Cover image via Church Newsroom.
I’m sure you’ll agree that it was another stellar General Conference weekend. The speakers shared personal, poignant, and unforgettable stories that helped illustrate the demands and joy of living a Christ-centered life. Each conference, though the speakers come from different nationalities and backgrounds, I always find themes emerging. I know these common threads may have stood out to me because of where I am at in life or the because of the questions I have asked the Spirit to guide me through, but whether they were themes for me or for everyone, they seem worthy of mention.
The Power of Small and Simple Efforts
Sister Amy A. Wright, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, shared several significant thoughts on the impact and power of small and simple things. On a very personal note, she described the harrowing moment when she was told she had cancer:
As we drove home in silence processing the news, my heart turned to our three sons.
In my mind I asked Heavenly Father, “Am I going to die?” The Holy Ghost whispered, “Everything is going to be okay.” Then I asked, “Am I going to live?” Again, the answer came, “Everything is going to be okay.” I was confused. Why did I receive the exact same answer whether I lived or died?
Then suddenly every fiber of my being filled with absolute peace as I was reminded: We did not need to hurry home and teach our children how to pray. They knew how to receive answers and comfort from prayer. We did not need to hurry home and teach them about the scriptures or words of living prophets. Those words were already a familiar source of strength and understanding. We did not need to hurry home and teach them about repentance, the Resurrection, the Restoration, the plan of salvation, eternal families, or the very doctrine of Jesus Christ.
In that moment every family home evening lesson, scripture study session, prayer of faith offered, blessing given, testimony shared, covenant made and kept, House of the Lord attended, and Sabbath day observed mattered—oh how it mattered! It was too late to put oil in our lamps. We needed every single drop, and we needed it right now!
Developing her family’s faith and trust in the Lord wasn’t going to happen in a single transformative moment. It was already happening; the result of many years of small actions. The memorable image she shared to capture the life-giving power of these actions was from the geography of the Holy Land:
Located in northwestern Israel, is a beautiful mountain range often referred to as the “evergreen mountain”. Mount Carmel stays green year-round largely in part to tiny amounts of dew. Nourishment happens daily. Like the Dews of Carmel, as we seek to nourish our souls “with things pertaining to righteousness,” “small and simple things,” our testimonies and the testimonies of our children will live!
President Henry B. Eyring talking similarly about the power of that kind of dew, which he discussed in the form of nudges from the Spirit. He said, “…we can be taught by and learn from the Spirit line upon line, receiving what we need, and then when we are ready, we will receive more.”
He explored several accounts from the Book of Mormon in illustrating this point, including Nephi’s journey back into the walls of Jerusalem by night when his life had already been threatened in trying to get the plates.
Nephi’s experience with the Holy Ghost on that errand has given me courage many times when I have embarked on tasks I knew were assignments from the Lord but which seemed far beyond my past experience and beyond what I saw as my capacity.
You remember what Nephi said about his experience: “And it was by night; and I caused that [my brothers] should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban.”
He goes on to say: “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”
I have been encouraged by knowing that Nephi was guided by the Spirit minute by minute through the night on the Lord’s errand.
Sometimes we may desire some transcendent spiritual greatness, or to know the future beforehand, but sometimes we must just have faith as we are guided minute by minute by the Spirit.
Elder David A. Bednar echoed some of these same thoughts as he reflected on the 1947 remarks of President J. Reuben Clark. President Clark had talked about “They of the Last Wagon”, those stalwart and faithful pioneers that traveled in the back of the pioneer caravans. Their names are not often remembered, but their humble, daily endurance is nonetheless heroic. Elder Bednar said:
President Clark described in great detail the characteristics of and challenges faced by the migrants who traveled in the last covered wagon in each of the long wagon trains that crossed the plains. He praised these anonymous and uncelebrated heroes who, day after day, week after week, and month after month, choked on the dust stirred up by all of the wagons rolling in front of them— and who overcame the relentless obstacles they encountered along the way.
President Clark declared, “They of the last wagon pressed forward, worn and tired, footsore, sometimes almost disheartened, borne up by their faith that God loved them, that the restored gospel was true, and that the Lord led and directed the Brethren out in front.”
