A Deep Sorrow in Her Heart
A Note from the Site Owner: I should like to have been able to link to an online version of this book for an excerpt, but unfortunately the publisher has let the book in which this essay appears go fully out of print. It is not available for purchase in either printed or electronic form. The copyright is owned by Deseret Book Company (Salt Lake City), and I am reproducing this excerpt here with some trepidation and in the hope that DBC won't mind. If they request, of course I would delete this page from my Wiki.
“’A Deep Sorrow in Her Heart’ – Emma Hale Smith” by Wendy C. Top
I first came face to face with the Emma Hale Smith “dilemma” in seminary during my senior year of high school. Our teacher gave us a two-page handout written by another seminary teacher, Brother Erwin Wirkus. He had written Emma’s story in first person, as if she were pleading for understanding and consideration for all she had been through. Up until this time I had heard little about this woman who was a very present but somewhat mysterious figure in Church history. I had the general idea that she had left the Church after the Prophet’s death and, as a result, was not held in high esteem. While I had never heard her openly castigated, I also had seldom heard her praised. Brother Wirkus’s story (which he later developed into a booklet titled “Judge Me, Dear Reader”) was the first hint I had that Emma Hale Smith was a remarkable woman – “an elect lady.”
In the summer of 1977, I did some research on Emma for a special seminar on Joseph Smith that I took from Dr. Milton Backman at BYU. I thought that perhaps I could build upon Brother Wirkus’s thesis by adding insight from a woman’s perspective. At that time in my life, I was a wife and mother of two children. Emma’s trials took on a new and deeply personal meaning for me. I was overwhelmed by the trials she faced and by her compassion. I felt sure that if I had been in Emma’s place I would have failed long before plural marriage ever became my Abrahamic test. Moreover, I found that most historians who wrote about her were male and therefore could not fully understand her and empathize with her feelings and challenges as a woman, wife, and mother. It appeared also that historians were often tainted by the bitterness of the early Utah Saints who felt they had been betrayed and forsaken by the wife of their beloved Prophet. Because of this bias, much unkind and incorrect information became attached to her name through the years. (Unfortunately, I still run into some of it even today.) In reading my paper Dr. Backman was so moved by this sympathetic view of this unfortunate heroine that he had me present the paper to the class.
It was still uncommon at that time to view Emma in such a compassionate light. However, other women and some men were also beginning to reexamine the traditional view of Emma Smith. Here and there positive articles appeared. Many lauded her courage and compassion but more or less overlooked the plural marriage problem and her eventual abandonment of the Church, as if they hadn’t really happened. I began to feel an earnest desire to help members of the Church understand all of Emma Smith’s life and judge her with increased understanding and greater compassion. I wanted others to be inspired by her singular fortitude and generosity, as I had been. I hoped to give them a glimpse of the steadfast love she possessed for her prophet husband, which was a driving force in her life. I sought not to excuse her failings but to help others empathize with them. So, when the opportunity arose, I developed a one woman presentation in which I spoke as if I were Emma, telling her story and incorporating my own interpretation of how she may have felt and why she may have made some of the choices she did. Unbeknownst to me at the time, several other women in the Church felt moved upon to do similar creative projects favorable to Emma. There seemed to be a scattered but simultaneously inspired movement stirring within the membership of the Church to reclaim the reputation of Emma Smith. As people learned the true facts of her life and were able to put her struggles in proper perspective, they often were deeply moved by her profound contributions to the Church. For several years I gave my presentation in wards and stakes and other settings. Audiences always received it with gratitude and deep emotion. One autumn I was asked to give my presentation to the Northeast Area Church Educational System administrators at their yearly before-school convention held that year in Palmyra, New York. My husband was the CES coordinator in northern Virginia at the time, and we were well acquainted with the men he served with and their wives. It should have been easy to perform among friends, but several of these men were institute directors at Ivy League universities and were very learned and scholarly. The night before I was to give the presentation I got into a spirited discussion with some of them about Emma Smith. Their view was that Emma had her chance and failed, and she would have to face her punishment being cut off forever. They seemed to subscribe to Brigham Young’s heated sentiments that Joseph would have to go to hell to find her . They strongly hinted that any attempt to “rehabilitate” her would be purely sentimental.
