The BYU women’s conference has been a spring tradition for more than 40 years, one that continued Friday — but in a unique format.
The conference was held digitally and was free to stream, featuring prerecorded talks from conference organizers, leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other speakers.
While the theme of the conference was “Gather All Safely in Christ,” many of the ideas shared with the virtual attendees were messages of hope and reassurance.
The bulk of Friday morning’s live-streaming session was a prerecorded segment called “Sister to Sister Conversation,” which focused on specific questions asked by women for the conference.
Thoughts and responses were provided by Reyna Aburto (second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency), Becky Craven (second counselor in the Young Women General Presidency) and Lisa Harkness (first counselor in the Primary General Presidency).
Here is a sample of some of the questions that were addressed:
Dealing with anxiety and depression
This topic was one that the leaders addressed very seriously, recognizing that many are feeling some emotional distress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are real concerns,” Harkness said. “This is a shared experience for so many but fortunately we are living in a day when we can talk openly about these things and can bare one another’s burdens without judgment. Heavenly Father is aware of every struggle, sisters, and we can have faith that there will be healing. We have hope because Christ has descended below all things.”
Aburto emphasized that it’s critical to recognize these challenges and realize that you aren’t alone, a lesson she learned from personal experience.
“My daughter suffered with depression and it was very hard for me because I didn’t know how to help her,” Aburto said. “I prayed about it and felt that I didn’t know very much. I started researching and learning about it, which made me feel like I was able to support her better. I feel there is a need to increase our knowledge and understanding, which is particularly important now because the impact of the pandemic will probably last for awhile. There are resources from the church and we can turn to the scriptures.”
She went on to talk about the challenges that come when a family member commits suicide as a family tries to deal with that impact.
“I know suicide is very difficult,” Aburto said. “I don’t understand my father’s suicide, but I know my father and my family can receive healing through the atonement of Jesus Christ.”
She urged any who are struggling to know that there is hope.
“If you feel you can’t take one more step, don’t give up,” Aburto said. “Please don’t give up.”
Comparison and judging
The leaders said that it can be all too easy to examine ourselves through the lens of comparing ourselves to other people but explained that that approach diminishes our unique qualities.
“I feel we are too hard on ourselves and on others,” Aburto said. “We need to realize we are all imperfect people on the road to perfection through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, but for some reason we have the tendency to label ourselves or others. My advice is to try to avoid labeling. We have so much in common. When we take the time to hear other people’s stories and get to know them, we realize we all have struggles and we all are healing from something. That’s why we should treat everyone like they are carrying a heavy burden. We all are trying and we all have something to contribute.”
Harkness said that it’s key to look to Jesus Christ for guidance instead of judging each other.
“So often when we compare ourselves with others, we focus on what they have,” Harkness said. “Then we desire their blessings, talents and experiences. I think if we aren’t very careful here we might overlook our own divine, unique gifts.”
Pain from family relationships
The family is a key unit in the church’s doctrine, but the leaders recognized that it can also be a source of tremendous challenges.
“Relationships are meant to be supporting, loving and I think fun as well, but sometimes we find ourselves in a hurtful situation and it can be tough,” Cravens said.
She described a time where she was in a family situation that caused great pain.
“I felt hurt, betrayed and extremely angry,” Cravens said. “For years I let those feelings fester in my heart. It was not good for my emotional or physical health, and it took me a long time to get over it. I realized I had created a trap for myself and I started to pray to know what to do.”
She said that personal revelation and guidance through the scriptures helped me to realize that anger and judgment of others wasn’t the answer.
“The only thing for me to judge is my thoughts and actions,” Cravens said. “We need to be kind and refrain from speaking ill of anyone. We can let go of hurt feelings and anger when we allow the Savior’s atonement to work in our lives.”
Feeling like talents aren’t being used
With so many different church responsibilities, the leaders addressed feelings of inadequacy or feeling underutilized.
“With very few exceptions, every calling in the church is temporary,” Harkness said. “We will have many callings in the course of a lifetime. There may be times when we don’t have a designated calling. When we focus on the work and not on the title of our temporary calling, we will see there is enough work for us to do. It is all around us. We can participate no matter our circumstances, marital status, age or experience in church leadership.”
Facing the future
The uncertainty of today meant that questions about how to be ready for the future are particularly poignant to many right now.
“We are living through really peculiar times right now but I feel that this is a time to reflect on and cherish the blessings we have received from God,” Aburto said. “I feel that this is a time to get to know ourselves better and to get to know the people around us. This is a time to minister to others according to our circumstances and we are seeing this around the world as people are helping each other in different ways. This is a time to see the miracles around us.”
They emphasized that personal revelation and focusing on Jesus Christ provides the clearest direction for church members.
“Hearing his son is Heavenly Father’s way of helping us prepare for the future and endure the present,” Harkness said.
The topics of the on-demand talks from other leaders were “Gathering together in the latter days,” “The Lord knows you and is aware of you,” “Gather to be perfected but not perfect” and “Taking time to talk: communication in marriage.”
The live streaming portion Friday morning began with a talk by conference chair Sandra Rogers on “Gather all safely in Christ” and one on “The continuing restoration and gathering of Israel” by Kate Holbrook, the managing historian at the Church History Department.
All of the content from the conference can be found at https://womensconference.byu.edu.