Pres. Uchtdorf, aka the “Silver Fox” as he is known in my ward and probably everywhere else, hit yet another home run in the Women’s Session, batting clean up for the three female speakers. He opens with:
Today, I too have a story to share. I invite you to listen with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost will help you to find the message for you in this parable.
He shares the story of an 11 year old girl named Eva who did not want to go to live with her Great-Aunt Rose.
By framing the story this way, Pres. Uchtdorf knowingly addresses the elephant in the room: that all women, aged 8 to 100+ are lumped together in one group. Although the Priesthood session similarly lumps all men and boys aged 12 to 100+ in one group, in Priesthood, the men are separated by quorums which more or less divide them into a younger group of men (20-40) and an older group of men (40+). Women are never separated by age. Women who are 18 go to Relief Society and remain there for the rest of their lives, so groups of women span many different ages and stages of life. Trying to address a message to such a broad audience is nearly impossible as most Relief Society teachers know. Generally, you aim for the middle of the pack with an occasional nod to the outliers, and it’s hit and miss. Kudos to Pres. Uchtdorf for doing better than most at dealing with this difficulty.
He also acknowledges, in a humorous way, the underlying problem of these huge generational gaps in the women’s organization. Eighteen year old girls don’t want to enter Relief Society, which they see as their mother’s territory. Single women feel that all the lessons are about marriage. Childless women feel the lessons are all about parenting. Empty nesters feel the lessons are all geared toward young mothers. Women with careers are frequently identified as outliers or ignored. Adding 8 year olds (!) into a meeting for “women” makes it even more difficult to craft a message that suits all. Listening to Sis. Reeves in the talk directly prior to this one as she stumbled through a sex talk, trying to make it appropriate for women and girls of all ages, further illustrated this point.
Eva is also the perfect age for this talk. 8-year old girls can aspire to be her because she is pre-pubescent and still child-like. The teens can identify with not wanting to be lumped in with the maiden aunt. At some age, the women in the audience instead identify with Great-Aunt Rose. Older women, empty nesters, widows, career women, and singles or those without children are all represented by Rose. Mothers with children at home may identify with the hospitalized mother, worried for her child, but unable to care for her while she is healing. He has deliberately created a cast of characters with something for everyone.
In Eva’s mind, there were a thousand reasons why this was a bad idea. For one thing, it would mean being away from her mother. It would also mean leaving her family and friends. And besides, she didn’t even know Great-Aunt Rose. She was quite comfortable, thank you very much, right where she was.
This reminds me a lot of how it felt to go from the comfort of the Young Women’s program to the stodgy Relief Society. Being away from her mother also represents leaving her childhood behind, a time when she is taken care of. Now she will have to become an adult. Time to leave Neverland.
From the moment Eva stepped inside the house, she hated it. Everything was so old! Every inch was packed with old books, strange-colored bottles, and plastic bins spilling over with beads, bows, and buttons.
It’s like Pres. Uchtdorf has been in the Relief Society closet! This description matches ours perfectly.
Even the house itself seemed lonely. It was out in the countryside, where the houses are far apart. No one Eva’s age lived within half a mile. That made Eva feel lonely too.
In Young Women’s, the girls are friends. The ages are closer together. There are many social activities. It’s an exciting time of life. Relief Society is a stark contrast to this. Women of such a variety of ages often are more isolated, certainly than the girls in a Young Women’s program are. YSA wards and married student wards certainly help create closer knit groups, but it is still a big change to go from a youth program to an adult group.
Over time, Eva made a surprising discovery: Great-Aunt Rose was quite possibly the happiest person she had ever known! But how could that be? What did she have to be happy about?
She had never married, she had no children, she had no one to keep her company except that creepy cat, and she had a hard time doing simple things like tying her shoes and walking up stairs. When she went to town, she wore embarrassingly big, bright hats. But people didn’t laugh at her. Instead, they crowded around her, wanting to talk to her.
