Sister Jean B. Bingham
Relief Society General President
Jean B. Bingham was born in Utah and grew up in Texas, Minnesota, and New Jersey, USA. She met her husband, Bruce B. Bingham, at Brigham Young University. They were married in 1972 in the Provo Utah Temple, raised their two daughters in Illinois, have been foster parents to many children and youth, and are delighted as they now welcome grandchildren to the family.
Prior to her call as Relief Society General President, Sister Bingham served as First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency and member of the Primary General Board. Her previous callings include serving in ward and stake Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations, and she particularly treasures her time spent teaching early-morning seminary. Sister Bingham received a master’s degree in teaching from National-Louis University and has taught English as a second language to immigrants and refugees.
Through all of her life experiences, Sister Bingham has sought to be guided by the counsel in Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
What can you do in your situation to become all that your Heavenly Parents has designed you to be?
Are any of you stargazers? Since I was small, I have loved to watch the night sky and try to pick out familiar constellations. If you look up into the sky on a clear night, you can see glowing planets and twinkling stars. On some nights, you will see the moon; on others, you may see a meteor or shooting star as it scoots across the sky. Depending on the amount of light in the night environment, whether you are in a brightly-lit parking lot in the middle of town or out in an uninhabited area, you may see just a smattering of very bright stars or an incredible array of stars dusting the velvet expanse that is so numerous it boggles the mind.
From the darkest parts of Earth, the naked human eye can see about 5,000 stars; from a brightly-lit city street, only about 100 stars are visible. A few years ago, astronomers in Australia used some of the world’s most powerful instruments to calculate how many stars are actually in the entire visible universe. From their measurements, they concluded that there are 70 sextillion stars—or 7 followed by 22 zeroes—and some scientists say the actual count could be much, much bigger still.
Does that make you feel small? Contemplating that incredible number fills me with a humble yet exhilarating realization that, among all that vastness, our Father in Heaven knows not only where I am but who I am and what I am thinking and doing and struggling with. And He knows everything about you, too, and loves you more than you can even comprehend.
God’s capacity for knowledge and love is infinite; His interest is personal and intimate and real. You are valued by Heavenly Parents because you are Their offspring—Their reason for joy. Their purpose is our progress. After all, Their work and glory is to bring about our immortality and eternal life.
Each individual is not only valued but essential in God’s plan of happiness. Among all those millions and billions and quadrillions of stars, no two are exactly alike. They differ in brightness and color, in size and location, in age and mass—and they are all important in God’s design. Sometimes we may feel we don’t fit in or we don’t have much to contribute or our particular talents are not needed. However, from our Heavenly Parents’ perfect perspective, each one of Their children has been created for a divine purpose, has infinite worth, and has a vital work to accomplish in this life. Stars produce heat, light, and various forms of radiation that influence their celestial neighbors. Like the stars which are each placed in a particular orbit and location, we have an influence on those around us. Because you are unique, there are things only you can do in your particular way to bless your eternal sisters and brothers. You must make the effort to grow and learn and develop those unique talents and characteristics that contribute to the eternal progress of yourself and others.
To some, this young woman may not look like she would have much to contribute. She was seventeen17 at the time of the diving accident that rendered her quadriplegic—paralyzed from the shoulders down. She has spent the last 50 years in a wheelchair. After the accident, she was depressed and angry, experienced suicidal thoughts and religious doubts. However, during occupational therapy, she learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. To make a long story short: since then, Joni Eareckson Tada has written over forty books, recorded several music albums, become an advocate for people with disabilities, has a radio show, and is a popular Christian speaker.
An interviewer asked her recently, “At the time of your diving accident, you were just 17 years old. If you could speak to the young woman you were at that age, what would you most want to say?” Listen to her answer:
“As a young girl I was so distracted . . . [and] enamored [of] . . . the world. . . . I had so many options. If I could go back, I’d take myself by the shoulders and shake them and say, “Look at me, Joni, listen: Love Jesus more, obey him more. Follow him more closely—not at a distance. Don’t second guess the Holy Spirit’s whispers and convictions in your heart. Don’t make your own decisions without checking in with God—follow him much more closely.”
