Jesus Christ offers belonging, oneness, stillness, peace and confidence, leaders said Saturday during the first three sessions of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.

They shared personal stories of loss and challenges, eased by anchoring themselves in Christ. The Savior provided comfort as they turned to the spiritual power of prayer, faith and kept temple covenants. They also called Christ’s peace ajoy that endures heartbreak, penetrates sorrow and diminishes loneliness.”

Saturday’s conference fell on April 6, the date the church was formally founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith. Today the church has grown above 17 million members — 17,255,394 as of Dec. 31, according to the statistical report released Saturday by the church. Nearly 45,000 people attended the three sessions in the Conference Center, braving a cold day that began with snow in the grass around Temple Square and included a brief midday blizzard in downtown Salt Lake City. But the spiritual stories and testimonies revealed devotion centered on Jesus Christ, warming the hearts of the faithful watching and listening throughout the world.

Two personal stories of spiritual peace amid fear and loss

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said he and his wife were in the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple when the Teton Dam collapsed in 1976. Without cellphones and with the roads closed, the Eyrings could not contact their children to check on their safety or return home to them in Rexburg, Idaho.

They spent the night in a hotel room, where the late Sister Kathy Eyring paced the floor with worry. The Eyring children were safe, but their parents didn’t know that.

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“Kathy, whatever the outcome, all will be well because of the temple,” President Eyring told her. “We have made covenants with God and have been sealed as an eternal family.”

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles referred to that kind of peace as “covenant confidence through Jesus Christ,” which he described as quiet, certain assurance that God will deliver blessings he promised to those who keep temple covenants.

To be “covenant confident” is the pinnacle of a divine connection with God, he said.

President Jeffery R. Holland, who has testified often about the “covenant path,” spoke again about the loss of his wife of 60 years, Sister Patricia Holland, who died in July.

“I’m planning on eternity,” President Holland said in December before he rededicated the St. George Utah Temple, the site of the Hollands’ marriage sealing. “I’m planning on the promises of this temple, because even (dedicating the temple) would be less than happy, it would be less than satisfying to me, if I did not know what I know about what happens in these ceremonies and with these covenants. (The dedication) will be a happy day because of what the temple means in a marriage.”

On Saturday, in his first return to the conference podium since October 2022 due to health issues, he honored Sister Holland and noted that within 48 hours after her burial, he suffered an acute medical crisis. He was hospitalized for six weeks, four of them at what he has called “the doorstep of death.”

During that time, he said he had a spiritual experience.

“I cannot speak fully of that experience here, but I can say part of what I received was an admonition to return to my ministry with more urgency, more consecration, more focus on the Savior and more faith in his word,” he said.

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He also thanked the church for prayers said in his and Sister Holland’s behalf. One of his takeaways from the past year is the efficacy of “resolute prayer,” and he expressed confidence in God that his prayers for Sister Holland “were not answered the way I asked.”

“It is for reasons known only to God why prayers are answered differently than we hope,” he said, “but I promise they are heard, and they are answered according to his unfailing love and cosmic timetable. My beloved friends, our prayers are our sweetest hour, our ‘most sincere desire,’ our simplest, purest form of worship.”

He urged church members to pray regularly and asked them to be “thoroughly committed, faithfully believing, covenant-keeping disciples.”

Christ’s peace is higher and holier than the world’s joy

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told conferencegoers Saturday night that, “Like all of you, I have felt my share of disappointment, sorrow, sadness, and remorse.”

But he said that in Christ he had found a “joy that endures heartbreak, penetrates sorrow and diminishes loneliness.”

Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged that those who reject religion can find joy, but he said true, lasting joy comes only through Christ.

“The peace he gives us is not like what the world gives. It’s better. It’s higher and holier,” he said.

He added, “I have also experienced for myself the glorious dawn that fills the soul with joy so profound that it can scarcely be kept in. I have discovered for myself that this peaceful confidence comes from following the Savior and walking in his way.”

That confidence comes to those who follow his teachings, example and commandments and honor covenants made with him, he said.

A strong and reliable connection to Christ anchors stillness

It comes from anchoring oneself in Christ’s foundation, said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, our Mediator and our Advocate with the Eternal Father and the rock upon which we should build the spiritual foundation of our lives,” he said.

Elder Bednar said that after he gave journalists a tour of a temple during an open house, one was astonished by his experience sitting in the quiet of the Celestial Room.

