SALT LAKE CITY — President Thomas S. Monson encouraged members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday to fill their homes with love and to make kindness a daily goal.
"We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey," he said during the final two sessions of the church's 184th Annual General Conference. "Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellow man if we do not love God, the Father of us all."
Attendance at the conference's five sessions reached 100,000 at the LDS Conference Center near Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City.
President Monson called God's gift of his Son an "incomparable gift" and 12 other speakers on Sunday described the roles for accessing that gift played by obedience, covenants, ordinances and reliance on Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
The afternoon session featured the touching testimony of Christ by President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, on the 44th anniversary of his call as an apostle.
President Monson closed the conference by expressing hope that church members will read the conference messages when they become available on LDS.org and in church magazines.
"They are deserving of our careful review and study," he said.
"Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our exemplar," President Monson said during the Sunday morning session.
"Some of our greatest opportunities to demonstrate our love will be within the walls of our own homes," he added. "Love should be the very heart of family life, and yet sometimes it is not. There can be too much impatience, too much arguing, too many fights, too many tears."
"As we arise each morning," President Monson said later, "let us determine to respond with love and kindness to whatever might come our way."
In the afternoon session, he returned to that theme.
"May our homes be filled with love and courtesy and with the Spirit of the Lord," he said.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said that in his ministry he often meets with people experiencing deep sorrow and grief.
"Sooner or later, I believe that all of us experience times when the very fabric of our world tears at the seams, leaving us feeling alone, frustrated and adrift."
One thing each person can do to make life sweeter is to be grateful.
"Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation," he said. "In other words, I'm suggesting that instead of being 'thankful for things' we focus on being 'thankful in our circumstances — whatever they may be."
President Uchtdorf said people can choose to be grateful in the midst of tribulation like Job, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, the Mormon pioneers or the LDS Prophet Joseph Smith.
He called being "grateful in our circumstances" an act of faith in God.
Another way to confront sorrow and grief is to consider eternal perspective. He said all of God's children are made of the stuff of eternity: "Endings are not our destiny.
"The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all," he said. "They are merely interruptions — temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful."
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke about "following up," and did so by following up on two messages he shared at previous conferences.
He again encouraged members to pray to be led to someone they could invite to learn about the church in the next three months.
"There is much more to missionary work for members than simply extending invitations to people to listen to the missionaries," he said. "It also includes follow up with the missionaries in the cultivation of faith, the motivation to repentance, the preparation for making covenants and enduring to the end."
He invited all members to obtain a copy of "Preach My Gospel," the church's missionary guide, and read, study it and tell the church's full-time missionaries they are reading it.
"Together, we can follow up on our invitations, take others by the hand, lift them up and walk with them on their spiritual journey."
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve suggested members could look differently at their burdens. He used the story of a friend whose truck was stuck in the snow until he unwittingly freed it by filling it with firewood he cut nearby.
The load gave the truck traction.
Elder Bednar said that each person's "load" comes with opportunities, privileges, blessings and options as well as demands, obligations, afflictions and constraints.
"Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load," he said. "But bearing a load is a necessary and essential part of the plan of happiness."
Latter-day Saints should be careful not to haul around too "many nice but unnecessary things" that distract and divert from the spiritual traction their load needs to generate.
He also described the scriptural symbolism of accepting Christ's yoke.
"In essence, the Savior is inviting us to rely upon and pull together with him, even though our best efforts are not equal to and cannot be compared with his. As we trust in and pull our load with him during the journey of mortality, truly his yoke is easy and his burden is light."
Elder Bednar said unique burdens in each life help people rely on Christ, who eases them. Latter-day Saints who make covenants with God should recognize covenants are central to Christ's promises of deliverance.
"Covenants received and honored with integrity and ordinances performed by proper priesthood authority are necessary to receive all of the blessing made available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ," he said.
Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, the presiding bishop of the church, talked about Noelle Pikus-Pace, a Latter-day Saint who earned a silver medal at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in four, 60-second skeleton runs.
"This life is your four minutes," he said. "While you are here, your actions will determine whether you win the prize of eternal life. Do you sense the urgency? Your four minutes will pass quickly, and you'll have eternity to think about what you did in this life."
Bishop Stevenson counseled self-discipline. He invited members to follow Elder Bednar's previously made suggestion to mark progress in making covenants on a piece of paper with two columns, one for name and one for the plan for the "next or needful ordinance." Each family member on Bishop Stevenson's list needed the weekly sacrament ordinance.
He called life "exhilarating" and the help of Jesus Christ is available to all.
"You have the Savior of the world on your side. If you seek his help and follow his directions, how can you fail?"
