March 2015 General Women’s Session: Henry B. Eyring

EyringThe last speaker of the evening was President Henry B. Eyring. He began his talk by addressing his “beloved Sisters,” and expressing the joy it was for him to be with us. He also shared that he thought of his mother, wife, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and so forth, and that the “wonderful program” helped him appreciate them more.

He attributed much of the joy he has felt in his own family life to the Savior being at the heart of his family member’s individual lives. ‘Today we’ve remembered him–in prayers, hymns, and inspired sermons.” Gently introducing the theme of his talk, he expressed collective gratitude for “the Savior’s infinite compassion,” and stated simply his hope that ‘you’ve felt tonight, his love for you.’

Testifying of our relation to deity, he stated that we are “spirit daughters of our Heavenly Father.” As such, he has deep care for other women around us. “He cares for them as he cares for you. He understands their sorrows. He wants to succor them. My message to you tonight is that you can and must be an important part in giving comfort to those who need comfort.” These were such beautiful sentences, tied to such a beautiful message. I was thrilled when he said that this would be his focus.

Eyring continued that we ‘play our part best’ in this comfort giving ‘if we know how Heavenly Father answers those prayers.’ He “hears those prayers, and understands those needs…. He and His son have promised help.” One of the first “hows” and “helps” seems to be Christ himself. During his earthly ministry, he implored, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Elucidating, President Eyring added, “‘The burdens His faithful servants carry in life may be made lighter,’ through ‘the Atonement.’

At the same time, “there can still be heavy burdens,” carried by ourselves or others. “You have seen such burdens in the lives of people you love. There is a reason you feel compassion for them: you are a covenanted member of the Church of Jesus Christ.” Then he spoke of Alma’s Christlike words at the Waters of Mormon, what we promised at our baptisms, and what it would mean:

And it came to pass that he said unto them: 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—

“That is why you have a feeling to want to help. You are given the power to help lighten those loads, when you were given the Holy Ghost.” The Savior also “taught how to lighten loads” shortly before his crucifixion. He knew that his apostles would be afraid, and that things would look dark. To give light, and hope, “he gave them a promise he gives to us”:

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you…. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Next he told a story about a family that lost their five year old son. At an invitation by the family, President Eyring was there, to mourn with them, and sit. He had prayed to know how to comfort them, and in his efforts he created a physically warm space, by lighting a real fire, and created an emotionally and spiritually warm space by speaking a very few words to the grieving family, and then listening. His few words were all about love–the love that he had for them and that he felt the Lord had for them. ‘He tried to tell them that he mourned for them, but that only the Lord knew and could feel their full pain and grief. After this, he felt impressed to listen with love. They talked about their feelings. Importantly, “They talked far more than I did.” Eyring sensed that they were feeling the Holy Ghost.

This was one of the most moving parts of his talk for me (and one of the most moving parts of the whole Session). When people are feeling profound grief and sorrow, it is difficult to know how to speak to them, and how to attempt to comfort them. I believe one reason for this is that there often is nothing to be said. There are often no words that can make it better. In such cases, that silence President Eyring demonstrated, that sitting with, that presence, seem to be the crucial things. God does them sometimes, too. With Enoch in the Book of Moses, God can only weep. The Great Creator can only weep. Can only keep silent. Can only sit with humanity in their collective grief. Can only be present.

In the talk at hand, Eyring returned to the Book of Mormon. A group of people were almost crushed by the physical weight they had to bear. Their prayers for relief were met not by God removing their heavy burdens, but by making it so that they could not feel them, and by strengthening their backs. President Eyring expressed that he has seen “that miracle time and time again.”  He read from the relevant verses. “The Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” The Lord did this in part, so they “may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”

Eyring connected this ‘standing as witnesses’ to the ‘standing as witnesses’ at the Waters of Mormon, and the “mourning with” covenant we make. ‘We help others best by helping strengthen them.’ I think the idea here was that if we witness gently and lovingly to others in their mourning times, some of their mourning could be made lighter, and their metaphorical backs could be strengthened. It could be a true uplifting, a true comforting. He emphasized again, that the “Father and Son send the Holy Ghost to comfort.”

