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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stand before the afternoon session of 189th Annual General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Love is the cornerstone to happy homes, repentance, worship, ministering and missionary work and should motivate members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to preserve their relationships with family and friends who distance themselves from God or the church, its leaders said Saturday.

The messages came during the first day of the faith's global general conference and two days after church leaders issued new policies to show greater love and compassion by allowing for blessings and baptism for children living with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents.

In the first conference after a year full of what the church's leaders and members considered a rush of revelatory change for the faith, President Russell M. Nelson and other leaders announced no new adjustments Saturday. Instead the focus was on how love and repentance can power individual growth to support the changes of the previous year.

President Nelson spoke at the conclusion of the priesthood session Saturday night, the last of the day's three conference sessions. He encouraged men and boys to view repentance as a daily invitation to personal development rather than an occasional punishment to be avoided.

"The Lord needs selfless men who put the welfare of others ahead of their own," he said, adding, "The Lord needs men eager to repent — men with a zeal to serve and be part of the Lord’s battalion of worthy priesthood bearers."

A total of 18 leaders spoke on the 189th anniversary of the church's organization to an estimated 75,000 people in the Conference Center and other buildings near or on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. Millions more watched or listened to broadcasts or live streams. Midway through the opening session, the hashtag #generalconference was a top 10 trending topic in the United States as members shared and reacted to conference messages.

Honor women

One way men can be better, President Nelson added, is to honor the women in their lives, saying the foremost duty of a man with the priesthood is to love and care for his wife.

"Become one with her," he said. "Be her partner. Make it easy for her to want to be yours. No other interest in life should take priority over building an eternal relationship with her. Nothing on TV, a mobile device, or a computer is more important than her well-being. Take an inventory of how you spend your time and where you devote your energy. That will tell you where your heart is. Pray to have your heart attuned to your wife's heart. Seek to bring her joy. Seek her counsel and listen. Her input will improve your output."

President M. Russell Ballard used the word breathtaking to describe the previous year's adjustments to the church's Sunday worship schedule, ministering program and much more but said Latter-day Saints should not be distracted by the announced changes.

"In the last 18 months, the Lord has inspired his prophet and the apostles to implement a number of wonderful adjustments," said the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "However, I worry that the spiritual purposes of these adjustments might become lost in the excitement about the changes themselves."

The key to understanding those purposes is to live Jesus Christ's teachings of Christ and apply his two great commandments, he said.

"Loving God and loving our neighbors," he added, "is the doctrinal foundation of ministering; home-centered, church-supported learning; Sabbath day spiritual worship; and the work of salvation on both sides of the veil supported in the Relief Societies and elders quorums — all of these things are based on the divine commandments to love God and to love our neighbors."

Heal and strengthen

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the church’s changes to its Sunday worship practices — more gospel learning at home, two instead of three hours at church — should increase members' reverence for the sacrament service and improve their spiritual worship.

"We are to remember in as personal a way as possible that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the whole human family," he said. "Inasmuch as we contributed to that fatal burden, such a moment demands our respect."

He requested that members arrive on time in their Sunday best and that congregational leaders keep announcements in the sacrament meeting to a minimum.

He also suggested that the personal contrition inherent in the sacrament ordinance should include love for others.

"We might be more successful in such contrition if we are mindful of the other broken hearts and sorrowing spirits that surround us," he said, adding, "There is no shortage of suffering in this world, inside the church and out, so look in any direction and you will find someone whose pain seems too heavy to bear and whose heartache seems never to end. One way to 'always remember him' would be to join the Great Physician in his never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught."

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Twelve and other leaders said some church members may be experiencing sadness, agony and regret over loved ones who distance themselves from faith, but he encouraged members to love and embrace them and pray for them.

"Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes," he said. "Be their friends and look for the good in them. We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them!"

Another member of the Twelve, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, said one simple way church members could begin doing missionary work is to cultivate love for others.

