Carole M. Stephens, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency
By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
“It isn’t enough to just be on the journey; we must be awake to our duty and continue with faith as we draw upon the comforting, strengthening, enabling and healing power of the Atonement”—Carole M. Stephens, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency
Relief Society sisters must be spiritually awake to fulfill their duties, Sister Carole M. Stephens, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said during the General Relief Society Meeting held in the Conference Center on September 29.
“When we are baptized, we enter into a covenant,” she said. “… We are changed. We look different and we act different. The things we listen to and read and say are different, and what we wear is different because we become daughters of God, bound to Him by covenant.”
As individuals are confirmed, they receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the “right to have the constant influence of a member of the Godhead to guide us, to comfort us and to protect us. He warns us when we are tempted to walk away from our covenants and back into the world.”
To receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and always have the Spirit, individuals must be worthy and vigilant about checking the condition of their hearts, she said.
“Is our heart soft? Do we have a humble heart, a teachable heart, a gentle heart? Or have our hearts gradually hardened as we have allowed too much of the noise of the world to distract us from the gentle promptings that have surely come from the Spirit?
“When we were baptized, our hearts were changed and awakened to God. While on our mortal journey, we need to regularly ask ourselves, ‘If I have experienced a change of heart, can I feel so now, and if not, then why not?’”
Many of the early Saints experienced a mighty change in their hearts, awakening them to receive temple blessings that strengthened them in their duties and to endure hardship.
“With hearts changed through faith in the Savior they relied on the power of His Atonement, they were awakened to act,” she said. “They knew deep in their hearts that there was one—the Savior—who understood their personal adversity because He suffered it for them in the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt their fear, their doubt, their pain, and their loneliness. He suffered their sorrows, their persecution, their hunger, their fatigue and their loss.”
Because the Savior suffered all these things, He could say to them, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28).
“And they came,” Sister Stephens said of the early converts to the Restored gospel. “They trusted in and followed the prophet. They knew the journey would be long, their duty difficult. They knew that sacrifice would be required, but sustained by their faith and cleaving to their covenants, they were spiritually prepared.”
She shared an experience she had recently while participating with her ward’s youth in a re-enactment of a pioneer trek. She said it was right after finishing a physically challenging part of the trek — the women’s pull — that she experienced a spiritual awakening to her duties to her family and others. She described how the young women who had reached their goal of pushing and pulling their handcarts up a hill ran back to help others.
“First, I thought about my sisters, those who had pulled and those who continue today to pull their handcarts alone. Nearly 20 percent of the women in those [pioneer] handcart companies were alone for at least a part of the way. These were women who had not married, were divorced or were widowed. Many were single mothers.
“They all pulled together; covenant daughters, young and old, in different life circumstances, on the same path, with the same goal. Those who ran to help their sisters in need reminded me of rescuers, both seen and unseen who are quick to observe, see a need, and act.”
She remembers the image of priesthood brethren, young and old, lining both sides of the trail, hats off in respect for the women. “Their priesthood power – the power God uses to bless all His children, lifted, strengthened and supported us,” she said.
“They were a reminder that we are never alone. We can have this power with us always as we keep our covenants.”
She said, “Like those who went before, many today live in circumstances that are not ideal. We continue to teach and strive for the ideal because we know that continually striving will keep us progressing along the path and prepare us for opportunities to receive all promised blessings as we ‘wait upon the Lord’ (Isaiah 40:31).
“Each of us has had and will continue to have adversity in our lives. This mortal life is a time of testing, and we will continue to have opportunities to use our agency to choose what we will learn from the adversity that will surely come. … It isn’t enough to just be on the journey; we must be awake to our duty and continue with faith as we draw upon the comforting, strengthening, enabling and healing power of the Atonement.”
Sister Stephens said, “Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life by awakening us spiritually to increase faith in personal righteousness. Let us begin with ourselves. Let us begin where we are. Let us begin today. When we are spiritually awake, we will be better able to strengthen families and homes and help others.”