How many of you attended the women’s session of General Conference on Saturday? There were not many bums in the pews at my stake center, and even fewer bums in the plastic chairs set up in the overflow. That may be par for the course in many areas, but women’s session in our stake tends to be pretty well attended, even though (like all the sessions) it’s available streaming live, online, in the comfort of one’s home. Most LDS women I know are more than happy to take advantage of an excuse to get out of the house, even if it is church (and even if they do feel morally obligated to drag along their 8-year-old girl children now).
I imagine the severely reduced attendance was due primarily to Spring Break starting Friday afternoon and people being out of town. But even the women who were in town seemed hardly aware of women’s session happening at all, much less interested in going. It probably means nothing, except that conference is kind of boring and now that the stake Relief Society no longer does a big shindig in connection with it (they used to do dinner/appetizers/dessert/ice cream sundae bars, plus an excruciatingly long “Laurel appreciation”), people are less inclined to bother putting on a skirt and trekking to the church building.
Of course, I’m sure a lot of women just watched it online rather than skipped it altogether, but who knows? I’m not a conspiracy theorist; I just thought it was an interesting data point.
And now, to the women’s session! One notable thing about Saturday’s session was its relative brevity: by my watch, it clocked in at around 72 minutes, give or take a minute (rather than the usual 90). I suppose this was their one concession to the possibility of there being 8-year-olds in attendance. In the past there have been video presentations and references to Primary-age girls in the talks, but there was nothing like that this time. Young women and adult women were addressed specifically, but not child-women (at least not that I heard). Which I guess was appropriate, since (again, unlike previous years) I didn’t see any Primary-age girls at my building that evening. (I didn’t bother looking for them in the video footage of the conference center, since I was too busy taking notes, but I can’t help wondering if that’s the one place 8-year-old girls still attend the women’s session.) But whatever the reason, I’m sure even actual women appreciated being able to leave 20 minutes earlier than expected.
Bonnie L. Oscarson, General Young Women President, conducted this session.
The first speaker was Bonnie H. Cordon, second counselor in the General Primary Presidency. The scriptural text for her sermon was Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” This scripture contains two admonitions–1) trust in the Lord and 2) acknowledge him; one warning–lean not unto thine own understanding; and a promise–He shall direct thy paths. To “lean” is to move off center, or tip. You are not centered, not balanced, not focused on Christ. We stood with the Savior in the pre-existence; that same battle has since moved to earth, and we must continue to stand as witnesses.
We can increase our knowledge and trust of the Savior in three ways: 1) Feast upon the words of Christ by studying the scriptures. 2) Make a habit of approaching the Lord in prayer. As we do so, our desires become more like His desires. 3) Serve others. Here Sister Cordon related a story about Amy, a woman suffering with cancer. At one point Amy became so sick and tired of chemotherapy, she was ready to give up. Her husband said, “We need to find someone to serve.” My first thought was “who’s we, Kemosabe?” and that was Amy’s first thought too, but what they did end up doing was making “chemo comfort kits” for other cancer patients. When Amy had too much pain to sleep, she did her genealogy on her iPad. She found that happiness was discovered in trying to improve the lives of others; it gave her the strength to go on. When she thought of herself, life became dark and depressing. When we trust in the Lord, because of the Atonement, we know that all will be well.
The second speaker was Carol F. McConkie, first counselor in the General Young Women Presidency, who spoke on the importance of being holy. In our struggle to honor covenants, we make choices that will keep the Holy Ghost our guide. Every moment of our lives must be “holiness to the Lord.” Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that our God is a god of high expectations, so that we may dwell in His presence. God has provided all that is required so we may be holy. In our pre-mortal life, we desired to be like our Father; out of love, the Father gave us His son. With faith in Christ, we can become clean. When we take the sacrament in an attitude of sincere repentance, we promise to always remember Him and keep His commandments. Over time, we become partakers of the Father and Son’s divine nature.
