Women's Conference : 'God's grace is our hope'; in humility we find him

The grace of Christ, literacy, adversity, and delighting in diversity were among the many topics discussed at the annual Women's Conference April 29-30 at BYU. Sponsored by the Relief Society and BYU, the Women's Conference was based on the theme, "From Grace to Grace," taken from D&C 93:13, and included a keynote address, a fireside and nearly 60 sessions from 130 presenters.

More than 7,000 women attended this year's conference, in comparison to 600 during the first-such conference held in 1976.Welcoming conference-goers during the opening session April 29 at the Marriott Center was BYU Pres. Rex E. Lee, who said: "This conference offers an opportunity for women and men to gather together and discuss matters of common interest related to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the eternal truths it embraces and particularly as those truths relate to women's issues."

In extolling the benefits of Women's Conference, Relief Society Gen. Pres. Elaine L. Jack told the Church News: "This is a wonderful conference because it prepares women in their influence on those around them. We have such a powerful influence on our families, in our neighborhoods and in our communities. I think when women have learned together these kinds of important things, they'll have a greater influence than ever before. The more a mother understands, the better able she is to prepare her children to be contributing and productive individuals - members of society as well as members of the Church."

Delivering the opening session address was Carol Cornwall Madsen, associate professor of history and research historian for the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at BYU. Speaking to a large crowd, she said: "There is a beautiful symmetry in the doctrines of grace and works. Balancing the Lord's counsel to be engaged in good works are comparable scriptural reminders that `it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.' " (See 2 Ne. 25:23.)

"The two are complementary," she continued. "God's grace unlocks the door to salvation and our faith and works lead us through it and bring us closer to Him. Both grace and works are free-will offerings - doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, God for us through His grace, and we for others through our works."

Sister Madsen, who is also former director of the Women's Research Center at BYU, explained: "I believe we can learn something about this free gift [of graceT from the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32.) Our attention and empathy frequently focus on the older brother, the faithful one who stayed at his father's side and tended his inheritance but received no celebration, and felt the injustice of it all. Perhaps we even tend to identify with him as we seek to live good lives ourselves.

"But who of us can claim to be the older son? Who of us has not left the Father's presence to tarry a while in a sin-filled world, succumbing to our own weaknesses but yearning to return one day to our Father's house, even as a servant? The operative power in this story is grace, not justice. The parable is a reminder to us of the limitless reach of God's grace, and God's grace is our hope."

Sister Madsen said: "God knows we are weak. He gave us our weaknesses. (See Ether 12:27.) And He knows that most of us will demonstrate our weaknesses many times over before we leave this life. This is the risk of agency. But as He so wisely knew, it is through our weakness that we discover humility, and it is through humility that we find God. We are probably never more humble than when we reach the point of acknowledging our weaknesses in that process we call repentance.

" . . . We may not fully understand the theology of the atonement, nor completely comprehend the depth of God's love and mercy for us in giving us the free gift of life by the sacrifice of His son. But I think we all yearn to feel the touch of grace in our lives, moments that capture the soul and hold it, a willing hostage, away from the assaults and demands of the unjust world in which we live."

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