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Season of Awakening

An original recording of this discourse is available at (courtesy of Church History Library).

Young Women Fireside

Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

March 28, 1981

Elaine A. Cannon speaking in Salt Lake Tabernacle

Elaine A. Cannon speaking at general women’s meeting. 1983. A writer, editor, and television and radio personality, Cannon actively endorsed the creation of a magazine for young people in the church and served as an associate editor when the New Era began publication in 1971. She also petitioned for Young Women to have Sunday religious instruction in addition to their weekday meetings. The church adopted this policy in 1980 while she was Young Women general president. Photograph by Marty Mayo. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

As a young person, Elaine Anderson Cannon (1922–2003) was independent and active. Her parents had high expectations and invested in a variety of lessons and activities for their oldest daughter: piano, elocution, drama, singing, debate, and different kinds of contests.1 She started writing when she was young, first a few stories, then a daily journal starting in sixth grade.2 When she was eleven years old she wrote in that journal: “I’m writing this down so that when I’m a grown-up working with youth I will remember what it felt like to be young.”3

Even before her service on the board of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA), Cannon devoted much of her life to church service, in addition to working as a writer, editor, television and radio personality, and popular speaker. Many of her service opportunities focused on young people and education, including the youth correlation committee, the curriculum planning and writing committee, and lecturing for the Church Educational System.4 Cannon also raised six children with her husband, James.5

Cannon was not always able to achieve an objective on the first try. She reflected, “I am willing to go to the Lord and say, ‘Okay, I really care about this. If it’s something you’re interested in, then help me. Together we can go and do whatever we need to do.’”6 When leading the Young Women, she would tell the general board members, “If we can’t get to it this way, then we’ll just go like this to get there, around whomever or whatever obstacles.”7 She insisted the key to knowing when to persevere was to be alert to God’s will.8 For instance, she felt strongly that it was God’s will that young people should have their own periodical, instead of the “Era of Youth” insert in the Improvement Era that she and Marion D. Hanks coedited from 1959 through 1970.9 Cannon’s and Hanks’s initial efforts to start a youth magazine were stymied. So Cannon asked Hanks, an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to get them an appointment with Spencer W. Kimball, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve. She fasted and prayed, and at the meeting they made their pitch. Kimball swirled his chair around, pounded his fist on the desk, and said, “Let’s do it, and I will be the first subscriber.”10

While serving on the YWMIA general board from 1961 to 1963, Cannon tried without success to implement Sunday religious instruction for young women.11 At the time, young women studied the gospel briefly during their weeknight meetings, but not on Sundays. Young men had weeknight activities, but they also attended priesthood meetings on Sundays. Cannon felt that young women should have more structured opportunities to study the gospel. When she became general president of the Young Women in 1978, she returned to this cause.12 This time, Cannon’s efforts coincided with church development of a consolidated Sunday meeting schedule.13 She fasted, prayed, and expressed her feelings to the First Presidency. On September 1, 1979, she wrote in her journal that Sunday instruction for young women had been approved as part of the new consolidated meeting schedule.14 Around the time of the talk reproduced here, she was working to instigate a general women’s meeting, where members of the Young Women and the Relief Society would meet together annually instead of in separate meetings.15

Cannon believed a crucial part of her mission was, as her daughter put it, “to give an identity and a place to the young women of the church that reflected the equal value the Lord places on both his young men and young women.”16 She gave the following talk advising young women to develop a relationship with God while serving as general president of the Young Women organization, which she led until 1984.17 Young women attended this second annual fireside with general board members and local leaders; it was broadcast throughout the world.18 The theme was “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).”19 Camilla E. Kimball spoke first, followed by her husband, church president Spencer W. Kimball, then Cannon.20 Four young women spoke after Cannon: Julie Fullmer, Becky Goates, Becky Smith, and Kirsten Brady. Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve gave remarks that concluded the evening.21

As a Young Women presidency we want you to know that we are committed to sustaining President Kimball and the Brethren and to helping the Lord Jesus Christ in his great mission “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”22 And our special concern is with the young women between the ages of twelve and eighteen. It is a privilege to be serving this very royal generation of young women.23

Now, in Utah where this program is originating, we are coming into the greening time. It is the season of the awakening. Buds are thickening on the branches. Brave early bloomers are brightening Temple Square. It is spring! While over there in Australia and New Zealand—that part of the world where so many of you are listening right now—the seasons are completely reversed. It is almost the time of the harvest.

