"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 29, 2013
Into Our Closet
by Marian Stoddard

During World War II, my father was in basic training at Camp Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about fifty miles south of Seattle. That's a little south of here, in the county where we now live. 

He would hitchhike up to Tacoma to have Sunday School in someone's living room because there was no meetinghouse yet. The members were raising funds to build, but that was still in the future. I heard tales of those days when we moved here, and knew some of the families who had hosted those Sunday School meetings.

It was rather fun, when we located here, to have him walk in during his first visit and say, "Ah, this is the building they were raising money for." It was dedicated by David O. McKay, then an apostle, and built in large part with member labor. 

We have one brother still here, still living, who was a part of that physical building effort. He's 92 years old now and still running his father's business. We have memories shared from others who have left to live elsewhere, or who have passed on.

For me, the immediate pleasure was that our building is very like the Chevy Chase (MD) Ward where I grew up, a New England-style brick church. It's a little smaller, and the layout is simpler, but it has a chapel wall that disappears down into the floor, and ours still works. (The brother mentioned above will proudly tell you that he dug the hole for that wall in the basement. His company is in demolition and construction.) Our overflow is out to the side of the chapel, not straight behind -- but I felt right at home.

I love the light in the chapel from the tall windows that run along one side, the not-fussy ornamentation, the sense of belonging to a bit of history, but I mused on one so-simple uniqueness this week in Relief Society.

Our Relief Society room closet is an actual, walk-in closet, not cupboard doors that open on a side wall. It holds quilting frames -- how many baby gifts, shelter donations, and humanitarian services assignments have been made over the decades? 

The babies I had here were each given a quilt (that was the personal mission of one of the older sisters, now long gone from this world). The closet fits hymnbooks, lesson manuals, tablecloths, table decorations, a couple of sewing machines and more: it will fit four people, if needed, arms folded, heads bowed. It fills then with reverence and love.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:6)

It's a chance for secret prayer within a public setting, in preparation, and it's a tender opportunity to experience revelation and affirmation in service. I never doubt that my Heavenly Father will help me from my individual prayers seeking for guidance, but I would never wave off the invitation to enter into the closet for a quiet extra measure of communion.

Before every Relief Society meeting begins, while the prelude music plays, while the sisters are making their way in and finding seats, visiting with each other quietly, the presidency steps into the closet with that week's teacher, closes the door and one of them offers a prayer for her. I have been, long ago, one of the leadership to take a turn offering up the needs of that day to the Lord, and I have been the teacher, many, many times, either in my calling or as a substitute, who was the recipient of those prayers.

As a counselor, I often felt the Spirit's guidance giving me words; as a teacher, I have felt inspiration and peace offered to me. It makes a difference in going out into that room ready to give a lesson that has been studied and prepared, prayed about at home, and now, if all is well, settled into peace; to trusting inspiration. 

It means, as a teacher, that you're not up there alone if you're feeling uncertain; it means, as a teacher, that you feel the love and faith of your sister leaders at your back and in your heart. With a chance to set aside your stresses, your hurry or worry, it means you are more open, ready, and in tune.

Every church building plan should include such a quiet space, to be able to draw into the closet and pray. It's such a simple thing, but it's a gift. Whatever the space in which you meet, though, the best gift is finding love, faith, and uplift in the shared testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We belong to each other just as much as we belong to Him.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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