“Women Gather at BYU,” Ensign, May 1983, 92–95
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost,
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
(J. R. R. Tolkien, from The Fellowship of the Ring.)
Tolkien’s observation that “deep roots are not reached by the frost” was the theme of this year’s annual Brigham Young University women’s conference held February 17–19. The theme was addressed thoughtfully and creatively by students, educators, and General Authorities alike in a wide variety of addresses, workshops, and opportunities for learning attended by over two thousand participants. “Each of us,” read the conference program, “needs to understand the significance of roots in our lives—our historical beginnings, our ties with family and all human beings, and the foundations created by the choices we make every day. If we ignore them, leave them to affect us by chance, or cut ourselves off from them, we will die a death of some kind. If we attend to them and understand them, we are benefited and blessed.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the conference’s speakers, expanded the theme’s message. “Your Tolkien theme, ‘Deep roots are not reached by the frost,’ might well have had added to it, ‘nor are they scorched by the sun.’ Jesus described the realities of that scorching sun when he talked in these terms: ‘And some fell upon the stony places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up because they had no deepness of earth. And when the sun was up, they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away.’ (Matt. 13:5–6.)”
“In our own lives,” said Elder Maxwell, “the heat will come—not alone in the rigors of daily life, but also in the special summer of circumstance at that point in history when the leaves of the fig trees sprout. The anticipated summer is upon us, and only those who are (to cite Peter and Paul’s adjectives) ‘grounded, rooted, established and settled’ will survive spiritually. (See Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:23; Col. 2:7.)”
He urged the development of Christlike attributes—love, mercy, meekness, patience, submissiveness. “Likewise, there is opportunity in even the most seemingly ordinary life to develop and to sharpen the everlasting skills—how to communicate, how to motivate, how to delegate, how to manage our time and our talents and our thoughts. They are developed by doing what Jesus said: take up the cross daily. It will be these skills and attributes that will rise with us in the resurrection, and precious little else. When you and I are ‘grounded and rooted,’ we will understand how utilizing the seemingly ordinary experiences of our life and how keeping the commandments are true tests of our performance in this second estate. A botched performance here means less chance to serve there.” Faithful sisters, he added, “may need to forego the praise of women, and of some in the feminine establishment, in order to pursue true and deep discipleship.”
Elder Maxwell spoke movingly of promised blessings to those who have not yet married: “One day, those who are now anguished because they are unmarried will, if they are faithful, know the joys of being in the midst of a vast convocation of their posterity. The seeming deprivation which occurs in the life of a deserving single woman who feels she has no prospects of immediate marriage and motherhood, properly endured, foretells a delayed blessing. Some deprivation, therefore, is an excavation; it is the readying of a reservoir into which a generous God will later pour all that he hath.”
His final plea was for careful and diligent study of the scriptures. “Beloved sisters,” he said, “you will never come away from the pages of the scriptures, when they are searched, malnourished or disappointed. But no one can partake for us. We must try the virtue of the word of God ourselves—and it must be a regular feasting, not an occasional nibbling.”
Earlier in the week, Dwan J. Young, general president of the Primary, delivered a devotional address as a prelude to conference activities. “Let me urge you to realize,” she said, “that your first task to prevent the frost from killing your roots is to fill up with faith and testimony; to develop deep and complex root systems which make you sensitive and thoughtful of others. These two principles will give you strength and magnificence. We must seek the Lord, and we must become sensitive to the needs of others. Then we must give service to one another. Service is the life-giving water which renews our souls and lets us continue in our growth.”
Other conference speakers echoed her counsel. Mary Anne Q. Wood, a professor at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School and recent White House Fellow, drew on the promise of Christ’s loving declaration: “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10.) “Like the tree,” she observed, “drawing sustenance from the entire hillside, and growing branches which reach broadly, our goal is the abundant life. Our ability to lead the abundant life, and to have the branches of our lives grow until they are a source of joy and support to ourselves and others, is to a large measure dependent on our ability to develop a firm supporting root structure.”
Using the life of her great-grandmother as an example, Sister Wood cited “three character attributes which I believe are partial clues to the abundant life. First, she valued education in its broadest sense, and she took advantage of every opportunity she had to learn. Second, she valued time and made good use of it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she learned to love and serve others.
“If we have an eternal perspective, we will hopefully realize that all of us will not have all the opportunities to see all of our desires and expectations fulfilled in this life. It may require occasionally reminding ourselves that there is another time and another place, and that ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ (1 Cor. 2:9.)