So it is with us in this congregation. There are over a quarter of a million young women—girls who are in the spring of their lives. There are also over 35,000 adult presidencies—guardians of the girls who are, some of us, pushing the summer of our lives to the very limit.

Somewhere in between our seasons of spring and harvest time, the nurturing, pruning, and enriching in our lives must happen before the miracle of the harvest can occur. We pray for us all that one day the yield of our lives will be acceptable before God.

For you who are in the season of the awakening, in the spring of your life, that special song that the choir sang to open this meeting was dedicated to you. It was as if each one of you might be saying:

Who am I?

What special purpose is mine?

I follow winged sparrow … and I yearn to soar.

I hear the ocean’s thunder. There is pow’r!

But what am I?

I see lilies blooming where the winter storms have swept the field.

I feel the sun; by its radiance I see all that God created.

I, too, am God’s creation, and he knows me as his own.

Tenderly, I know him in my heart.

Who am I? [What special purpose is mine?]

I am a daughter of God.24

So you are—a daughter of God, a member of his family. Being a member of a family usually means you do what the family does; you keep the family’s standards; you live as the family lives; you speak as the family speaks. You love after the manner of the family. Your kindnesses are done in the name of the family. Now, while all of your dreams haven’t come true yet and the growing pains are often grim, I think it really helps to remember that the head of this heavenly family is a Patriarch who, with his great caring, his great quality, his infinite wisdom and superb capacity, loves you—loves you anyway. While you are away from Heavenly Father, wandering here on earth, experiencing and learning, he’s watching. He’s waiting. He wants you to come home again. He wants you to make it.

No doubt you have had some moments when you’ve felt a kind of inner longing, a loneliness even while surrounded by people. You’ve felt a kind of eternal homesickness, as some people have spoken of it. You have a vague remembrance that you do have a special link with Heavenly Father. I think that knowing this ought to make a difference in how you feel about yourself. It ought to make a difference in how you are and in the things you do and the choices you make. We believe that each of you should develop a sweet and saving relationship with the Lord, because when you have that, everything else will begin to fall into place—things like personal purity, temple endowment, honoring your parents, and learning all you can about the plan of life and the principles to live it. See, it really doesn’t matter, really it doesn’t matter, whether you are skinny or wide or tall or small. It’s what you are inside that counts; that’s all. You develop yourself with a new confidence, a new purpose, and you begin to contribute to others of our Heavenly Father’s children.

Remember, he’s standing by to help.

In the Bible we are told, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”25 Spiritually, then, you are rooted in God. This is the most important knowledge to obtain. The second most important knowledge, perhaps, is the purpose of your physical bodies.

Physically you are descendants of father Abraham and are entitled to all the blessings God promised Abraham’s posterity.26 I think it is well to remember that you are also indebted to all of your recent ancestors who have gone before you and laid foundations for you to build upon.

The poet Walt Whitman says something I’d like you to think about in terms of your own parents, family, and the place you call home. He says:

There was a child went forth every day;

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child. …

The streets themselves, and the facades of houses, and goods in the windows. …

The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud,

These became part of [him].

[lines out of sequence]

His own parents,

He that had father’d him, and she that had conceiv’d him in her womb, and birth’d him,

They gave this child more of themselves than that;

They gave him afterward every day—they became part of him. …

The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture—the yearning and swelling heart,

Affection that will not be gainsay’d—the sense of what is real. …

These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.27

Sisters, with apologies for editing Mr. Whitman somewhat, in the interest of time, let me suggest that what has been written so beautifully in poetry by him is true in life. All that you learn and see and choose to do, all that home and friends and church and school are to you, you are! You are rapidly becoming what you are going to be.

But you have a remarkable advantage over other people in the world—you can have a patriarchal blessing.28 Only a fraction of the earth’s population is so privileged. A member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is entitled to have hands placed upon her head by an ordained patriarch and through the power of the priesthood of God receive a very personal blessing from her Heavenly Father. This is one way to learn more about yourself and what you might do with your life. I think it is God’s special gift to us.

Studying your patriarchal blessing frequently, especially in times of decision or trial or depression, will quickly remind you and give you the vision of who you really are and what your relationship with God is, and especially what his will for you is. It can comfort you when you feel unloved and unworthy and inadequate or forgotten. It can point you toward your own special purpose in life.