Her answer to the next question is also revealing: “How do you feel as you reflect back over the past 50 years?”
Joni said, “Just the other day I was reading 1 Peter 5:10, where Peter says, ‘But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.’ Honestly, I’m amazed that the last 50 years feel like only ‘a little while.’ Maybe God does that when we finally do love Jesus more, when we finally do follow him more closely. Maybe he erases . . . all the despair, all the depression of the past when we learn how to trust God. He pushes into the background all the terrible times of anguish, and he brings forward the highlights—the moments of hope, peace, and growth. As I look back over 50 years, I just see God at work.” Despite formidable challenges, Joni learned to use the gifts she was given to lift and bless others. At the same time, those efforts helped her work toward fulfilling her own divine potential.
Because of your inherent value as the offspring of God, you were given lessons in the premortal life that prepared you for your experience on earth. We can’t remember those lessons exactly, but when we hear truth in this life, it is comfortingly familiar. We hear those truths in Primary and in general conference talks and, yes, even in biology and English and music classes. Embrace those truths and discover how to use them to progress towards your full potential. I believe we each made promises to our Heavenly Parents to build on what we learned while we lived with Them and to continue to strive to become like Them. Not one spirit was created to fail; every single one has the capacity to triumph. It is up to us individually to make the choices that bring us closer to that potential.
Unfortunately, one of Heavenly Father’s most advanced spirit sons chose the way of pride and forever lost the opportunity to become a god. In his anger and jealousy, he and those he convinced to follow him work tirelessly to confuse us, to deceive us, to discourage us, and to distract us from fulfilling our divine roles and highest potential.
So, ask yourself, “What can I do in my situation to become all that my Heavenly Parents have designed me to be?”
The number-one answer and key for each and all of us is to keep an eternal perspective. You say, “What? How will that help me do all the things I can’t even keep up with here and now?” The real questions is, Why will having an eternal perspective help me progress? Because that reminds us of our ultimate goal and helps us make the daily decisions that keep us on the path. Have you ever been so focused on the immediate that you lost track of the important? Once I was driving and trying to find my way to a destination in an unfamiliar area. I kept looking at my phone to follow the map’s directions, when suddenly, I ran into the back of a car that I hadn’t even seen in front of me. Gratefully, I was going so slow that no damage was done, but if I had been looking ahead rather than at what was in my hand, I would have avoided that problem.
Now, how do we keep that eternal goal at the forefront of our thoughts? Here are a handful of “do-ables”:
Prayer. Morning and evening and lunchtime and any-time-you-need-it prayer reminds us of the purpose of this life. There we also find answers to deal with our daily dilemmas. When “prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,” when we really want His help in His way, inspiration and comfort and strength will come. We just need to desire and to ask, as Jehovah tells Jeremiah: “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
Scripture study. This coming year will provide an amazing opportunity to “up our game” in understanding the gospel through dedicated study of the scriptures. Each of you will receive a manual called Come Follow Me—for Individuals and Families that is designed to help you delve deeper into the doctrine and then apply it to your life. The curriculum is based on the New Testament, and what a perfect way to start this learning process: by studying the life and mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ! You can study the weekly topics by yourself, in small informal groups, or with anyone who may need your encouragement or with whom you feel uplifted. We will still have the opportunity to study the words of living prophets in elders quorum and Relief Society from the messages delivered at general conference. The idea is to recognize and take personal responsibility for your gospel learning and spiritual progress rather than wait for others to supply that as you might have done in the past.
