She served with her husband when she was still a young mother as he presided over the Sweden Göteborg Mission (1976–1979) and then 30 years later returned to Sweden where she and her husband served as matron and temple president of the Stockholm Sweden Temple (2009–2012). She has served as a ward Young Women president three times, in a stake Young Women presidency twice, and taught early morning seminary for nine years. Sister Oscarson loves working with the youth of the Church. She doesn’t regret any of the sleep she missed while teaching seminary. She returned to school after 35 years and earned a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in British and American Literature. One of Sister Ocarson’s favorite scriptures is in Doctrine and Covenant 101:16 “Be still and know that I am God."
Be a Covenant Keeper
I am honored to be asked to speak at your devotional today. I know a little of the exceptional opportunities, programs, and mission which Ensign College offers and I am grateful to speak to such a unique student body today. I know that many of you come from other lands and cultures. I know that many of you are the very first in your families to pursue a college education. For each of you, no matter where your home is, it takes courage, determination, and creativity to make this all happen and each of you has my admiration and love. What a difference you all have the potential to make in your families, in the Church, and in the world!
Thank you also for being willing to endure one more broadcast meeting today. I’m sure we are all about “zoomed out” so I pray that it will feel like time well spent today.
I have felt impressed to speak about the importance of being covenant keepers.
Understanding our covenants with God
My testimony is that covenants are evidence of the love which our Father in Heaven has for us, and they allow us to show our love for Him in return. There is power and there are great blessings which come from being among God’s covenant people.
We have to begin by mentioning the ordinances which we have in our church. An ordinance is a sacred, formal act or ceremony performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our salvation—such as baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men, and temple ordinances of the endowment and sealing. We cannot return to our Heavenly Father without these essential ordinances. As part of these very necessary ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with God.
A covenant in this context, is a two-way promise. The conditions of the promises are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions and He promises us certain blessings in return.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson explains this about covenants:
“In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments.”i
This is a great definition of covenants and mentions powerful promises for us.
God asks us to enter into these binding agreements, these covenants with Him, because He loves us and He knows that binding us to Him, essentially making God our partners in this life, is the only possible way that we have a hope of returning to Him and receiving exaltation in His kingdom. The Lord has stated His main purpose very simply:
“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”ii
He accomplishes this work through covenants. Think of it! God invites us to come out of our worldly sphere and to enter His sphere through covenants. We are invited to join Him, to partner with Him in our salvation and in the salvation of all of His children.
Love is the at the heart of making covenants. Because our Heavenly Father loves us beyond our comprehension, and because He understands and sees the dangers and possible pitfalls of this mortal life with so much more clarity than we do, He asks us to do what is necessary in order for us to be worthy to return to Him. I want to share a personal story to illustrate this—it's a kind of personal parable, if you will.
The story of Emily & Clark—promises are blessings
It’s an incident from the life of our daughter Emily which illustrates how covenants are an evidence of the love which both generates the need for a promise and is the motivation for keeping a promise.
Our family was living in Houston, Texas, when Emily attended school at BYU in Provo, Utah. While she was home with us one summer for a short break, she went on a date with a young man from our ward with whom she had attended church, seminary, and school since she was 15 years old. He was attending school on a football scholarship at the United States Naval Academy and was also home for a short time. Even though they had been friends for five years, something clicked that summer and they saw each other every day during the time they were home. Both felt that this was something worth exploring. They continued their relationship long-distance between Annapolis, Maryland, and Provo, Utah, for the next year and eventually they became engaged to be married.
Midshipmen from the Naval Academy are not permitted to get married until after they graduate. Emily graduated from BYU in December 1999, but Clark had another semester to go. Emily approached us as her parents with the idea that she wanted to move to Maryland, clear across the country, to work while Clark finished school so she could be near him.
We understood her desire to be close to the man of her dreams, especially since they hadn’t been able to spend a lot of time together during their courtship. She found an apartment to share with some other young women who were also engaged to midshipmen and she made arrangements for a job. Her father and I had a few concerns. We trusted our daughter and knew that she had always planned to marry in the temple, but we were a bit worried about her being in a situation where her fiancé would have his weekends free, and as a senior, didn’t have to stay on the naval yard.
