Every now and then I see a surge in people talking about Emma and her life, groups of women connecting with the Church’s past by connecting with the prophet’s wife. But for the most part she’s supporting cast, a footnote in the life of Joseph. I’ve wondered how she sat to the side and watched her husband leave their family so often during the founding and growth of the church. He was often traveling to spread the Gospel, and he was repeatedly jailed. Yet there she was, birthing children, raising children, and grieving over the loss of children, alone. On top of that she probably had people knocking on the door all the time, wondering when, exactly, was the prophet going to return?
Though my circumstances are altogether different, they are still very similar. My husband is far away and unable to return home. I was pregnant during a previous deployment, and I am now attempting to raise my children by myself. I have bouts of immense loneliness, and trials that must be uniquely designed to be of the utmost difficulty to me alone. I sometimes wonder where I stand in the pecking order of my husband’s priorities, and I will even confess to a little bitterness now and again. Communication is often sparse and there is a constant underlying fear for his safety, the elephant in the room that everyone avoids. As a soldier’s wife I am frequently reminded that his mission is not a popular one. His motives and intelligence have been questioned, which is frustrating for the spouse of a man so filled with honor, integrity, and principle.
Every Sunday I struggle through church. I absolutely hate it. I never feel as alone as I do walking through the halls battling my children. Forget trying not to lose my mind, I just want to make it through without shedding tears. I go because I know I should, and because I have to believe there is some comfort and guidance to be found there if I can ever manage to rise above the frustrations of my situation. I know my isolation is partly self-imposed, and if I allow myself to skip church the odds are slim that I will go back any time in the next 10 months. Like anything, I have to just suck it up and drive one, because the hardest part is, well, the hardest part.
Our lesson in Relief Society today was about Joseph Smith’s letters to his family as he traveled and was incarcerated. It was a shock to my system, and an enlightening experience. I have been so wrapped up in my own difficulties that I have rarely taken a moment to see the bigger picture. I have so adamantly believed that I am alone in every way that I forgot about the other half of the equation, my husband’s loneliness and worry. In my desire to make life easier for him I avoid discussing the more emotionally strenuous challenges I face, and I don’t know exactly who I thought I was fooling. Joseph wrote to Emma, “I feel for you, for I know your state and that others do not, but you must comfort yourself knowing that God is your friend in heaven and that you have one true and living friend on earth, your husband”. My husband has said the same thing from time to time, that he is saddened by my struggles, as only the best of friends can be for one another. “Tell them Father says they must be good children and mind their mother. My dear Emma, there is great responsibility resting upon you in preserving yourself in honor and sobriety before them and teaching them right things” and also, “It will be a long and lonesome time during my absence from you. … Be patient until I come, and do the best you can”. How often has my husband tried to calm me, to help me, to remind me that I have to keep my cool, even when I am supremely discouraged? His irritation at being unable to step in and lighten my burden must be at least equal to the irritation I have in dealing with the day to day business of parenting. He always tells me to do my best, and that he knows I’m doing a good job, always acknowledging my efforts.
In letters from 1838, 1839, and 1840, Joseph wrote: “To press them to my bosom and kiss their lovely cheeks would fill my heart with unspeakable gratitude. Tell the children that I am alive and trust I shall come and see them before long. Comfort their hearts all you can, and try to be comforted yourself all you can…I would gladly walk from here to you barefoot and bareheaded and half-naked to see you and think it great pleasure, and never count it toil…I am filled with constant anxiety and shall be until I get home. I pray God to spare you all until I get home. My dear Emma, my heart is entwined around you and those little ones. I want you to remember me. Tell all the children that I love them and will come home as soon as I can. Yours in the bonds of love, your husband”. Many of these things are almost verbatim statements made by my own husband. His loneliness and physical ache to see his family is the same as our desire to see him. Though he can’t be here because of his commitment to his country and his fellow soldiers, we are always his most important cause, much as Emma must have been for Joseph. Through the difficulty and the distance, their love and support for one another flowed.
Today I remember why we do what we do. I remember that above all we cling to each other, and that together we cling to the Lord. Outside of our sadness and our disappointment and our desire to sometimes call the other person a big jerk face or run away and join the circus, we have the same eternal goals. We work, we struggle, we suffer, and we celebrate. Together.
So Joseph was, with Emma by his side. Leading the way for those of us who would follow. Just a man who wanted to be with his family and serve the Lord, guided to do difficult and unpopular things. It speaks to me of the Lord’s guidance in restoring this Gospel, and to Joseph and Emma’s commitment to that immense cause. And I have the feeling that maybe, just maybe, Emma is watching my plight from her mansion on high, and she’s pulling for me to hang in there. Because she knows it’s worth it.