Families grow stronger when we recognize that we all live within two spheres or circles - our circle of concern and our sphere of influence. We strengthen our families when we concentrate on those things that we can actually do something about rather than worrying about all those things in the world that concern us.
Stephen R. Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: "The Circle of Concern is a large circle that embraces everything in your life that you may be concerned about. The Circle of Influence is a smaller circle within the Circle of Concern that embraces the things you can actually do something about.
"The reactive tendency is to focus on the Circle of Concern, but this only causes the inner Circle of Influence to be diminished. The nature of energy focused on the outer Circle of Concern is negative. And when you combine that negative energy with neglect of the Circle of Influence, inevitably the Circle of Influence gets smaller.
"But proactive people focus on their Circle of Influence. As a result, that circle increases….
"One of the best ways to tell whether you're in your Circle of Influence or Circle of Concern is to listen to your own language. If you're in your Circle of Concern, your language will be blaming, accusing, reactive.
"If you're in your Circle of Influence, your language will be proactive. It will reflect a focus on the things you can do something about."
Each of us has a circle of influence or sphere of action. The following information is from a lesson I taught in Relief Society a few weeks ago; therefore, it will be directed towards women - daughters, wives, mothers, etc. That does not however say that males cannot learn from this material. I took the bulk of my lesson from a chapter in Daughters in My Kingdom entitled "A Wide and Extensive Sphere of Action". I found the material to be very interesting, especially in light of my understanding about Covey's circle of influence.
The information in the two books reminded me of the "Serenity Prayer" of Saint Francis: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
One of the comments during my lesson made an impact on me. A sister reminded me that a "circle" is one-dimensional while a "sphere" is multi-dimensional. It is important for all of us to remember that our influence is felt by many different people with many different problems and in many different areas of our lives. It is particularly critical that we remember this fact as we interact within our families. We can get so caught up worrying about all the things that are happening in our communities and nation (circle of concern) that we are too busy or too paralyzed to operate within our sphere of influence - accomplishing those things within our family that we can actually do something about.
The Relief Society of Nauvoo was organized with twenty women on March 17, 1842, and grew to eleven hundred women within six months. The sisters of Relief Society did much to strengthen their families and this society until the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered on June 27, 1844, and the Saints were driven out of Nauvoo. The sisters continued to bring relief wherever they could as they moved across the Plains, but there were no formal Relief Society meetings until twenty years after the Saints entered the
in 1847. Salt Lake Valley
On December 26, 1866, President Brigham Young expressed his desire to reestablish Relief Society. The next year he felt increased urgency to assist the bishops in their responsibility to find those who were in need. He told the bishops to organize Relief Societies in their wards and to give the sisters "the benefit of your wisdom and experience, give them your influence, guide and direct them wisely and well, and they will find rooms for the poor and obtain the means for supporting them ten times quicker than even the Bishop could" (p 41).
President Young called Eliza R. Snow to travel throughout the
to help the bishops organize Relief Societies. Sister Snow was especially capable of doing this task because she was one of the original twenty members of Relief Society. As the secretary of the organization, she kept detailed minutes of the meetings, especially the instructions that Joseph Smith gave to the sisters. She took her minute book when she left Nauvoo, and she kept it safe all the way across the Plains and for nearly twenty years after arriving in the Valley. "She understood the importance of what had been taught to the sisters in those meetings. She knew how the society should be structured, and she remembered the principles upon which it was established. She understood that the organization [for the women] was a fundamental part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Utah Territory
Sister Snow explained that "It is no ordinary thing to meet in an organization of this nature. This organization belongs to the organization of the
, in all dispensations when it is in perfection." She also said, "If any of the daughters and mothers in Church of Christ are feeling in the least [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed. … President Young has turned the key to a wide and extensive sphere of action and usefulness" (p 44). Israel
Sister Snow spent much time and traveled many miles to teach the sisters to enlarge their spheres of action. Charity continued to be the foundation of all things, both spiritual and physical, in the work the sisters accomplished. They delighted in doing the right things and to deal rightly to others in kindness, love, and charity to all.
Through the reorganization of the Relief Society, the sisters were taught to turn from worldly influences - frivolous and immodest behavior and clothing - and to set themselves apart from the rest of the world in good and righteous ways. They were taught that individuals could receive personal revelation from God to guide them in their personal lives and in their family and Church responsibilities. They were taught to "seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise" (45). The sisters were taught to defend marriage and their way of life while living the law of plural marriage. Sister Snow said, "It was high time [to] rise up in the dignity of our calling and speak for ourselves…. The world does not know us, and truth and justice to our brethren and to ourselves demands us to speak…. We are not inferior to the ladies of the world, and we do not want to appear so" (p 47).
