This year in Relief Society we are studying the life and teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th prophet of the church. As I read through the short biography of him given in the front of the manual I was very touched by a story about him and his second wife, Ethel Reynolds Smith. Joseph Fielding was a member of the quorum of the twelve and was away a lot on church business. When he was gone Ethel was responsible for their children at home (eventually they would have 9, plus 2 from his first marriage). In April of 1924  Ethel was seven months pregnant  and struggling. As he was traveling on a train to attend a stake conference he wrote her a letter and in it said, “I am thinking of you and wish I could be with you constantly for the next few weeks, to help take care of you.” Then as he closed his letter her wrote her a beautiful poem, which can now be found in the Church hymn book as  “Does the Journey Seem Long?”

Ethel Reynolds Smith

I have sung this hymn a hundred times but it as I read through the lyrics, now understanding that it was written by a husband to his wife as she struggled through a hard pregnancy– without him– it really touched my heart.

Does the journey seem long,
The path rugged and steep?
Are there briars and thorns on the way?
Do sharp stones cut your feet
As you struggle to rise
To the heights thru the heat of the day?
Is your heart faint and sad,
Your soul weary within,
As you toil ’neath your burden of care?
Does the load heavy seem
You are forced now to lift?
Is there no one your burden to share?
Let your heart be not faint
Now the journey’s begun;
There is One who still beckons to you.
So look upward in joy
And take hold of his hand;
He will lead you to heights that are new—
A land holy and pure,
Where all trouble doth end,
And your life shall be free from all sin,
Where no tears shall be shed,
For no sorrows remain.
Take his hand and with him enter in.
His words show a real understanding of the feelings his wife must have felt and show that he understood the joy that would come after “all trouble doth end.” I think his words also show that he understood the importance of what she was doing, carrying and giving life to a new soul, and that he valued her sacrifice.
I think that this poem is even more touching because later Ethel began to  suffer from “a terrible illness which she could not understand”. She struggled with severe depression and spouts of mania that left her exhausted and scared. She was even hospitalized for it, but nothing helped. After struggling with it for four years she died in 1937, leaving behind three children still at home.
Even though the words to “Does the Journey Seem Long” were written before Ethel’s illness, it strikes me how beautifully the words apply not only to her pregnancy struggle but also her struggle with depression. As I have watched friends and loved ones struggle through both pregnancy and depression I can see parallels in both of the journeys. In many way both are a “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and require unprecedented amounts of spiritual and physical strength. Yet out of that trial and struggle comes beautiful new life. In the case of pregnancy a child and a mother are born. And in the  case of depression a new woman– wiser and stronger is born.
So if you find yourself now burdened down with a weight that seems heavy to bear I’d encourage you to remember  President Smith’s beautiful words:
Let your heart be not faint
Now the journey’s begun;
There is One who still beckons to you.
So look upward in joy
And take hold of his hand;
He will lead you to heights that are new—
The journey may seem long, but just know that it is worth it.
All quotes and information  is taken from The Teaching of the Presidents of The Church: Joseph Fielding Smith manual 
EthelSmith

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