I was devastated. I had never claimed to be a scholar. My presentation was as historically accurate as I could make it, but I began to feel that perhaps my interpretations of those facts were on shakier ground clouded by my own imperfect inspiration and my love for Emma Smith. Were my views merely sentimental? Wishful thinking? Emotional distortions? I lay awake much of the night going through the presentation in my mind, praying to know if I were saying things that weren’t true, or were unreasonable or sentimental inferences. For my 45-minute presentation I only felt the need to change one or two words. Nevertheless, I was scared to death to make a fool of myself in front of these distinguished scholars. I finally prayed that if the presentation was right and if the Lord was pleased with it, he would let me know. Then it wouldn’t really matter what they thought.
The next evening, I was nervous and stiff as I began my presentation. I was so anxious and intimidated that I couldn’t seem to feel the Spirit with me as I usually had before. It seemed to me that my acting was unnatural, and my tongue tangled at every turn. I rushed through it and then made my exit as quickly as possible, feeling that I had failed miserably. I stood out in the hallway, shaking my head and lamenting that I hadn’t done well, despite reassurance from my husband, who always introduced and concluded my program. We waited for the meeting inside to resume so that I could make sure they were done with me and I could go collapse somewhere. Instead, an unusual silence filled the room. No one stood up to speak. The silence became more awkward, and I began to hear muffled sobs coming from the room. I glanced back inside and saw the man who had given me the most unbending argument the previous night unable to control his emotions and resume conducting the meeting. I suddenly realized that the Spirit in that room was so strong that no one could speak. After what seemed like several minutes, someone finally stood up and suggested that they all stand for a moment so that the group could regain its composure. At that moment I knew the Lord approved of my effort to bring Emma Smith the recognition and understanding she deserves. In spite of my stumbling, unemotional delivery, the Spirit still carried its message into the hearts of those present.
Indeed, it would now appear that Emma Smith’s heroic sacrifices before her falling away will not go unrewarded or unheralded. An attractive, educated, much admired young woman from a respected family, she gave up everything, including her family, to marry and follow a poor, uneducated farm boy who claimed to have visions. While others mocked Joseph and her father hated him, she humbly saw through his deep blue eyes into his soul and knew he was a man of integrity and spoke the truth. Thoughtful and well bred, Emma would never marry any man on a foolish whim, let alone one whose reputation was so questionable in the community and objectionable to her parents. According to Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph “thought that no young woman that he ever was acquainted with was better calculated to render the man of her choice happy than Miss Emma Hale.” Emma’s contributions to the early Church were great. Her self-assurance and education must have been a great help to Joseph as he translated the Book of Mormon. She acted as a scribe for him when no one else was available. Once, as he translated a certain passage about the city walls of Jerusalem, he stopped, innocently asking her if there were walls around Jerusalem. Being well acquainted with the Bible, she was able to inform him that, indeed, there were. Undoubtedly her education filled other needs and answered other questions as well. Her testimony of the Book of Mormon also remained strong till her death. Someone once asked her later in life if Joseph could have written the story privately, pretending to translate as he dictated. She replied that “Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. . . It is marvelous to me . . . as much as to anyone.” If such a deception had existed, lesser women might have fallen for it, but not Emma Smith. “I am satisfied,” she continued, “ that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for when [I was] acting as his scribe, [he] would dictate to me for hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without having any portion of it read to him.” Emma is a credible, intelligent, and powerful witness of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Yet Emma contributed far more than just her unwavering support for her young prophet husband. For instance, although pregnant with twins she worked tirelessly along with other women in weaving cloth and sewing clothing for the early missionaries of the Church. Lucy Smith commented on her daughter in law’s remarkable devotion to the cause: “Emma’s health at this time was quite delicate, yet she did not favor herself on this account, but whatever her hands found to do, she did with her might, until so far beyond her strength that she brought upon herself a heavy fit of sickness, which lasted four weeks. And, although her strength was exhausted, still her spirits were the same, which, in fact, was always the case with her, even under the most trying circumstances.” She was also the only woman to have an official revelation directed to her and canonized as scripture. Because of that, the revelation warrants close examination. After Emma’s baptism Joseph received in her behalf what is now the 25th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Though Emma could not have fully comprehended it at the time, it lay her soul open before the world. Through it we see the many facets of Emma Smith her strengths and weaknesses, as well as our own. Indeed, the Lord closed the revelation by declaring, “This is my voice unto all” (D&C 25:16). This makes a close reading of it even more imperative.
