During a time when “the opportunities and options for women” have expanded, many Latter-day Saint women are striving to understand their role in the world, said Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president on May 5.
Speaking during BYU Women’s Conference with her counselors in the Relief Society general presidency — Sister Sharon Eubank and Sister Reyna I. Aburto — Sister Bingham addressed the topic, “Relief Society: Divinely Ordained of God.”
“Many of us have questions,” said Sister Bingham, during her address in the BYU Marriott Center. “What model should I choose as my own path? How can I express my individuality and develop my particular talents? What is the best timeline for me to pursue an education or further a career or focus on my family? What is my role in the kingdom of God on earth? How can I fulfill my divine potential? These questions can trouble our minds and hearts. Today we would like to talk to you about answers to these questions and others.”
Sister Reyna I. Aburto: 'What has Relief Society been for me?'
"What has Relief Society been for me?" This is the question Sister Aburto has pondered over the last few weeks since being called to serve as second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.
During her address, she recounted how she had come to join the Church and the Relief Society.
While Sister Aburto lived in San Francisco, California, she came to a crucial crossroad in her life following the painful decision to divorce her first husband. "We had a 3-year-old little boy by then and my soul was full of questions, fears and longings for me and my son," she said. "I remember asking myself, 'What will happen now? How can I find joy after this? How can I provide a safe environment for my son? How will our future be? Where can I find peace?'"
Weeks later, a miracle occured. While Sister Aburto was visiting some relatives, her mother, who had recently met a Latter-day Saint missionary couple, invited her to join her at church the next day. Figuring she didn't have anything to lose, Sister Aburto went along.
"As I stepped into that Church meetinghouse, a warm feeling embraced me. I knew I was in a safe place, I knew that I could find peace in there, and that something extraordinary was going to happen in my life. I had found something that I did not know I had been missing," she said. Each message spoken that day seemed specifically written for her. "The words that were spoken touched my heart and penetrated it with a loving, comforting and powerful force."
A few weeks after that first meeting with the missionaries, Sister Aburto was baptized along with her mother and brother, and the members of the small Spanish branch they attended embraced them with love. "All of a sudden, I had friends, teachers, leaders, counselors and role models of all ages, male and female, and through their words and actions I could feel the Holy Ghost testifying of the truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in my heart."
Callings and assignments to serve followed soon after, and she learned that she belonged to the Relief Society. She learned that "in our Church we are not just passive observers and recipients of information and counsel, but that we can be active contributors and participants."
With each opportunity to serve in the Church, Sister Aburto found loving sisters surrounding and teaching her by example. "As I look back, I can see that each of them has left a lasting imprint in my life. They taught me how to transition from being a recent convert to becoming converted unto the Lord. They literally took my hand and showed me the way."
Relief Society, Sister Aburto said, "has meant a never-ending wealth of assistance from heaven and from earth that has helped me begin to prepare for the blessings of eternal life."
The women she has met and worked with "have been a source of guidance that has helped me understand my role as a daughter of God, a wife and a mother," Sister Aburto said. They inspired her as she struggled to keep a balance between her various personal, Church, family and career responsibilities. "They have shown me how to set priorities in my life so I can find time for the daily sacred habits that give me the spiritual strength I need when I feel that I cannot take one more step," she said.
Sister Aburto testified, "My dear sisters, as we face the world during these latter days and as we strive to keep the covenants that we have made with God so we can fulfill the measure of our creation, Relief Society can be a safe haven for us."
Sister Sharon Eubank: The purpose of Relief Society is to 'lift and build others'
“God wants us to help each other with our problems and Relief Society is the place where we are united to do it,” said Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency.
Sister Eubank, who in addition to her new calling is director of the Church’s humanitarian organization LDS Charities, shared personal experiences from her life and her thoughts about Relief Society.
Sister Eubank spoke of feeling overwhelmed when President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, not only issued the call to serve as the counselor in the Relief Society general presidency but asked her to keep her job with LDS Charities.
Sister Eubank then inquired about whom she would be serving with in the presidency.
“When he told me it was Jean Bingham I had the most amazing calm come over me,” she said.
Eight months prior, Sister Bingham — who was serving in the Primary general presidency — had been selected to accompany Sister Eubank to South Sudan and Uganda and the two were scheduled to leave on that trip within 48 hours from her call.
“If the Lord knew eight months prior that Jean Bingham and Sharon Eubank were going to travel together and be called into Relief Society together at the exact same time, it must not be a mistake,” she said. “Something about that fact gave me a lot of courage and calmness.”
Two days later the two women traveled to the border between Uganda and South Sudan. Conditions were less than ideal. “But Sister Bingham was spectacular,” Sister Eubank recalled. Ignoring the rugged conditions, Sister Bingham put her arms around people, talked to them, asked them questions and made them laugh. She held dusty, smiling kids and held the shaking hands of young women who were recovering from sexual violence.
“In short, she did exactly what the Relief Society does. She loved and she listened and she ministered and she learned.”
Shortly after the trip, Sister Eubank heard Sister Reyna Aburto had accepted the call to serve as second counselor in the presidency.
Sister Eubank had only met Sister Aburto casually "but she is the kind of woman whose spirit can be felt right away,” Sister Eubank said. “When she prays I believe the heavens split wide open.”