Echoing that sentiment, Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, shared a poignant example of how spiritual promptings allowed her to be the answer to a lost child's prayer. said all people can face challenges by praying and trusting in the Lord.
"As we develop greater trust and faith in the Lord," she said, "we can access his power to bless and deliver us.
"We can trust that he will help us," she added, "not necessarily in the way we want but in the way that will best help us to grow. Submitting our will to his may be difficult, but it is essential to becoming like him and finding the peace he offers."
President Packer, 89, spoke from his chair on the podium of the Conference Center during the afternoon session. He had not attended the previous four sessions of the conference in an effort to conserve his energy, church spokesman Cody Craynor said in a statement.
“Aside from when President Packer is speaking in general conference," Craynor said, "he will likely be preserving his energy by watching from home.”
President Packer described praying for a testimony while serving in the military more than 65 years ago on an island north of Okinawa during World War II. He said he wanted to share truths learned during nearly 90 years of life and more than 50 years as a general authority of the church.
One is that he has come to know that God lives. Another is that the Holy Ghost is real. A third is about Christ, whom he had represented as an apostle for exactly 44 years on Sunday.
"After all the years that I have lived and taught and served, after the millions of miles I have traveled around the world, with all that I have experienced, there is one great truth that I would share," President Packer said. "That is my witness of the Savior Jesus Christ ."
"I believe and I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father .
"I bear my witness that the Savior lives," he continued. "I know the Lord. I am his witness. I know of his great sacrifice and eternal love for all of Heavenly Father's children. I bear special witness in all humility but with absolute certainty, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
President Packer also provided a message of comfort to unmarried and childless church members.
"The ultimate end of all activity in the church is that a man and his wife and their children can be happy at home," he said, but those who don't marry or don't have children now are not excluded from eternal blessings.
"I give those in such circumstances a promise that there will be nothing essential to your salvation and exaltation that shall not in due time rest upon you. Arms now empty will be filled and hearts now hurting from broken dreams and yearning will be healed."
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve said the way to success and strength and rescue is obedience.
He shared a lesson his grandfather taught him about working with a team of horses. If a member of a team believes it doesn't need to obey the team's driver, the team cannot pull together and maximize its ability.
"Too often we think of obedience as the passive and thoughtless following of the orders or dictates of a higher authority," Elder Perry said. "Actually, at its best, obedience is an emblem of our faith in the wisdom and power of the highest authority, even God."
He said disciples of Christ must be willing to completely alter course at the slightest tug on the reins from the Master.
"Those who rely solely on themselves and follow only their own desires and self-inclinations are so limited when compared to those who follow God and tap into his insight, power and gifts," Elder Perry said. "Strong, proactive obedience is anything but weak or passive. It is the means by which we declare our faith in God and qualify ourselves to receive the powers of heaven.
"Obedience is a choice. It is a choice between our own limited knowledge and power and God's unlimited wisdom and omnipotence."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which he said was witnessed by many in or near Jerusalem and by another 2,500 in the Western Hemisphere, as recorded in the Book of Mormon.
"By his Atonement and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has overcome all aspects of the Fall," he said. "Physical death will be temporary, and even spiritual death has an end, in that all come back into the presence of God, at least temporarily, to be judged.
"We can have ultimate trust and confidence in his power to overcome all else and grant us everlasting life."
Elder Christofferson said the "fact of his Resurrection" makes "doubts about the omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence of God the Father groundless."
"Faith truly is more than imagination or psychological invention," he added. "There is ultimate and universal truth, and there are objective and unchanging moral standards as taught by him."
He called repentance an urgent matter and said the Savior's miracles are real.
Finally, as did President Packer, Elder Christofferson added his voice as an apostle to that of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith and his fellow church leader Sidney Rigdon, who testified "That he lives! For we saw him."
"Under the glance of his all-seeing eye, I stand myself as a witness that Jesus of Nazareth is the resurrected Redeemer, and I testify of all that follows from the fact of his Resurrection."
Other speakers at Sunday's sessions included Elder William R. Walker of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Michael John U. Teh, Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge and Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis of the Seventy. (See talk summaries on accompanying pages.)
Prayers at Sunday's two sessions were spoken by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the presidency of the Seventy; Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency; Bishop Dean M. Davies, second counselor in the presiding bishopric; and Elder Benjamin De Hoyos of the Seventy.9 comments on this story
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided the music at both Sunday sessions.
In the morning, the choir sang "Come We That Love the Lord," "On this Day of Joy and Gladness," "Let Us All Press On," "Teach Me to Walk in the Light," "A Child's Prayer" and "Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah."
Hymns in the afternoon session included "Sweet is the Work," "I Stand All Amazed," "Hark, All Ye Nations" and "Come, Let Us Anew."