Sweet Above All That Is Sweet
Not long ago I was assigned to speak to women on the subject of grace. A dear friend who knew I was wrestling with that message sent me an e-mail that I’m sure she meant to be helpful. She wrote: “Here is what I hope you cover in your talk: What is grace? How do I gain access to it? What difference does grace make in my life? Can it help me with loneliness, with overeating, with bad relationships, with weaknesses and temptations, with insecurity, with heartache and stress? Can it help me with my husband? Is grace always present, or do I have to do something to get it? Is it a feeling? How can I tell when grace is helping me? Okay, those are the questions I want you to answer.”
I responded with a one-liner: “Are you sure that’s all you want to know?”
Her e-mail led me to ask another friend what she wished she understood about grace. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “TV evangelists have wrecked that word for me. I almost feel disloyal to the restored gospel even talking about grace. I mean, do we believe in grace?”
I then asked a friend serving as a stake Relief Society president to ask her presidency what they wished the women in their stake understood about grace. This is a spectacular quartet of women who have logged decades of service. And yet, after a long discussion, they said, “We don’t think we know enough about grace to even know what to ask.”
The disturbing irony in all of these comments is that the central, most compelling, most life-changing message of all time is that Jesus Christ already triumphed over sin, death, hell, and every kind of misery. Surely there is nothing our Father is more eager for us to understand than the breathtaking scope of the Atonement of His Son and the power the Atonement makes available to us. Because the key to unlocking the power of covenant women and men is covenant women and men learning to unlock the power of Jesus Christ.
With this truth in mind, let’s consider four of my friend’s questions.
What Is Grace?
My father had many virtues. He served faithfully in the Church his entire life. I doubt he ever missed home teaching in 60 years, though his home teaching route was a 100-mile round-trip. My earliest testimony of priesthood power came from him. After his death, we heard story after story about his quiet generosity. And my father’s word was gold. But my dad had an Achilles’ heel—a temper he never conquered. We knew he loved us, but we often bore the brunt of his anger.
One afternoon a few days before he died, I was sitting at his bedside as he slept. Suddenly, I found myself asking the Lord to forgive him for years of angry outbursts. As I prayed, something unexplainable happened to me. In an instant, I felt decades of hurt simply fall away. The feeling was spiritual, but it was also tangible. I could remember his anger, but I couldn’t feel any of the pain. It was gone. It was “beauty for ashes” (Isa. 61:3). It was sweet.
That is grace. The amazing power of grace. No earthly remedy could have done for me what the Savior did in that moment. It was the redeeming power of Jesus Christ that prompted me to pray for my father and even gave me the words to say; and it was His healing power that healed a lifetime of wounds.
The scriptures explain what I experienced. In Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, most of those he saw either never entered onto the covenant path or they got lost somewhere along the way (see 1 Ne. 8:18, 23, 28). But one group held fast to the iron rod, pressed forward to the tree and partook of the fruit, and heeded not those who mocked them (see 1 Ne. 8:30, 33-34). The fruit made them happy and filled their souls with “exceedingly great joy” (1 Ne. 8:12). It was “sweet above all that is sweet” (Alma 32:42).
What is this fruit that Nephi said was “most desirable above all things” (1 Ne. 11:22; emphasis added)? The fruit is the Atonement, which is the most tangible evidence of the Lord’s incomprehensible love for us. Grace is the power that flows from the Atonement and is how the Savior continues to manifest His love for us. The Bible Dictionary says that grace is “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous . . . love of Jesus Christ . . . . [G]race is an enabling power.”¹ The Savior empowers us with His grace not because we’ve earned it, but because He loves us perfectly. That is why grace is sweet. It was grace that I experienced at my father’s bedside.
I’ve never really liked the word sweet. I love things that taste sweet, unfortunately. But the word sweet has always seemed a bit insipid. When I was a student at BYU, being called a “sweet spirit” wasn’t necessarily a compliment. But I have come to understand that when we feel unexplainable peace or hope, love or comfort, the Lord is manifesting His grace, and it is truly sweet.
Years ago, I heard a woman I admire as a student of the gospel say that when she saw the word grace in the scriptures, she substituted the word power. Her counsel helped me begin to make sense of many scriptures for the first time. When we talk about the grace of Jesus Christ, we are talking about His power—power that enables us to do things we simply could not do on our own.
