Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, spoke to thousands of women about how covenants are an exchange of love between God and us at the Marriott Center during the afternoon session of women’s conference on April 30.
She began by talking about her experience as temple matron at the Stockholm Sweden Temple, where she learned of God’s love for his children.
“Our Father loves his children, we are central to his work, he is aware of the intimate details of our lives and stands ever ready and anxious to bless us with every possible good thing he can,” she said.
She explained how her statement was evermore true when covenants are honored. She gave an example from her daughter Emily’s life that, she said, “illustrates how covenants are an evidence of the love which both generates the need for a promise and is the motivation for keeping a promise.”
During her senior year of college Emily was in a long-term relationship with a young man who was attending school at the United States Navel Academy. She flew out one weekend to go a big dance with him, and he proposed on top of the Empire State Building.
“It was like a story from a movie,” Sister Oscarson said.
That December Emily graduated, but her fiancé, Clark, still had a semester until he graduated. As a midshipman he was not permitted to get married until after he graduated. In the meantime, Emily moved to Maryland to be closer to him, but before she moved she sought the counsel of her parents.
“Out of our love and concern for Emily, we told her that we would give our blessing to her plan if she would promise us one thing — that Clark would never spend the night at her apartment, even if the others she was living with did not follow the same rule,” Sister Oscarson said. “Out of Emily’s love and respect for our concern as her parents, her love of the Lord, and because she also understood the risks and temptations, she agreed to the promise, and so did Clark.”
Emily and Clark attended the Washington D.C. Temple each week as they prepared for their wedding. Sister Oscarson said this was a strength to them both and reminded them of their goals and the standards they needed to live in order to achieve them. Now they are happily married, have five children and are expecting their sixth child.
“Emily has since told me that us asking them to make that promise was the best thing we could have done and was a great blessing to them in the courtship,” Sister Oscarson said.
Sister Oscarson related Emily’s story to how Heavenly Father interacts with his children and protects them from danger.
“He asks us to promise him certain things that will help prepare us to return to him someday,” Sister Oscarson said. “In return, even though we may not always understand the reasons, because we love and trust our Father, we are willing to do as he asks.”
She went on to quote Moses 7, where Enoch asks why God is weeping and God replies, “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands … I created them … Misery shall be their doom; … wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”
“These moving passages give an insight into the tender feelings of a parent who also happens to be divine and eternal,” Sister Oscarson said. “He yearns for the happiness of his children, and even God himself feels sorrow when we choose wickedness.”
Sister Oscarson then pulled examples from the Book of Mormon that showed evidence of God’s love for his children. She made a comparison between 1 Nephi 8, when Lehi sees the tree of life, and 1 Nephi 11, when Nephi is shown his father’s vision.
“When Nephi is shown his father’s vision, it is interesting that the scenes which Lehi saw are shown to Nephi in the context of the life and ministry of the Savior Jesus Christ,” she said. “The lesson for me is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the literal embodiment of God’s love for his children.”
Sister Oscarson proceeded to speak about the role covenants play in connection with God’s love for his children. She stated that covenants are agreements between God and man “where God sets the terms.” She quoted Elder D. Todd Christofferson: “In these divine agreements, God binds himself to sustain, sanctify and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve him and keep his commandments.”
Sister Oscarson quoted Moses 1:39, “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” She said God accomplishes his work by making covenants with his children.
She spoke about how God offers covenants to his children while they are still young.
“As early as age 8, we show we are willing to enter his kingdom and keep his commandments from that day forward,” Sister Oscarson said. “We learn from the Book of Mormon that we also promise “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all place that ye may be in, even until death.”
Each week we are invited to renew the covenant of baptism through the ordinance of the sacrament, Sister Oscarson said. She pleaded with the audience to make an effort to “make partaking the sacrament the most sacred part of” the week.
Next, Sister Oscarson spoke about how “temples are evidence of God’s love and a place for making covenants.”
“The Lord has provided a sacred and hallowed place where his children can be taught from on high, sanctified and endowed with power,” she said.
She quoted Elder Carlos E. Asay, former president of the Salt Lake Temple, who said, “I regard the ordinance of the endowment as an exchange of love between God, Our Father, and us. We … know that the Only Begotten Son, even, Jesus Christ, so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God. Thus, every commandment, every ordinance, every covenant, every law … is an expression of divine love.”
Sister Oscarson then recounted a story about her late sister-in-law, who was also named Bonnie L. Oscarson. As a girl she had a best friend named Grace, who was not a member of the church. Bonnie and Grace were both invited to a party that had been rumored to be a little wild. Both girls approached their parents and asked for permission to attend. Grace was given permission to go, but Bonnie’s parents had said no.
Sister Oscarson said when Bonnie first told Grace that she couldn’t go she thought Grace was disappointed, but Grace’s response caught her off guard.
“Grace made this remarkably insightful comment, ‘I wish that my father loved me enough to tell me no sometimes,'” Sister Oscarson said. “She was wise beyond her years in recognizing that a kind and loving parent sets boundaries and gives guidelines to provide their child with safety, protection and help to avoid those things which might bring harm.”
Sister Oscarson continued by talking about the temple as a place of worship, instruction and protection. She quoted Elder Asay on his observation of the temple garment:
“I like to think of the garment as the Lord’s way of letting us take part of the temple with us when we leave. It is true that we carry from the Lord’s house inspired teachings and sacred covenants written in our minds and hearts,” Elder Asay said. “However, the one tangible remembrance we carry with us back into the world is the garment. And though we cannot always be in the temple, a part of it can always be with us to bless our lives.”
She spoke of how the temple provides a way for all of Heavenly Father’s children to return and how all can assist in this work by doing family history work.
“Through researching the names of our ancestors and taking their names to the temple we become partners with God in providing saving ordinances for his children,” Sister Oscarson said.
Sister Oscarson recounted an experience she and her husband had while serving in the Stockholm Sweden temple. As young couples knelt across the alter from each other, she said, she could feel the significance of the event.
“When my husband officiated as a sealer, he would often remind these couples that there were many people both seen and unseen who were aware of, and rejoicing for, what they were about to do — make sacred covenants with each other and with God that would be the beginning of an eternal family,” she said.
She also spoke about how “honoring our covenants is evidence of our love for Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” She began by asking, “How do we show our love of God through covenants?” and quoted John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
“It’s simply beautiful and beautify simple,” Sister Oscarson said. “We show our love for God by keeping his commandments and honoring our covenants, and in return, he shows an increase of love for us.”
She quoted President Ezra Taft Benson, who said, “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.” She then asked, “How do we get to the point where obedience is not a burden but a joy?”
The answer, she said, is loving the Lord. She spoke of how love is the greatest motivator and asked, if love is the key, how people increase love for God.
“The best answer for that comes from our experience as women,” Sister Oscarson said. “Women are unusually good at sacrificing for others — our friends, our husbands, our parents and especially our children. ”
Sister Oscarson listed many of the trials and joys of being a mother and spoke of how the sacrifices made by mothers increase the love they have for their children.
“There is a psychological principle that says that we will love those most for whom we sacrifice the most,” she said. “If we want to increase our love for our husbands, we find ways to serve them. If we want to increase our love for someone, whether it is an enemy or a friend, the answer is to serve them.”
Sister Oscarson concluded by testifying of God’s love for his children and how covenants are an expression of that love.
“Covenants bind us to our Heavenly Father. They make him a partner in all that we do in this life. We know that God always keeps his promises and that he will never let us down,” she said. “He gave his only begotten Son so that we might have hope for exaltation.”