Out of our love and concern for Emily, we told her that we would give our blessing to her plan if she would promise us one thing—that Clark would never spend the night at her apartment, even if the others she was living with, did not follow the same rule. Out of Emily’s love and respect for our concern as her parents, her love of the Lord, and because she also understood the risks and temptations, she agreed to the promise and so did Clark. She moved to Maryland for the semester.
Emily was able to go to the Washington D.C. temple and to receive her endowments at the beginning of her move to Annapolis, and it turned out to be a wonderful blessing to her and her fiancé. She and Clark attended the D.C. temple every weekend together as they made plans for their marriage. The covenants they had both made when they received their endowments were a strength and reminder to them of their goals and the standards, they needed to keep in order to be sealed in the temple together.
They kept their promise that he would never spend the night at her apartment. On June 1, 2000, just a week and a day after Clark’s graduation from the Naval Academy, they were married in the Dallas, Texas, temple and they are now the parents of six children. Emily has since told me that us asking them to make that promise was the best thing we could have done and was a great blessing to them in their courtship.
Isn’t this similar to what our Heavenly Father does for us? He sees the dangers of this earthly life and understands the possible risks to our happiness and salvation much better than we do. He has an eternal perspective. He is anxious for us to be happy and knows our best chance for that is obedience to His commandments. He asks us to promise Him certain things that will help prepare us to return to Him someday. In return, even though we may not always understand the reasons, because we love and trust our Father, we are willing to do as He asks.
The first covenant
The covenants God offers us begin when we are still children. He understands the importance of setting us on the covenant path as soon as we are ready to understand the importance and value of keeping the commandments. When we are baptized, we enter into a covenant relationship with God. We become his covenant children—part of His covenant people. As early as age eight, we show we are willing to enter His kingdom and keep His commandments from that day forward.
We learn from the Book of Mormon that we also promise “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.”iii
Elder Neal A. Maxwell called it taking on the “duties of discipleship”iv and I love it that the Lord invites us to begin even when we are children.
I think it is significant that this is the only ordinance, that with its associated covenant, we are invited to participate in and renew every single week for the rest of our lives through the ordinance of the sacrament. Because Heavenly Father loves us, He provides for us a way for us to remember, renew, and recommit to the covenants we make at baptism, weekly. It is that important.
President Joseph Fielding Smith, one of our latter-day prophets called sacrament meeting “the most sacred, the most holy, of all the meetings of the Church” because we are renewing and reaffirming the covenants we make at our baptisms. He said,
“…we are called together once each week to partake of these emblems, witnessing that we do remember our Lord, that we are willing to take upon us his name, and that we will keep his commandments. This covenant we are called upon to renew each week, and we cannot retain the Spirit of the Lord if we do not consistently comply with this commandment.”v
I don’t know if you are like me, but sometimes I have a hard time staying focused on the sacredness and importance of this ordinance. I have been grateful for one aspect of the past year of COVID isolation. As we have participated in the ordinance of the sacrament in some unusual ways, it has reminded me not to take it for granted.
I want to share another personal story which has become a sacred memory and reminder weekly of the importance of renewing our covenants through partaking the sacrament each week.
Early in the morning of Mother’s Day 2019, I found myself being rushed to the hospital with a splitting pain inside of my head. After scans and tests, it was determined that I was having an aneurism in my brain. An artery in the center of my brain had a weak spot and was leaking blood. It is a potentially lethal condition. A neurological surgical team was assembled on that fateful Sunday, and I underwent about a 4- or 5-hour operation on my brain. They went into my skull and placed a clip on the weak spot to stop the bleeding. That was not how I had planned to spend my Mother’s Day. When I finally came to, I found myself in the Neurological Intensive Care unit in the hospital.