“My great-grandmother exemplified the capacity to forget oneself in love and service for others. That is not to say that to be happy we must devalue ourselves and totally sacrifice our independent existence and identity; but is only to acknowledge that true happiness often comes in large measure from our ability to put the needs of others ahead of our own, and to lose ourselves in the service of others. The Savior taught this principle over and over again; it is one that has been too often overlooked in the recent debates attempting to define a better place for women in our society.”
As the final conference speaker, Patricia T. Holland, wife of BYU’s president Jeffrey R. Holland, stressed the importance of developing strength and peace through Christlike love. “It is obvious,” she observed, “that we need extremely firm foundations for our faith and our future challenges. Some kind of frost will always be with us, and we live in a time when that chill can be a threatening chill indeed.”
The “chill,” said Sister Holland, can be tempered by love. She suggested three “basic exercises for the practice of love”—forgiveness, accepting others unconditionally, and giving without any thought of getting. “As women,” Sister Holland said, “we have the choice and privilege to connect ourselves to God in a way that we draw his nourishing love down to our very roots. And that peace and power we can extend to another. … Like the cycles of trees and roots and branches we’ve been using in our theme, a woman’s love can be one eternal round. When we love the Lord, we love each other; and when we love each other, we love our own selves. Then the harvest is indeed the fruit of peace.”
Cynthia Sorensen, a senior student leader, addressed the opening assembly. Relating the “roots” theme to personal experience, she observed that within the circle of her own family, “I have experienced both pain and joy, tolerance and intolerance, sin and innocence, pride and humility, and have had almost every kind of opportunity for temptation, understanding, forgiveness, and repentance. Among the members of my family, I have been required to summon more strength to do what is right, yet invited to be humble and obedient more than among any other group of people. It seems to me that within that intimate circle of relationships exists a microcosm of the most important things in the world. I think if each of us looks long and hard enough, we will find our families at the deepest part of our hearts.”
Throughout the three-day conference, workshop speakers reinforced concepts of self-reliance, obedience to God and his commandments, and supportive, meaningful relationships with others.
President Joe J. Christensen, of the Church’s Missionary Training Center in Provo, spoke warmly of the positive influence of women on the missionary program—whether they serve as missionaries themselves, as mothers of missionaries, or as girlfriends at home supporting and encouraging elders in the field. “The messages of the Restoration, Latter-day Saint women, and missionary work are inseparably interrelated,” he said, “and it will always be that way as long as the roots of faith run deep and escape the frosts of adversity.”
He noted that about one in five missionaries at the Missionary Training Center is a woman; “this means that there would be from three hundred to four hundred lady missionaries in training at any one time—more than there were in the entire Church’s history during the first seventy years between 1830 and 1900. The average age in the last while has gone down to near twenty-two or twenty-three, and the overall ratio of lady missionaries to the total has increased from about one in ten in the past to about one in five today.” He added that sister missionaries are “sharp, attractive, mature, and very committed. They know why they are serving. Many have planned for years to go on a mission.”
President Christensen offered encouragement to women of all ages and circumstances: “To you who are younger and single, although missionary service is not an obligation in the same sense as with elders, don’t forget the opportunity that is available to expand your world of service and experience by serving a mission. You who are older, with no dependent children still at home, let your bishops know of your availability for one of the richest experiences of your lives. For those in between, who still have family and work responsibilities, plan and prepare for the day when the privilege of missionary service may be yours. Meanwhile, you may be of direct economic help and encouragement to your own parents, your children’s grandparents, so they may serve.”
Other workshop speakers explored basic gospel principles as means of achieving self-reliance. “Love is at the core of what we ought to be,” said Richard Draper, a Church Educational System curriculum writer. “It is through love that we awaken to our own possibilities and potentials. You are worthy of your own self-esteem, your own self-respect, your own love. It is only when we can truly come to love and accept ourselves that we can then forget ourselves. It is only when we come to love and appreciate our own goodness and greatness that we can then climb off the tawdry, tiny theater in which our song must always be played, and in which we must have the center stage at all times, and then walk out into the full light of day in a world full of splendid strangers.”
Part of the process of gaining self-reliance, observed Betty Simons, a management and educational consultant, is learning to deal with one’s roles in the world, in the Church, and in one’s culture. “All of these,” she said, “must be evaluated within the context of truth.”
Other conference workshops dealt with a diversity of subjects—effective use of time and finances; medical concerns of women; kitchen creativity; problem-solving in the home; the importance of scripture study; avoiding investment fraud; international affairs; problems of sexual abuse; community service; and Latter-day Saint women in historical perspectives. Also featured were a showing of artwork done by LDS women and a pictorial display introducing accomplished BYU professors and students from each college on campus.