Latter-day Saint Life

Sister Oaks: How We Can Become One with Ourselves, God, and Others


The following is an excerpt from "If Ye Are Not One Ye Are Not Mine," a chapter in the book, One in Charity: Talks From the 2016 BYU Women's Conference. In the excerpt, we learn just how we can grow closer to our Savior and become one with Him, ourselves, our families, and our fellowmen.

I am so thrilled to share my thoughts on four great teachings inspired by the scripture “If ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27) that may profit us as daughters of God.

We live in times that demand our spiritual best. Our security, strength and salvation all come through our Savior Jesus Christ. How do we draw nearer to Him? Today I share four impressions I have received from the Lord that may help us to be (1) one with Christ, (2) one with ourselves, (3) one in our families, and (4) one with our fellowmen.

As we endeavor to become one in the Lord’s way, we must go far beyond just living without contention among ourselves, avoiding road rage, or civilly compromising with others from different political parties or points of view. Let’s examine the verses following D&C 38:27 which explain our great need for oneness. “The enemy in the secret chambers seeketh your lives” (v. 28). In the context of “wars in far countries,” they warn that “ye know not the hearts of men in your own land” (v. 29). And they conclude by teaching, “treasure up wisdom in your bosoms” because “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (v. 30). We are to be one in the Lord and our very eternity depends on it.

What is the Atonement of Jesus Christ and what does it mean to us? As quoted in Tad Callister’s great book The Infinite Atonement, Hugh Nibley has taught that atonement “really does mean, when we write it out, at-one-ment, denoting both a state of being ‘at one’ with another and the process by which that end is achieved.”

To accomplish this eternal goal, a goal which Elder Bruce R. McConkie called “the center and core and heart of revealed religion,” there must be a plan and process for mortals to be raised from the dead and that requires a Savior. As the Savior Himself has said, “the son of Man is come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11)—to save you and me.

Sisters, the story of the Atonement and its place in the plan of salvation is our story, the story of all of us. When we learned we would receive bodies we cried out with joy—do not forget that. We were all present when Satan revealed his plan to the Father . . . a plan without choice and of total domination. None would be lost, but there would be no progression, no pain, no compas¬sion, no learning. We would have been robots without agency.

President David O. McKay spoke of the gift of agency, or the right to choose. He taught, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man.”

It is Jesus Christ and His sacrifice who procured that gift for all of us. Under the plan of the Father, we would have choice and agency and could progress and learn and flourish. According to President Thomas S. Monson, it is also a plan full of risks. A part of that plan is that we embark “on a precarious, difficult journey, for we walk beside the ways of the world and sin and stumble, cutting us off from our Father. But the Firstborn in the Spirit offered Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all.”

Our story continues. We know that Adam and Eve put the Father’s plan into effect. They walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. Yet for His plan to go forward there had to be a fall to move from immortal to mortal, and with that fall came the ability to multiply and replenish the earth.

Eve became the mother of all living. You and I have a body because of her. Eve knew sorrow. Her children fought among themselves, and one son took the life of another. Eve and her husband, Adam, who had once lived in God’s presence—the most noble and glorious of all mortals to live on this earth—suffered much of the brutality and evil our world had to offer.

Their story is an example to us that no one is exempt from pain. To make things right, our Savior, Jesus Christ, offered himself as a sacrifice for every human born on the earth. He took upon himself all our suffering and emotional and physical weaknesses that He might strengthen and succor us, just as he strengthened a young mission president’s wife in Argentina far away from home and loved ones, as she lay partially paralyzed from a stroke. “Instead of fear,” she said to me, “I felt encased in a dome of comfort and peace.” Or my dear friend just diagnosed with cancer for the second time, who felt the healing power of loving arms around her as she prayed. Or each of us as we face challenges and sorrows which we could not bear alone. His great atoning sacrifice binds us to him, heals us, and shields us.

