Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What I've Learned from the Young Women's Theme

This past Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to speak in church. I realize not everyone views that as an 'opportunity,' but I very much enjoy public speaking most of the time, even if I'm not that great at it. After the meeting, a few people asked for a copy of my talk, as have a few friends that were unfortunately unable to be there for whatever reason. So, I decided I would post it here.

The years from 12-18 are very formative years in the lives of young women. I know they were in my life. It was during those years that I truly had to decide, while going through some of the biggest trials of my life, what standards I wanted to live by and who I wanted to be. For that reason, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has established a wonderful program to guide our youth to form the foundations now that they will need to thrive in an ever changing and troubled world. It it on what the theme for the Young Women's Program has taught me that I wish to focus my message today.

The Young Women's theme begins, "We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love Him." The Proclamation on the Family tells us that "Each [of us] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny." I have come to a knowledge in my life that this is very literal. He is truly the Father of our spirits and therefore knows us even better than we know ourselves. Just as a parent often knows their child better than the child realizes, our Heavenly Father knows us better and more personally than we can comprehend. You see, He is perfect, especially when we are not. He then knows perfectly how to succor us in our sorrows, how to celebrate with us in our triumphs and how to love us completely when we need it most.

The theme then says, "We will stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places, as we strive to live the Young Women's values, which are..." This is the very simplest and most basic of our baptismal covenants. Alma taught this principle before he baptized at the Waters of Mormon when he said, "Behold, here are the waters of Mormon, for thus were they called, and now as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called His people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light. Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life." (Mosiah 18:9) We promise when we join the church to be there for each other, to love each other, to comfort each other, and in turn others promise to do the same for us. Even more importantly, our perfect Heavenly Father then promises us that we will be redeemed, and have Eternal Life.

Next, the theme lists eight values on which we should build the foundations of our lives. This is where I would like to focus the majority of my talk as there is SO much to learn from them. The Young Women's values are: faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue. I wish to discuss each one a little, even though I know it will only be the tip of the iceberg. I feel each is important and could not be separated from the others without losing something of the whole.

The first value is faith. We are told in Alma that "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21) Recently Richard C. Edgely, of the presiding bishopric, spoke about faith and said somethings that hit me very powerfully. In fact, it was just about a week after I began my divorce process and I might have been struggling a little bit. His words strengthened me and I pray they might do the same for you. He said, "Because of the conflicts and challenges we face in today's world, I wish to suggest a single choice -- a choice of peace and protection and a choice that is appropriate for all. That choice is faith... Yes, faith is a choice, and it must be sought after and developed. Thus, we are responsible for our own faith. We are also responsible for our lack of faith. The choice is yours... So I say, choose faith. Choose faith over doubt, choose faith over fear, choose faith over the unknown and the unseen, and choose faith over pessimism." I took that challenge in one of the hardest times of my life. Being a newly single mom, moving across the country, and going back to school was FULL of the unknown. But, I chose faith and it has turned out far better than I can imagine. Brother Edgely also said, "I have never witnessed the removal of an actual mountain. But because of faith I have seen a mountain of doubt and despair removed and replaced with hope and optimism. Because of faith I have personally witnessed a mountain of sin replaced with repentance and forgiveness. And because of faith I have personally witnessed a mountain of pain replaced with peace, hope, and gratitude. Yes, I have seen mountains removed." I can testify with Brother Edgely that I have also seen mountains removed in my life. Things that seemed impossible to me, with the help of my loving Father in Heaven miraculously happened. For that faith I am forever grateful. I also spoke a little about being a woman of faith, but to read my feelings on that just scroll down one post.

The next value is divine nature. Latter day prophets and apostles have often testified of our divine nature. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "You are second to none. You are daughters of God. There has come to you as your birthright something beautiful and sacred and divine. Never forget that. Your Eternal Father is the great Master of the universe. He rules over all, but He also will listen to your prayers as His daughter and hear you as you speak with Him. He will answer your prayers. He will not leave you alone." We as women (and men) must remember what is instilled in our spiritual DNA. We are sons and daughters of divinity, and as such our nature is divine as well. I love the words of Sister Margaret Nadauld of the general Young Women's presidency. She said, "Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity." May we each tap into our divine natures and be the things this world needs more of.

The third value is individual worth. I love this one. As a youth I often struggled with where I belonged. I went to fourteen different schools. I was often the new, fat, smart kid. The trifecta of things for people to pick on and poke fun at. But as I truly came to learn that I was a daughter of a perfect and loving Heavenly Father I realized that I could not possibly be a mistake. Someone who is perfect does not make mistakes. Period. Elder Richard G. Scott said, "Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth." If we understand our worth as a child of God, we will honor and respect ourselves and each other more fully.