Despite feeling gratitude for the opportunity to serve, Sister Eubank said she still "had a string of panic.”
“I had three big problems,” she said. First, she felt positive that if President Eyring really knew her on the inside he would not have called her to the position.
Sister Eubank admitted, “I haven’t been to homemaking/enrichment night in about three years. And then I remembered, I don’t even know the right name for homemaking/enrichment night!”
Second, she couldn’t figure out how logistically she would be able to do her job and take care of her family and serve in her calling without "killing some part of her own spirit."
Her third problem was that she “was already really tired.”
While cleaning out a drawer in her bedroom, Sister Eubank found a little note written on the back of a yellow tithing receipt during a Relief Society board meeting with Sister Julie Beck in September 2011.
The paper read: "When you are with people, remember they are each filled with troubles. Lift them to a higher plane. People come to be lifted. Build. Bring comfort from the Spirit. Don’t bring new programs or duties. People need lifting.
“Remember to keep your own kingdom intact. This is your first stewardship — mother and father, brothers and sisters, children, husband, friends. These are eternal and they are given to you first.
“When you can’t give more, when you’ve gone beyond your ability to give, then sit still. Call on the Holy Ghost and angels to come to you. Be still and get full.”
From that message Sister Eubank found the answer to her three problems.
“It came from Relief Society and it was about Relief Society,” she said. “It lived up to its name because it came as a relief to me.”
She realized she didn’t have to quote the handbook or dress up every day in pearls. Rather, her job in Relief Society was to "lift and build others” and she could call upon the Lord for help.
Sister Jean B. Bingham: 'How Vast is Our Purpose'
As Sister Jean B. Bingham began to get to know her two counselors in the newly sustained Relief Society general presidency, she felt a bit intimidated.
“As those who know me well are aware, my story is quite 'ordinary.' Growing up, although I enjoyed learning, I was not the top student in any class. I cannot boast of any expert skills: 3; Although I was blessed with good health and loved to run through the park or swim in the lake, I didn’t participate in school sports at any level. I was never asked to the prom, I wasn’t the president of anything, I was never one of the popular group, and one strikingly attractive friend said to me after scrutinizing my features, ‘Well, you’ll never be beautiful, but you could be cute.’ In other words, I was just average.”
Speaking to women gathered in the Marriott Center at BYU, Sister Bingham added, “If you’re human — and particularly, a female human — you have probably experienced those times of self-doubt and discouragement that you are not all that you want to be.”
Yet, she explained, even in her ordinariness, “Heavenly Father saw value, and has helped me begin to develop the gifts and graces He knows will help me become all that He has designed me to be,” she said. “Know that your Heavenly Father will provide all that you need to become 'extra'-ordinary as a daughter of God. The wonder of His heavenly economy is that every single one of us can be spectacular because of our unique bundle of talents and abilities.
“Unlike the world, in His kingdom there is no winner’s platform that only has room for one or two. Each of His daughters has been taught and prepared and gifted premortally with marvelous potential to become a queen in the celestial kingdom.”
Sister Bingham told the women that they have incredible potential for good because they are covenant daughters of Heavenly Parents.
“Answer this question: Do you think our Heavenly Parents want us to succeed? Yes! They want us to succeed gloriously! And do you think They will help us? Absolutely!”
That thought sustained Sister Bingham when she was called to be Relief Society general president just a few weeks ago, she said.
The “choice to become a disciple of Christ gives us the opportunity to wield a more-than-might-be-expected influence on those around us,” she said.
Every faithful Latter-day Saint woman has this same promise and potential, she said. “It matters not where we live, the makeup of our family, the size of our bank account, whether we are a world-class expert in some field, or how long we have been a member of the Church — we can each be a powerful influence for good.”
Although each Relief Society sister is unique, there are feelings and divine gifts and experiences that bind them together, she said. “We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents, who love us and want us to become like Them. We are full partners with the priesthood in the work of salvation — the saving of the souls of men and women — which is the focus of all our efforts. As sisters and brothers, we were given and accepted responsibilities in the premortal world for building the Kingdom of God on the earth. You may not realize it yet, but Relief Society can help you accomplish extraordinary things.”
Relief Society is more than a class on Sunday, she said. “It is a divinely established sisterhood. It is a place of learning. It is an organization whose basic charter is caring for others. It is a safe place for sisters to bring their questions, and for those who are searching for identity and purpose. It is a place that will help us blossom individually and improve collectively.”
Bumps and challenges have come with her own Relief Society experience, she said. “If you have had a less-than-comfortable experience at Relief Society, remember that we are all learning, so persist in loving your sisters.”
Sister Bingham said as women “put our arm around a shy sister at church, as we reach out to a young woman who is struggling, as we work to feed and clothe and teach a child on a daily basis, as we share what makes us happy about the restored gospel with our neighbor, as we mourn with someone who has lost a loved one, as we attend the temple at an inconvenient time, … as we prepare to teach a Primary or seminary class — all of these actions and many more acts of simple but meaningful service are part of the work of salvation. That is our mission, and it truly is vast, but it is doable when we each do something — and keep at it!”