At the funeral for the young child mentioned previously, he met a young mother who told him that she came to the funeral to mourn, and to comfort if she could. She also came to be comforted herself: her own small child had died recently. In her arms was another, a baby daughter named “Joy,” because “Joy always comes after Sorrow.” President Eyring recognized that “she was bearing her witness to me.” He was grateful that measures of “peace and comfort” had come to her, and understood that “only the Lord could truly say, ‘I know how you feel.'” He, himself, could know “only partially.”

He bore his own witness that Christ has invited all of us to help carry other’s loads. “We have promised to do it.” Next he spoke of his mother, and the Relief Society pin she wore for years and years, with the motto in place: Charity Never Faileth. “I still do not know the full meaning of those words, but I caught a glimpse as I saw [my mother] reach out. Charity is the pure love of Christ. His love never fails.”

Eyring finished his talk by expressing gratitude for those who do this and for those who have done it for him.

It was a lovely, strong talk on one of the most loving and strong covenants: to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. In many ways, this mourning and comforting, that can also be thought of as lifting up hands that hang down and strengthening feeble knees, is simply being a good friend and good human being. It is caring for others deep enough to feel sad simply because they are sad, and to want to help them feel happy again, when they are ready.

I was grateful for Eyring’s thoughts that efforts to sit with and mourn are tied to Christ’s invitation to enter his rest and his work, and that he also wants us to be comforted. He provides a comforter for us, in the personage of the Holy Ghost, and that being can both help heal us in our own mourning times and tutor us how to best soothe others. There are reasons for real mourning, as well as times when burdens do not feel light, even after efforts to use the Atonement. Loving friends and family can help then, and serve as (lower case) saviors for us, as we can sometimes serve as (lower case) saviors for them. This is our duty. To lighten loads, to witness, to sit with.

Perhaps the only thing that I wish President Eyring might have done differently in this talk, is something that I wish many general authorities might do differently, and that many early general authorities did, was speak of Heavenly Mother’s love, presence, and parenthood to us in the same breath that he spoke of heavenly Father’s. It would have been so easy, and meant so much. Even a mention of plural “Heavenly Parents” would help. As a woman, I am eager to know more about my Eternal Mother, to deepen my understanding for myself, and to emulate her better. Otherwise, I give this talk an A+.


Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

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5 Responses

  1. Cruelest Month says:

    This invitation to mourn with those that mourn challenged me to take empathy to a deeper level in my interactions with others. As a single sister I’m always quite thrilled when a talk directed to women focuses on actions of my heart and mind. (Not so happy when the focus is on fertility related roles.)

    • Rachel says:

      I have a husband and tiny-ish babe and am Also happy when talks directed to women focus on actions of my heart and mind. I particularly loved this one because it was an invitation to come closer to the Savior in our own grief and times of mourning, and in others’ times of grief and mourning, by acting With the Savior. These are the inspiring, challenging, faith filling messages I hunger for, and can feast on.

  2. Hillary Kirkham says:

    I had an experience earlier this week where a friend was going through a terrible situation and I went over to her house. I mostly just sat there and listened, nodding while she talked, and eventually giving her a long hug. I didn’t really know what to say since I had no way to empathize with or situation or to really give advice. When I got home I told my husband that I feel like I didn’t do anything—was I insensitive because I hadn’t done or said more? He related a story from a different apostle similar to the one told by President Eyring, reassuring me that what I did was more comforting than I knew. In a small way, I began to feel the power of mourning with those who mourn; that mere presence can be incredibly helpful and comforting. It’s truly a beautiful concept, and your own thoughts are beautifully expressed as well.

    • Rachel says:

      Mere presence Can be incredibly helpful and comforting. I’m so happy you were able to be with your friend, listening, nodding, and finally hugging. For some reason it reminded me of the day I learned that my granny died. I had just moved back to America from Europe, and my husband was still there. I was sitting on the floor of my new apartment crying by myself. And then a friend learned what happened. She drove to my new apartment, picked me up, drove me to her house, and made me grilled cheese and tomato soup. That was it. She didn’t say anything that could take away the deep loss I felt, but she sustained me, physically and emotionally.

      I also wonder at the pattern of Eyring offering the few words of love and shared sorrow. I think there is something there too. A few words like, “I hear you,” or “I am sorry you are sad” can go a long way, too. And then after that, or with that, the listening.

  1. March 28, 2015

    […] The last speaker of the evening was President Henry B. Eyring. He began his talk by addressing his “beloved Sisters,” …read more       […]

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