Sister Chieko Okazaki spoke at our stake women's conference over the weekend (11/97). I thought what she had to say deserved more airplay, so I'm sending this synopsis to sundry lists & friends. Here goes:
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 we 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 were 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. [an error occurred while processing this directive]