In verse 3 of this section Emma is called an “elect lady,” important evidence of her previous greatness. Joseph later explained to her that when she became the first president of the Relief Society in 1842 it was in fulfillment of this designation. Because of her righteousness she had been “called and elected” to fill that position long before she was ever set apart for it.
After giving her this title, the Lord then gently counseled her to “murmur not” because of things which she had not seen, “for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come” (verse 4). Some historians have pointed to this injunction as evidence that Emma was a whiner and complainer from the beginning that she was nagging Joseph and making his life difficult even before plural marriage ever became an issue. Others have suggested that this means Emma was actually losing her faith. There is simply no evidence that Emma had been openly murmuring or complaining. However, if one considers how the faith of the elect lady must have been tested by not being able to view the plates when so many of those others who were assisting her husband were allowed to do so, perhaps we can understand the questioning that must have been in her mind if not on her lips. Though she handled the plates when they were covered by a linen cloth bag which she herself had made for them, moving them to dust under them, and they lay under the couple’s bed for a long period of time, she “never felt at liberty to look at them.” What incredible trust Joseph must have had in her to leave them repeatedly exposed and unattended in her presence! However, the greatest question must have arisen when Mary Whitmer was shown the plates by a mysterious “old man” because of her tireless support of the men who were working on the translation. Hadn’t Emma given her all as well? Rather than chiding her, this counsel to “murmur not” must have reassured her that the Lord was mindful of her struggle and that there was divine purpose in her not seeing the plates.
Instead, she was given the office of being a comfort and blessing to her husband in his monumental responsibilities and frequent afflictions, of being his refuge and his earthly comforter at all times. While all married women are called to this office, few if any in history would need the strength, faith, and persistence to fill it as would Emma Smith. Being the wife of a prophet who must restore the gospel blessings of every previous dispensation of time would not be an ordinary job or for the faint of heart. The greatest powers of hell would be unleashed against her and her husband.
A letter Emma wrote to Joseph while he was in Liberty Jail after the Saints had been driven from Missouri gives us a small glimpse of Emma’s painful struggle: “Was it not for . . . the direct interposition of divine mercy, I am very sure I never should have been able to have endured the scenes of suffering that I have passed through . . . but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind Heaven, that I should for your sake. . . . No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed excepting our little children, and took my journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving you shut up in that lonesome prison.”
Another unusual aspect of the Lord’s revelation to Emma was the commandment in verse 7 to “expound scriptures and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.” It would have been highly unusual in 1830 for any woman to expound and exhort in church, for women simply did not take visible or leadership roles in churches at that time. Presumably in preparation for this, the Lord also commanded her to spend her time in “writing” and “learning much.” Intelligent and well versed in the Bible as she was, Emma was especially qualified among women to assume this role. The Lord entrusted her with much responsibility. Perhaps we Latter day Saint women today have too easily overlooked this aspect of the revelation that was given to Emma but intended for all. In the true Church of Jesus Christ, women as well as men are expected to be well versed in the holy scriptures and able to teach others with testimony, confidence, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in Latter day Saint doctrine is this right and responsibility reserved solely for the priesthood.
After further defining her role, the Lord then gave his elect daughter additional counsel that would have tremendous bearing on her life. “Thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better,” she was told (verse 10). Time after time as she moved away from her homes, left behind her belongings, and moved in with others, she must have reflected on this line from the revelation. Undoubtedly she endeavored to accept this as her lot in life, but like the rest of us she had her moments of weakness. One day when Joseph had been away for some time, Jesse W. Crosby dropped by to see if Emma needed anything. Letting down her guard and allowing a poignant glimpse into her heart, Emma unexpectedly burst into tears and told him that “if the persecution would cease they could live as well as any other family in the land. They could even have the luxuries of life.” However, most of the time, until her disaffection from the Church, she accepted such inconveniences as the price of being the wife of Joseph Smith, and even when she had little, she willingly shared it with others. It was also no accident that Emma was given further responsibility to make a collection of hymns for the Church. Emma, who had a beautiful singing voice, was raised in the Methodist Church, where she would often have participated in singing the great and inspiring hymns of the ages. Because of persecution, pregnancies, and other problems, it took her several years to complete this assignment, but in 1835, with the able help of W. W. Phelps, the Church’s first hymnal was published. Even today we trace a number of hymns in our current hymnbook back to those included by Emma in the first compilation of hymns as she faithfully responded to this commandment. Finally, in D&C 25 the Lord exhorted Emma to be faithful to her covenants to “cleave” unto them (verse 13). His admonition that she “continue in the spirit of meekness” (verse 14) further implies that she was humble and unwavering and not complaining or faltering in her faith, as some have suggested. However, the Lord was aware that her greatest strengths – her independence, strength of will, and persistence – would also become her weaknesses and her stumbling blocks. Thus, he warned her to beware of pride and told her instead to let her soul delight in the glory which would eventually come to her husband, and, by implication, to her if she remained faithfully by his side (verse 14). I believe that this same strong spirit which helped Emma through untold persecution and suffering and kept her doggedly determined to stand by her husband also became the unbending will that would not obey the commandment that would have her share Joseph with others.