The Savior has “all power” in heaven and on earth (see Matt. 28:18; Mosiah 4:9; D&C 93:17). He has power to cleanse, forgive, and redeem us; power to heal us of weakness, illness, and heartache; power to conquer Satan and overcome the flesh; power to work miracles; power to inspire and strengthen us; power to deliver us from circumstances we can’t escape ourselves; and power over death. When the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13), he was describing grace.
Grace is divine power that enables us to handle things we can’t figure out, can’t do, can’t overcome, or can’t manage on our own. We have access to this power because Jesus Christ, who was already a God, condescended to endure the bitterness of a fallen world and experience all physical and spiritual pain (see Heb. 4:15-16).
Elder David A. Bednar (BA ’76, MA ’77) explained that
the Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities—but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and the inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us.
There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first.²
Because Jesus Christ atoned, His grace is available to us every minute of every hour of every day. It is this power that ultimately enables us to do what we came to earth to do. Grace is divine enabling power.
What Difference Can Grace Make in Our Lives?
One Saturday I worked all day trying to make a dent in a long list of looming deadlines before joining my family at the temple for a niece’s endowment. As I walked into the chapel and sat down, the tears started and would not stop. Exhaustion and the sheer fear of letting people down had me undone. I opened the scriptures and through tears read, “The Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace . . . that we have power to do these things” (Jacob 4:7; emphasis added).
What the Nephites in this verse had power to do was work miracles, and did I ever need a miracle! Because of the Nephites’ faith, they could command in the name of Jesus and the mountains and waves of the sea would obey them (Jacob 4:6). As I read these verses, my mind raced over countless times the Lord had helped me before, and I felt a surge of faith. For the first time in weeks, I felt peace. Peace from the Prince of Peace. It was sweet.
We all know what “overwhelmed” feels like. If there are times when you think, “I can’t handle my children or my checkbook or my illness or the urge to eat brownies at midnight or the lack of a husband or the lack of a good husband or a family who doesn’t appreciate me one more day,” you’re not alone. The Savior’s divine empathy is perfect, so He knows how to help us. He rarely moves the mountains that stand in front of us, but He always helps us climb them.
Because of Him you don’t have to confront grief or insecurity or an addiction alone. With His help, you can resist temptation. With His help, you can change, forgive those who’ve hurt you, and start over. With His help, your capacity and energy can increase. With His help, you can be happy again. The Savior promised, “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
We are among the “weak things” the Savior is talking about. His grace can change our very nature and over time transform us from who we are into who we can become.
What difference can grace make in our lives? It can make all the difference!
How Does the Savior Make His Power Available to Us?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said that “if it were not for the grace of God, there would be nothing—no creation, no fall, no mortal probation, no atonement, no redemption, no immortality, no eternal life. It is God’s grace that underlies all things [and] . . . that makes all things possible. Without it there would be nothing; with it there is everything.”³
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (BA ’65, MA ’66) added this clarity: “Much of the miraculous help we find in the gospel is just that—a miracle from heaven, the power of divine priesthood, the attendance of angels administering to us through a very thin veil. These are gifts from God, manifestations of His grace.”⁴
Every divine gift and every spiritual privilege that gives us access to the power of heaven comes from Christ or through Christ or because of Christ. We owe everything to Him and our Father in Heaven, including the privileges of receiving the gift and power of the Holy Ghost; of receiving personal revelation and gifts of the Spirit; of being endowed in the temple with knowledge and priesthood power; of learning the “mysteries of the kingdom” (D&C 84:19); of having the Lord on our right and on our left and his angels round about us (D&C 84:88); of receiving all the blessings of the Atonement; and of receiving eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). We owe every divine gift and all access to divine power to the grace of Jesus Christ.
No wonder Eliza R. Snow said that Latter-day Saint women “have greater and higher privileges than any other females upon the face of the earth.”⁵ I stand with Eliza on this. The grace of Jesus Christ gives us access to the Holy Ghost, to angels, and to countless gifts of the Spirit, just to name a few.⁶
But there is one privilege LDS women likely overlook—the privilege of having access to priesthood power.⁷ Too many of us think we don’t have this privilege. But that is not true. Women who have been endowed in the temple have as much access to priesthood power for their own lives as do ordained men.
Four key points underscore this truth: First, priesthood keys are the manner through which the Lord authorizes the use of and distributes His power—for both women and men.
Second, there are distinctions between priesthood keys, priesthood authority, and priesthood power. Priesthood keys are required to authorize ordinances, priesthood authority is required to perform ordinances, and priesthood power is available to all who worthily receive ordinances and keep the associated covenants.
