One thing I really like about this Relief Society General Presidency is that they pick themes each year for the sisters of the church to focus on. Last year was furthering our knowledge and understanding of the atonement, this year’s theme is becoming better covenant keepers. President Linda K. Burton conducted the meeting and gave the first address.
There seems to be a divide in our rhetoric surrounding covenant keeping. We focus on what it means to make and keep sacred covenants for ourselves but also what it means to be a covenant keeper in a community of saints. This divide was apparent in President Burton’s talk as she tried to address both topics to show how keeping both personal and community covenants proves us as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The talk began with a simple parable. A man had five sheep. Every evening he would simply lift his head and say, “Come on.” Immediately four of the sheep would come running to their master. But one sheep remained at the other end of the pasture. This sheep was given to the man because she was too wild and obstinate. The man lovingly and patiently re-trained the sheep to be obedient and to accept her place in his pasture, telling her “Come on. You’re not tied down anymore. You’re free.”
It’s a remarkable story, especially in context to the topic of keeping covenants. It is one of those stories that inspires some cognitive dissonance in that we must tie ourselves to certain covenants in order to be free. I personally find this is true in relation to community. When I love my sisters without condition, I feel a freedom in knowing that I can love and be loved for who I am. This is a gift and one of the most precious aspects of our baptismal covenant.
President Burton argued that keeping covenants strengthens, empowers and protects us. It is here that she began to shift away from her focus on individual covenant keeping to our responsibility to our community. I appreciated President Burton’s compassionate emphasis on bearing one another’s burdens as part of covenant keeping. She pointed out that we all have burdens to bear and share and that being vulnerable and accepting help is part of our covenant as well. I believe this is a profound message to women who have often been taught that they must be perfect and fit the ideal of the perfect Mormon woman. To emphasize this point, President Burton shared one of my favorite quotes from our foremother, Lucy Mack Smith: “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together.” I echo President Burton’s words, “This is covenant keeping!”
I also appreciated that President Burton focused on the joy and love we can feel through keeping covenants rather than dogmatically asserting that we must be obedient. In general, I find Burton and her counselors to be genuine, warm women who truly want us to find peace and love in the gospel of Jesus Christ. President Burton encouraged us to show our deep devotion and love to our Savior and Heavenly Father by making and keep covenants with Them. She believes that even if we have a difficult history, making a commitment to keep our covenants will allow us to feel the Savior’s love for us. That in so doing, He will wrap his arms around us and tell us that we are free.
What are your thoughts and feelings about President Burton’s talk?