Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of Elder Russell M. Nelson, spoke to thousands of women in the Marriott Center about receiving the gift of covenants at the first general session of women’s conference on April 30.
She opened with a comparison of women’s conference to Christmas. “Being here with you today is every bit as wonderful as opening gifts on Christmas morning,” she said. “It can feel like Christmas every day despite any anguishing life circumstances if we truly receive the gift of our covenants every day.”
Sister Nelson went on to quote the theme of this year’s conference, “My soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord,” a portion of the 2 Nephi 11:5 scripture. She said Nephi had deep, joy-filled feelings about the gift of covenants.
She said she asked herself and other women what it means to be “women of covenant” or “covenant women” and quoted a friend who said, “It means I’ve promised God that I will follow his Son in what I do, think and say. And I’ve made those promises by entering into sacred covenants that bind me to both the Father and the Son.”
Sister Nelson moved on by focusing on covenants within the context of the present days. She spoke of a 24-hour experience in Moscow, Russia, where she met with 100 Russian sisters while her husband taught the priesthood leaders of the area. When she went to the pulpit to talk to the sisters, she said something she “never anticipated.”
“‘I’d like to get to know you by lineage,’ I said. ‘Please stand as the name of the tribe of Israel, which declared in your patriarchal blessing, is spoken,'” Sister Nelson said. While the women knew each other well, they didn’t know each other’s lineage. She said everyone was thrilled with what they were witnessing, feeling and being taught as each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel were announced. “We were being taught about the reality of the days in which we now live,” Sister Nelson said.
In the small gathering of fewer than 100 women in Moscow, 11 of the Twelve Tribes of Israel were represented — all but the Tribe of Levi. After the meeting, the Nelsons went to the airport and flew to Armenia, where Elder Nelson was set to create the first stake of Zion in the country the next day.
The first people to greet them as they got off the plane were the Armenia Mission president and his wife, who heard of the Moscow sisters’ experience. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘I’ve got Levi!'” Sister Nelson said. The audience erupted with laughter.
She said she remembered being taught in Primary about the last days before the Second Coming of the Savior wherein the Twelve Tribes would be gathered. She said these are the latter days and there has never been a time like this in the history of this Earth. “There has never been a more important time than right now to understand the gift our Father has given us as he allows us to make covenants with him,” Sister Nelson said. “There has never been a more important time to understand the power to which we have access because of our covenants than right now.”
Sister Nelson went on to talk about the urgency and importance of family history research for those who need to make covenants with God. “When it comes to making and keeping covenants with God, nothing is more important, and nothing is more filled with power,” she said.
One day Sister Nelson received an email from a young friend she called Amy. The email said Amy was asked to speak last minute at a ward Relief Society activity on the topic of stress. After sending out a survey to 75 women in BYU married student housing to find out what was stressing them out and receiving their responses, Amy reached out to Sister Nelson for help.
The survey results from the women reported they were experiencing stress, depression, anxiety and marital intimacy problems. The causes of their problems were listed as school, finances, lack of sleep, housework, homework, feelings of failing at everything and an inability to balance all of their responsibilities.
Nelson remembered her experiences with family history and temple work when thinking of a solution for Amy and her Relief Society women. She replied to Amy over email, “Invite the sisters to make a sacrifice of time to the Lord by increasing their time in family history and in temple work for the next 21 days.”
Amy accepted Sister Nelson’s suggestion and had positive results. One young wife and mother said she found more time to get other things done that needed to get done when she set aside time for family history and temple work. Another woman was able to stop taking her medicine for anxiety, and her changes in mood, energy and inspiration were huge. Another sister said she began the challenge at the end of her pregnancy, which helped her focus on something productive, inviting the spirit instead of focusing on the discomforts of the final stages of pregnancy.
Sister Nelson said it may seem cruel to ask a woman who feels like she’s barely surviving to make a sacrifice of time to the Lord, but the young mothers were proof it works. Why does it work for women who have made covenants with God? She said covenant women who keep their covenants have greater access to the power of God.
“The power of God flows into them, and that power, his power, generates a decrease in stress, an increase in energy, more and clearer revelation for their lives, renewed focus, courage to make needed changes and increase in patience and more time for what matters,” Nelson said.
She continued by quoting counsel from Elder D. Todd Christofferson: “In times of distress, let your covenants be paramount, and let your obedience be exact.” Sister Nelson said by doing this, the young mothers’ distress fell away.
She asked the audience if they’d be willing to try the same 21-day experiment. She asked what blessings, miracles and other positive changes would come to one’s life if they did whatever it took in order to make a sacrifice of time to the Lord by increasing the time spent doing temple and family history work.
