“Women Meet at BYU ‘For Such a Time As This’” Ensign, Apr. 1982, 73–76
More than anything else, the seventh annual Brigham Young University Women’s Conference seemed to be an affirmation of lives—a kind of three-day thanksgiving for the incredible diversity that characterizes Latter-day Saint women today. The participants themselves, a crowd of some 5,000 attending the February 18–20 conference, demonstrated that variety. From an auditorium full of students to an enthusiastic little band of six mothers from Rexburg, Idaho, who left thirty-five children under the watchful care of fathers and grandparents, to the eighty-nine-year-old great-grandmother of thirty-four, they came, as the conference theme suggested, “For Such a Time As This.”
The biblical story of Esther, who at great peril to herself saved Israel from destruction, served as the conference focal point. Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, imploring her to intervene with the king on behalf of Israel, said to her, “and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth. 4:14.) Conference speakers frequently reminded today’s women that they share with Esther a mission “for such a time as this.”
Addressing what would become a major emphasis of the conference, Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke of “the inner strength and ability that we will need to survive” in a difficult world. “The more I experience of life,” he said, “and the more I observe the lives of others, the more convinced I have become that some of the key factors in this quest for inner strength are these: (1) faith and confidence in a beneficent Power that has the ultimate control of the universe and that intervenes in our own personal lives and circumstances; (2) a purpose in life that gives us a sense of direction for the things we do; (3) a basic code of conduct or set of guiding principles that are harmonious with our thoughts; (4) consistent compliance with this code of conduct; (5) a measure of self-worth and self-esteem that allow us to be charitable toward our own imperfections without becoming tolerant of them; (6) a regard for the worth of others and an acceptance of their need for happiness and progress; (7) an ability to regenerate enthusiasm and hope, even after failures; and (8) patience that does not degenerate into apathy, and a basic optimism in the final outcome of things.”
Earlier in the week, Sister Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, delivered the devotional address at BYU on Tuesday, February 16. At that time, Sister Smith was presented with the Exemplary Womanhood Award by ASBYU President Kasey Haws, who read a citation commending her for a lifetime of service to people of all ages. The award is given in alternate years to women whose lives and achievements are considered a pattern for BYU students to follow.
In her address, Sister Smith encouraged students to prepare successfully to meet every challenge that awaits them. “We are continually preparing for tests—great and small, unplanned and unintended—as the circumstances disclose our strengths and shortcomings,” she said.
Keynote speakers were Dr. Henry B. Eyring, commissioner of Church Education, and his wife, Kathleen. Sister Eyring, speaking of modern-day challenges, reminded her audience that “one of the purposes of this conference is to prepare us as women to live in this particular time. Each of us will have unique opportunities and challenges. The Lord knows what these challenges are; we don’t.” She expressed her conviction that “There is a common way for all of us to meet our challenges; that is to be humble and realize our great dependence on the Lord. Because he knows what is ahead for us, he can help prepare us. He wants us to succeed, and will make that possible if we let him.”
Brother Eyring, using the analogy of mountain climbers roped together and committed to helping each other, spoke of family ties and reliance on the Lord during the treacherous “climb” through life. “My guess,” he said, “is that when life is done—and sooner, if we are wise—very few things will matter. And I think they will be the ties that bound us and what we did with them.” He added that “Nothing you are ever taught will matter as much as whatever curriculum, or talks, or experiences lead you to feel what the Master feels. If you do that, you will see that people can be good; you will feel what they feel; and you will want with your whole heart for them to be free to taste the joys of having chosen freely to do what’s right.
“Jesus Christ lives; he has ‘tied’ himself to us; and only we at great effort could break the tie. I pray with my whole heart that we will understand what it means to be bound to a God who loves us, who will let us climb freely—but is ready, should we slip, to break the fall.”
As the conference progressed, “time” emerged as a significant concept. “I can’t help feeling,” reflected author and poet Emma Lou Thayne, “that every time is, as Dickens said a hundred years ago, the best of times and the worst of times. In a conference of any day, surely the reason for coming together is to find ways to stretch the mind, the heart, the soul—and indeed to find out how to matter, at any stage or any phase.
“What are we now?” she asked. Do we need still more protection from some things than we used to? And do we, more than anything, find ourselves, in this time of change and strangeness, even in more need of mattering than we ever were?”
Sister Thayne counseled women to remember “that we do deserve to have the dignity of occasional depression; the right to be sad now and then; the quivering hope to be happy again—because surely the worst of times will become the best of times.” She added that “to do one thing the very best we know how is perhaps the greatest freedom that any of us ever have.”
A call to join the mainstream of personal and community service was issued by Beverly Campbell, who has seen wide community involvement in her work as an advertising executive, Church leader, wife, and mother. “This is a woman’s time,” she declared enthusiastically. “Never in our history has there been a greater need for women to step forward and take a leading position in the community, as their time and circumstances permit. Never has there been a greater need for women to assert their moral and social values. Never have there been issues of greater concern or significance that will impact for good or for ill on our homes, our families, and our opportunities to exercise our free agency.”
She counseled women to be “doers, not just hearers, of the word,” and to evaluate every issue within the context of eternal truth. “One woman can make a difference,” she said. “You can make a difference. There are thousands of needs that need to be met and a thousand ways in which you can meet them. All you have to do is love your fellowmen, be concerned for the welfare of something or someone—your homes, your families, the educational system, women’s issues, community, state, or national government, the arts. Whatever your interest, whatever your talents, whatever your concerns, there is a need for you, and there is a place for you. You are here for such a time as this.
