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Cover image via Mormon Newsroom.
Some conversations just stick with you. Recently our Institute instructor mentioned a book written by our newly sustained Prophet’s wife, Sister Wendy Watson Nelson. She said it talked about a three-day experiment that Sister Nelson asked several friends to do and then she reports on the results! From the conversation with our instructor, Sister Nelson’s friends experienced a wide range of lovely things from cleaner and tidier homes to happier and more peaceful relationships.
Hmmmm. How intriguing! What was this experiment? President Nelson’s recent, fervent plea at General Conference for us to increase our spiritual capacity continues to ring in my head and in my heart. Some perspective from his wife couldn’t help but be instructive. From those who are watching this incredible spiritual giant and dynamic leader, his remarkably excellent health, inspiring energy and happy growing family are surely a reflection on her as well. Any kind of window into how President and Sister Nelson personally approach daily life is a pearl of great price in my mind.
Our instructor didn’t know the title, but it wasn’t hard to Google and find it: “What Would A Holy Woman Do?” was available at Amazon and I quickly ordered a copy. However, I was surprised when it arrived! It was so little! Published by Deseret Book in 2013, it’s a pretty, tiny little book — just 5×7 and not even 50 pages of text with a few pages for journaling in the back. It’s more like a little gift book. Which, it turns out, it IS! For whoever is fortunate enough to receive and read it.
It starts with an experience she had with President Nelson. On assignment to rededicate the Temple in Tonga, they did a final walk-through before the big day. While everything looked perfect and beautiful, there was something missing which would prevent the rededication of the Temple: President Nelson drew their attention to the fact that the words “House of the Lord, Holiness to the Lord” had not been replaced on the outside of the Temple. The omission was quickly adjusted, and the temple rededication went forth as planned.
This experience and the importance of those words left Sister Nelson with a great deal to ponder on a personal level. After all, according to Paul and Corinthians 3:16-17, we, as individuals, are temples too!
As she returned home, she reflected, “I started to wonder about holiness – the meaning of the word, the placement of those words. I asked myself what I needed to change in my life so that I could have those words – Holiness To The Lord – placed upon my life. I wondered if I could ever be worthy to have those words placed, and if those words were placed, what would that mean … what did holiness even mean?
And what about the scripture … “And ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually.” (D&C 46:33)
With her own ponderings about daily life and holiness, the experiment was born! She chose six female friends, (ages 25-65) and sent an email asking them for just three days to choose one activity each day and try to “be holy” while doing it!
For example, how would a “holy woman” start her day? How would she launch an overwhelming new project, read to a child, or say good-bye to her husband as he heads off to work. How would she exercise? Shop? Pray? Pay bills? Fulfill her ward or Church calling? Respond to her own successes and failures, along with the successes and failures of others?
You get the picture. Her six friends were very enthusiastic. The book continues with one short chapter devoted to each of them: Helen, Julie, Marilyn, Kate, Barbara, and Carolyn. Bot me, but I wish it were me that was her personal friend!!! :0)
Somehow just typing the words in the above paragraph, “how would a holy woman launch an overwhelming project?” created a new sense of purpose and direction for me, and so it was with these women. Chapter by chapter, each reported on their own intrigue and keen desire to understand holiness better and be more holy. And sure enough! Just as our institute instructor had told us, these women DID report a full range of lovely, beautiful progress in their lives as they applied the golden question.
Helen reported an experience with her five-year old daughter: Eight months pregnant with two other young children, Helen had a window of time on Day 2 of the experiment that she had planned to use for some uplifting reading. Just as she started, however, her children interrupted her. “What does a holy woman do?” she asked herself and quickly knew the answer: A holy woman would be with her children.
Helen thought, “Well, if I’m going to be with my children, I’m really going to be with them!” So she decided to play a game with them. There was a new board game from Christmas that hadn’t been opened, so she patiently unwrapped all the pieces and read the instructions. It took a little longer than anticipated, but Helen patiently persisted. Suddenly her little girl turned to her and said, “Mom, this is the first day I really love!”
“What do you mean?” Helen asked. Her daughter replied “Today we get to be with you!”
“I’m always here with you!” Helen responded. “No you’re not,” countered this wee wise one. We’re playing in our rooms, but you’re always working somewhere else in the house! But today you are with us! Today is the first day I really love!”
And so the book continues, with daily matters – mostly small – that are actually bigger and holier than one might ever imagine. Ironing her husband’s shirt, Kate realized it needed a button on the collar band, and immediately did it rather than tossing it in a pile. What a good feeling! Barbara chose to ignore the worldly and unrealistic fashion/celebrity magazines at the grocery store checkout line, picking up a gardening magazine instead while she waited in line. Many of the women did indeed, have a desire to tidy and simplify their homes.
It was intended to be for just three days with one activity each day, but its impact spilled over to other activities and family members. One little boy, noticing the difference in his mother’s behavior, asked why she was different. She told him, specificially about the question, “What would a holy woman do?”
