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This is the 146thpost in the General Conference Odyssey. We’ve covering the Sunday morning session of the April 1981 General Conference.
This was one of those sessions that had a really clear theme: love. It was there in the background of several of the talks, like President Monson’s The Long Line of the Lonely, but it was front and center in Elder Paramore’s Love One Anotherand in Elder Gosalind’s Reach Out to Our Father’s Children.
Elder Paramore talked about one of the few unconditional promises we get for obeying our Father in Heaven. This is an important topic. One of the things I often write about is unrealistic expectations. Many of the promised blessings we pay the most attention to in the scriptures aren’t guaranteed in the short-run. I’m thinking of things like prosperity and peace (outer peace, at least), which are blessings that tend to come from righteous living but which are not guaranteed.
Sometimes tragedy strikes without reason, and sometimes good deeds are punished, and sometimes people who are being obedient still face major obstacles. It’s important to recognize that life can be confusing and contradictory, so that we can be patient and kind to those who suffer, especially those who suffer through not fault of their own. Sometimes, that will be us.
But this focus can sometimes seem like nothing but lowering expectations, and I want to kind of repent for giving that impression. Because it’s not true. It doesn’t reflect the Gospel as I recognize it. Elder Paramore’s talk reminded me of that. It reminded me that there arepromises we can rely on, and chief among those is that as we strive to follow God’s example our hearts will be changed and filled with love:
My assignments these past few months have taken me to many lands, and with all my heart this morning I want to bear witness to the fact that when God’s love is known and felt and His commandments followed, the results are always the same. There is a newness of life—a spiritual awakening—that comes to man, its own witness that it is true. It is never forced or brought about by fear, but rather by a bond of love that develops between our Father in Heaven and His children. It is no wonder that we are counseled to look to God and live. This love reaches deep into the inner man, removes barriers, and causes an open spirit to emerge to be receptive to truth, goodness, and change.
As it develops in man, he is turned outward toward others—gradually overcoming himself. When we humbly seek our Father in Heaven by prayer, and by learning and keeping His commandments, He transfers to us His love and many of His powers. Thousands bear witness that His words “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” (John 15:10) are true. We then, as the Savior said, begin to attach ourselves as branches to the “true vine” and receive the same strength and power and can expect the same fruit. (See John 15:1–6.)
Then the miracle really happens. Men thus touched and changed by this love of God begin to look upon their neighbors with profound respect and awe for who they are, what their potential really is as children of an eternal father.
So I want to change my tune a little bit to make something clear: It’s not about lowering expectations. It’s about shifting them. The miracles that we should expect are not that things will go our way on the outside, but that things will begin to go God’s way on the inside. I know this has definitely been true in my life. The prayers that have been answered the most frequently and the most plainly have been the prayers where I petition God to change me into a better person, usually a better husband and a better father. These prayers are answered. Not right away and not completely. This is a processof renewal and rebirth, not an event, as Elder Paramore makes clear:
Does this mean that those who embrace these things will be perfect? No, for they will forever be overcoming and growing.
Still, the answers to my prayers have come with the kind of definitiveness that makes the answer a double-blessing. I get what I ask for, a changed heart, and also an additional witness of God’s power to go along with it.
Elder Gosalind spoke on a very similar theme, and I wanted to share a story from his talk. Here it is:
A good friend shared this story about how she learned the deeper meaning of love. Their family has always been active in the Church, trying their best to live the commandments. They were shocked and disappointed, however, when their daughter became engaged to a nonmember. The next day the mother was telling a good friend about her feelings. She knew her daughter’s fiancee was a fine young man, but she felt angry, hurt, betrayed, and numb and did not want to give her daughter a wedding or even see her. She said that the Lord must have guided her to talk to her friend because she received this reply:
“What kind of a mother are you that you only love her when she does what you want her to do? That is selfish, self-centered, qualified love. It’s easy to love our children when they are good; but when they make mistakes, they need our love even more. We should love and care for them no matter what they do. It doesn’t mean we condone or approve of the errors, but we help, not condemn; love, not hate; forgive, not judge. We build them up rather than tear them down; we lead them, not desert them. We love when they are the most unlovable, and if you can’t or won’t do that, you are a poor mother.”
With tears streaming down her face, the mother asked her friend how she could ever thank her. The friend answered, “Do it for someone else when the need arises. Someone did it for me, and I will be eternally grateful.”
Elder Goaslind concluded:
We must show such genuine love for all our Father’s children. When we learn to do this, we will be truly godlike.
After all of this emphasis on love, I appreciated Elder Petersen’s concluding talk—Blessings in Self-Reliance—for it’s apparent contrast. The spirituality of the Latter-day Saints is practical if nothing else! And yet, as always, the gap between the practical and the spiritual ends up being non-existent:
It is no news to anyone that we are in a world crisis. But the basic problem is not what most people think it is. It is not fundamentally economic, and it is not basically due to any oil shortage.
Our basic problem is moral and spiritual. We must return to God.
And how do we do that? How do we return to God? There are a lot of things to improve:
We must be industrious, we must be frugal, we must seek a proper balance between our needs and our desires, and especially we must reestablish our lives upon a spiritual foundation.
Practical changes and spiritual changes, they go hand-in-hand. And, above them all, we return to God by learning to love as He loves. Elder Petersen’s nuts-and-bolts talk about budgets and restraint and the economy goes hand-in-hand with Elders Paramore and Gosalind and their discourses on love.