Third, both men and women who serve under the direction of priesthood keys serve with divine authority.⁸ Elder Dallin H. Oaks (BS ’54) has explained: “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? . . . Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”⁹
And fourth, men and women have equal access to the Lord’s highest spiritual privileges. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the house of the Lord. Elder M. Russell Ballard declared that “when men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power. . . . Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.”¹⁰
Though women are not ordained to an office in the priesthood, in the temple we are endowed with priesthood power and with knowledge of how to use that power.
Women have other privileges as well. We aren’t required to be ordained to enter the house of the Lord and officiate in priesthood ordinances there, though men are. Further, when women serve in any capacity under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys, we have full access to the power that flows through those keys, just as men do. Covenant women never lack for divine authority.
Further still, God’s highest ordinances are available only to a man and woman together. In this single doctrinal provision, God indicates His respect for the distinctive but vitally interconnected roles of both men and women.
And finally, women have claim to all blessings that emanate from the priesthood. Again, from Elder McConkie: “Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness . . . —in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord.”¹¹
Most important, we live in the dispensation of the fulness of times, when no spiritual blessings are being withheld from the earth (see D&C 121:27–29). No women living anytime, anywhere have had greater access to divine power than we do. If we seek for a lifetime, we won’t plumb the depth of power and breadth of spiritual privileges the Lord has given us. Through His grace, He has made His highest spiritual privileges available to us. That is our doctrine. That is the truth.
What Must We Do to Gain Access to the Savior’s Power?
I recently visited Harvard and felt smarter just walking across campus. But later that day, I went to the Boston Temple, and the contrast between one of the world’s elite universities and the Lord’s house, which is the institution of highest learning, was striking. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said that “in contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.”¹² Our access to divine power hinges upon who we are becoming.
I doubt we quote any scripture on grace more often than Nephi’s, that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). Covenant LDS women have a tendency to zoom in on the “after all we can do” part of the grace-and-works equation,but this scripture is not about sequence, and it is not about feverishly working our way through an exhaustive list of good works. Jesus Christ is the only one to walk this earth and do all that could be done.
Doing all we can do is about the direction we’re headed and what kind of people we are becoming. Doing all we can do is all about discipleship.
At the heart of becoming disciples is doing what we promise to do every time we partake of the sacrament—which is to “always remember” the Lord (Moro. 4:3; 5:2). This means remembering Him when we choose what media we’re willing to expose our spirits to. It means remembering Him in how we spend our time and when choosing between a steady diet of pop culture and the word of God. It means remembering Him in the middle of conflict or when temptation looms. It means remembering Him when critics attack His Church and mock truth. It means remembering that we have taken His name upon us (see Mosiah 5:7).
None of us has mastered this, but it is our quest, because conversion to the Lord requires immersion in His gospel. If we constantly immerse ourselves in a fallen world, how far can we really expect to progress in this life? I am not suggesting that there aren’t fun and even inspiring opportunities all around us. I love ball games and four-wheelers and snow-shoeing and Broadway plays with the best of them. But mortality is a short-term proposition. None of us will stay here long. Doesn’t it make sense to devote as much energy as possible to things we can actually take with us?
Discipleship is not easy, but it is easier than not becoming a disciple. Paraphrasing President Howard W. Hunter, if our lives are centered on Christ, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. But if they’re not centered on Christ, nothing can ever go permanently right.¹³
As disciples we can ask for more energy, more revelation, more patience, more self-discipline, more hope, more love, more healing, more happiness. We can ask for miracles, for freedom from pain, and for the desire to forgive. We can ask for more faith and for help in becoming better disciples. And we can ask for angels to walk with us.
Not long ago I was assigned to make a sensitive presentation to a group of senior General Authorities—which is always a little nerve-racking. I prepared the best I could and sought the Lord’s help—even asking if angels could accompany me to the meeting. Things went better that day than I had expected—which should have tipped me off. As I walked back to my office thinking, “That went pretty well,” I had an immediate impression: “You don’t think you’re the one who did that, do you?” I realized instantly that the Lord had indeed sent help.
I can’t think of a single thing I’ve ever been asked to do that I’ve been equal to. But therein lies the beautiful intersection of grace and works. When disciples do their best, whatever that is at a given moment, the Lord magnifies them.
Doing all we can do is about becoming and behaving like true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is our part.
