Our women's conference theme was Discover the Joy, and the attendant
scripture was D&C 42:61.
Sister Okazaki began her remarks by holding up 4 cookie cutters
and asking the audience what they thought cookie cutters had to
do with joy. She told us we'd come back to the cookie cutters, and
she then outlined four principles from the theme scripture: 1) asking,
2) revelation, 3) knowledge, and 4) mysteries & peaceable things.
She said that we often get a lot of promissory notes at church--if
you have Family Home Evening, your kids will get along with each
other; if you're obedient, you'll be happy; if you work harder,
do better, or do things more times, you'll be blessed. She pointed
out that this scripture doesn't mention any of the myriad things
we're all *supposed* to do, but concentrated on 4 gospel basics.
Sister Okazaki said we have to ask for assistance from the Lord
for two reasons: He won't violate our agency even to give us good
things, and He wants to lure us into conversation with him. The
first step is to ask and wee shall receive--a principle reiterated
often in the scriptures. (She also said not to worry over prayer
protocol or pronouns, just ASK).
She then described the two kinds of revelation we can receive:
1) revelation about the nature of God & the meaning of life
(testimony) and 2) revelations that are outpourings of specific
information regarding our daily lives (personal). The first we need
like we need oxygen, the second like we need our daily bread; she
also said we NEED to feel joy in our lives.
She then described some of the things that are *supposed* to bring
us joy, and likened this to a blue plate special, saying the messages
we get a church often treat us like every woman's needs are the
same and that we should be like everyone else. Mothers are supposed
to find total joy & fulfillment in bearing and raising children;
single women are supposed to find joy in preparing to marry and
raise families; widows like herself are supposed to find joy in
enduring to the end.
She said the problem with these messages is that they do not treat
you as an individual. Praying, serving, reading scriptures, and
going to the temple are good things, but these messages are not
tailored to individual circumstances.
She wondered if others felt as she does sometimes--that she doesn't
*want* one more blue plate special, and feels like she'll gag on
what someone else is trying to feed her. (At this point, I wanted
to stand up and cheer, but decorum dictated otherwise).
She then returned to the cookie cutter analogy, saying that cookie
cutters are for cookies, not for human beings, and we should not
try to live someone else's life. She then told stories of two women.
The first was about Donna Jean Holiday, mother of 10, who after
moving to Salt Lake City, suffered a nervous breakdown & depression
from the pressures of trying to be supermom. One day, she told her
family she was going for a walk and disappeared. She left a note
which described her feeling that she was impeding her family's progress
and that they'd be better off without her. Last week, her body was
found with a gunshot wound to the head.
Sister Okazaki mourned the circumstances that would make this
woman feel she was better off dead. She then told a story of another
woman who had written to her about finding herself in similar circumstances:
depression, at the end of her rope, spending years struggling in
joyless circumstances. She, too, thought at times that death would
be a blessing. But one day, she was reading through one of Sister
Okazaki's books and ran across a passage that echoed King Benjamin's
statements: we would give, but we have not--that sometimes there's
nothing left for us to give.
When we are in what Sister Okazaki called a season of depletion,
it's OK to await our time of renewal without feeling guilty about
our inability to give. The second sister felt like someone had really
understood her and loved her, even if she was just reading words
on a page. Sister Okazaki asked what will create this atmosphere
of understanding and love? Does it help to bellow cheerful advice,
to tell someone to get on with their lives? No. She said if anyone
there felt useless, worthless, unloved, sad, etc. to get help from
the Lord, the Relief Society president, the bishop, home teachers,
family, or a therapist, but to make a change--to realize you are
*worth* rearranging the environment for.
She said sometimes we live cookie cutter lives, and there can come
a time when the boundaries don't feel good anymore; that's when
we need personal revelation from our Heavenly Father & Heavenly
Mother. We may have discover that we're not the right person for
that particular cookie cutter, and we ought not lop off parts of
ourselves to try to fit into someone else's shape.
She then spoke of an aunt whom she lived with while she was in
college and how abusive her uncle was toward his wife. She said
she was glad when her aunt divorced him a few years later--not that
she was saying to get divorced--but that there were some things
*worse* than divorce. Something in her aunt was dying because of
her marriage, and she deserved to experience joy and happiness.
Sister Okazaki then returned to the points from the scriptures:
ask for revelation about the way the Savior wants us to live--that
all we may have to go on is a tiny flicker, but to keep going. She
spoke of the importance of knowledge and the mysteries of God, which
she described as things we don't understand *yet*, not things that
are dangerous or irrelevant to our salvation as these are often
portrayed. God is anxious to explain his ways to us if we will ask.
She then said that true joy comes through a firsthand, personal,
intimate daily relationship with Jesus Christ--that this is the
only must or should that the scriptures mention, and that in developing
this relationship, we will discover joy in our lives.
Whew! It was truly amazing to hear this message. It was exactly
the kind of words I've so often craved to hear--something *other*
than the standard, ready-made, one size fits all answers to the
concerns and difficulties in our lives. I only wish there were legions
more women leaders like Sister Okazaki, and that every woman in
the church could feast on similar words often.