As we partake of the sacrament weekly we are asked to “always remember Him, that [we] may have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:79). Remember to keep His commandments. Remember that we have always been with Him, and He has always been with us, from the foundations of the world. We fought with him to sustain the Father’s plan, and He now fights for us as we go forward under that plan. His atonement has the capacity to carry and lift us when we have no strength to lift ourselves. Ultimately this gift, if we repent and accept it, cleanses us and allows us to enter the presence of God.

To become one in Christ and bring this plan into full fruition, the Savior implores us to become as He is. This becomes possible as we strive to be one with ourselves, one with our loved ones, and one with our fellow men.

One With Ourselves

We are given the gift of time to make decisions of eternal consequence, decisions that matter eternally. One friend I know marks her Google calendar with the initials EC next to her daily list of things to do. EC means “eternal consequence”—it helps her sort out where to invest her time and effort.

Do the lists we make include actions of eternal consequence—listening to the Spirit, caring, and ministering? Christ, our Example, didn’t spend all his time “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). He was involved in the lives of everyone around Him. Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “The voice that commands us to volunteer our time at a homeless shelter, the voice that urges us to put the needs and feelings of our family ahead of our own, is the voice of God, because those are things we are unlikely to have thought of on our own.” These promptings may be as simple as choosing to talk with an aging mother rather than just vacuum her living room; playing with a grandchild over doing the dishes, or making time to do family history over a favorite television program.

I quote from President Henry B. Eyring, “Your life is carefully watched over, as was mine. The Lord knows both what He will need you to do and what you will need to know. He is kind and He is all-knowing. So you can with confidence expect that He has prepared opportunities for you to learn in preparation for the service you will give.

“You may not recognize those opportunities perfectly, as I do not. But when you put spiritual things first in your life, you will be blessed to feel directed toward certain learning, and you will be motivated to work harder. You will recognize later that your power to serve was increased, and you will be grateful.”

Woman Cut in Half

As I pondered this assignment to speak, I was impressed to “tell the women to love themselves.” Why is this so important? It is vital because our capacity to serve and love others is in direct proportion to our love of self. The fact that you are so essential, so important, so central to the success of God’s plan makes you a vulnerable target of the adversary.

Remember the verse of scripture that follows the theme, “And again, I say unto you that the enemy in the secret chambers seeketh your lives” (D&C 38:28). It is a warning that extends to securing the secret chambers of our own hearts. It is a call to be whole.

Picture a woman torn in half by the worldly demands placed on her. A woman divided against herself. We are torn between a world that teaches openly that motherhood, children, and marriage and family are not important. Many of us who most value family time must still work to insure that there is food on the table and a house over our heads. Others may need an outlet for their creativity and feel guilty leaving their children.

For single sisters, this picture produces a different reaction. They are torn between the world and a family they do not yet have. Respect your emotions, sisters; they are God-given. I testify these yearnings to be the best we can be are divine. Embrace them, learn to balance them, and thank the Lord for them. They are a gift of God to remind us of who we are: celestial beings in a telestial situation.

This is not our eternal home, we are pilgrims wandering here. In the premortal existence we lived in divine families, on earth we are born into a family, and we will return to live eternally as families. We are just practicing. We may see ourselves torn by a distorted version of womanhood produced by the media who beckon us to be more sleek, slim, and seductive and forget who we really are. We may begin to count calories instead of blessings. Facebook convinces us we are missing out on the fun everyone else is experiencing, and Satan would have us think the success of others somehow diminishes us. Time spent on shopping sprees may surpass time spent on scripture study. The result is a deflated spirit and feelings of increased inadequacy.

This world is operating under a false assumption about what makes us happy. It is not about being thin or thinner, rich or richer, smart or smarter. As President Boyd K. Packer taught: “The choice of life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil.”

Our Savior taught, “Behold, The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). We know our identity, and as daughters of God we do not have time to be distracted, diverted, or diminished. We live in a world desperate for our goodness, our purity, and our testimonies.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins was once asked by President Boyd K. Packer: “‘Which way do you face?’ . . . Trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments.” We are in a world that teaches that anything goes, it is all okay. “When people try to save face with men, they can unwittingly lose face with God. Thinking one can please God and at the same time condone the disobedience of men isn’t neutrality but duplicity, or being two-faced or trying to ‘serve two masters.’” We cannot have one face toward the temple and one toward the world.