What one thing would you be willing to give up, starting today, to put the Savior even more at the center of your life? What one thing would you be willing to do, starting today, to unlock more of His power? The Savior’s grace is what will enable us to do what He is counting on us to do in the twilight of this great, culminating gospel dispensation.
The Lord is hastening His work, and we are right in the middle of the hastening (see D&C 88:73). I loved it when a sister opened a recent Relief Society meeting in Houston by praying, “We are grateful to live in this day, when we are preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ.”
Think of it! The eyes and hopes of every previous dispensation are upon us. We have been chosen to help prepare the world for the Savior. Because this day is unlike any other, it is time for us to do things we have never done before. And that includes working harder than we’ve ever worked to unlock the Savior’s power. Because the key to unlocking the power of covenant women and men is covenant women and men learning to unlock the power of Jesus Christ.
I know how tangible the Lord’s power is. I was in my early 30s when an opportunity to marry evaporated overnight and the heartache plunged me into depression. One day a friend called to say she’d had an impression that a verse in Mosiah was just for me, and then she read the verse over the phone: “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, . . . and this will I do that ye 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” (Mosiah 24:14).
I’m sorry to say that I hung up feeling even more discouraged. As foolish as it sounds now, I wasn’t looking for the Lord to ease my burdens, I just wanted Him to send me my husband! I could not face being single one more day. I was sure that if I prayed and fasted and went to the temple enough, I could convince Him to bless me with this righteous desire. I wasn’t thinking about standing as a witness. I was far too preoccupied with myself—which is what happens when we try to lift our burdens alone.
Weeks stretched into a year, and with all of my praying and fasting and temple-going, I was still single and miserable. But then one day I noticed a verse in Luke where the Savior declares that He has come to heal the brokenhearted (see Luke 4:18). The word brokenhearted jumped out at me, because my heart was broken. I was still pondering that verse a few days later, when I found myself meeting with Elder Bruce C. Hafen (BA ’66) about a manuscript he’d written on the enabling power of the Atonement. I took that manuscript home and devoured every word. It opened my eyes to scriptures and divine promises I had never seen before: that the Lord would heal our wounded souls, that He had already taken our pains upon Him, and that He would succor us (see Alma 7: 11–12; Jacob 2:8). I realized that I didn’t know very much about the Savior, and it simply isn’t possible to be a disciple of someone you don’t know.
Fast-forward 30 years. In some respects, my life hasn’t changed much. But in other ways, everything is different. That painful episode was a vital turning point, because it launched me on a continuing quest to understand the Atonement and the power that flows from it. Life would have crushed me long ago if I hadn’t learned how to access the Savior’s power. He has carried me and healed my heart again and again.
Today I do stand as a witness that the Lord visits His people in their afflictions. Priesthood power is real. Angels are real, and they really do minister through a very thin veil. The Savior really is filled with healing, enabling power, and He can ease our burdens and strengthen us when we feel weaker than weak. The path of discipleship is actually the easiest path because the Lord’s love for us has no end—which is why the fruit of the tree is sweet above all that is sweet.
Jesus Christ is going to come again. Every knee is going to bow and every tongue confess that He is the Christ. I know these things are true. May we be determined to unlock His power to help us be the disciples we want to be.
- Bible Dictionary, s.v. “grace,” p. 697; emphasis added.
- David A. Bednar, “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease,” Ensign, May 2014, pp. 89-90.
- Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), p. 149.
- Jeffrey R. Holland, For Times of Trouble, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), p. 45; see also Ps. 18:36 and 94:18–29.
- “Great Indignation Meeting,” Deseret Evening News, Jan. 15, 1870, p. 2.
- Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that spiritual gifts “are infinite in number and endless in their manifestations because God himself is infinite and endless” (New Witness, p. 270).
- Elder Bruce R. McConkie said that the “doctrine of the priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone . . . . The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Doctrine of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 1982, p. 32.)
- See Sheri L. Dew, Women and the Priesthood, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), especially chapter 6.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2014, p. 51.
- M. Russell Ballard, “Let Us Think Straight,” BYU Campus Education Week devotional address, Aug. 20, 2013 (available at speeches.byu.edu); see also D&C 109:15, 22.
- Bruce R. McConkie, “Our Sisters from the Beginning,” Ensign, January 1979, p. 61.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, November 2000, p. 32.
- See Howard W. Hunter, “Fear Not, Little Flock,” BYU devotional address, March 14, 1989 (available at speeches.byu.edu).