Sister Chieko Okazaki, a beloved LDS leader, teacher, writer, and speaker, passed away on Monday, August 1st. She served as First Counselor to Relief Society President Elaine L. Jack from 1990 to 1997, but her influence was lifelong and wide-ranging.
Chieko’s service in the General Relief Society presidency occurred during a particularly formative time in my life, spanning my graduation from high school, through my college years, marriage, my entrance into the workforce as a public school teacher, and the birth of my first child. Whenever I heard Chieko speak or read her books I felt loved, heard, understood, and lifted up. As a Japanese convert and a working woman, Chieko helped scores of LDS women understand that they, too, have a place in this Church. She emphasized inclusiveness, love, service, and patience, both with ourselves and with others. Her bold, compassionate speeches and writing unfailingly focused on that great eternal truth: charity never faileth. Chieko made me proud to be a Mormon.
To celebrate Chieko’s life, I’d like to share a few of my favorite quotes. It is my prayer that this incredible woman’s words will be pondered, cherished, discussed, and never forgotten by members of our church.
“I do think we should struggle for understanding just as hard as we can. It’s not showing a lack of faith to say, ‘I don’t understand this. Tell me how. Explain why.’ But at the same time, we also need to remind ourselves — sometimes right out loud — that, as the Lord explained to Isaiah: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isaiah 55:9-9). We need to accept and be patient with our lack of understanding. It’s a superb and glowing faith to say, ‘I don’t understand this and I don’t like it very much, but I accept it. Show me how to live with it, how to deal with it.’ The limitations of mortality are so real and so personal that I’m sure one of the things we’re going to do in the next life is laugh and laugh.”
— “Behold Thy Handmaiden: The Answer of Faith,” chapter 13, Disciples
“Only you know your circumstances, your energy level, the needs of your children, and the emotional demands of your other obligations. Be wise during intensive seasons of your life. Cherish your agency, and don’t give it away casually. Don’t compare yourself to others — nearly always this will make you despondent. Don’t accept somebody else’s interpretation of how you should be spending your time. Make the best decision you can and then evaluate it to see how it works. Practice saying, ‘I feel good about my decision to . . .’ and then fill in the blank with whatever you decided. If you find yourself saying, ‘I should feel good about this decision, but . . .’ then perhaps you need to reevaluate that decision.”
— Lighten Up! , “Seeking the Light of Christ,” Chapter 14
“Now, I ask this question of all of us and lay this burden upon us: What circumstances are at work right now in our wards, silently separating one sister here and another sister there from the sisterhood of the Relief Society, marginalizing them, making them invisible? And what can we do about it? . . . For example, LDS women are participating in the labor force in ever-increasing numbers. These women need Relief Society. They need the strength of sisterhood. They need to be understood. They need support with their families. They don’t need to be told that they’re selfish or unrighteous because they’re working. They need to be told they are loved.”
— “Knit Together in Love,” Chapter 6, Disciples
“All of us face different family circumstances and home situations. All of us need strength in dealing with them. This strength comes from faith in the Savior’s love and in the power of his atonement. If we trustingly put our hand in the Savior’s, we can claim the promise of the sacramental prayer to always have his Spirit with us. All problems are manageable with that strength, and all other problems are secondary in urgency to maintaining a strong spiritual life.”
— “Strength in the Savior,” October 1993 General Conference
“When our burdens are grievous to be borne, when we face a world in which it seems that there is only struggle and no rest, I hope we can remember the immense strength of our sisterhood, the reservoirs that we have within us, and the unfailing wellspring of the Savior’s love for us, even in the midst of adversity.”
— “Finding Lightness in Our Burdens,” The Best of Women’s Conference
Of course, these quotes are only a very small sampling of the wisdom Chieko has to offer us. Thank you, Sister Okazaki, for your service, your example of discipleship, and your unfailing Christlike love.