He also touched on another address from President Howard W. Hunter which pointed out that, though Moroni was known as this magnificent figure who, if all men could be like him, the very powers of hell would be shaken forever—only a verse or two later, it reads, “‘Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni.”
We may not all be Chief Captain Moronis, or we may not always be performing at our full Moroni potential, but we can still be just as helpful in our own sphere and in helping others take steps towards Jesus Christ.
The Covenant Path
And those steps we take towards Jesus that make up the covenant path, were a huge theme of this conference. We do not have to be spiritual giants to keep our feet on the covenant path. In fact, as Sister Emily Bell Freeman, Young Women General President, shared in her address, “Begin where you are. Don’t let your condition hinder you. Remember, pace or placement on the path are not as important as progress. Ask someone you trust, who is on the covenant path, to introduce you to the Savior they have come to know. Learn more of Him. Invest in the relationship by entering into covenant with Him. It doesn’t matter your age or your condition, you can walk with Him.”
Sister Freeman knows that some of us come to that path already broken. In illustrating that point, she shared how a goal to personally walk the path from Nazareth to Capernaum was nearly ruined by an untimely injury that left her with a broken ankle just before her scheduled trip. Against the advice of most people around her, she decided to go anyway.
It took the patience and help of others to make her journey possible. She was able to tether herself to a guide just as we must tether ourselves to the Lord to make any real progress.
We call this walking the covenant path. A path that begins with the covenant of baptism and leads to deeper covenants we make in the temple. Perhaps you hear those words and think of checkboxes. Maybe all you see is a path of requirements. A closer look reveals something more compelling. A covenant is not only about a contract, although that is important. It’s about a relationship. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “The covenant path is all about our relationship with God.” Consider a marriage covenant. The wedding date is important, but equally important is the relationship forged through the life lived together afterward. The same is true with covenant relationship with God. Conditions have been set and there will be expectations along the way. And yet, He invites each of us to come as we are able with full purpose of heart, and to “press forward” with Him at our side, trusting that His promised blessings will come.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke about our covenants in terms of our being a covenant people and the expectations that come with that, including the gathering of scattered Israel.
With access to the sealing power, our hearts naturally turn to those who have gone before. The latter-day gathering into the covenant crosses through the veil. In the perfect order of God, the living cannot experience eternal life in its fulness without forging enduring links to “the fathers,” our ancestors. Likewise, the progress of those who are already on the other side, or who may yet cross through the veil of death without the benefit of sealings, is incomplete until vicarious ordinances bind them to us, their descendants, and us to them in the divine order.19 The commitment to aid one another across the veil can be classified as a covenant promise, part of the new and everlasting covenant. In Joseph Smith’s words, we want to “seal up our dead to come forth [with us] in the first resurrection.”
He also brought up a significant statement from President Gordon B. Hinckley, “I have said many times that if nothing else came out of all the sorrow and travail and pain of the restoration than the sealing power of the holy priesthood to bind together families forever, it would have been worth all that it has cost.”
Elder Neil L. Anderson also discussed the requirements of covenant people including tithing, and bearing one another’s burdens.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in a tender and heartfelt retelling of the “greatest short story ever told”, The Prodigal Son. His recounting of this tale really painted in as the path of redemption that leads us back to the covenant path. He says,
No matter what may have happened in your life, I echo and proclaim the words of my beloved friend and fellow apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s atoning sacrifice shines.”
Though choices may have taken you far away from the Savior and His Church, the Master Healer stands at the road that leads home, welcoming you. And we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ seek to follow His example and embrace you as our brothers and sisters, as our friends. We rejoice and celebrate with you.
Your return will not diminish the blessings of others. For the Father’s bounty is infinite, and what is given to one does not in the slightest diminish the birthright of others.
I do not pretend that coming back is an easy thing to do. I can testify of that. It may, in fact, be the toughest choice you will ever make.
But I bear witness that the moment you decide to return and walk in The Way of our Savior and Redeemer, His power will enter your life and transform it.
