All come to earth with a deep emotional need to be accepted by others — to belong.
“Can Relief Society provide the promise of belonging? Yes,” declared Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham.
Speaking during a session of BYU’s Women’s Conference on Thursday morning, President Bingham was joined by her counselors in the Relief Society general presidency — Sister Sharon Eubank and Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto — in offering ideas of how to extend the promise of belonging to every sister in the Church.
In this “beautiful but challenging” world, sometimes individuals can find a close bond with others, and sometimes it is difficult, Sister Eubank noted. “How can we help each other feel that same secure acceptance and love we experienced in our heavenly home?”
Every woman in the Church, whether she is fresh out of high school, a career woman, a mother of small children, a woman who has experienced divorce, a widow — or any combination of those situations — absolutely belongs to Relief Society, Sister Eubank assured.
President Bingham explained that as the women of the Church remember who they are and the covenants they have made, they will come to see one another as “eternal sisters” who fought side-by-side in the preexistence for the right to choose and trusted the Savior to fulfill His promise.
As women see one another from an eternal perspective — or as an “eternal sister” — “We are happy for one another’s successes, we share one another’s sorrows, we forgive one another’s mistakes, and we strengthen each other in our weakness,” she said.
Admittedly, there is need for improvement, President Bingham said. “Studies have shown that the number one reason people leave religion is that they feel judged or unwelcome. That is cited more often than doctrinal disagreement or lack of belief.”
President Bingham then quoted her mother who used to say, “Be a light, not a judge.”
“Our responsibility is to extend an open hand and heart. As we do that, we find that we have created a safe place for sharing, a safe place to grow, a safe place to become our best selves,” she said.
Sister Aburto guided listeners through an exercise to practice how to respond with love so that Relief Society is a place where every woman feels she belongs.
In the exercise, Sister Aburto presented a scenario and then gave two responses and asked “Which is the best response?”
Whether it was a missionary who had returned home early, a married couple with no children, or a friend telling that she is getting a divorce, the best response was to “look, listen and respond with love.”
President Bingham noted that many of her listeners are securely connected to a Relief Society group who offers them support and cheerful encouragement.
She then encouraged listeners to “turn and face outside your circle. Who are the women who are not engaged? Who hesitates to join, is reluctant to speak up, or declines to participate? … How can we bring every sister into the circle?”
President Bingham used the example of a ward Relief Society president named Chris who was able to impact a woman in her ward named Cecilia by following an inspired pattern.
“Chris discovered Cecilia’s strengths, asked her to be involved, provided the scaffolding she needed to be successful, supported her in the revelation she received, and allowed her to fulfill her responsibility,” President Bingham explained.
Sometimes the less obvious candidate can have a profound impact as they serve. “I love Chris’s inspired pattern: identify a need, and then ask these follow-up questions — ‘Who has a need to serve?’ and ‘What can they do to be included?’ Those questions will help us widen our circle until every sister is linking arms,” President Bingham said.
Sister Eubank then introduced her friend, Jessica Livier Haynes, or Liv. Liv said, “I’m a Young Women’s president. I’m a daughter, a sister, a returned missionary. I am queer. I am a person who loves going to the temple. And above all of those things, I am a daughter of Heavenly Parents who strives every day to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
When asked about ways that help her feel welcome and part of the congregation, Liv responded that one can never go wrong with showing someone love. “If you don’t know what to say, you can ask,” Liz said, and listen.
To those that may feel lonely or like they don’t belong, Liv reminded that “we are all a family in Christ, and we are here for each other.”
Sister Eubank then extended an invitation to listeners to be kinder, show more sincere interest, and offer a friendly hand.
The Savior used the image of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings to describe His relationship with His disciples, Sister Aburto said. “A hen takes care of her chickens all day and all night. She nourishes them, and is constantly calling them. … In the same way, the Savior gathers us with His care and love. Like the chicks, we are vulnerable, and we depend on His grace. As disciples of Christ, we too can help gather His people. This brings us joy.”
Sister Aburto testified that as individuals seek revelation, the Spirit will guide them to know what to do and say to help others feel they belong.
Jesus told the Nephites “I have commanded that none of you should go away but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me” (3 Nephi 18:25). “Our work as disciples of Christ,” Sister Eubank declared, “is to make it easier for people to come unto Him. We are all trying to keep the commandments and to follow the example of Jesus Christ, but we all fall short in different ways. But, we can keep trying to be better with the Savior’s atoning power.”
President Bingham encouraged sisters to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood with every woman in their wards or branches. “Relief Society needs to support all women, to help them always feel a part of our divine, eternal sisterhood.”