I was feeling disoriented, foggy because of the pain-killing drugs, totally out of my comfort zone, and I was just beginning to understanding how close to death I had been. Because I was in Intensive Care, I could only have two visitors at a time, and even though I always had a family member there with me, I felt isolated. I was told I would be in the hospital for two weeks under observation to see if I was going to have seizures and/or other complications—perhaps possible brain damage. It was, needless to say, a very stressful and hard time. Then I received an unexpected gift. The first Sunday I was there, suddenly an unknown couple appeared at my door and said they were hospital missionaries and asked if I would like to receive the sacrament. I’m sure they told me their names, but I don’t remember them. What I will never forget is the great feeling of comfort and peace—beyond what I can now describe—that came over me as I was able to partake of the sacrament in that strange setting and renew my covenants with my Heavenly Father. I understood at that moment that this was a great privilege. It felt sacred. It didn’t feel mundane but extraordinary. I felt comfort. I felt peace. I felt grateful.
I felt my Heavenly Father’s concern, care, and love. I felt intense gratitude for the connection I had with my Father in Heaven because of the covenants I have made with Him. I will never forget that simple but profound moment and of the love I felt from my Heavenly Father.
That experience, added to this past year of offering and partaking of the sacrament in more personal ways, helps me remember to make more of an effort each week to see the love of our Father in that holy moment and make the partaking of the sacrament one of the most sacred parts of our week.
Temples are evidence of God’s love and a place for making covenants
I would also like to talk about temples and the importance of the covenants which we make in our temples, because within our temples we make the most sacred and binding covenants with our Father in Heaven. Temples are the spiritual centers of our church and represent, again, the great love which our Father has for us. When we receive our endowment in the temple, we are taught more fully about our Father’s plan for us, the role which Jesus Christ has as the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and we are asked to enter into even more sacred and higher covenants. We are asked to go to the next level of commitment and discipleship. The promises we make are more specific, more detailed, more binding. The promises from the Lord are more glorious, more splendid, and promise us the glory of eternal life.
Within our temples, the Lord has provided a sacred and hallowed place where His children can be, “taught from on high,” sanctified, and endowed with power.vi
It was Elder Carlos E. Asay who said,
“I regard the ordinances of the endowment as an exchange of love between God, Our Father, and us. We know that the Only Begotten Son, even Jesus the Christ, ‘so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God’ (D&C 34:3). Thus, every commandment, every ordinance, every covenant, every law, every ‘thou shalt,’ every ‘thou shalt not,’ and every teaching received from Our Father in Heaven and His Son, our Savior—especially those received in the House of the Lord—is an expression of divine love.”vii
It might be easy to begin to forget the love that lies behind the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots.” If we focus on the world around us instead of on keeping an eternal perspective, we might begin to feel that the commandments and standards the Lord expects us to maintain are unnecessary and unimportant restrictions to our freedom. What’s the big deal with the law of chastity, the word of wisdom, and with temple marriage? It doesn’t seem to be hurting all of those around us who are out enjoying what life has to offer.
I have another personal parable story to remind us of the love behind the commandments. It is about my sister-in-law, who is now on the other side of the veil, whose name was also Bonnie L. Oscarson before she married. Trust me when I say it was always confusing at family gatherings.
Bonnie once told us a story about when she was a teenager growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. One of her best friends was named Grace, and she was not a member of the Church. Grace’s mother had passed away when she was small, and she was being raised by her father. One time, while they were in high school, Bonnie and Grace were both invited to attend a party that sounded like it was going to be a little on the wild side. They both went to their parents to ask if they could go and Grace was given permission. However, when Bonnie approached her parents, they must have been aware of the circumstances surrounding this party and they told Bonnie no, she couldn’t go. When Bonnie reported this to her friend, Grace began to cry.
Bonnie thought at first that she was disappointed that she couldn’t go to the party, but through her tears, Grace made this remarkably insightful comment, “I wish that my father loved me enough to tell me no, sometimes.”
She was wise beyond her years in recognizing that a kind and loving parent sets boundaries and gives guidelines to provide their child with safety, protection, and help to avoid those things which might bring harm. A loving parent takes the time to give a child instructions and tools for meeting the challenges of life.