Nelson said she learned from covenant women that just like keeping the covenant of sacrifice brings the power of God to one’s life, the power of God also flows when one keeps their covenant of service. Instead of going on vacation or to a spa to rejuvenate, she said, serving would result in more rejuvenation. “Covenant women are far more likely to be rejuvenated through serving, especially if they are able to delight in that covenant together with other women,” she said.
When Sister Nelson was serving as women’s conference chair in 1999, she and several others had the idea of adding a service project to the conference. Not everyone was excited about the idea, but the Relief Society General Presidency saw wisdom in the idea, and the very first service project at a BYU Women’s Conference was a go. It ended up being more successful than anyone had imagined, “even though it now pales in comparison to the scope of service rendered right here every year,” she said.
Sister Nelson said when one keeps covenants, one can ask for the help of angels. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk during the April 2010 General Conference which spoke of that truth. For Sister Nelson, it was a new principle that changed the way she prayed and her life.
She wasn’t talking about calling on magical fantasy angels with wings and fairy dust. “I’m talking about praying to your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, for those (angels) to be ‘dispatched’ (Elder Holland’s word) to assist you,” Nelson said.
She said if one keeps covenants with more exactness, one can ask for angels to help with whatever one needs, or for them to be dispatched to help those whom the covenant keeper loves. Sister Nelson’s former institute student, given the name Barbara, called on angels to help her sister who had not been active in the church for years and was having a hard time due to some rigorous life events. Sister Nelson said Barbara’s sister returned to the church with her three boys, asked how to get her patriarchal blessing, and her 8-year-old son was baptized in the summer.
Sister Nelson talked of the power of perspective covenants can provide and that covenants with God didn’t start on Earth and won’t end on Earth, either. She said, according to Elder Neal A. Maxwell, premortal covenants were made about specific assignments and callings given on Earth. “Fulfilling the wonderful missions for which we were sent to Earth is one of the sure ways we can find peace and joy in this spook alley of mortal life,” she said.
She said whatever anguish, grief and heartache people feel would fall away if they could see themselves making their premortal covenants with Heavenly Father. The power of perspective covenants provide allows for that to happen. She also said the covenants made with God allow connections with other women who have made covenants with God because every covenanted woman has made the very same covenants.
Sister Nelson said temple covenants and ordinances seem so different because they are ancient, which is another testimony of their truthfulness. She referred to Adam and Eve receiving their covenants, the very first covenants, from God. She continued by asking the audience to imagine a pair of parallel, gigantic mirrors facing each other. “Picture the more than 15,000 of us here today standing in front of one of the mirrors and looking into it,” she said. “We would see numberless images of women stretching into infinity. As you look at that picture, you are seeing the number of covenant women with whom you and I are connected each and every time we make a covenant with God.”
She spoke of the fascination of social media. Instead of needing approval from other women she asked, “Do we, as covenant women, need more friends on Facebook, or do we need to experience more of the beautifully familiar, unmistakably divine feeling of being connected with, perhaps more accurately said, reconnected with millions of other women who have made covenants with God?”
Sister Nelson spoke of her discontinuance of Scrabble on her mobile phone in favor of family history work. “I am now desperately driven by the desire not to waste time that I could have spent helping those who are desperate for covenants,” she said.
She said she learned three things about her experience with an increase in family history work: those on the other side are very much alive, they are desperate to make covenants with God, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the planet with “the power and authority from God to perform these ordinances,” she said.
Sister Nelson said repeating quietly in the mind the words of covenants when one is alone has a spiritual power behind it. It can bring peace and assurance. “Do we know the words? Do we know what we said we would do? Do we know what the Lord has promised?” she asked.
She commented on the truth her husband, Elder Russell M. Nelson, taught: “The highest compliment is to be called a covenant keeper.” She said being a covenant keeper changes everything in one’s life from the identity to the ultimate destination. Even the nature of a person can change. “As covenant keepers our prayers change because we are now bound to Heavenly Father and we’re tied closer than ever before to our Savior Jesus Christ,” she said.
Sister Nelson concluded by asking if the audience was ready to be morally strong, righteous, diligent and sin resistant. “We can be articulate covenant women who are consistently seeking to understand the doctrine of Jesus Christ so that we are not swayed by every ‘wind of doctrine’ that blows through some blog,” she said.
“There is nothing more important than making covenants with God and then keeping them with increasing precision,” she said, “because making covenants with God calls forth the divine within us and keeping our covenants with God allows him to pour his divine power into us.”