The Church’s Relief Society, Young Women and Primary general presidents spoke to Latter-day Saint women about the Atonement on May 2.
Sister Linda K. Burton, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom offered remarks to a near-capacity crowd gathered in the Marriott Center at BYU during a general session of BYU Women’s Conference.
Sister Burton, Relief Society general president, said the Atonement heals, comforts, consoles and enables.
Promising the women that the Lord’s grace will strengthen them in weakness, Sister Burton spoke of a “tutoring time” that happened in her own life 30 years ago. Her husband was serving as bishop and the family had four small children and had gone without income for almost a year. “It wasn’t long until we were on the brink of losing our home,” she said. “To make matters worse, Christmas was coming.
“We tormented ourselves with regrets and self-doubting thoughts that began with words like ‘if only we had,’ ‘why didn’t we,’ ‘we should have,’ or ‘we shouldn’t have,’ and similar thoughts and self-condemnation.”
During this time, Sister Burton said her cousin gave her father a copy of her great-great-grandmother’s autobiography, which he, in turned, loaned to her.
“Each night after the children were in bed, I would stay up late reading about Mary Lois Walker Morris while waiting for my husband to get home from his bishopric responsibilities. I came to know and love her, and I wept over her life, which was filled with challenges much greater than my own.”
Sister Burton’s great-great grandmother left England at the age of 15 with her parents to join with the Saints. She suffered homesickness, seasickness, cramped quarters and faith-testing ravaging ocean storms. When Mary was 16, her mother died. As a 17-year-old newlywed, she crossed the plains on foot without her husband — who did not have the money to make the journey. When Mary was 19 her first child and her husband died. She would remarry but would bury two more children.
“Although her life was filled with one major trial after another, Mary’s autobiography surprisingly reflects sweet expressions of faith and testimony,” said Sister Burton.
Sister Burton said the Lord helps His children learn through the experiences of others in order to help them overcome their own trials and tribulations. “Such was the case with me as I read Mary’s story. I realized that her faith in the Savior and His amazing grace enabled her to surmount heartache after heartache and challenge after challenge.”
Sister Burton told Latter-day Saint women as they move along life’s path, the Lord gives them burdens to carry that they might yoke themselves to Him. “Yoking ourselves to Him not only helps us develop the spiritual muscle needed to get us through our current trials but also blesses us with His enabling power, which helps us face the future trials that surely await us.”
The world, she said, would have people believe that trials are unfair. “We may forget in the heat of our trials that God is aware of us and that He has a plan for us. He knows us individually and perfectly and customizes our mortal experiences to help us grow into our very best selves — if we will let Him.”
Sister Oscarson, Young Women general president, said everyone, without exception, needs the power of the Atonement. “The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real, and it is personal,” she said.
Sister Oscarson shared her personal journey that led to this testimony.
“I thought I had a good, basic understanding of what the Atonement was and of the role of Jesus Christ in our Heavenly Father’s plan for us,” she said, noting that she grew up in the Church. “I felt I had faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. It is almost embarrassing to admit that it was not until I was married and was a mother of several small children that I came to realize that it is not enough to simply know about the Atonement.
“The Atonement must become personal and individualized, and we must all recognize the absolute necessity of the Atonement in each of our lives before we can fully draw upon the Savior’s enabling power.”
Sister Oscarson said she was just 25 when her husband was called to serve as president of the Goteborg Sweden Mission. They entered the mission field with four small children including a one-month-old baby.
She was struggling to care for her children, dealing with a foreign language and preparing dinners for missionaries and leaders. “In the midst of all these changes and challenges, I began to feel not only inadequate but unworthy. In retrospect, I may have been suffering in one degree or another from depression following the birth of my baby.
“I knew that generally speaking, I was a good person and hadn’t committed any major sins, but I felt as if every weakness, fault and sin I had ever committed was being brought to my remembrance. I was struggling to meet the demands of my calling and I was wondering if I was acceptable in the eyes of the Lord, especially in my current situation.”
Sister Oscarson said she turned to the scriptures, to personal prayer and to her husband for a priesthood blessing.
“Slowly I began to understand an important truth and to find relief. I realized that I could not do what I needed to do on my own. I needed help. I needed to apply the Atonement to my challenges, shortcomings and deficiencies. I needed the Atonement to work for me.”
She said she went through the following steps.
“I asked for forgiveness of my shortcomings and tried to become a more patient and giving person. I realized that repentance is a daily necessity and that it simply means we are trying to be better each day. I prayed to understand how to prioritize the various things commanding my time. I tried to put the needs of my children first and to turn the things I just couldn’t manage over to others — and to the Lord. I had to work at letting the Lord take over the many things I worried about. I prayed and studied my scriptures. I learned to listen to the promptings of the Spirit more than ever and trust that the Lord understood me and stood ready to prompt and help. The busyness of my life didn’t change, but my ability to handle things increased. I have never viewed the Atonement the same way since.”
Sister Wixom, Primary general president, told women gathered for BYU Women’s Conference that they need the “Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives — as it heals, comforts, consoles and enables us to show mercy and grace unto ourselves.”
She quoted President Ezra Taft Benson who, 40 years ago, said, “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us.”
Sister Wixom said she cannot repeat that quote enough — “for each time I do, I feel at home.”
Speaking of admitting to weakness and finding hope, Sister Wixom asked, “How many times have we stood at our kitchen sinks and whispered, ‘Lord, please give me the strength to endure. Please give me the strength to forgive, to move on, the strength to embrace a child who is wayward, the strength to accept my circumstances and have hope for the future. Lord, please give me strength to simply expand my time, to curb a habit or elevate my thinking. I need the strength to draw closer to Thee and to be better than I can be on my own.’
“It’s true, because of Him we can have a fresh start.”
Sister Wixom said the Lord knows the names of all of His children. “His love for us is beyond our comprehension. When we recognize His hand in every detail of our lives, it is similar to hearing Him call us by name.”
Sister Wixom shared the story of Georgia Marriott, a 22-year-old Indiana University student who died in an accident.
Quoting from Georgia’s journal, Sister Wixom said Georgia “left this mortal existence knowing and loving her Savior, Jesus Christ. She knew that He loved her.”
Georgia wrote: “I hold triumphantly the torch of Christ! I want that faith always and I want that hope always. I want to be that light. Christ makes it all possible for me because He’s been showing me little by little what I am worth. He is the definition of what I am truly inside and what to become.”
Sister Wixom closed by sharing her testimony that the Savior lives. “He is real. As we look for His hand in our lives our love for Him will increase. We won’t let our weaknesses discourage us instead we will look forward to the opportunities to change and become better. We will seek a new level of hope and understanding. Only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ may we become better than we can even imagine we could become. Humbling our hearts and submitting our will to His opens the door to a world of serenity away from the storms. Through His mercy and grace He welcomes everyone to enter that door.
“It begins with our desire.”