In the late 1860s the
government passed legislation forbidding polygamous marriages, began imprisoning men who had plural wives, and threatened to confiscate all Church property if plural marriage did not come to an end. President Wilford Woodruff went to the Lord in 1890 about the problem and received a revelation that led to the Church's discontinuance of the practice of plural marriage. He wrote this revelation in a document known as the Manifesto and said, "The God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write." United States
"The women of the Church who, by revelation, embraced plural marriage and who, by revelation, later accepted the Manifesto are worthy of admiration and appreciation. They were strictly obedient to their covenants and the counsel of the living prophet. Today these women are honored by their faithful posterity" (p 48).
Helen Mar Whitney, who lived the law of plural marriage, wrote, "We may read the history of martyrs and mighty conquerors, and of many great and good men and women, but that of the noble women and fair daughters of Zion, whose faith in the promises of Israel's God enabled them to triumph over self and obey His higher law, and assist His servants to establish it upon the earth, … I feel sure there was kept by the angels an account of their works which will yet be found in the records of eternity, written in letters of gold" (p 49).
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still believe in the principle of plural marriage, but no faithful members of the Church practice plural marriage today and no faithful members have done so since 1890. One of the important tenets of our faith is that we believe in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law" of the land.
Relief Society sisters and priesthood brethren today are involved in defending marriage - the lawful and legal union of one man and one woman. We must be as fearless in defending this type of marriage as our pioneer sisters were in defending plural marriage. One of the best places we can do this in within our sphere of influence - our family and friends.
The sisters were also taught the importance of knowing the scriptures and being able to expound our beliefs articulately. President Spencer W. Kimball said, "I stress … the deep need each woman has to study the scriptures. We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians - whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family.
"Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures - not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to `treasure up' the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?"
President Kimball testified that women who "reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives" will become a powerful influence for good upon the "good women of the world" (p 50).
The Relief Society sisters were counseled to become temporally self-reliant and to learn skills that would help them to take care of all their needs. The sisters were to fulfill their duties at home with their husbands and children as well as to gain sewing skills and learn how to store and use food correctly. They were encouraged to become educated and even earn degrees in medicine. The sisters were encouraged to be politically active. The women of the
were granted the right to vote in February 1870. At that time, the only other place in the Utah Territory United States where women could vote was in the . The right for women to vote was rescinded by the federal government as part of the punishment for continuing to live the law of plural marriage. Even though the women could not vote, they remained vocal and articulate about their rights and regained their voting rights when Wyoming Territory became a state. They also earned the respect of other women's movements in the Utah and other parts of the world. United States
The Relief Society supported a newspaper titled the Woman's Exponent, which was written for Latter-day Saint women to help them learn about their work, their lives, and their history. This newspaper was discontinued in 1914 after 42 years of publication; the next year the Relief Society began publishing the Relief Society Magazine. I remember well this magazine coming to our home because it had wonderful stories in it. I often read the stories before my mother even saw the magazine!
The sisters of Relief Society were encouraged to be involved in teaching and training children and young women and were instrumental in strengthening the rising generation. In 1880 President John Taylor extended callings to sisters for general presidencies in three different organizations: the Relief Society for the women, a Young Women's society for teenage girls, and the Primary organization for children under age twelve.
The reestablishment of the Relief Society blessed the lives of Latter-day Saint women and led to greater responsibilities and greater opportunities for them. Sister Snow declared: "Don't you see that our sphere is increasing? Our sphere of action will continually widen, and no woman in
need[s] to mourn because her sphere is too narrow. Zion
"God bless you, my sisters, and encourage you, that you may be filled with light, and realize that you have no interests but in the welfare of
. Let your first business be to perform your duties at home. But, inasmuch as you are wise stewards, you will find time for social duties, because these are incumbent upon us as daughters and mothers in Zion . By seeking to perform every duty you will find that your capacity will increase, and you will be astonished at what you can accomplish" (pp 58-59). Zion
President Lorenzo Snow counseled many years later: "This is what we desire to instill in the hearts of the sisters - to be useful in their sphere and not be discouraged because of difficulties in the way, but trust in God and look to Him, and His marvelous blessings, I will promise you, will be poured out upon you" (p 43).
Our sphere of influence may be only our home. If we do our work well enough, our children will leave our home well prepared to take their place in the world and to influence all those who come within their spheres of action. My sphere of influence has grown much larger since my children became adults and have homes of their own. I still have influence over my children, but I also can influence their children and by extension those who meet my children and grandchildren. My sphere of influence will continue to grow throughout eternity as long as I focus on those things I actually can do something about. In this way, I can continue to help my family to grow stronger.