When we face forward that does not mean we do not have absolute love. It means others know where we stand and we respect where others stand. “Courage is not just one of the cardinal virtues,” C. S. Lewis wrote. “Courage is . . . the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

In matters of chastity, honesty, and kindness, courageous daughters of God united in Christ have an enhanced ability to serve. Elder M. Russell Ballard reminds us, “Every sister in this Church who has made covenants with the Lord has a divine mandate to help save souls, to lead the women of the world, to strengthen the homes of Zion, and to build the kingdom of God.” Your examples, your friendships, your mothering, and your faith are dearly needed.

One With Our Loved Ones

It seemed I waited an eternity to marry at age 53, and then I had the special blessing of marriage to an apostle who had six married children and 24 grandchildren. But I found myself in many cases still alone in my marriage and in my family. I still sat alone at church in every meeting, I was alone when he traveled to serve, and alone much of the time he was away at work.

I had entered a glorious family full of great love. Yet I felt I remained on the outside, as any second wife, or single person, can testify. This family still sorely missed a mother whom they adored and honored. I came to realize relationships are not built instantaneously—they develop incrementally and are best forged on the foundation of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

How was I able to enter my own family circle—the one I had longed for all my life? After much prayer and pleading with the Lord about what I should do, my entrance came in the form of a letter from a precious daughter. She wrote me and asked me if I could please be a loving and devoted grandmother to her children. She hoped through my example her young children would develop the capacity to understand what a grandmother’s love meant and it would endear them to her own departed mother, June.

With that letter, my prayers and my perspective changed. Now I wanted much more than personally to be loved and included. I began to pray that our family would join together. I began to be prompted to organize events and activities where my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would have increased access and interaction with their grandfather, activities where siblings and cousins would learn to know and love each other, and where we could learn the history of members of our family.

Hearts began to soften; I had a new vision of my role as a second wife. I had not come to compete against their mother, I came to serve and complement their mother and grandmother. I began to listen to the whisperings she sent from heaven so I could help her family and preserve her memory. I felt the assistance of angels as I worked to create a family unit that could endure forever. I was working with their mother and for our eternal family. It made me a better wife and a better mother and grandmother.

These family opportunities resulted in a blessed consequence I could never have foreseen. I married into an amazing family. We are not saved in isolation. I testify that loving kindness over prolonged periods of time works. It is not an easy thing to administer, to love when some are not returning that love.

Sometimes it seemed my dream of unity was the “impossible dream.” But as I learned, no estranged family member, no rebellious child or dysfunctional family situation can withstand Christlike love and not be made the better for it. As we draw near to Christ, He draws near to us and His ministering influence is as the balm of Gilead.

Family Booklet

As our love increases for those around us, so does our desire to minister to them. Through priesthood ordinances we are not only brought back to God, but we are brought together— through sealings, genealogy, and family history. The Atonement broadens our concept of the resurrection and heaven as family events. It is the literal binding together of generations of all families on earth and is unique to our faith. Best of all the message of our Savior is universal, and ours is a worldwide Church, intended for “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” (Mosiah 15:28).

Like many of you, Elder Oaks and I sought for a means to spiritually unite and protect our family. Inspired by the words of President Russell M. Nelson, that “no other work transcends that of righteous, intentional parenting,” we determined to become more “intentional teachers” to our family. This was a new territory for us, and we began by presenting an unusual Christmas gift to each family. Our teaching tool of choice was a spiral-bound booklet we had made for each family containing the text of The Living Christ, a testimony prepared by the Apostles as a gift to the world to celebrate the new millennium.

