My dear sisters, how I have looked forward to this time when I can speak with you and share what is in my heart. As sisters in Relief Society, we are bound together by our faith in Jesus Christ and in his gospel. We always draw strength from being together—wherever we are assembled.
I have lived during the leadership of eight different Presidents of the Church, and I have a testimony of the divine calling of each of these prophets and their predecessors. I was born when President Heber J. Grant was leading this church. I raised my family drawing upon the wisdom of President David O. McKay. I have served as general president of the Relief Society these past four years under the direction of President Ezra Taft Benson. Today we have the blessing of having with us the prophet, Howard W. Hunter, the fourteenth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Hunter, we love you. We are inspired by your quiet, noble countenance, your kindness, your discernment, and your dedication. We are grateful for your compelling message to follow the example of Jesus Christ in a spirit of thoughtfulness, compassion, and humility. And we thank God for the keys of the holy priesthood which you exercise and thus bless us all.
Speaking for more than three and a half million sisters of Relief Society, I express our support for you as a prophet, seer, and revelator of this church. Though the opportunity officially to raise our hands to sustain you is reserved for general conference next week, today, on behalf of the women of this church, I say, “We thank … God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days” (Hymns, 1985, no. 19). President Hunter, we also commit our sustaining support for your Counselors, the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Quorums of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. We want you to know that the sisters of this church work gladly and harmoniously under the direction of our priesthood leaders at both the general and the local levels.
As we have witnessed the transition of leadership from President Benson to President Hunter, it is clear this is a church of order. Jesus Christ has established the order of things on this earth. We need not worry, for he has told us, “Let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16).
Relief Society is a part of that order, for it is the Lord’s organization for women. Our reach extends around the world, and our influence is vital for all women. Forty years ago, President Belle S. Spafford paid tribute to pioneer women leaders, describing them as those who “had been given by divine insight a knowledge of the destiny of Relief Society” (Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992, p. 337). Today Relief Society is continuing to become what they envisioned so many years ago. As Relief Society sisters, we exemplify brightness and hope, spirituality and compassion. We are women of many cultures, ages, and experiences, united together to build testimonies and exercise the charity for which we are known.
Sisters, this is a complicated era in which we live. Technology has simplified some tasks and opened up ways to learn that our grandmothers never imagined. But with a computerized society have come increased pressures, causing us to weigh carefully how we use our time, to evaluate thoughtfully what we can do that will make the greatest difference.
Our society of sisters brings an ability to work, to influence, teach, train, and uplift. We also bring a remarkable zest for life. Daily—even courageously—sisters of this church are living true to the covenants they have made.
So many of you have written to me of your experiences, your trials, your triumphs, and your testimonies. I am grateful for your willingness to share what you have learned. What I have seen emerging is a profile of women who understand that “the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34). Let me share some of these experiences with you, for they teach powerful lessons.
A sister in New Mexico described trying to gain an understanding of a conference message: “I read and reread the talk, prayed often, and pondered upon its meaning. … The results were astonishing to me. I had always believed I was a child of God, but somewhere in this study process I gained a spiritual confirmation that this was true.”
In Argentina, Relief Society leaders are trying to teach the importance of food storage. They wrote: “Unfortunately, most of the sisters [here] cannot afford to buy an extra kilo of sugar, or flour, or an extra liter of oil. However, they have been encouraged to save, even just a spoonful at a time.”
In Tonga, Relief Society sisters came together to clean the local school. “It was a wonderful sight watching the sisters as they worked with their hoes and bush knives, … [hearing] the sweet sound of coconut-frond brooms as they gathered debris. The joy of working together has bonded the … sisters in the spirit of compassionate service.”
A sister in South Africa wrote: “Our stake is one of the farthest from the headquarters of the Church, but even though we are continents apart, our hearts beat as one; and as Relief Society sisters, we are striving to emulate the Savior who gave His life in service to others.”
I received a similar letter from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, from a woman who said: “At the age of 19, I sat next to a sweet grandmother in Relief Society and learned to knit. She also was learning to knit. Over the years, I learned of bread making, of strength and perseverance. I learned that my toddler was just being a normal two-year-old, and I learned of a Heavenly Father who loves me. I learned to teach, to hug, to lead, and to follow.”
A Relief Society leader in Georgia wrote of the magnanimous service given after a devastating flood in the region. She said: “The sisters here are living the teachings of the Savior. Please tell Sister Jack not to worry about us. The sisters here are a mobilized unit of charity. We won’t fail.” Thank you! I take heart in the conviction that “we won’t fail.” All around this church, women are doing their part.
The Lord has counseled us directly in this dispensation to seek the Spirit—to learn much—that we might “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10). I feel strongly that this is a clarion call for the women of this church at this time. For us to stand firm and faithful, we must be clearly focused on seeking the Lord.
Seeking implies so much more than merely looking. Seek means energy, direction, passion, purpose. To seek requires all our “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2). We sisters are good at using our hearts and our hands in the Lord’s work. But we must also use our minds. More than one hundred years ago, Relief Society President Emmeline B. Wells said, “I believe in women, especially thinking women” (“Why, Ah! Why” Woman’s Exponent, vol. 3, Oct. 1, 1874, p. 67). So do I.