“Yes, we do need to be about our Father’s business. That means being in the world. It means interacting with, responding to, caring for, and contributing to the lives of our fellowmen. We may be different from, but we should not stand falsely apart from, our fellowmen.”
Sister Campbell spoke of the Mormon woman. “Would it not be best to say that a typical Mormon woman is one who has enormous reverence for life and the bearing and nurturing of children; that she places great value on a warm and inviting home; that her husband and family come first; and that she has the ability to refine and conserve the family’s resources? Would we not be able to understand ourselves and articulate our lives better if we thought of a typical Mormon woman in these value terms, rather than in task terms? I think so.”
Conference sessions ran the gamut from home and family relationships to communicating with music to career exploration to responsible assertiveness to the fervent testimony of faith borne by Sister Becky Reeve, who has spent the past twenty years paralyzed from the neck down following an automobile accident during her mission in New Mexico. From her wheelchair, she reflected that “I have found out that most persons—it doesn’t matter how old they are or what their circumstances—have about as much tribulation as they can handle most of the time. That’s why I think our Savior has told us to be kind to everybody. Many times we don’t see the handicaps that people are suffering under; and so we should be kind and considerate, because everyone carries a burden.”
Dr. Spencer J. Condie, BYU professor of Sociology, addressed “The Use and Abuse of Power.” Many of our worldly beliefs, he said, serve only to rob us of internal, divine power. The Lord, however, has counseled that “the power is within us to be agents unto ourselves” (see D&C 58); and to use such powers as God intends, we must “recognize the sacred stewardship we have over the powers vested in us—the power of free agency, the power to make right choices, the power to determine our happiness from within, the power of prayer and faith, the power of the gift of the Holy Ghost, that we might not be comfortless.”
Taking personal responsibility for choices and actions was a frequently-addressed theme over the three days. “We are responsible for ourselves first; we can make a difference; and we never run out of choices,” said Elizabeth and Rebecca Ryser, who are trained in marriage counseling and social work respectively.
Dr. C. Terry Warner, professor of philosophy and director of BYU’s Moral Studies Group, observed that, “To see other people as the problem is the problem. As long as we blame others, we contribute to the destruction of our families. The choice is love or destruction.”
Said Mary Ellen Smith in a workshop entitled “Staying Alive as Long as You Live,” “When you can control your thoughts, you can control your feelings; when you can control your feelings, you can control your circumstances; when you can control your circumstances, you can control your life. This is mastery—and this is really being alive.”
Noel and Sydney Reynolds, parents of eleven children, spoke of the value of education in their own and their children’s lives. Sister Reynolds bore fervent testimony of the Lord’s love and guidance: “I know that the Lord loves us, and the men who lead this church are on our side. They love and appreciate us and are concerned and anxious, more than any other group in this world, that we fulfill our potential. As long as we put selfishness away from us entirely and put our trust in the Lord, we will find avenues for growth and opportunity for knowledge that will surpass our most ardent desires; for we can come to know Him, as the prophets have promised, and with Him and our families find eternal life.”
Dr. Reynolds addressed, among other things, a timely concern in the lives of Church members. “Many Latter-day Saints fear,” he said, “that taking educational opportunities seriously may jeopardize their faith. There is some justification for this; pride is regularly cited in the scriptures as a cause of spiritual disease. But I would hasten to point out that wealth corrupts in the same way, far more than education. And who fears wealth?” The Nephite disease came from wealth—not from properly applied learning, he said. “I think the point is that we naturally fear that which we do not understand; and many do not understand learning. … It is my observation that in obtaining a quality education, a student learns not to be proud, but to be humble.
“Square Pegs in Round Roles: How A Single Woman Fits In” was the title of a presentation by Kathleen Lubeck, a single woman who works as the western states coordinator for Church Public Communications directors. “Of course there are problems with fitting in,” she smiled. “There will always be problems with ‘fitting in’ while we’re in this world. But that is not the crucial question. The important question is, how do we react to that conflict? Those reactions will help determine our eternal character.”
She recommended the use of prayer and scripture study for guidance: “We need to deal with problems from a Christlike perspective. Just how happy we are in that giant special interest kettle of life depends on our relationship with Heavenly Father. He loves us, wants to communicate with us, teach us, comfort us. And that companionship is more important than being a square peg in a round hole.”
Concluding speaker for the conference was Sister Colleen H. Maxwell, former YWMIA general board member and stake Relief Society president, and wife of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve. “I’ve appreciated the spirit of this conference,” she said, “because it doesn’t seem that there has been the pressure to conform that one sometimes feels as women gather.” Her observation was that “our worthy objective for personal development involves, for all of us, the journey of a lifetime and not the efforts of a single season. We all realize that we can’t give everything the same priority; therefore, we should approach self-improvement in prayer, wisdom, and order.” Her counsel for such improvement was “first, to plan things one must do; secondly, to plan for things one ought to do; and thirdly, for things one wants to do. For conscientious LDS women, too often the third item is neglected; perhaps for a few women, there is more time spent on these things than should be.”
“Isn’t it remarkable,” she continued, “that we should be privileged to be here at this point in time; that the Lord has seen fit to send us here now to assist in the preparations for the ushering in of his second coming? God does not expect us to make our contribution in one single effort. There is a difference between being steadily and effectively engaged on one hand, and on the other, frantically engaged one moment and passively detached the next. May we be inspired to know what we might focus on, depending on our circumstances and seasons of life. We can prayerfully select one or two things to accomplish first, rather than having a general feeling of inadequacy because we can’t do everything at once. It takes real wisdom, discipline, and judgment to do things in order. Direction is more important than speed.”