This precious little guy immediately “got it!” When a game with his sibling went awry later in the day with tears and quarreling, he stood up and said, “A holy boy would not shout at his brothers and sisters!” They solved their problem and peacefully finished the game.
Did it make a difference for me? How could it not? Within a day or so after completing the book, I had straightened out a messy closet and experienced the lift that always brings. Several other projects and conversations were managed differently. I had the heart to say “no” to some things that I ordinarily would have said “yes” to, knowing that a holy woman has priorities and limits on her time.
It opened up a great deal of thought and surprisingly, more articles on everyday holiness hopped into my lap. An old book of BYU Women’s conference talks quietly made its way to the top of my reading, and there were two additional wonderful talks to inspire thoughts … and action.
“A Voice Demands That We Ascend: Dare the Encounter!” by Ann Madsen. Scriptures regarding the Lord’s desire for His people to come unto Him abound! Those scriptures are ours for the embracing and can be applied to everyday, temporal activities that will increase personal holiness and will our deepen our relationship with our Savior.
She says, “Our relationship with the Lord is the prototype for all our other relationships. We had a closeness with the Lord before we came here. We are not establishing, but reestablishing that relationship. He is no stranger to us. In Jeremiah the Lord explains, “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you … thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future of peace.” (The Best of BYU Womens Conference, Deseret Book, page 311.)
The important principles of creating a home (or apartment or personal room) where the Lord feels “at home” is a part of her talk. With order, beauty, music and art each having a place, our homes/apartments/rooms can be extensions of the Temple.
And to not that thought that our homes be in always perfect temple order be overwhelming, there is a wonderful contrast to what a holy home looks like in Mary B. Kirk’s talk in the same volume: “Finding Holiness in Everyday Life.”
“If I want to understand and know the Savior, I have to say to him, “Come unto me. Visit me in my house, in my space on earth.” And if he would come and be right there close by me, I could say, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?” I have a good imagination, so I can see the Savior coming up the steps with the faulty rail, standing on my porch, and gently knocking on my door, wanting to come in and bring some peace and joy to my whirlwind. ..”
She then goes on to explain what she would show the Savior…She takes Him from room to room, pointing out messes that symbolize children learning, family meals, and projects in which God given talents are used.
“Come see my laundry room. See all these clothes? I know that many people need these worse than we do….the laundry pile can be discouraging at times.I’m so grateful to have hot, running water. That is the thing I am most grateful for…besides the Atonement…I know a lot of my brothers and sisters on earth don’t have hot, running water – or even water. Today there are more clothes clean and folded than dirty and unsorted. When I work in here I can see work clothes and school clothes and play clothes and church clothes. Looking at these clothes I can see Jim hard at work to provide for us. I see one of my sons sitting on the deacons bench, getting ready to serve the sacrament. I see my other son running track in the rain and the mud. It’s right there in the laundry room. I can see them. And I can see my girls playing dress-ups, pretending to be mommies and dancers and doctors and teachers and all those wonderful things. Imagining and dreaming…”
In Mosiah 18:12 Alma records, “O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.”
Instead of asking a bowl of ice cream to help and comfort me, I need to ask the Lord.
“He’ll sprinkle holiness into today, and we will find it. He will pour out his holiness upon us at the rate that we open our eyes and perceive, open our ears and understand, and open our hearts and invite him in.”
(The Best of BYU Wolmens Conference, Deseret Book, pages 280-283).
Could anything be more important for a mother to know that there are times when housekeeping can wait!?
Now back to Sister Nelson’s book and it’s mighty question: “What would a holy woman … or for that matter man or child do?”
Simply being open to the question and letting its merits linger in our thoughts is truly an inspiration and a beautiful tool to increasing the spiritual capacity that our new Prophet is talking about.
For me, since I love to apply these principles right down to what we’re having for dinner and how we care for our mortal bodies, this question provides a significant opportunity towards healthy eating.
What would a holy woman (or man or child) eat? When would they eat? Where would they eat?
That’s an article in and of itself for another day! But this I know: binge eating in private and the consumption of junk, man-made food would be greatly reduced, while the God-made foods — fruits, vegetables and wholesome grains would increase … with joy.
It’s food for thought, isn’t it? And so, in conclusion is the scripture that Sister Nelson provides on the cover of the book:
“And ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually.” (D& C 36:33). The word “practice” can be defined as a custom or ritual, but also – of course, the repetition required to improve and master any skill.
What a comforting commandment to embrace! Isn’t it similar to a parent encouraging a child with the discipline required to practice and gain proficiency with a musical instrument? There is joy (along with success and failure) in each day of practicing, yet in the very present is the promising fulfillment of oh-so much more to come! Even to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His Son!
Thank you, Sister Nelson! This is a question to carry in our hearts and apply to our daily lives as we carry on with the joys and challenges of surviving and thriving the last days.
Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been a columnist for Meridian Magazine for 11 years, providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success and happy living both online and in the Washington, DC community since 1999. She has presented for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents of a growing number of darling little ones. They are now happy empty nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox. CLICK HERE