What the new Primary general presidency taught about perfection and worth at BYU Women’s Conference

While practicing law for more than 30 years, Primary General President Camille N. Johnson has never taken a perfect deposition or conducted a perfect cross-examination. She has never written a perfect brief. And she has never presented a perfect oral argument before a judge or justices.

“I think there is a reason they refer to it as the ‘practice’ of law,” the newly called leader told BYU Women’s Conference listeners on Thursday, April 29. 

Though there was always something she could have done better, “I was practicing law with an eye toward changing, improving and perfecting,” she said. “My efforts, though imperfect, were sufficient because I was practicing.”

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When Nephi and his brothers returned to Jerusalem to get the plates from Laban and had been gone for some time, “Sariah reacted the way I think I might have,” President Johnson said. Sariah worried about and mourned for her sons. She complained

“But sisters, Sariah practiced a little faith. She listened to the comforting words spoken to her by Lehi. She practiced patience. She practiced waiting on the Lord. She practiced supporting her husband, and when her sons returned with the plates of brass, her joy was full.”

Primary General President Camille N. Johnson speaks on "practicing perfection" during her remarks at BYU Women's Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Primary General President Camille N. Johnson speaks on “practicing perfection” during her remarks at BYU Women’s Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Credit: Ryan Campbell, BYU Photo

As President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love Him and keep His commandments.”

The Savior makes eternal perfection possible, President Johnson said, and He “gives us opportunities to practice. … I testify that the Lord loves you and wants you to return home. Perfection is pending in Him and with Him.”

President Johnson’s message to sisters to “keep practicing” was followed by words of encouragement and reassurance from her counselors, Sister Susan H. Porter and Sister Amy A. Wright. 

‘I did this for you’

One morning in December 2016, when Sister Porter and her late husband, Elder Bruce D. Porter, were serving in Moscow, Elder Porter woke up and felt short of breath. At the hospital, they learned he had pneumonia and would need to stay for a few days to receive antibiotics. 

Sister Porter returned home to pack for Elder Porter’s short stay. The next morning, their area medical adviser informed her that Elder Porter’s health had taken a dramatic turn for the worse and he was placed in an induced coma.  

“In that moment, everything changed,” Sister Porter said. “No longer was this a routine hospital stay but a fight for Bruce’s life, over 5,000 miles away from family.”

Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks on finding peace and comfort in the Savior during her remarks at BYU Women's Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks on finding peace and comfort in the Savior during her remarks at BYU Women’s Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Credit: Ryan Campbell, BYU Photo

Sister Porter was unexpectedly reminded of this experience while listening to a recent devotional with Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, a General Authority Seventy. 

As Elder Gonzalez invited participants to share promised blessings they had received as members of covenant Israel, Sister Porter thought of the cold, dark days she traveled on the subway alone to the hospital, never feeling afraid. She remembered the peace she felt as she sat by Elder Porter’s bed and later at home, alone but not lonely. 

“As I was wrapped in those memories,” Sister Porter said, “the Lord spoke clearly to my mind, ‘I did this for you’.”

One of the many blessings the Savior promised to covenant Israel is “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). 

Sister Porter testified, “Whether we feel that comfort at the time or only recognize His help later, I bear witness that He will come and He will give us comfort and strength in time of need.”

‘Jesus Christ is enough’

A few months ago, Sister Wright received a phone call inviting her and her husband to meet with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A member of the Young Women general advisory council at the time, she expected she would be released. 

However, during the car ride to Church headquarters, she had a distinct impression: “You are going to be called to serve as the second counselor in the Primary general presidency.”

Almost instantly, several uninvited thoughts began to flood her mind. “You are not good enough.” “You are not talented enough.” “You are not smart enough.” “You are not worthy enough.” 

Sister Amy A. Wright, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks during BYU Women's Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Sister Amy A. Wright, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, speaks during BYU Women’s Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Credit: Ryan Campbell, BYU Photo

She offered a silent prayer for peace and comfort, hoping for validations that she was enough. 

Instead, she received a different impression: “You are right. You are not enough. And you will never be your definition of enough. But Jesus Christ is enough. He is more than enough and everything is going to be OK.” 

The experience was a tender reminder that this is the Savior’s work, not hers. “Christ is perfectly capable of doing His own work,” Sister Wright said. “However, the extraordinary thing is that He shares His sacred work with us so that we can have opportunities to learn and grow.”

One’s worth cannot be quantified by any form of earthly measurement, Sister Wright said, referencing Doctrine and Covenants 18:10

“Our value comes from our identity as beloved daughters of Heavenly Parents. It is part of our spiritual DNA. Our value also stems from who, through our Savior Jesus Christ, we can become.”

‘We are all connected’

President Johnson began the presidency’s session by sharing how she identified her counselors — a process she described as “a remarkable, revelatory experience.”

She was instructed to seek the Lord’s help and will concerning who should serve. She did not know Sister Porter or Sister Wright, “but both of their names came to me quickly,” she said. She sought confirmation through prayer and fasting and submitted their names for consideration. They were approved and called. 

When she met Sister Porter and Sister Wright as soon as they were called, “it was not a first meeting, but a reunion,” President Johnson said, noting that she felt she was being reunited with longtime friends.

Primary General President Camille N. Johnson speaks on "practicing perfection" during her remarks at BYU Women's Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
Primary General President Camille N. Johnson speaks on “practicing perfection” during her remarks at BYU Women’s Conference on April 29, 2021. The conference was live streamed from the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Credit: Ryan Campbell, BYU Photo

“Sisters, we are all connected,” she said. “We share our collective testimony of that principle. Let us make it a priority to rediscover our connections. Those connections help us belong.”

The presidency then shared a few connections they have discovered among themselves. For example, Sister Wright and Sister Porter’s husband, Elder Porter, are both descendants of William Bailey. Sister Wright and President Johnson are mothers to three boys, and they each have a son who served in the Italy Milan Mission. President Johnson and Sister Porter share a German heritage and both have lived there. 

“Dear sisters, we look forward to connecting with you,” President Johnson said. “We are common and ordinary women who have been asked to be engaged in an extraordinary work, and we are thankful to be engaged in that great work with you.”