I’m not sure anyone could fully understand just what Emma did go through for her husband. As she was his wife and his comforter, surely her greatest anguish was during those moments and they were many – when she did not know whether he was alive or dead, or worse. On one of the most harrowing nights of her life Emma waited in terror, clutching her children to her bosom to protect them from the piercing cold that invaded their bedroom after a crazed mob had broken in and dragged Joseph out into the black night. The loud, vile cursings of the mob against her helpless husband did not prevent the sound of Joseph pleading for his life from reaching her terrified ears. When the mob had done its dirty mischief and scattered, Emma waited helplessly in the dark silence, unsure of her husband’s fate. Suddenly a tall black figure appeared like an apparition, silhouetted in the doorway. When Emma realized that it was Joseph, she fainted dead away. She did not know he had been tarred and feathered, but thought he had been crushed and was covered in his own blood.
It must have seemed at times that all the fiends of earth and hell were after her beloved husband. How often she must have had to summon up her undaunted faith to quell her fears! Her mother in law, Lucy Mack Smith, paid her a tribute of which few women are worthy: “I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done,” wrote Lucy: “for I know that which she has had to endure she has been tossed upon the ocean of uncertainty she has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other woman. It may be, that many may yet have to encounter the same I pray God, that this may not be the case; but, should it be, may they have grace given them according to their day, even as has been the case with her.”
In addition to suffering along with her husband, Emma lost six of her children, including one adopted child who had been sick with the measles and subsequently died from exposure to the cold after the tarring and feathering incident mentioned above. Perhaps as a mother she endured even more anguish than her husband in this trial. She had her own crosses to bear. She undoubtedly missed her dear parents and sorrowed over the fact that they were sorely disappointed in her, however unjustly. What’s more, she worried over their salvation. In 1841, after the Lord had revealed to the Prophet Joseph the doctrine of salvation for the dead, Emma anxiously completed the ordinance of baptism for her father. A year later she did the same for her mother. They had passed away shortly before that time and she had not seen them since the day she left Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1830 with a man they considered a charlatan.
Above and beyond this, the most impressive thing about the elect lady to me is her consummate compassion. The list of her charitable works is not only lengthy but profoundly moving. For example, she once stayed dutifully by the bedside of her ailing mother-in-law, Lucy, for five nights straight and never left her side until she became quite ill herself. She took countless orphans, friends, strangers, travelers, and homeless people not only into her home but into her life. Lucy Mack Smith recalled, “How often I have parted every bed in the house for the accommodation of the brethren, and then laid a single blanket on the floor for my husband and myself, while Joseph and Emma slept upon the same floor, with nothing but their cloaks for both bed and bedding.” Emma and Elizabeth Ann Whitney once held a feast for the poor and needy of Kirtland. With the help of others in the community they provided simple but abundant fare, not only for the new Saints who were streaming into the city but also for the poor, disabled, aged, and infirm residents of Kirtland. When the Saints were draining the swamps of Commerce, Illinois, to build Nauvoo, many became ill with malaria. Joseph and Emma began taking in the sick to care for them and soon found their cabin full of the ailing while they slept in a tent in their own dooryard. Joseph Smith III recalled an autumn when Joseph was in Washington, D.C., that his mother took in and cared for 13 of the Saints by herself. He also could scarcely remember a Sunday in ordinary weather when the house and yard were not crowded with callers. However, perhaps the most poignant and Christlike act of compassion occurred late in Emma’s life. Ironically, after her rejection of plural marriage her second husband, Lewis Bidamon, fathered a son by a young woman while he was married to Emma. Without bitterness Emma took the child into her own home to raise him at the request of the child’s mother. Later she gave the mother employment, which enabled her to be near her son. When Emma died the boy was only 12 years of age. Determined that he should grow up with proper parentage and a stable family situation, Emma had urged Bidamon to marry the boy’s mother after her death. Perhaps the whole thing was penitence of a sort, but above all it was the act of a great soul.