"Laugh with them," he said. "Rejoice with them. Weep with them. Respect them. Heal, lift and strengthen them."

Friendship magnified

The pure love of Christ is essential in the hearts of each family member to create a holy place at home, said President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency.

The church’s new home-centered curriculum, announced at the October 2018 general conference and launched in January, is designed to help build faith, he added.

"Building faith in Jesus Christ is the beginning of reversing any spiritual decline in your family and in your home," he said.

Love is the key to the church's ministering program, said Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. He shared the story of the terminal cancer diagnosis received by his brother, Mike Waddell, who hadn’t attended church for 50 years. After the diagnosis, Mike expressed interest in the church again and returned church activity with the ministering help of his bishop, John Sharp, whose motto was, "If someone is on a list that says 'not interested,' don't give up. People change."

"John knew that a minister is more than a friend and that friendship is magnified as we minister," Bishop Waddell said.

The covenant path

Latter-day Saints know better than to look for happiness in cheap or temporary items, said Sister Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency. True happiness, she said, "is found in living the gospel established by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and in striving to become more like him."

She described the covenant path — the ordinances and promises and choices members receive and make that can lead back to heaven — as a train track and counseled members to avoid derailment in a world full of distractions that can deceive anyone, "causing them to be casual in living their covenants. If we are not careful in living our covenants with exactness, our casual efforts may eventually lead us into forbidden paths …."

"There is a careful way and a casual way to do everything, including living the gospel," she said.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said church leaders love church members and he pleaded with them during the priesthood session to make choices with the future in mind, including education, gospel study, temple attendance and participation in the sacrament service.

"Our present and our future will be happier if we are always conscious of the future," he said. "As we make current decisions, we should always be asking, 'Where will this lead?'"

This should extend beyond one's personal choices.

"As we see threats creeping up on persons or things we love, we have the choice of speaking or acting or remaining silent. It is well to ask ourselves, 'Where will this lead?' Where the consequences are immediate and serious, we cannot afford to do nothing. We must sound appropriate warnings or support appropriate preventive efforts while there is still time."

While he warned about the opportunity costs of spending too much time playing video games, watching TV or texting, he said thinking of the future should also apply to how one labels oneself.

"Most importantly, each of us is a child of God with a potential destiny of eternal life," he said. "Every other label, even including occupation, race, physical characteristics or honors, is temporary or trivial in eternal terms. Don’t choose to label yourselves or think of yourselves in terms that put a limit on a goal for which you might strive."

President Nelson said repentance is a key to self-development.

"When Jesus asks you and me to 'repent,' he is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit — even the way we breathe," he said. "He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children and even care for our bodies."

He said repentance should be an ongoing process.

"Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance," he added. "Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ."

Family Proclamation

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve said Latter-day Saints celebrate the innovations of science and medicine but know the truths of God go beyond them, declaring "there are some things that are completely and absolutely true."

He asked listeners to view "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" through the eye of faith.

"There are so many, young and old," he said, "who are loyal and true to the teachings of the prophets, even though their own current experience does not fit neatly inside the Family Proclamation: Children whose lives have been shaken by divorce; youth whose friends mock the law of chastity; divorced women and men who have been gravely wounded by the unfaithfulness of a spouse; husbands and wives who are unable to have children; women and men who are married to a spouse who does not share their faith in the restored gospel; single women and men who, for various reasons, have been unable to marry."

He said many who carry heavy burdens will say others don't understand their situation.

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"I may not," Elder Andersen said, "but I testify that there is one who does understand. There is one who, because of his sacrifice made in the garden and on the cross, knows your burdens. As you seek him and keep his commandments, I promise you that he will bless you and lift the burdens too heavy to bear alone. He will give you eternal friends and opportunities to serve. More importantly, he will fill you with the powerful spirit of the Holy Ghost and shine his heavenly approval upon you. No choice, no alternative, that denies the companionship of the Holy Ghost or the blessings of eternity, is worthy of our consideration."