Another component to maintaining an eternal focus is our weekly attendance at Church meetings and at home evening. These gatherings provide a framework to connect us to others who are on that same life journey, those whom we can strengthen and who also strengthen us. Although we are independently responsible for our own choices, we are interdependent in our travels toward our heavenly home. The new gospel study opportunity may be a wonderful way to help one another during a home evening on Sunday night; Monday nights are still open for fun activities that strengthen bonds as well as our commitment to living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Worshiping in the temple “as frequently . . . as our personal circumstances allow” also reminds us of our ultimate goal. Keeping your focus on temple covenants will help you overcome the distractions and deceptions of Satan. Whether you are performing proxy baptisms or providing other essential ordinances for those who have already stepped through the veil of mortality, the time you spend in the temple will bless not only those for whom you serve as “saviors on Mount Zion,” but gives you time to reflect on your real purpose on earth and to be reminded of where you want to be when your turn on earth is over.
Men and women could accept the invitation President Russell M. Nelson gave to the sisters at October general conference when he said, “Establish a pattern of regular temple attendance. This may require a little more sacrifice in your life. More regular time in the temple will allow the Lord to teach you how to draw upon His priesthood power with which you have been endowed in His temple. . . . Seek to know more, to understand more, to feel more about temples than you ever have before.”
Some of you may have questions about the temple and struggle to understand all that is included in those words and ceremonies. Just a few weeks ago while addressing the members in Chile, President Nelson invited the youth—and are we not all “youth” in the timetable of the Lord?—to prepare spiritually for the temple by studying five topics in the Bible Dictionary: “Anoint,” “Atonement,” “Covenant,” “Sacrifices,” and “Temple.” If your understanding of the temple is incomplete, this could be a good way to “seek to know more [and] to feel more about temples than you ever have before,” as President Nelson has invited us to do.
As you seek for answers, I urge you to continue to attend the temple, keep your covenants, and ponder and pray for increased understanding. I promise you that your participation will come to be sweet and uplifting and enlightening. The instruction given to the Prophet Joseph Smith by the Savior is reassuring: “And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in the Spirit which leadeth to do good. . . . I will impart unto you of my spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know . . . all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.”
The second key to eternal progress is to recognize and embrace the gift of agency. Understanding that we are personally responsible for our choices and that we are accountable to God for those choices is vital to true progress. It can also be liberating! You have the power to act for yourself, and not merely to be acted upon. Yes, others have an influence, but we will ultimately be sorrowful or joyful, disappointed or successful, because of our individual decisions. Take control of your life and let your light grow and shine for others who are seeking the true light.
Be persistent and diligent in your efforts. Mistakes will occur, problems will challenge you, but persevere towards your eternal goal. Evaluate your progress often; celebrate even small improvements, and re-calibrate after missteps. The Spirit often lets us know when and what we need to change in ourselves; recognize and be grateful for those nudgings that push you off the plateau of mediocrity. Seek input from those who love you and are sensitive to the Spirit to help you discover strengths and combat weaknesses.
The third key is to help one another to achieve our eternal goal. Paradoxically, even though we are individually responsible for our choices, interdependence is critical to the success of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. The greatest example of this is Jesus Christ. Without the Savior and His Atonement, none of us would be able to progress. His perfect gift of self makes it possible for each of us to become all we were designed to be.
How many of you are assigned as a ministering brother or sister? Do you think that assignment is unimportant or uninspired? What is your divine responsibility to that person? How you respond to that assignment tells your Father in Heaven how serious you are about returning to live with Him. This statement made more than 35 years ago by President Marion G. Romney has made me think about the quality of my ministering efforts: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made. . . . Oh, for the glorious day when . . . there will be no need for a commandment [to serve one another] because we will have experienced for ourselves that we are truly happy only when we are engaged in unselfish service.” I encourage you to look at ministering from an eternal perspective and find ways to lift and love one another along the journey home.
Families are another element of interdependence in Heavenly Father’s divine plan. We are organized into families to support one another on the covenant path. At this point in time, not all of you have intact or supportive families. If you feel a lack, remember that “family” is not simply those with whom we share a genetic profile, but includes those in our Church family and, ultimately, the whole family of God. As we embrace the principle of eternal families, we realize that there is power in putting that principle into practice in our everyday lives. Many of you are starting your own eternal family. Learning to be interdependent, true partners patterned after our Heavenly Parents will bring greater happiness in this life and joy in the life to come.