For these reasons I could not so easily dismiss Emma’s ultimate exaltation. At the very least, I was in no position to judge her and doubted that many others would be either perhaps not even her contemporary sisters who were struggling themselves with the covenant of plural marriage. They could not fully comprehend her feelings as the first wife of the Prophet, who was undoubtedly the most popular man in Nauvoo. Many women, young and old, wanted to be married to him and could now do so without paying anything approaching the price Emma had paid to be by his side. Indeed, she could give up everything else for him. He gave her strength to go through anything. She simply could not give up him or her place as the only one next to him. Perhaps she loved him too much.
Like countless other Latter-day Saint women I have had to ask myself what I would do if I were faced with living plural marriage. Many of us have wrestled mightily with that question. I still do not know what I would actually do if asked to share my husband, and that is why I cannot judge Emma. However, I know in theory and from past experience that, as the Prophet Joseph taught, “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” Commendable as Emma’s great love for her husband was, the Lord requires that our whole souls be given to him at all costs and above all others no exceptions, even for great prophets. Perhaps that was the real sifting and refining test of plural marriage. “He that loveth father or mother . . . [or] son or daughter [or husband or wife] more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Yet the elect lady did not reject the revelation on plural marriage in totality. Though at times she fought it doggedly, at other times she tried desperately to humble herself and accept the new revelation. She actually gave permission for Joseph to marry some of his wives, and even chose some of them for him. Some witnessed Emma’s terrible struggle, perhaps made more visible or central because of her position as the wife of the Prophet. Allen J. Stout, who served as a bodyguard for Joseph, recounted a conversation he overheard in the Mansion House between Joseph and his tormented wife. A summary of his account states that “from moments of passionate denunciation [Emma] would subside into tearful repentance and acknowledge that her violent opposition to that principle was instigated by the power of darkness; that Satan was doing his utmost to destroy her, etc. And solemnly came the Prophet’s inspired warning – ‘Yes, and he will accomplish your overthrow, if you do not heed my counsel.’” Maria Jane Johnston, who lived with Emma as a servant girl, recalled the Prophet’s wife looking very downcast one day and telling her that the principle of plural marriage was right and came from Heavenly Father. “What I said I have got [to] repent of,” lamented Emma. “The principle is right but I am jealous-hearted. Now never tell anybody that you heard me find fault with that [principle]; we have got to humble ourselves and repent of it.” Many of us struggle through life with one or two trials, challenges, or commandments that seem ready to overwhelm and swallow us whole. Perhaps if Joseph had lived longer the elect lady would have eventually conquered her pride and jealousy, especially with the mellowing of age.
Then again, maybe not. At the time of Joseph’s martyrdom Emma seemed hardened and set against plural marriage. At her insistence he had moved all of his plural wives out of their home. Some believe Emma thought she had actually talked Joseph into doing away with the practice. All we know is that after his death, whether to protect her children or because the acknowledgment of it was just too painful, her opposition to plural marriage crystallized into an unswerving denial that Joseph Smith had ever even lived the principle. Some have suggested that after her husband’s death Emma suffered an emotional breakdown, which caused her subsequent rejection of the Church and its principle of plural marriage. Other than her understandable grief over the loss of her husband, there is really no evidence of an emotional illness in her behavior. At any rate, I don’t feel it is necessary to make excuses for Emma. The Lord had warned her in a revelation found in D&C 132 (see verses 54 56) that she should support her husband in the new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage or she would be destroyed. Emma was about to be destroyed.
