Good morning. My name is Tresa Edmunds, and right now I serve as the Laurals Advisor in Young Womens. So if you don’t recognize me it’s because I’ve been off reliving my youth playing with this awesome group of teenagers. I’ve been serving in Young Women’s since I was a young woman, and I adore it. I feel like this is my life’s work and I just have so much fun with your wonderful daughters.
A few weeks ago we got some pretty big news in the Young Women world, when a new value was added to our personal progress program, the value VIRTUE. This now makes eight values that the young women focus on developing in themselves. Every week we stand together and recite a theme that elucidates who we are as women and young women in the gospel. We say:
We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places, and will strive to live the YW’s values. Which are: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity, and Virtue. We believe as we come to accept and act upon these values, we will be prepared to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.
It’s still very new, and we don’t have all the information yet to see exactly what the lessons of the goal of virtue will bring, but for the past several years General Authorities and Officers have been speaking about the need to return to virtue.
In the letter sent by the YW presidency introducing the new value, the General Officers explained that
“This addition will assist young women in developing high moral standards. We invite parents and leaders to teach the doctrine of chastity and moral purity to help each young woman to be virtuous and worthy to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple."
The main focus of this new value appears to be preparation for temple attendance and developing the high moral character that will keep us worthy of entering.
Preach my Gospel contains a section on developing Christlike attributes, and one of the traits they spotlight is Virtue. In this book it explains that Virtue is
“a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards. Since the Holy Ghost does not dwell in unclean tabernacles, virtue is prerequisite to receiving the Spirit’s guidance. What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue. Virtuous people are clean and pure spiritually….They live worthy of a temple recommend.”
Our young women and men frequently attend the temple to perform baptisms for the dead, so they are well acquainted with the standards they have to live in order to be worthy of entering. They are taught to be morally clean, keep the word of wisdom, and to develop a testimony of the gospel. Many of them have already seen firsthand the blessings of temple attendance with a pure heart and ready mind that comes with living a virtuous life.
D&C 97: reads, starting in verse 15:
15 And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
16 Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
17 But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples.
The Lord will not come into unholy temples, and that includes us. But if we are pure in heart, we will see God.
Elaine Dalton, the Young Women General President wrote, “When we are worthy, we can not only enter the temple, the temple can enter us.” She points out here that the goal of worthiness is not so we can get in the building. Becoming a virtuous person is not red tape we need to navigate or a to-do list we need to cross off. The behavior itself is not the goal. The goal is to be receptive to the lessons of heaven, and that occurs when we are pure and worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost who gives us instruction from the Lord.
A virtuous person has the Holy Ghost with them and reaps the blessings of that relationship. Virtue can be described simply as behaving in a way that allows you to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, who offers instruction in lessons of eternity, comfort from the Savior, answers to prayers and directions for our lives. There is a direct causal link between living a life of virtue and returning to live with Heavenly Father, and that link is having the Holy Spirit available to guide us along the way.
The scriptures are stuffed full of blessings waiting to shower down upon those who keep themselves pure and live up to the standards of the gospel. D&C 121 45-46 reads:
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
The constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is a pretty powerful promise.
One of my favorite Stake Presidents told me a story once that really made me think about my priorities. He was at a Stake Conference where one of the Apostles came to speak. It was a great meeting and the Spirit was very strong. Afterwards, the majority of the congregation rushed up to try to meet this Apostle who they so admired, complete with a lot of jostling, chaos and an occasional thrown elbow. My old Stake President saw a woman sitting quietly by herself in the back of the room, so he went over to her and asked why she wasn’t fighting for a chance to shake hands with an apostle. She paused from her deep thoughts to look up at the man and say, “Right now, I’m spending time with a member of the godhead.” When seen in that light, it is pretty humbling to realize what a privilege it is to have the Spirit with us, and amazing to think how accessible that privilege is to us if we live worthy to claim that blessing.
Virtue, like so many of our values, can’t be achieved and then stored in a trophy room until judgment day. It’s not a level you beat in a game, it’s a daily quest towards progression. Sister Dalton compares it to training for a marathon. “It is strict training. It is the daily, deliberate practice of small things.” Virtue is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions.
A phrase we see over and over again in the scriptures is, “Practice Virtue.” Here in D&C 46:33 it says:
33 And ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually. Even so. Amen.I think both meanings of ‘practice’ are fitting here. We practice virtue and holiness by applying them, but we also practice virtue and holiness by trying to get better at it over and over again every day.
When we think of virtue, we might automatically jump to the law of chastity, but church leaders point out that there a million other choices we make before we get there. The clothes we wear, the language we use, the friends we hang out with, the television we watch. Every standard of the gospel and every small choice adds up to create what our lives become. What determines the course of our life is what we spend our time on, and what we spend our thoughts on is what we spend our time on. We make choices every day that bring us closer or further away from our eternal goals.
I grew up in the 90’s in Seattle, and in that time and that place, it seemed like everybody had piercings and tattoos. This was back before the Prophet said we shouldn’t do it, so it was up to me to decide what I wanted to do about this fad on my own. After my first semester at BYU I came home feeling like I wanted a little rebellion, so I pierced my belly button. There were no grounds for anyone to tell me that I was making a wrong choice, there was no For the Strength of Youth pamphlet to tell me not to mark myself up, so I told myself that I was just fine. But in my heart I knew that the reason I got that stupid piercing was so that I could feel worldly and rebellious. So that I could feel cooler than all the people I went to school with. And every day I kept that little piercing, I was showing that I cared more about the things of the world than I did about the promptings I received in my heart.
Another time, about a month before I turned 16, a boy asked me out on a date. My parents weren’t active, so they didn’t care if I accepted or not, but I was torn. How much difference could a month make? When the big day was that close, wasn’t waiting really just a formality anyway? I went back and forth about it, and ultimately I decided not to go. I doubt very much that one date before 16 would have made the decision between heaven and hell, but that day it was not a choice to obey some arbitrary rule, it was a choice to show where my allegiance was. That that day, I wanted to be closer to the Lord.
The 13th Article of Faith reads:
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
If we are people of virtue, then we are living a higher law of not just avoiding the bad, but seeking out the good. We should seek out what is virtuous, whether it’s our closest friends or great art that lifts our spirits.
The teenage years are all about developing characteristics that will benefit you as an adult. These values that the young women work to accept and act upon are values that every one of us should be striving towards.