When I moved to Wichita six years ago, I chose a house in the last neighborhood on the western border of the city.  We are almost in the suburbs, but not quite.   As such, this neighborhood flip flops between suburb wards and city wards when the stake makes boundary changes.  Five weeks ago, my family and I were moved from a ward in the suburbs of Wichita to a ward that is primarily downtown. When that boundary change was put into effect, I was sustained as Relief Society President.

In that time, I have learned many things.  First, I learned the names of all 95 sisters unfamiliar to me from the roll of 120.   I have probably met about 60 of them in person by now. Then I learned about keys, cabinets, binders, board members, leadership in the other auxiliaries, upcoming activities and the MLS computer system.

But what I have learned most vividly is that I am powerless.

This is a hard lesson to learn for a task-oriented, overachieving, Type A, oldest child.  But it’s true. I have very little power.  And the bishop of the ward tried to point this out to me from the start.

When he extended the calling, he offered this advice:

“Karen, recognize that there will be a lot of things happen that might be heartbreaking. But don’t let others’ choices demoralize you.  You can’t take blame for others’ mistakes. Similarly, there will be a lot of growth in the lives of others. But don’t take credit for it. Don’t let yourself be affected by criticism or praise.  Just do what you can—without spreading yourself to thin—and be accountable for yourself. “

It turns out that Moses (Moses 1:10) and Ammon (Alma 26:12) both told me this and so did Job when he marveled at God’s creative powers in Job, Chapter 40. But I didn’t process the information until now.

Now, admitting that I am nothing does not mean that I should despair and detach.  It’s really more about defining myself in relationship to the divine.

Before the throne of God, I am powerless.  But I am also a child of God, and I am most powerful when I accept the small stewardships God has assigned to me.  I am confident that if I do what is in my power, God will make up the difference. “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). The atonement will cover my weaknesses that I have yet to overcome, and I will receive divine assistance to fulfill my stewardships: I will better hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost to guide my thoughts, words and actions. I will better find the help of others prompted to serve, teach and comfort .   Finally, I will better accept my limits and better recognize others’ strengths.

When I keep things to scale, I feel a calm joy, which sounds like an oxymoron.  But let me conclude with a passage of scripture that illustrates this calm joy.

In Alma 26, Ammon describes his joy in understanding his nothingness in relationship to God’s infinite power:

35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.

So while the idea of powerless at first completely horrifies me, ultimately, it’s quite liberating. And with that, I feel a comforting peace.   I just hope that I can retain a remembrance of this principle as I serve in this calling–and as I serve as a mother of teenagers who are teaching me about powerlessness as well.  But that’s another topic.


  1. Juliana

    May 16, 2014

    I love God’s concept of power. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it sometimes, because it is so different than the world’s concept of power. When we stop trying to depend on our own physical and spiritual and emotional muscle and tap into the atonement, the possibilities are endless, and we open ourselves up to miracles. It’s amazing. And to think we try and limit the power of the atonement to expunging sins…

    I think I need to send this to my type A missionary son.

    • Karen D. Austin

      May 18, 2014

      I have a goal to be a Type B person, but the fact that I have a goal betrays me. Sigh. Much love to you and your son as he serves on a mission.

  2. Strollerblader

    May 16, 2014

    I have been pondering on the powerlessness of parenting a lot lately. Thanks for these thoughts and reminders.

    • Karen D. Austin

      May 18, 2014

      Thank you for reading, Strollerblade.

  3. Sara

    May 17, 2014

    When I served as RS president a few years ago, I spent that time being so grateful that I simply got to sit in the chair with the best view of all the good that was being done around me by others in the ward. Such a blessing. It sounds like you will do a fabulous job and have a lovely experience.

    • Karen D. Austin

      May 18, 2014

      Yes, Sara, there are many amazing women in our ward who are filled with good works. They are inspiring. I am hoping to develop more compassion by affiliation. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  4. Sage

    May 18, 2014

    Great advice from your bishop. For me the best part of my calling as RS president was learning everyone’s names. Feeling a responsibility to know each sister helped me feel greater love for them. Now years after that calling and in a new ward I still want to know everyone.

    • Karen D. Austin

      May 18, 2014

      Sage: Thanks for sharing that desire. It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m meeting more and more people each week. It’s great to read that you have maintained that interest.

  5. RMM

    May 18, 2014

    Very interesting, very Mormon way to frame advice not to get emotionally involved in all the drama and crises of peoples’ lives. You have to protect yourself, or you could easily get quickly burned out in such a calling, particularly if you have a needy congregation, but making sure the atonement is part of the equation allows you to be a conduit to the revelation and inspiration people need from you without the calling chewing you up and spitting you out.

    Wow. Thanks for this.

  6. JP

    May 19, 2014

    If you weren’t explaining about being a R.S. President, you could have been explaining about being a mother. I have felt powerlessness in that “calling” too along with great joy at other times. Your Bishop’s advice would be good advice for all mothers too!

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