I am going to be personal for a moment and tell you that when I was about the age of many of you young women, I had my patriarchal blessing. It was late spring. The season was at its best, and I wanted to be, too; so I had prepared myself to receive what Heavenly Father would have to say to me personally. There had been some repenting, some fasting and praying, and deep discussions about the meaning of it all with my parents and a very special boyfriend. I remember well the night before my appointment with Patriarch Jones, up there on Capitol Hill behind the Tabernacle.29 I felt a strong need to gather myself together with Heavenly Father, and I went outside through the screen door and stood there for a time listening to the years of my childhood sift by on the night song of the crickets. I felt very grown-up that moment. Then suddenly I felt once again the pull of the stars. Kind of self-consciously at first, I stretched down on my back on prickly grass, as I had done so often as a child. (You know what I mean.) Then once again I took a deep breath and turned my face skyward. I studied the heavens; I found the familiar constellations and got placement with the North Star. And then there came to me the mind-stretching, soul-searing experience of feeling lifted up into the universe—almost into the presence of God, it seemed to me. It set my heart pounding. I knew my prayers had reached home in heaven. The witness of the Spirit to me that God lives and was mindful of little me warmed me to tears. The next day when I went for my blessing, I knew that the blessings and instructions that were given to me by that wonderful patriarch were personal.

That was a green spring for me. It was the season of awakening for me as I tried thereafter to make decisions according to God’s will for me and to commit myself to a way of life that would ensure fulfillment of all his sacred promises.

Now, in the time of the harvest in my life, I can say it is so. God lives. He loves us.

Most of you are in the green springtime of your life—the time of awakening—and you have so much going for you. You can do anything you want to with your one chance at life, if you want to badly enough.

We have talked about your spiritual endowment—your spiritual roots—heredity, environment—they all have their important places in you.30 Your patriarchal blessing is a unique and sacred and strengthening gift to you. But there is yet another factor. It is that particular quality or essence that has always and forever been you, and it determines how you’ll respond to the challenges of life.

When I was visiting in Russia, I bought a hand-carved and hand-painted peasant doll. Actually it is many dolls of graduating sizes that nest one inside the other. You’d never suspect what is inside that big doll by looking at the outside of it. I love that doll. It stands as a reminder to me that there is more to a person than meets the eye. I think we need to think about this in terms of ourselves. And it would be well if we remembered it about others as well.

You have a lot to you, too, girls, more than meets the eye. Beautiful as you are, there is more to you than meets the eye. Now, what are you going to do about it?

One of the basic teachings of the gospel is that everyone is responsible for his or her own salvation. That is the prime purpose of life on earth. You can be taught; you can be prayed over; you can be preached to; you can be endowed; but you cannot be forced into the presence of your Heavenly Father. You earn that privilege by learning and by doing with the givens of your life.

Heavenly Father loves you, but true love doesn’t force. He will not force you to do his will. He will not force you even to accept his blessings. He will not deny you your choice. Since you are personally accountable for your own actions and choices, how soon will you start shouldering the powerful and precious responsibility for yourself? When, little sister, you who are a daughter of God? When?

Deep in your heart, as I talk to you now, I’m certain you sense all of this. You know you are his. You know Heavenly Father loves you. Those deep feelings that you are having right this minute are from him. Like the song says, “Tenderly [you] know him in [your] heart,” and “he knows [you] as his own.”31

Then turn to him. Want him in your life. Love him enough to keep his commandments, and all will be well with you.

I hope you’ll write about your feelings in your journal. I hope you’ll record what you are learning through this meeting.

And now a final scripture to consider:

“Blessed is the [one] that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.

“For [she] shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”32

My sisters, whether we are in Utah or Australia or somewhere in between, whether we are in the season of youth and spring or the time of the harvest in our lives, if we put our trust in the Lord and our roots in his gospel, all will be well with us. When the heat of temptation or pressure comes into our lives, we will not wilt, neither shall we become unproductive.

As the Young Women presidency, we love you. And we love the Lord. We love the opportunity President Kimball and the Brethren have given us to serve you. We pray for you on our knees. We leave these thoughts and our love with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Cite this page

Season of Awakening, At the Pulpit, accessed June 21, 2024