One beautiful thought on that “Way of our Redeemer” that was shared was from Elder Robert M. Daines of the Seventy. He said, “Covenants are the shape of God’s embrace.” But Elder Daines was very honest about his journey to God’s embrace being a confusing and difficult one, just as Elder Uchtdorf mentioned it might be for some. Which brings us to the last theme that I wanted to mention:
Coming to Jesus
This topic was treated quite literally and touched on again and again. Elder Daines spoke about a wounded soldier whose injuries had left him face-blind and that likewise, Elder Daines had grown up face-blind to the visage of Jesus Christ. He said,
I thought my life was about following rules and measuring up to abstract standards. I knew God loved you perfectly but didn’t feel it myself. I’m afraid I thought more about getting into heaven than being with my Heavenly Father.
If you, like me, can sometimes only lip-sync, but not sing the song of redeeming love, what can we do?
He explores some of the answers to that question in great detail, providing instruction on how to come to know the Savior in a much more real and personal way in your life. His full address is definitely one to study in more detail.
Another significant thought he shared was
When I realized that I was spiritually face-blind, that I saw rules but not the face of the Father’s mercy, I knew it wasn’t the church’s fault; it wasn’t God’s, and it didn’t mean everything was lost, it’s something we all have to learn. Even the early witnesses to the resurrection often came face to face with the Resurrected Lord but did not recognize Him; from the Garden Tomb to the shores of Galilee, His first followers “saw Jesus standing and knew not that it was Jesus.” They had to learn to recognize Him, and so do we.
So, how do we learn to recognize Him? We can get to know Him through the holy scriptures and the words of living prophets. Though again, the topic of quite literally meeting Jesus came up over and over again.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, who told the congregation at the beginning of his talk that his eyes are no longer allowing him to read from a teleprompter and he was therefore speaking from the heart, said,
We’re in the process of trying to prepare ourselves, a day at a time, to be a little better, to be a little kinder, to be a little more prepared for that day–when it will surely come, when we shall pass back into the presence of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s getting a little closer for me. I’ll soon be 95. My children tell me they think I’m a lot older than that some days, but that’s ok. I’m doing the best I can.
We love Elder Ballard and are grateful for the bright strength of his testimony that shown through in his impromptu address.
Elder Gary B. Sabin shared a moving story of someone “getting a little closer” to meeting Jesus, who had not yet had the privilege of long years on this earth. He said,
I was taught this lesson powerfully a number of years ago by our then-16-year-old daughter, Jennifer. She was about to have a double lung transplant, where the five diseased lobes of her lungs would be completely removed and replaced by two healthy smaller lobes, donated by two amazing Christlike friends. It was a very high-risk procedure, yet the night before her surgery, Jennifer almost preached to me with all of her 90 pounds, saying, “Don’t worry, Dad! Tomorrow I will wake up with new lungs or I will wake up in a better place. Either way will be great.” That is faith; that is eternal perspective! Seeing life from an eternal vantage point provides clarity, comfort, courage, and hope.
Those accounts of being able to meet Jesus with confidence and joy are not grim or morbid because they involve facing death in the next step of your eternal path. Instead, as President Russell M. Nelson shared at the conclusion of the conference, as part of a pre-recorded message: “The very things that will make your mortal life the best it can be are exactly the same things that will make your life throughout all eternity the best it can be!”
Spiritually preparing ourselves to meet Jesus, even if that meeting ultimately does not happen for decades, is the same work that will make your mortal life as joyful and fulfilling as it can be. President Nelson advised that we “Think Celestial”:
When you make choices, I invite you to take the long view—an eternal view. Put Jesus Christ first, because your eternal life is dependent upon your faith in Him and in His Atonement. It is also dependent upon your obedience to His laws. Obedience paves the way for a joyful life for you today and a grand, eternal reward tomorrow.
When you are confronted with a dilemma, think celestial! When tested by temptation, think celestial! When life or loved ones let you down, think celestial! When someone dies “prematurely,” think celestial. When someone lingers with a devastating illness, think celestial. When the pressures of life crowd in upon you, think celestial! As you recover from an accident or injury, as I am doing now, think celestial!
And of course, thinking celestially means not only taking the long view and envisioning life with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ someday in the future, but it also means inviting them into your life right now.
The addresses from General Conference, with their inspiration and instruction are a wonderful way to begin to do that. Until the full addresses are published, you can always go to the Church’s website or YouTube to revisit or hear for the first time these important thoughts that were intended for you at this time.
What themes did you see emerge in this Conference? I would to hear what stood out to you in the comments.