How do we seek with our minds? With our intellect we can ponder, we can analyze our circumstances, we can sort and sift information, weigh our options; we can store ideas, we can draw conclusions from our experiences, find answers to our problems; we can treasure thoughts and receive revelation. Isn’t that what the Lord meant when he said, “You must study it out in your mind” and then ask me if these things are not true? (D&C 9:8.)
This statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith inspires me: “Thy mind … if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens” (History of the Church, 3:295). We must stretch our minds if we are to reach that lofty goal so familiar to us all: “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).
As we earnestly seek light and truth, we develop clarity in our lives that reflects spiritual understanding and commitment. This clarity results as we learn from our daily experiences, our thoughtful study, and as we receive personal inspiration from the Holy Spirit. We have been promised:
“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain … in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
“And if a person gains more knowledge … in this life through his diligence …, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18–19).
Learning—converting light and truth to everyday action in living the laws of God—is what we seek.
Not long ago I was speaking to Relief Society women in North Dakota. After our Saturday morning meeting, we boarded a chartered bus with some of the sisters who had attended the leadership meeting to return for a women’s fireside in South Dakota. We expected the bus ride to take four hours. It took the rest of the day and part of the evening.
The bus broke down three times.
We spent half the afternoon at a rest stop, but after a tedious wait, the bus driver finally got the motor going.
This could have been a miserable experience. There were families anticipating their mothers’ return; there were rides waiting to take some women on the bus another three hours to their homes. It was hot.
But on that prairie ride I had both a learning and a spiritually fulfilling experience. Two hours from our destination, one of the sisters stood in the aisle at the front of the bus and bore her testimony. One after another, sisters spoke of the power of priesthood blessings in their homes, of direct answers to prayers during serious illness, of the influence of the Spirit in employment opportunities, of being guided in accepting the gospel. Through their testimonies, I saw how easily the light and truth of the gospel influenced their daily learning experiences.
The Lord has given us a lifetime to learn. This process is part of our eternal progression. President Brigham Young emphasized its importance when he said: “When shall we cease to learn? … Never, never” (in Journal of Discourses, 3:203).
Relief Society is a modern forum where sisters learn spiritual truths together. We can learn in an accepting atmosphere of trust and friendship. In Relief Society we stretch our minds and we fill up our reservoir of faith. A sister from Spain wrote of this process: “Since we have become members of this church, our vision has changed. Our minds have been awakened, and we want to learn. We have a great desire to cultivate our intellect as we are taught through the manuals of our beloved organization.” She then describes how some are going on to school, and one, the bishop’s wife, has attended the university. “We are all so very proud of her,” she said.
These Relief Society sisters are seeking learning, and they are supporting each other in the process. They are using their minds and their might.
In their focus on learning, these women are part of a burgeoning literacy effort in the Church. In announcing the focus on literacy to all the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Now a great new project is to be undertaken. … Its consequences will go on and on and be felt in the lives of generations yet to come. It is a program … designed to bring light into the lives of those who can neither read nor write” (Ensign, Mar. 1992, p. 6).
Seeking to be literate is a compelling challenge. Being able to read enables us to seek further light and truth. Light is more than being able to see with eyes. It includes revelation of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. Light brings definition out of darkness.
Light and truth are not obscure terms. Truth is basic to the gospel. The more we seek to know, the better we are able to distinguish between a foolish notion and a wise idea. From such wisdom, we find truth. As we sang, “Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst, Eternal, unchanged, evermore” (Hymns, 1985, no. 272).
Fervently, we seek truth. Of course there are, all around us, many who seek to do good deeds, for we in the Church do not have a corner on goodness. But we have the Spirit that allows us to recognize and discern the truth wherever we find it. This knowledge sets us apart and brings joy, as well as weighty responsibility.
We must seek to know Jesus Christ, for this is knowledge that is singular and everlasting. Jesus told us explicitly, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently” (D&C 88:63). Sisters, if I could offer but two words of counsel, they would be “Seek Jesus!” Moroni counseled, “Seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever” (Ether 12:41). What a promise, and what a challenge!
Seeking Jesus feeds our spiritual soul and at the same time prompts us to feed others. We do it in small ways, and these efforts make a big difference. Seeking Jesus helps us to prioritize, to find time to read the scriptures every day so we can feel the Spirit of the Lord all day long. Seeking Jesus is learning to balance what we feel in our hearts with what we know to be true in our minds, and show through our actions that we understand that balance.
We often hear the statement “Times have changed,” and in some ways they have. But they have also stayed the same. What is constant is the message testified to us by the Holy Spirit that we must seek Jesus and the truths of the everlasting gospel.
I bear testimony that these truths are given to us by a loving Heavenly Father. They will give us the knowledge and strength to live our lives with hope, courage, and faith. May the shared sisterhood of Relief Society, established by the Lord through a prophet, bless and sustain the women of this church, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.