Sorry, but I couldn’t resist bolding that part because it sounded for a second there like Pres. Uchtdorf answered his own question! But I digress.
What he does is point out is that although we preach the ideal at church, the “ideal” doesn’t actually make people happy and not having the “ideal” doesn’t make them unhappy. It’s as if he’s suggesting that there is no real ideal way to be, but that Eva’s childish notions of what leads to happiness (being married, having children, dressing in muted colors) are in fact not at all what makes a person happy. This is another ingenious move. Relief Society can be very pushy about how women should be and when women deviate from those norms, they often feel judged and punished. Motherhood is a dish best served constantly, or so it would seem. If she has children, there really are only 2-3 decades of a woman’s life that are primarily devoted to raising children in the home, but twice that long spent in Relief Society.
Aunt Rose talks about feeling disappointed and angry when she didn’t get the “ideal” life she wanted.
“I don’t think I was clinically depressed—I’m not sure you can talk yourself out of that. But I sure had talked myself into being miserable!”
And he sticks the dismount, avoiding the trap of implying that clinical depression can be overcome by faith. It’s like he knows his audience, and like the Apostle Paul can anticipate his critics and avoid the rhetorical pitfalls with a timely “God forbid!” Speaking of Paul, he lets Eva play the role of strawman arguments, and Aunt Rose gets to knock them down, one by one:
Eva furrowed her brow. “But wait a minute,” she said. “Are you saying that being happy means just looking forward to happiness in the future? Is all our happiness in eternity? Can’t some of it happen now?”
This is one of my favorite strawmen: the celestial lobotomy, the notion that somehow a life of misery will suddenly be A-OK in the eternities thanks to the Plan of Happiness. Then he adds a cherry to this ice cream sundae by quoting Emily Dickenson! Aunt Rose’s retort:
“Dear child, now is part of eternity. It doesn’t only begin after we die! Faith and hope will open your eyes to the happiness that is placed before you now. I know a poem that says, ‘Forever is composed of Nows.’” 
Next, Eva gets to play the role of Captain Dum-dum as we sometimes call the captain on a Law & Order episode, the one who has to ask the stupid questions to let the smart detectives show their stuff and explain things for the audience. It’s a quick way to get the audience up to speed.
“So what did you do then?” Eva asked.
Aunt Rose swoops in with the insight of a Bobby Goren:
“I exercised faith in God’s promises by filling my life with meaningful things. I went to school. I got an education. That led me to a career that I loved.”
Eva thought about this for a moment and said, “But surely being busy isn’t what made you happy. There are a lot of busy people who aren’t happy.”
Strawman argument again! Isn’t a career just another form of drudgery? Busywork? Toiling in obscurity? How do we avoid that? Through the gospel . . .
“It is love – the pure love of Christ.” Rose said. “You see, everything else in the gospel—all the shoulds and the musts and the thou shalts—lead to love. When we love God, we want to serve Him. We want to be like Him. When we love our neighbors, we stop thinking so much about our own problems and help others to solve theirs.”7
This is Pres. Uchtdorf channeling Paul at his finest, knocking down the rules and checklists that Mormons are so prone to substitute for the gospel and showing that the real gospel is the commandment to love one another. He doesn’t go on the offensive about the rules, but he does contrast them with the real gospel, and they pale by comparison. The contrast speaks for itself.
While it wasn’t my favorite talk of all time, it was masterful. I would have preferred a Rose a little further off the reservation, a Cowboy Jesus type, a pipe-smoking lesbian perhaps, someone a little more thorn than Rose. Pres. Uchtdorf is generally too optimistic for that kind of heroine. Regardless of this petty preference of mine, the talk was well done, an admirable effort to include and engage a very diverse audience.
I think he pulled it off admirably.
 The rest of the poem:
 Perhaps the choice of the name Eva was intended to make Eva an everywoman character, like Eve, and Rose was meant to be a bit prickly and thorny, someone initially off-putting but with great beauty.