Energy created by a star escapes out into space as light. How bright a star looks to us depends on how much light it gives off and how near it is to earth. A star shines because it is so hot. The heat of a star comes from its center, which creates energy. What is at your center? Centering your life on Jesus Christ, following His example, and keeping His commandments will give you the spiritual, emotional, and even physical energy to meet the demands of your life. With the pressures of school, work, and family, you may sometimes feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Remembering who you are—a child of God with infinite worth—gives you the assurance that your all-powerful Father in Heaven is willing and wanting and waiting to help you, if you put your trust in Him and strive to do your best to keep His commandments. There really is no other way.
As recorded in the book of Genesis, Father Abraham was promised seed, or posterity, as innumerable as the stars. Because of his faithfulness, he was also promised that his seed would take the blessings of the gospel to all the peoples of the earth. Where do you belong in this picture? You are of the seed of Abraham, and the promises he received can be yours as well. You may be overwhelmed at the thought of billions of children—particularly when you think about the work that is involved with the little ones you may now have!—but, in time, as you learn and grow through your experiences on this earth and beyond, you will come to rejoice in those promises of exaltation.
Now let’s look at it from a different perspective. The number of stars in the heavens is an unimaginably large number, but counting the number of molecules in just ten drops of water, you would get a number equal to all the stars in the universe. Truly, “we are surrounded by vastness, high and low.” There is a pattern to everything designed by our Heavenly Father and created by His Son, Jesus Christ. Part of that pattern is to live in this world, to learn to follow His plan, and to overcome the adversary’s temptations to be less than we are capable of becoming. It doesn’t matter whether you impact others through a symbolic molecule of water or that of a star. You most certainly can become a force for good, a lift to others, a witness for Jesus Christ in the way you live.
That is the message of the Primary song “I Am Like a Star.” How many of you remember that song? Will you sing it with me?
I am like a star shining brightly,
Smiling for the whole world to see.
I can do and say happy things each day,
For I know Heav’nly Father loves me.
So whenever you look at a little drop of water or the twinkling stars in the night sky, be reminded of your eternal worth and keep that perspective. Remember that consistently doing the “little things”—prayer, studying the scriptures and words of living prophets, attending Church and participating in home evening and temple worship—as well as using your agency wisely and serving others—will help you to keep an eternal perspective and, ultimately, fulfill your glorious divine potential.
In closing, I echo President Nelson’s words to the young people in Chile to each of you: “You are beloved youth of the noble birthright. I believe in you. I trust you. I love you.” And if he were here, I am confident he would say the same words he spoke to them: “And I bless you with all that God knows that you need.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 See Andrew Craig, “Astronomers count the stars,” BBC News, July 22, 2003; news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3085885.stm.
 See Moses 1:39.
 See Science and Innovation: Stars, National Geographic;
 Kelli B.Trujillo, “After 50 years in a wheelchair, I still walk with Jesus,” Christianity Today; www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/july/joni-eareckson-tada-fifty-years-wheelchair-walk-jesus.html.
 “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire,” Hymns, 145.
 Jeremiah 29:12-13.
 Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995.
 Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:184.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel,” Ensign, Nov. 2018.
 “President Nelson encourages youth in Chile to prepare for the temple by studying 5 topics,” Church News, Oct. 27, 2018;
 Doctrine and Covenants 11:12-14.
 See 2 Nephi 2:26.
 See Matthew 5:16.
 Marion G. Romney, “The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance,” Ensign, Nov. 1982.
 See Robert Krulwich, “Which Is Greater, The Number Of Sand Grains On Earth Or The Stars In The Sky?,” Krulwich Wonders, NPR, Sept. 17, 2012;
 See Genesis 15:5-6.
 See Abraham 2:9-11.
 See “Abraham, covenant of,” Bible Dictionary, p. 585.
 Robert Krulwich, NPR, Sept. 17, 2012.
 “I Am Like a Star Shining Brightly,” Children’s Songbook, 163.
 Church News, Oct. 27, 2018.