Viewpoint: Feast on Rich and Timely Words from Conference

Contributed By the Church News

  • 1 October 2016

The general women's session was just the beginning of the spiritual feast that is general conference.

“One of the most significant ways we can develop and demonstrate love for our neighbor is through being generous in our thoughts and words.” —Sister Jean B. Bingham of the Primary General Presidency

As we attend, view, or listen to the 186th Semiannual General Conference this weekend, it is well to bear in mind that one session of the conference has already occurred and its content is there for us to access, enjoy, and benefit from.

The general women’s session, which constitutes the first session of the conference, transpired last Saturday, September 24, from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

The first session of the conference could be regarded as the first course in a grand and nutritious banquet of inspirational fare. It was rich with timely words of wisdom and counsel from a member of the First Presidency and from leaders of three of the five general auxiliary organizations of the Church.

Talks from the session are reported and summarized in the printed issue of the October 1 Church News. Video and audio recordings of each talk can be accessed on LDS.org at conference.lds.org.

Though the session primarily was devoted and directed to the sisters of the Church, it contains much that is valuable and useful for all of us, just as the general priesthood session of conference typically does, though it is directed to priesthood holders. It would be a shame to ignore or neglect the general women’s session because one is not female.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke on the topic of faith, “what it is, what it can and cannot do, and what we must do to activate the power of faith in our lives.” He told the experience of a young girl out walking with her grandmother and repeatedly trying to draw the grandmother’s attention to the beautiful sounds of the birds she was hearing. Told that “Grandma doesn’t hear so well,” the girl said, “Grandma, listen harder!”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women General President.

Sister Jean B. Bingham, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency.

Sister Carole M. Stephens, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency.

President Uchtdorf drew lessons from this story for both the nonbeliever and the believer. “Perhaps better advice—for anyone who wants to increase faith—is to listen differently,” he commented, citing the Apostle Paul’s counsel that things of the Spirit are discerned only through the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:14).

“Or we should consider the words of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, who said, ‘One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.’” What wonderful and thought-provoking advice for anyone—male or female, young or old—who is seeking to gain or strengthen a testimony of spiritual truths or is struggling with flagging faith.

Sister Jean B. Bingham, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, reminded the women in the congregation—and, by extension, all of us—that “one of the most significant ways we can develop and demonstrate love for our neighbor is through being generous in our thoughts and words.”

The spiritual gift of charity, she said, is often applied when we give a sincere compliment, cheerful greeting, approving nod, or a helpful smile.

She asked, “As sisters (and brothers) in Zion, will we commit to ‘all work together … to do whatsoever is gentle and human to cheer and to bless in [the Savior’s] name?’ (“As Sisters in Zion,” Hymns, no. 309). Can we, with love and high hopes, look for and embrace the beauties in others, allowing and encouraging progress? Can we rejoice in the accomplishments of others while continuing to work toward our own improvement?”

Sister Carole M. Stephens, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, shared three examples of how the Lord Jesus Christ, whom she called “the Master Healer,” deepens our faith and refines our relationship with Heavenly Father and His Son when we experience adversity. “The Master Healer has the power to change our hearts and give us permanent relief from the sorrow caused by our own sin,” she said.

He can comfort and strengthen us when we experience pain because of the unrighteous actions of others, she said, and He can further comfort and sustain us as we experience painful realities of mortality, such as disaster, mental illness, disease, chronic pain, and death.

The talk given by Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women General President, reminds us of how general conference can help us maintain our moorings when the turbulent and shifting winds of society blow us this way and that.

“The conditions of our day should not be a surprise to us,” she observed. “They have been foretold for millennia as a warning and admonition so that we can be prepared.”

Foundational to a strong testimony and determination to keep sacred covenants are acknowledging the centrality of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, to our faith and salvation; understanding the need for latter-day restoration of doctrine, organization, and keys of authority; and studying and understanding temple ordinances and covenants, Sister Oscarson said.

“I worry that we live in such an atmosphere of avoiding offense that we sometimes altogether avoid teaching correct principles,” she said. “We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don’t want to offend those who aren’t married or those who can’t have children, or to be seen as stifling future choices. On the other hand, we may also fail to emphasize the importance of education because we don’t want to send the message that it is more important than marriage. We avoid declaring that our Heavenly Father defines marriage as being between a man and a woman because we don’t want to offend those who experience same-sex attraction. And we may find it uncomfortable to discuss gender issues or healthy sexuality.”

While sensitivity is needed in teaching essential gospel principles, so is common sense and understanding of the plan of salvation, Sister Oscarson affirmed. Whether we are young or older, male or female, may we heed and apply the words given at the general women’s session last week, even as we receive the further light and inspiration in store for us in the other sessions of general conference this weekend.