Spring 2013]: 115–116, 118–120; see also Jessie L. Embry, “Relief Society Grain Storage Program, 1876–1940” [master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974]; and Jessie L. Embry, “Grain Storage: The Balance of Power between Priesthood Authority and Relief Society Autonomy,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15, no. 4 [Winter 1982]: 59–66.)

  22. [22]Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, July 28, 1843, [101–102], in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 110.

  23. [23]See Luke 10:34. On April 1, 1842, the Times and Seasons published an article on the newly founded Nauvoo Relief Society that stated that one of the purposes of the society was to “pour in oil and wine to the wounded heart of the distressed.” Though this article was attributed to the newspaper’s editor, Joseph Smith, it was likely authored by John Taylor. Based on the original attribution, the compilers of the manuscript history of the church indicated that Joseph Smith had spoken these words at the Relief Society meeting held on March 24, 1842. The statement was then included in the History of the Church, where Alice C. Smith would likely have read it. The original minutes of that meeting do not contain this statement. (Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, Mar. 24, 1842, 21, and “Ladies’ Relief Society,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 11 [Apr. 1, 1842]: 743, in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 42, 132–133; Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, vol. C-1 [Nov. 2, 1838–July 31, 1842], Mar. 24, 1842, 1302, accessed Feb. 3, 2016, josephsmithpapers.org; Joseph Smith et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1902–1912 (vols. 1–6), 1932 (vol. 7)], 4:567–568.)

  24. [24]Likely Nancy Colton. One of Nancy’s children reported in a 1977 family history, “In the early years Mother had countless opportunities to give full play to the philanthropic characteristics she had inherited from her mother. There were no doctors in the Valley then and Mother went far and near to help people in times of sickness. No road was too long or too rough, no night was too dark, and no weather too inclement to keep her from answering the call of someone in need of help.” (Miriam C. Perry, ed., An Historical and Biographical Record of the Sterling Driggs Colton Family, Descendants and Related Families [Logan, UT: Educational Printing Service, 1977], 23, FHL.)

  25. [25]Women fed the hungry both on their own and through organized Relief Society efforts. (Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 250, 257–258.)

  26. [26]See Doctrine and Covenants 115:5.

  27. [27]Citation in original: “Matt. 11:28–30.”

  28. [28]See John 13:35.