“I have never experienced anything like that in my entire life. I did not know quiet like that existed in the world; I simply did not believe such stillness was possible,” the journalist said.

Elder Bednar said Christ is the true source of stillness in a chaotic world. He said Latter-day Saint homes should be places where “individuals and families can ‘be still’ and know that God is our Heavenly Father, we are his children and Jesus Christ is our Savior.”

“True faith is always focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ — in him as the Divine and Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father and on him and the redemptive mission he fulfilled,” he said.

He urged church members to see a strong and reliable connection to Christ the way a building’s foundation provides a connection to the ground. In some construction, he said, anchor pins and steel rods attach a foundation to bedrock below soil and gravel.

“The sacred covenants and ordinances of the Savior’s restored gospel can be compared to the anchor pins and steel rods used to connect a building to bedrock. Every time we faithfully receive, review, remember and renew sacred covenants, our spiritual anchors are secured ever more firmly and steadfastly to the ‘rock’ of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared what a beloved grandfather taught him during a final visit before his death.

“He told me my focus should be on the Savior and the Savior’s Atonement,” Elder Cook said.

He urged the church to be one with Christ, which he said is the essence of belonging, and to strive “to include others in our circle of oneness.”

“Oneness with Christ and our Heavenly Father can be obtained through the Savior’s Atonement,” he said. “The Lord’s saving mercy is not dependent on lineage, education, economic status or race. It is based on being one with Christ and his commandments.”

Elder Cook emphasized oneness, quoting the Lord in the Book of Mormon, where he said, “. . .all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.”

“Given our ‘likeness’ before God, it makes little sense to emphasize our differences. Some have wrongly encouraged us,” Elder Cook said, quoting Peter Wood, ‘to imagine people to be much more different from ourselves and from each other than they actually are. (Some) take real, but small differences, and magnify them into chasms.’”

Relying on Christ can soften heartbreaks, which can work together for our good, said Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in the Saturday afternoon session.

He shared examples of losses and struggles of several church members. One is a British stake president diagnosed with stage-four cancer who was at the Conference Center on Saturday.

Elder Gong said that when trials come, people often want most to be heard in pain, frustration and anger.

“Jesus Christ also intimately understands our every pain, affliction, sickness, sorrow, separation,” he said. “In time and eternity, his triumph over death and hell can make all things right. He helps heal the broken and disparaged, reconcile the angry and divided, comfort the lonely and isolated, encourage the uncertain and imperfect, and bring forth miracles possible only with God.”

Striving to be still, open and reverent can create a path to the serenity of covenant belonging offered by Christ, he said. Increased faith and trust in him can add eternal perspective, such as being able to acknowledge that “death, debilitating illness and disease are part of mortality.”

“In sacred moments, he may let us glimpse the larger eternal reality of which our daily lives are part, where small and simple things work together for the good of givers and receivers.”

Elder Soares spoke about becoming “covenant confident.”

The words “Holiness to the Lord” on each Latter-day Saint temple are an invitation to “embark on a sacred journey of learning to become higher and holier disciples of Christ,” he said.

“As we make covenants in holiness before God and commit to follow the Savior, we receive the power to change our hearts, renew our spirits and deepen our relationship with him,” he added. “Such an endeavor brings sanctification to our souls and forms a sacred bond with God and Jesus Christ, who promises that we can inherit the gift of eternal life.

“The result of this sacred journey is that we obtain a holier and higher confidence for our day to day lives within our covenants made through Jesus Christ.”

Sister J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, emphasized temple worship.

She noted that church members who make temple covenants with God “wear the garment of the holy priesthood, both during temple worship and in our everyday lives.”

She said wearing garments “remind(s) me that the Savior and the blessings of his infinite Atonement constantly cover me throughout my mortal journey.”

She added that, “By keeping my covenants and obligations with God, including wearing the garment of the holy priesthood, my very life can become a personal symbol of my love and deep gratitude for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and my desire to have him with me always.”

Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, specifically addressed the youth of the church.

“Our personal connection to Jesus Christ will give us the courage and confidence to move forward amid people who do not respect our beliefs or who bully us,” she said. “Christ invites us to keep him in our thoughts constantly.

“Thinking about the Savior gives us clarity of mind to make decisions, to act without fear, and to say no to what is contrary to God’s teachings. When my day is difficult, and I feel like I can’t take any more, thinking about Christ brings me peace and gives me hope.”