President Oscarson has been the Young Women’s president since 2013, and is the first female member of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council. While she was born in Utah, she has lived outside of the state for many years (notably in Sweden, Missouri, and Texas). She returned to school 35 years after her initial studies to finish her degree. President Oscarson brings a good deal of experience to the table. As YW president, she has been immensely concerned with the activity level of our youth and the statistically increasing drop off of teens as they transition to adulthood within the Church. Her view is that the influence of the “great and spacious building” is the greatest challenge our youth face today. President Oscarson is intensely focused on retaining those youth despite that influence; she rightfully notes that “To believe, we need to get the gospel from our heads into our hearts!” How, then, do we go from that state of complacent ‘knowledge’ of what is right towards an active, believing heart?
For Michele Carnesecca, as recounted by President Oscarson, the catalyst was the near-death of her son and moment of contemplation in the midst of that storm. It is not coincidental that a passive faith built of doing what we’re supposed to do can be broken down and rebuilt by immensely traumatic events. Living a religious life without real belief is something of frictionless illusion. It is when that illusion is shattered that we can contemplate a living, breathing faith, one that is messy at times but one that brings us real power. As President Oscarson notes, we can “fail to fully comprehend the miracle and majesty of discipleship in the Lord’s true Church” because we are accustomed to blessings and patterns. She tells us that we must “seek to have our hearts and very natures changed” in order to appreciate the miracles and power that this Church provides to us.
What’s interesting here is that President Oscarson emphasizes the likely-gradual way in which we orient ourselves away from superficialities and rote worship patterns. “True conversion is a process that takes place over a period of time and involves a willingness to exercise faith… It comes from earnest prayer, regular temple attendance, and faithfully fulfilling our God-given responsibilities. It takes consistency and daily effort.” In short, there’s no magic to it, even though the changing of our natures through the Atonement is, in a sense, the most magical thing there is. The scriptures have lots of miraculous conversion narratives, from Paul to Alma the Younger. But Christians know that being born again can involve a labor of a lifetime, and it is not a flashy event worthy of a video. As Mormons, we work towards our salvation, not because those works make a lick of difference in cleansing us from sin, but because we seek to change our natures, to be like Christ and to do all we can. It is one of the most interesting mysteries of Christianity: we fight our way through mists of darkness (which can take the form of our own unexamined religious culture) to taste the fruit of the tree of life.
President Oscarson then describes the somewhat odd phenomenon of when people with testimonies fall away. They have fought their way, tasted the sweetness of the Gospel, then (in part because of that great and spacious building) are ashamed of their belief and let go. Why does this happen? Oscarson focuses on the need to continue to press forward and to engage in real life, real activity to keep our hearts focused on messy reality instead of polished forms of belief. This is right, and President Oscarson is also right that our Church has the power and doctrines of salvation, but part of the illusions that can lead us astray is an unrealistic belief in the perfection of the Church and its people. We are indeed, as Oscarson notes, already on the boat, but that doesn’t mean all is well. Salvation won’t come to us via the philosophies of men or the Internet, but salvation also won’t come to us via the three-hour block or going through the motions. President Oscarson is right: we must continue to feast, we must continue to do the work. And that work is not abstract, it is not hypothetical. We step in and get to work. Elder Kearon shows us how we can do it. We tend to the sick, the weak and the weary, and by doing so we are strengthened, and we can say that we can do better than know the Gospel is true — we believe it.