The Lord loves us enough to say “no.” Don’t go to that wild party. Don’t break the law of chastity. Don’t drink or partake of certain things that will harm your mind and body. Don’t look at or dwell on dark and immoral acts. Don’t do it.
It will mean you are not able to feel the promptings of the Spirit. It will mean that your growth will be stifled. It will set you on the wrong path that does not lead back to me and your eternal reward. The Lord loves us all enough to say “no.” Don’t do that.
He will never force us. He always allows us to make the choices. And He doesn’t just say, “No, don’t do that.” He also helps us know what we should be doing instead. He loves us enough to provide guidance, instructions, and directions. I want you to think of what comes to mind when I say that—maybe the scriptures, living prophets, institute classes, conference talks, the Come Follow Me lessons, the temple endowment—there are hundreds of sources to teach us what we should do.
He loves us so much that He invites us into a covenant relationship with Him. He says to us, “Promise me that you will keep my commandments, and that you will help build my kingdom here on earth.” He asks us to commit to these endeavors at baptism and more fully in the temple ordinance as we make temple covenants as a commitment to Him. In return, He promises to throw open the doors of heaven and provide the power of godliness to us!
For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to receive your temple endowment, keep planning on it and preparing for it. For those who have, even though we don’t have the chance to be attending the temple right now, review and remember the covenants and instructions you received there. Live up to the promises you made there.
Remember that the temple is the place where we are able to receive loving instruction from a concerned Father. We are asked to make commitments and promises of how we will live our lives, what commandments we are to keep that will offer protection and blessings, and what our focus and priorities should be if we want gain an eternal reward and receive “all that the Father hath.”viii
It means that if we are faithful to our baptismal and temple covenants, our lives will not look anything like the lives of those who aren’t covenant people. We need to be different and unique. We should not look like the rest of the world. President Russell M. Nelson has been continually inviting us to—let God prevail in our lives, help gather Zion on both sides of the veil, and help prepare the earth for the Second Coming of the Savior. How different our priorities are from those of the world. We should look and act differently from the world.
The power of covenants in our lives
I want to conclude by talking about the power and strength that comes to those who keep their covenants with the Lord.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke in a worldwide missionary satellite broadcast in April 1997, about the importance of keeping covenants. He said:
“It is interesting to me that covenants are made personally, individually.
“That’s how the kingdom of God is built—one person at a time, one covenant at a time, all roads in our mortal journey leading to the ultimate covenants of the holy temple.”
A bit later in the same talk he said:
“That is what God does for us every time we make a covenant with Him. He endows us. We promise to do certain things, depending on the ordinance, and He promises special gifts in return—wonderful gifts, unspeakable gifts, nearly incomprehensible gifts. So I say to you as I say to myself—if we really want to succeed in our callings, if we want to have access to every help and every advantage and every blessing from the Father, if we want to have the door of heaven thrown open to us that we might receive the powers of godliness, we must keep our covenants!”ix
Elder Holland mentions special, wonderful, unspeakable, incomprehensible gifts that will come to us as we keep our sacred covenants. What are those incomprehensible gifts? He mentions having access to every advantage and blessing from the Father so we can succeed in our callings, in all righteous aspects of our lives. One of those gifts has to be that we qualify for heaven’s help in our lives. We can ask for and receive help from our heavenly partner because we are in a partnership with Him.
We hear the promise every single week of one of those wonderful gifts as we listen to the sacramental prayers. We promise to keep the commandments and always remember the Savior, and we are promised that, in return, we will "always have His Spirit to be with us.” We are promised the constant companionship of the third member of the Godhead in our daily lives. That truly is an incomprehensible gift! It comforts, gives direction, confirms truth, gives warnings, enlightens our minds, brings things to our remembrance, and makes us more and better than we could ever be on our own! It is worth all of our efforts to qualify for this influence and power in our lives.
Speaking of this gift, I believe that as we keep our covenants by being obedient and keeping the commandments, that we have the right to ask for gifts of the Spirit as we need them. We can ask for the gift of faith, for the gift of healing or of being healed, for the gift of tongues, for the gift of discernment. I believe that the Lord WANTS to bless us with every gift that will help us succeed in this life, and sometimes we need to earnestly seek those gifts according to His will.