To our joyful amazement, over 30 members of our family—young and old—took the challenge to memorize this beautiful testimony of our Savior. What a gift it was to us and to them. Many reported more peace and less fighting in their homes, less irritation, jealousy, and concern for things of the world. I should mention we did offer a reward of a special certificate and family dinner at a favorite restaurant to motivate them. But it was no easy thing and Sarah, a 3-year-old great-granddaughter, told her mother, “Don’t ever make me do that again!” Sorry, Sarah.

Any vehicle to achieve higher spirituality can work—studying the family proclamation, increased reading of the Book of Mormon, doing service, singing hymns, saying consistent family prayers—you choose, but I testify such intentional efforts will bring your loved ones closer to their Savior.

One granddaughter reported, “When we had the missionaries over for dinner, they gave us a message about the First Vision, and asked the girls (ages 3 and 5) if they knew anything about it. I prompted them, ‘In the modern world . . .’ and they finished by reciting ‘He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times.”’ The missionaries’ jaws dropped! They definitely were not expecting that response! I am not sure 3-year-old Sarah and 5-year-old Bailey always understood what they were reciting, but it has given us something to refer back to, and try to help them make connections, all about Jesus Christ. It helped strengthen our family unity as well since they were excited to ‘help’ Dad or Mom as we also recited each paragraph. Even while we were in line at Disneyland, Sarah said, ‘We need to practice The Living Christ’!”

Let me share a few more comments from letters and e-mails. From a grandson:

Dear Grandpa,
I wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed learning The Living Christ. I was amazed at how well my boys picked it up, and now seeing them point out quotes from it in many talks from Conference and other meetings.

A son-in-law wrote in a letter to his family:

As you will recall in The Living Christ, “Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.” We are still reciting together regularly this proclamation. We do not want it to slip our minds and more importantly from our hearts. I want it to be a permanently installed window in my life from which I can have the correct view of the world and everything in it. Our perspective, our choices, and our happiness narrow when we don’t keep the Savior properly positioned in our lives. Again, The Living Christ says, “His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.”

Best of all were the comments of a granddaughter who wrote:

I learned so much about teaching my children from our experiences memorizing The Living Christ. Most importantly, teaching the gospel is an everyday, all day responsibility, and it doesn’t happen unless I specifically choose to teach it . . . You can’t sit down with your child the night before their 8th birthday and say, “Okay! Tonight we’re going to learn all about the gospel of Jesus Christ!” It takes time and repetition, not to mention making connections to their world and life, because the gospel is personal, not abstract. . . . The side effect of this, of course, was that constantly focusing on Jesus Christ brought His Spirit into our day to day living. For me, my testimony has been strengthened as I am aware more than ever of how Jesus Christ is the center of everything—the plan of salvation for all people, and for my life personally.

Our righteous “intentional parenting” resulted in more blessings than we could have imagined.

One With Our Fellow Man

“If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). This scripture is often applied only to temporal preparation, but I apply it also to the spiritual transformation necessary to meet the challenges ahead. A worldwide challenge has been given to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and befriend the stranger. Sisters, we are a mighty army. The Lord has called us to serve His children and we are ready!

We know our divine identity as His children. We are joined in one great eternal family.

Like any great army we have a plan of action—the plan of salvation, which makes our purpose clear—where we are to go and how to get there. In addition, through family history and temple work we have assembled the mighty hosts of heaven to come to our aid.

We are ready to serve our fellow men—after years of practice acting as missionaries, visiting teachers, camp directors, den mothers, and compassionate service leaders. Our skills are honed and our hands are ready. We travel under the banner of The Living Christ. Most important, our heavenly supply lines are secure. We honor the Sabbath; each week we partake of the holy sacrament and we are a changed and purified people given supernal power from above.

We are His, one in Christ, one with ourselves, one with our loved ones, and one with our fellow man . . . one in victory!

Lead photo from Getty Images.

In an increasingly polarized world, what will bridge the gulf that divides us? How can such a "small and simple thing" as care for others transform us into better people than we have been? One in Charity, with featured talks from the 2016 BYU Women's Conference, supplies those answers and more. Available at Deseret Book stores or on


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