With the theme of “Gathering All Safely in Christ,” this year’s BYU Women’s Conference was an event to remember as women around the world gathered together virtually to watch the special digital event that replaced the typical two-day gathering on BYU’s Provo, Utah, campus.
Kicking off with an address from Sandra Rogers, the BYU Women’s Conference chair, the livestreamed digital event featured 11 speakers in six sessions — all focused on the theme of gathering.
“President Nelson has called upon the women of the Church to assist in the gathering of Heavenly Father’s children on both sides of the veil to Christ, in preparation for His glorious second coming,” Rogers said in her opening address. “Every priesthood key, every covenant with its associated priesthood power, every spiritual gift, especially the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and every revelation has prepared, and will yet prepare, every needful thing for this last hour of work in the Lord’s vineyard. How do we, in a time of disruption, change and challenge, gather all safely in Christ?”
The first effort individuals can make in gathering safely in Christ is to come unto Him themselves, Rogers said. “As we draw near to Him in trust and obedience, we learn to love Him. We love Him when we have enough faith to make sacred covenants with Him. Our love for Him grows as we faithfully make every effort to keep those covenants.”
In the lone and dreary world, Christ calls His brothers and sisters to Him and asks them to work with Him, to bring all together, one last time. “Let us come to Him, love Him and labor for Him with heart, mind and strength,” Rogers said.
Read President Bingham and Sister Eubank’s BYU Women’s Conference address about gathering Israel during COVID-19
Following the initial live-streamed session, a special Sister to Sister event was shared with participants of the digital event.
The prerecorded Sister to Sister event featured Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; Sister Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency; and Sister Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, with Sister Tracy Browning of the Relief Society general board acting as the moderator.
Gathered together via video recording from four separate locations, the Church leaders addressed questions sent in from women around the world. Topics discussed included: how individuals are making use of their time in isolation during the coronavirus, addressing challenges with mental and emotional health, motherhood, comparison and judgement, Church callings and understanding priesthood power.
Speaking to all those listening or who sent in questions, Sister Aburto said, “Our prayer as we have this conversation is that we can all get closer to our Heavenly Father, and also get closer to our Savior, so we can ‘Hear Him;’ so we can hear His voice; so we can also get closer to each other as Latter-day Saints, as Relief Society sisters, as covenant women, as women of faith; so we can work together in gathering Israel, and in preparing the earth for the second coming.”
Mental and emotional health
Focusing first on the topic of emotional and mental health, the leaders noted that, given the current situation, many women are struggling because their social and emotional connections are less available as extra precautions are taken through isolation.
Giving advice to those who struggle with depression, anxiety and other emotional weights, the leaders shared some of their own experiences.
No matter one’s circumstances, “our Heavenly Father is keenly aware of every experience, including these emotional struggles and afflictions,” Sister Harkness said. “Sisters, we can have faith that there will be healing. There is hope for us all because Christ has descended below all things so He may know how to succor us as people in every kind of infirmity.”
Emotional struggles can make one’s experience in mortality very difficult at times, Sister Harkness continued, but “our struggles do not define our potential as children of God. When we return to His presence, we will be whole, fully capable and free from our present mortal afflictions.”
Adding some advice from what she has learned through her own difficult experiences of losing her father to suicide and struggling to help a daughter struggling with depression, Sister Aburto said, “I feel that whatever our situation is, we should not try to cope with it alone. Let us ask for help from Heavenly Father and the people around us. … If you feel that you cannot take one more step, please ask for help. My plea to you is don’t give up.”
Although the burdens of life often feel unbearable, Sister Aburto said, “There is hope. There is healing. There is joy. There is love surrounding you. Please turn to the Lord’s redeeming grace and turn to the people around you. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up.”
Mental and emotional health issues, whether chronic or circumstantial, should all be taken seriously, Sister Craven added.
“Something I’ve learned is that anybody struggling with emotional difficulties needs somebody in their life that they can trust. And I hope that we can be that person. I hope we can be observant, I hope we can be understanding and not judgmental. And I hope that we can be a trusted friend.”
Motherhood and comparison
Addressing the topic of motherhood and the difficulties that often come with understanding the role women have as mothers, Sister Harkness said, “The work of motherhood is a ministry of love and sacrifice and it’s done by all women regardless of if we have borne children or not.” Women act as mothers as they discern and meet the needs of others, she said. And motherhood is a partnership with God.
Life can be exhausting for everyone, especially mothers with small children, and it can be easy to become discouraged, Sister Craven said. So in every case, it is important for women to take time for themselves.
Women are too often hard on themselves, Sister Aburto added. But if individuals are doing their best, by focusing both on who they are becoming and looking back at what they are achieving, they may realize they are doing better than they think.
One of the biggest culprits for causing discouragement is the tendency for comparison and judgement, Sister Aburto explained.
“For some reason, we have the tendency to label ourselves or others. And I know that we need ways to describe ourselves and our experiences in life, but we should not allow our experiences to define us. They can refine us, but they should not define us or others,” she said. “My advice is to try to avoid labeling. We have so much in common. We all have a divine nature and each of us is a child of God. … We are all disciples of Christ. We are all trying to become like Him, and we are making our best effort, and we need to believe that.”
While all people are children of God, they are each different and unique, Sister Aburto continued. “If we think that there is a mold, then maybe it means that we don’t really know the people around us.”
Some people choose not to tell their whole story because it is too painful, she continued. “But … when we take the time to hear other people’s stories, when we take the time to get to know them, we realize that we all have struggles, that we are all healing from something.”
Satan has a goal to distract individuals from fulfilling their own missions and purposes in life by distracting them with comparison, Sister Harkness explained. And one of the greatest tools to help avoid or overcome the dangers of comparison is gratitude.
“When I choose to be grateful, I can make connections between the gifts Heavenly Father has given me, and the work He has asked me to do. It helps me to avoid comparison,” Sister Harkness said.
By turning the focus to gratitude for what one has and then focusing on serving others, individuals can come to better understand themselves and their relationship with God, Sister Aburto added.
“I know that we are living also through really peculiar times right now. But I feel that this is a time to reflect on and cherish the blessings we have received from God,” she said. “I feel that this is the time to get to know ourselves better and to get to know the people around us.”
Now is the time to really to minister to others, she said, “to see the miracles around us and to take the time to hear the Lord, to hear His voice, to trust and believe in God’s plan of happiness.”
Seeking for understanding and purpose
Addressing comments and questions from women who expressed feelings of discouragement in fulfilling their Church callings, Sister Harkness said, “With very few exceptions, every calling in the Church is temporary. We will have many over the course of a lifetime. And there may even be stretches of time when we don’t have a designated calling.”
She continued, “When we focus on the work and not the title of our temporary calling, we will see there is enough work for us to do. It is all around us. And we can participate no matter our circumstances, marital status, age or experience in Church leadership.”
When looked at by the measures of the world, some Church callings appear more or less important, Sister Harkness explained. But in truth, she said, “every calling in the Church is involved in this same work.”
In this life, there are many things that “we don’t know or understand,” Sister Harkness said. But, “we can always know the most essential truths.”
Sister Craven said there are many things she still doesn’t understand or that she has questions about. “But this just does not shake my faith,” she said. “I have had spiritual experiences in the past that I draw upon when I need to draw upon them. And I intentionally now seek for spiritual experiences that I can draw upon in the future. Those experiences help me stay rooted in the gospel.”
Acknowledging that many questions were not able to be answered during the Sister to Sister event, Sister Aburto advised women of the Relief Society around the world to keep looking for revelation in their own lives. By seeking for continued revelation, Sister Aburto said, “I know that we will receive it.”