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Showing love toward others is the essence of the gospel and follows Jesus Christ's example, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson said Sunday during the Utah-based faith's 184th Annual General Conference.
"Beyond comprehension, my brothers and sisters, is the love of God for us," Monson said. "Because of this love, he sent his son, who loved us enough to give his life for us that we might have eternal life. As we come to understand this incomparable gift, our hearts will be filled with love."
Considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by Mormons, the 86-year-old LDS leader urged church members to "begin now, this very day, to express love to all of God's children, whether they be our family members, our friends, mere acquaintances or total strangers."
It was among many talks urging Latter-day Saints to follow God in sometimes difficult ways from being grateful in adversity to inviting others to listen to Mormon missionaries at least four times a year.
"Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our exemplar," Monson told 20,000 people in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City and millions more watching worldwide. "His life was a legacy of love. The sick he healed, the downtrodden he lifted, the sinner he saved," and even forgave those who crucified him.
He advised members that love should be "the very heart of family life and yet ofttimes it is not. There can be too much impatience, too much arguing, too many fights, too many tears."
Monson said "forgiveness should go hand in hand with love," adding that "blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals."
Senior apostle Boyd K. Packer, next in line for the church's presidency, shared a testimony of what he has "learned and experienced in nearly 90 years of life and over 50 years as a [Mormon] general authority," including knowing for sure that Jesus Christ lives and that everyone can learn that.
He noted that Mormon church founder Joseph Smith and a counselor, Sidney Rigdon, once wrote that they know that Christ lives, for they saw him.
"Their words are my words," Packer said. "I believe and I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. ... I know the Lord. I am his witness. I know of his great sacrifice and eternal love for all of Heavenly Father's children. I bear my special witness in all humility but with absolute certainty."
The ailing 89-year-old leader, who heads the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke while seated in a chair as has been his custom in recent years. He attended only the Sunday afternoon meeting. A church spokesman said Saturday that Packer likely watched the other sessions at home to preserve his energy for when he would be speaking.
Similar to Packer's testimony, apostle D. Todd Christofferson said Christ's resurrection shows he is more than a philosopher or prophet that he is divine.
"Did the Lord in reality die and rise again? Yes," he said. "I stand myself as a witness."
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Monson's second counselor in the governing First Presidency, offered an unexpected solution to bitterness and sorrow that may come in life: gratitude.
"I have learned that there is something that would take away the bitterness that may come into our lives," he said. "There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, even joyful, even glorious. We can be grateful."
He added, "Those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace and understanding."
He said being grateful is even a commandment, given, like all commandments, to make blessings available to those who live them.
"We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved," Uchtdorf said, "but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?"
He added that prophets from Job in the Bible to Nephi in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith in modern times wrote of being grateful to God and his blessings even when they were suffering and early LDS pioneers sang and danced to lift spirits in the middle of tough times.
"Your testimony of Christ, born of the Holy Ghost, can help you look past the disappointing endings in mortality and see the bright future that the redeemer of the world has prepared," he said. "A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues."
Apostle M. Russell Ballard later challenged members to replace "fear with real faith" by inviting someone at least once a quarter four times a year to be taught by full-time Mormon missionaries.
"Together we can follow up on our invitations," Ballard said, "take others by the hand, lift them up, and walk with them on our spiritual journey."
Fellow apostle David A. Bednar said life's burdens can be a blessing, much like a load in the back of a truck can help it gain traction to pass over an icy road.
"Each of us also carries a load. Our individual load is comprised of demands and opportunities, obligations and privileges, afflictions and blessings, and options and constraints." He urged people to ask, "Is the load I am carrying creating sufficient spiritual traction so I ultimately can return home to Heavenly Father?"
Bednar said Christ's atonement helps make bearing burdens possible and easier. "He can reach out, touch, succor, heal and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power."
Apostle L. Tom Perry, second in line for the LDS presidency, said members can avoid life's pitfalls by obeying the Holy Ghost and living LDS prophets.
"Strong, proactive obedience is anything but weak or passive," said the 91-year-old leader. "It is the means by which we declare our faith in God and qualify ourselves to receive the powers of heaven. Obedience is a choice. It is a choice between our own limited knowledge and power and God's unlimited wisdom and omnipotence."
Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, urged Mormons to reach to God much like young children look to parents and told stories of several who did that despite facing death, deprivation or other difficulties.
"Whatever our worries and challenges may be," she said, "we can choose to reach for God's hand in our need. We can face our challenges with prayer and trust in the Lord. And in the process become more like him."
Stevens made Mormon history a year ago on April 6, 2013 when she became the first woman to offer a public prayer in an LDS General Conference.
Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, who oversees the 15 million-member faith's financial, business and real estate affairs, said mortality is just a moment in people's eternal existence but is as important as the "four-minute" performance of many Olympic athletes who won medals at this year's Sochi Winter Games.
"In some ways, you are racing down the half-pipe or sled track, and it can be challenging to perform each element or navigate each turn along the way. But remember, you've prepared for this for millennia. This is your moment to perform."
Updated LDS missionary stats
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released updated statistics (through March 31) on its missionary force:
Total missionaries serving • 85,039
Number who have received calls • 14,375
Percentage who are "elders" • 64 percent
Percentage who are "sisters" • 28 percent
Percentage who are "seniors" • 8 percent