Our mortal experience offers the opportunity to choose holiness; our sacrifices sanctify us. We must strengthen one another. Give relief to the poor. Keep the sabbath. Take the sacrament. Make our homes holy places. Bride our passions. Reach out to others with compassion. Become a Zion people. Come to the temple; forsake the ways of the world and keep our covenants. Take the Holy Ghost as a guide; do things to increase the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost. She relates the story of Mary and Martha and Jesus’s “gentle rebuke” to Martha that “one thing is needful.” To be holy, we must sit at Jesus’s feet and choose holiness; put away the things of the world, the endless to-do list.
Be submissive, meek patient, full of love as the Savior is. He will judge and redeem us all. God has given each of us the capacity to become holy. With faith in Christ we come saints through His atonement.
Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President, then addressed us. She gave thanks for the enthusiastic response to the I Was a Stranger program (refugee relief). She spoke about visiting women in prison and how one of these women said, “Sister Burton, please don’t forget us.” This led into her topic of remembering “certain women” mentioned in the scriptures, named and unnamed, who exercised faith, testified, and were important witnesses in the work of salvation. As she pondered the phrase “certain women,” she thought that these women really were “certain,” i.e. they were confident, positive, sure of their testimonies. They were disciples centered in Christ. She gave examples from the New Testament (the woman at the well, Martha) and the early Latter-day Saints. She also spoke of first generation members in countries where gospel living often clashes with family and country culture. She gave examples of women remaining cheerful through adversity and women serving each other. Salvation comes from partnering with Jesus Christ, understanding his love for our sisters, serving each other. Drink of his living water and invite others to do the same.
Remember the story of Martha’s certainty that her brother Lazarus would rise in the resurrection. We must declare our own certain witness even in the darkest times. Stay close to Him in prayer and scripture study, through taking the sacrament, keeping our covenants by serving others. Sister Burton testified of loving Heavenly Parents, of Jesus Christ being our savior, and the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith.
Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, was the concluding speaker, who spoke of the peace felt during this session of talks. All of us would like to feel this peace often. The Lord promised peace to his disciples–in his way, not the world’s way. He promised to send the Comforter, which would teach us all things and bring all things to our remembrance. We can receive peace during times of uncertainty and looming challenges. If we humble ourselves and have faith, weak things will be made strong. If we don’t see our weakness, we don’t progress. Being humble brings you to the Savior.
Our faith is challenged by Satan. This happens to all disciples. Keep the Holy Ghost as your companion, and he will bring back the memory of times you felt the love of Jesus Christ. President Eyring related a story of a sacrament meeting he attended years ago in a metal shed under railroad tracks. It was a small congregation; many were women. He felt the love of the Savior for those saints and witnessed the miracle of light in a room with no windows. That memory has made it easier to him to remember the Savior and His love.
He is thankful for times when the Holy Ghost has comforted him. But the Holy Ghost does more than comfort. Trust in the Spirit that leads you to do good; it often leads to helping others to feel comfort. Success takes the miracle of change, in your heart and that of the person in need of rescue. The Lord knows our hearts and the possibilities of hearts being changed. Lost sheep should feel welcomed, as though they are coming home. We should have no contentions one with another; our hearts must be knit in unity. Unity is necessary to have the spirit in our classes and in our families.
We must temper our feelings. President Eyring told a story about going to discipline his son, a rambunctious young boy who wouldn’t stop jumping on the bed. After picking him up somewhat roughly, he heard a voice in his mind say, “You are holding a great person.” He set his son back down on the bed and apologized. “I am eternally grateful that the Lord rescued me from my unkind feelings.” The Holy Ghost will affect what we see when we look at each other. Holy Ghost sees with the pure love of Christ. This love is kind, patient, is not easily provoked, bears all things; therefore, if we have not charity, we are nothing. All things must fail, but charity never faileth. We must pray for charity, which God has bestowed on all who are true followers of Christ.
This is God’s goal for you. It may seem like a distant goal, but from his perspective, you are not that far away. He knows you, loves you, and hears your prayers. He sends the Holy Ghost to you to serve others, so that you may feel peace and have hope and feel the love of God.