Lucy Mack Smith sought a pure inner Christianity, to the extent that she had difficulty joining any particular Christian sect. Two years before she gave birth to Joseph, Lucy became very ill with a fever and feared the thought of death. She wrote, “I did not consider myself ready for such an awful event, inasmuch as I knew not the ways of Christ; besides, there appeared to be a dark and lonesome chasm, between myself and the Saviour, which I dared not attempt to pass.”1 Lucy later recorded the following experience, remembered from the peak of her illness:
I then looked to the Lord, and begged and pleaded with him to spare my life, that I might bring up my children, and be a comfort to my husband. My mind was much agitated during the whole night. Sometimes I contemplated heaven and heavenly things; then my thoughts would turn upon those of earth — my babes and companion.
During this night I made a solemn covenant with God, that, if he would let me live, I would endeavor to serve him according to the best of my abilities. Shortly after this, I heard a voice say to me, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Let your heart be comforted; ye believe in God, believe also in me.”2
Surely Lucy taught her son Joseph to seek, not only by repeating these words to him, but by example. She spent a great deal of time reading the Bible and meeting with preachers of various sects, to ascertain who could help her bridge the chasm she felt between herself and Christ. Her husband tended toward Universalism, with a disdain for other creeds. In Richard Bushman’s words this contributed to Lucy hovering “on the edge of respectable religion, attracted and repelled at the same time.”3 Her son William later wrote that she “made use of every means which her parental love could suggest, to get us engaged in seeking for our souls’ salvation.”4
Without Lucy’s urging, and her relentless example of seeking, would Joseph have felt so compelled to seek and to knock? If she had seemed settled in her religion, would fourteen-year-old Joseph have felt unsettled enough to kneel that day in the Sacred Grove? In modern Mormonism, we tend to honor those who express certainty in their beliefs. But it was Lucy’s earnest and constant seeking, her worried inability to accept the creeds of her day, that bred Prophet sons.
1 Lucy Mack Smith, History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by his Mother, Improvement Era: Salt Lake City, 1902, p. 43.
2 ibid, p. 44.
3 Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, Vintage Books: New York, 2007, p. 26.
4 ibid, p. 26.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
A Savior to Her Family, Susan Anneveldt
When I was back in the Netherlands, my mother met missionaries and gave them our address. When they came to our home, my mother came to my room and said, “There are people here you might like to meet.” It took quite a while before I did join the Church. I can still distinctly recall standing, putting a book onto the bookshelf in my room, and having this hammer blow between the eyes, like a voice saying, “You are going to be baptized.” And it was like another voice said, “Oh no you’re not.” It was like a battle. I don’t mean literal voices, but just impressions. “No.” “Yes.” And in the end I said, “I do want to be baptized,” and that negative feeling entirely left me. So in a small way I can comprehend how Joseph Smith felt prior to the First Vision taking place, that inner conflict.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Mary Isabella Horne, quoted in The Witness of Women, by Janiece Johnson and Jennifer Reeder, p. 55.
“I heard [Joseph Smith] relate his first vision when the Father and Son appeared to him; also his receiving the Gold Plates from the Angel Moroni. . . . While he was relating the circumstances, the Prophet’s countenance lighted up, and so wonderful a power accompanied his words that everybody who heard them felt his influence and power, and none could doubt the truth of his narration. I know that he was true to his trust, and that the principles that he advanced and taught are true.”