I mentioned that there is power that comes as we keep our covenants with the Lord. Let’s not mistake the word “power” here. Sometimes in the world we think of power as being in control or dominion over others. In the context of the power of covenant keeping, I think of it more as an increase in our personal strength and conviction. I think of power as being the self-control to overcome weakness, to shun evil, to resist temptation. It is strength to do hard things, to serve others even when it is inconvenient or we don’t feel like doing it.
It is choosing to have faith when everyone around us is choosing to doubt. It is personal strength to be obedient and not worry about the fingers pointing at us from the “great and spacious building.”
And last but certainly not least, keeping our covenants can have the effect of transforming us to become more like the Savior Jesus Christ. We learn to be more loving, kind, and aware of the needs around us. We become more pure in our thoughts and actions. We become more tuned outward, and less self-absorbed. We become more noble in our pursuits and priorities. We lift and encourage those around us as we serve them. Our relationships with others will improve. We can become righteous men and women who can change the world for good.
That first covenant which we made with our Heavenly Father when we were baptized and we first placed our feet on the covenant path was that we would take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, that we would always remember Him, and that we would keep His commandments. We began the process of transforming ourselves to become more like the Savior in all aspects of our lives and we renew that commitment each week that we partake of the sacrament.
As we enter the temples, we make more binding covenants with the Lord. We make specific promises which, teach us how to live our lives so that we can return to live with our Heavenly Parents someday. Through priesthood power we receive the blessing of being sealed as husbands and wives as the highest and most sacred covenant of eternal marriage.
I love what President Russell M. Nelson has taught about temple covenants:
“Ultimately, in the holy temple, we may become joint heirs to the blessings of an eternal family, as once promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their posterity. Thus, celestial marriage is the covenant of exaltation.
"When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. His law is written in our hearts. He is our God and we are His people.”x
President Nelson also said:
“The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter. Scripture declares that “ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, … and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven … [and] dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41).xi
I add my testimony to that of President Nelson and agree with him 100%! There is no greater compliment that can be earned here in this life than to be known as a covenant keeper.
Covenants are a sign of the great love and concern which our Heavenly Father has for each and every one of His children. He invites us to become partners with Him in our salvation. Our covenants with him are individual, personal, and He cares deeply that we understand them and wants us to be faithful to them. In return, we can be certain that He will live up to His promises to us and those promises are so grand, so glorious, so magnificent that we cannot begin to comprehend them. He has promised us all that He has, if we are faithful.
He promises to provide help and strength to live up to our end of the covenant. We are promised the continual companionship of the Holy Ghost, gifts of the Spirit, and miraculous interventions from both sides of the veil as we exercise faith in the promises. He promises covenant keepers:
“I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”xii
Nephi, in the Book of Mormon described seeing in vision the covenant people of the Lord who scattered upon all the face of the earth,
“…and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”xiii
I believe we are capable of that. We can be armed with righteousness and the power of God if we are willing to be honest and faithful in keeping the promises we have made with the Lord.
I testify that we have a loving Heavenly Father who knows us by name and understands us completely. I testify that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer and that He atoned for our sins and was resurrected so that we have hope and assurance that through faith and repentance we can return to live again with them.
It has been a joy to be able to speak to you students from Ensign College today, and I pray that there is something in what has been mentioned in this message that will strengthen your resolve to be known as a covenant keeper.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 1 Nephi 14:14
 D. Todd Christofferson, “The Power of Covenants,” Ensign, May 2009, 20
 Moses 1:39
 Mosiah 18:9
 Neal A. Maxwell, “Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” Ensign, Nov. 2002,
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:340-1
 Doctrine and Covenants 43:16
 Carlos E. Asay, “Temple Blessings and Applications,” BYU Religion Faculty, March 6, 1998
 Doctrine and Covenants 84:38
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “Keeping Covenants: A Message for Those Who Will Serve a Mission,” New Era, Jan 2012
 Russell M. Nelson, “Covenants,” Ensign, Nov 2011, 88
 Doctrine and Covenants 84:88