It is important to understand, however, what the Lord may have meant by the term “destroyed.” Obviously she was not physically destroyed but lived a generously long life for her time, dying in 1879 at the age of 74. The Lord often uses figurative physical terms to represent graphic spiritual consequences in other words, he may have been warning that Emma would be spiritually destroyed, or cut off from the Spirit of the Lord, left to face the buffetings of Satan without the guidance and comfort of the Holy Ghost. In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, those who will not heed the words of the prophets are designated to be “cut off from among the people” (D&C 1:14). Yet God does not literally come down and physically separate the disobedient from the flock and prevent them from mingling with the righteous. They tend to cut themselves off because they lose the Spirit and their testimony of the truth. They apostatize or drift away. I believe this is the spiritual destruction that befell Emma.
Because of her unwillingness to follow the Prophet her own beloved husband she lost the Spirit and her testimony of the importance of the institutional Church (though never of the Book of Mormon). Left to herself to the degree that she rejected the truth and turned her back on the authorized leaders of the Church, Emma nevertheless committed no egregious sins and remained compassionate and kind. Yet in leaving the Church she forfeited great blessings, honor, and spiritual safety that might have been hers. She struggled through many family problems that she might have been able to avoid had she stayed true to gospel principles and taught her children to do likewise. Besides the wrenching infidelity of her second husband already mentioned, her oldest, adopted daughter, Julia, suffered through an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic husband who eventually deserted her. Emma’s youngest son, David Hyrum, who was born six months after his father’s martyrdom, ended up in an insane asylum at the age of 32, in part tormented by the contradiction between the undeniable evidence of his father’s plural marriages and his mother’s unbending denials that Joseph had ever advocated or practiced such a doctrine.
Deep sadness pervaded Emma’s life in later years. Her granddaughter Emma Belle Smith Kennedy remembered a melancholy grandmother: “Her eyes were brown and sad. She would smile with her lips but to me, as small as I was, I never saw the brown eyes smile. I asked my mother one day, why don’t Grandma laugh with her eyes like you do and my mother said because she has a deep sorrow in her heart.” A maid of Emma’s recalled that Emma would go upstairs to her room every evening after chores were done to sit in her rocking chair and gaze sadly out the window at the sun going down over the Mississippi River. No one dared approach her or attempt to dry the tears that would roll softly down her cheeks. I can’t help but wonder if the Lord’s gentle admonition to “beware of pride” ever echoed through her weary mind.
Shortly before her death Emma reported a vision to her nurse in which she saw the Savior and her husband, the Prophet Joseph Smith. She told the nurse that Joseph came to her and said, “Emma, come with me, it is time for you to come with me.” Emma explained, “I put on my bonnet and my shawl and went with him; I did not think that it was anything unusual. I went with him into a mansion, and he showed me through the different apartments of that beautiful mansion.” One room was a nursery in which she found a baby in a cradle. “I knew my babe,” Emma said, “my Don Carlos that was taken from me.” She swept the child up into her arms and cried for joy, but when recovered, stopped to ask, “Joseph, where are the rest of my [children]?” He assured her, “Emma, be patient and you shall have all of your children.” Emma then related that she saw a personage of light standing by the side of her beloved husband – “even the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I consider myself more than just an apologist for Emma Hale Smith. She has become almost as much my sister and my friend as if she were my contemporary. Her personal tragedy is haunting and painful to me. Yet the possibility of her reward is joyous to me. Her saga is one of heroic proportions her great deeds as well as her signal failings are legendary in the Church. I believe the profound lesson of the life of Emma Smith, however, is the manifestation of the triumph of God’s far-reaching mercy and love over human failings. Unlike many heroines of the Restoration, she stumbled and was spiritually and physically left behind. Like Emma, I also grapple with sins and shortcomings that threaten to overcome me at times, and I am grateful to be able to hope that the Lord will do everything he can to find mercy for me, and for Emma as well. I have pleaded with members of the Church to refrain from judging her unfairly and condemning her, just as they should any other fellow Saint or human being.
Eliza Partridge, a plural wife whom Emma had given to Joseph, poignantly expressed similar sentiments in 1883: “After these many years I can truly say; poor Emma, she could not stand polygamy but she was a good woman and I never wish to stand in her way of happiness and exaltation. I hope the Lord will be merciful to her, and I believe he will. It is an awful thought to contemplate misery of a human being. If the Lord will my heart says let Emma come up and stand in her place. Perhaps she has done no worse than any of us would have done in her place. Let the Lord be the judge.”
Let us then remember Emma, our sister, as any of us would wish to be remembered by future generations – with gratitude for her sacrifices and contributions, empathy for her struggles and shortcomings, and a generous eye toward her eternal possibilities.