Top LDS leaders urged women to be united in purpose and devoted to God during the annual General Relief Society meeting, held Saturday in the Conference Center.

Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints care for each other as they lift their families and the wider community while serving God and remaining faithful through trying times, said President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the church's First Presidency.

Speaking to thousands of women assembled downtown, and additional hundreds of thousands gathered to view the broadcast via satellite in many parts of the world, President Monson said it's significant that "women of Relief Society stand side by side as sisters. May you ever be there to care for each other, to recognize one another's needs.

"May you be sensitive to the circumstances of each, realizing that some women are facing particular challenges." Noting statistics show that at some point a majority of women will have to provide for themselves financially, he urged them to "pursue your education and learn marketable skills" so if needed "you are prepared to provide."

As Latter-day Saints, women in Relief Society "know who you are and what God expects you to become. Your challenge is to bring all for whom you are responsible to a knowledge of this truth."

Despite the variety of women in the church — young, old, married, single — all belong to Relief Society, according to Sister Bonnie D. Parkin, general president of the worldwide organization. She urged women to attend Relief Society together, becoming one as they "share who we are — our feelings, our thoughts, our hearts."

Women who believe they belong to "the Lord's church" need "to stop asking whether we fit — because we do! Our differences are not so great that we cannot build Zion together!" Recounting the story of an LDS woman who was dying of cancer, embarrassed that her friends from Relief Society were bringing meals, cleaning her house and knowing they would "find that piece of old toast behind the couch," the woman wondered what they might think.

"But because her sisters knew her heart, it didn't matter." Before she died, the woman asked how anyone could "die without Relief Society . . . I ask: How does anyone live without Relief Society?" Sister Parkin said.

The "small things" that LDS women do every day — prayer, scripture study, paying tithing and other offerings, serving the Lord and each other in a church position — are the things that "lay the foundation of a great work. And out of small things" come great purpose and vision, said Sister Kathleen H. Hughes, first counselor in the general presidency.

Because LDS women are so busy, it's often difficult to put personal spirituality at the top of their to-do list, she said. "Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Let's simplify," she said, noting many women often invent extra work "that makes us so weary we often come to resent the time we spend fulfilling our callings." The message of a good lesson "comes through spiritual preparation" rather than "staying up all night preparing handouts and elaborate table decorations."

God will bless those who offer him "a heart and a willing mind," despite individual "failings, our weaknesses and our less-than-perfect attitudes," she said. "The Lord asks us to open ourselves to him — holding nothing back."

One woman showed such faith as she made her way back from choices she regretted, allowing repentance to bring her peace despite being diagnosed with a brain tumor, watching her husband lose his job and then losing her home and car. Sister Anne C. Pingree, second counselor in the Relief Society, said her friend found daily renewal amid such trials through her faith in Christ's atonement.

"She submitted her will to the Lord one prayer, one scripture and one act of service at a time."

Mutual sharing of thoughts and feelings brought Sister Pingree and her friend from merely being visiting teaching partners "into sisters and cherished friends." Such connections can help women "enlighten, enliven and enrich the journey of life because we can help each other learn how to put the Lord first in our hearts and in our lives."

Music for the service was provided by women of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, joined by members of the Orchestra at Temple Square, former choir members and their daughters.