Next comes knowledge. We have been told for a long time that we should seek secular as well as spiritual knowledge. It will bless our lives and the lives of our families beyond what we can imagine. Sister Mary Cook of the general Young Women's presidency said, "Take advantage of every opportunity to learn. If we do, the Lord can better use us in many ways to do great things... The reason we need more education is so that the Lord can use us to do His work and bless the lives of others. If we focus on becoming more fit for the kingdom, choosing more education is usually an excellent decision. Even if we do not always see all the possible uses for the things we learn, education is an important way we can prepare ourselves to serve the Lord." The secular knowledge, such as me now working to obtain my nursing degree, is important. But the spiritual knowledge is even more important. Elder Richard G. Scott gave us the perfect guideline for seeking spiritual knowledge. He said, "As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle."

Fifth is Choice & Accountability. This encompasses much of our daily lives. There are choices to be made daily. Some will have no major impact on our lives, while others could make ALL the difference. President Monson said it better than I. "Scarcely an hour of the day goes by but what we are called upon to make choices of one sort or another. Some are trivial, some more far-reaching. Some will make no difference in the eternal scheme of things, and others will make all the difference." The greatest of these choices is the choice between right and wrong, between God and Satan. President Hinckley said, "I repeat, each of us has a choice between right and wrong. But with that choice there inevitably will follow consequences. Those who choose to violate the commandments of God put themselves at great spiritual and physical jeopardy." We DO get to choose what path we will take, but ultimately we do not get to choose the results of our actions. Choose wisely!

Next is Good Works. Again there is much to be said, but time is short (and I'm sure you're getting tired of reading if you even made it this far). We are taught all our lives to serve and help our fellow men, without thought to reward or recognition. I'm here to tell you that when you truly do that, the rewards are priceless and can not be measured. Brother Stapley said something back in 1974 something that still rings true. He said, "Let us dare to be different from the ways of the world when its ways are not the ways of God. In a world troubled with selfish greed, dishonesty, and dishonor, let us set ourselves on a higher path, striving to develop and strengthen the qualities of unselfish service with wholehearted effort, dependability, honesty, morality, and every other good attribute that would lead us to integrity of character. We begin then with our thoughts and end with our eternal destiny. Our destiny is determined by our character, and our character is the sum and expression of our habits. Character is won by hard work." We are often told that we are what we repeatedly do, I would recommend then, that we make acts of service, even small ones, a daily event in our lives.

My favorite value growing up was the next one, Integrity. Integrity is having the moral courage to make our actions consistent with our knowledge of right and wrong. We all know what is write, and what is wrong and often what is popular is not on the side we should choose. Being able to make that right choice takes courage. President Hinckley said, "In all this world there is no substitute for personal integrity. It includes honor. It includes performance. It includes keeping one's word. It includes doing what is right regardless of the circumstances." It takes practice, it takes having a little bit of a tough skin and being able to stand up for what you believe when your choice is not the most popular one. But it does get easier. Sister Carol Thomas said, "An honest effort to improve our integrity allows God to increase our power to do it." I testify that he will do just that. I said no to so many different things so many times, that eventually people stopped asking.

Just a few years ago, the value of virtue was added, and what a beautiful addition it is. Bishop H. David Burton said, "The spelling in English of many individual virtues concludes with the letters ity: integrity, humility, spirituality, accountability, civility, fidelity, and the list goes on and on... Relying on literary license, I refer to the virtues ending in ity as the 'ity' virtues. 'Ity' is a suffix that means quality, state, or degree of being...We need only look around us to see what is taking place in our communities to realize that personal traits of virtue are in steep decline... We need to stand tall and be firmly fixed in perpetuating Christlike virtues, even the 'it' virtues, in our everyday lives... I testify and declare that our Heavenly Father expects His children to exercise integrity, civility, fidelity, charity, generosity, morality, and all the 'ity' virtues. May we have the humility to take the opportunity to act upon our responsibility to demonstrate our ability to do so." I love this! It takes humility, spirituality, civility and so many more 'ity' virtues to maintain a happy life. Perhaps with the exception of stupidity... And Sister Cook put it perfectly when she said, "Virtue brings peace, strength of character, and happiness in this life. Our Heavenly Father knew that we would be face with many choices and challenges, and virtuous living would prepare us to succeed." There is no greater promise than the help of our Heavenly Father.

The theme continues, "We believe as we come to accept and act upon these values," as in apply them in our daily lives, "We will be prepared to strengthen home and family". The Family Proclamation says, "The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." We can all do something to strengthen our family, and all families need strengthening, no matter how strong they seem. There are many things we can do to strengthen our families. We can pray for them, love them unconditionally, and set a great example for them by doing the things we know we should. Along with strengthening home and family, we believe those values will help us be prepared to "make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinance of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation." These last three all go together in my mind. Making covenants leads us to the temple and the temple leads us to exaltation.

As a young woman, I chose to apply these values and principles to my life. That did not mean that I didn't make mistakes, nor does it mean that today. But it did mean, and continues to do so, that I know how to fix the mistakes and put my life back on the path my Heavenly Father would like me to be on. I know He lives. I know He loves us perfectly and unconditionally. I know the Atonement is real. I have felt its power in my life. I know families are forever, and I'm so very grateful for the one I was blessed with. May we each know the joy of a firm foundation based upon the Savior is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ.