Editor’s note: This post is part of a collaborative effort of Mormon bloggers who are reading and writing about General Conference talks. We call it the General Conference Odyssey. This article at Meridian Magazine explains more about the Odyssey, and includes some thoughts from those of us participating in this project.
One of the things I appreciate about being a part of this effort is to read the words of my fellow brothers and sisters. Their perspectives and experience enrich my experience engaging the words of the prophets. Of course, we don’t want our posts to replace the words of the prophets, but we hope perhaps this project will inspire you in some way, as it has us.
The other posts from this week’s reading, which focused on the Friday Morning Session of the April 1971 General Conference, are at the bottom of the post.
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“[W]here the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” -2 Cor. 3:17
This was a week of reading that left me wishing I had time to write several posts. Elder Boyd K. Packer’s talk brought the Spirit strongly to me, and articulated some important principles that I’ve been tossing around in my head for quite a while. (I’ve been moved by how many good people are out there finding truth in their own spheres, and how God has used the insights of those not of my faith to strengthen my faith. And yet, there is only one “true and living church.” I wanted to write a post about what that phrase means to me, what it means to me to belong to this church.)
And I think Elder Benson’s talk really deserves its own post; it has such strong, clear words of warning about harmful media, particularly music. I’m going to share it with my daughter; we just had a conversation about this very topic last week.
But the pattern that stood out to me the most, the pattern about which I felt I should write, can be seen even in the titles of three of the talks.
A Time of Testing – Henry D. Taylor
The Purpose of Life: To Be Proved – Franklin D. Richards
(Ezra Taft Benson’s message about youth also wove threads of similar messages.)
I’m reminded of something Elder Andersen said about how, in General Conference,
“[t]here are no assigned subjects, no collaboration of themes. The Lord’s way, of course, is always the best way. He takes the individual prayerful efforts of each speaker and orchestrates a spiritual symphony full of revelation and power. Repeated themes, principle building upon principle, prophetic warnings, uplifting promises—the divine harmony is a miracle!”
As I read talk after talk, I tried to mark all the repeated themes I was seeing, but they became too numerous. As a postscript to this post, I tried to capture a few of the patterns.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in her beautiful poem entitled“Gethsemane,” expressed it this way:
“All those who journey, soon or late,Must pass within the garden’s gate;Must kneel alone in darkness there,And battle with some fierce despair.God pity those who cannot say:‘Not mine but thine’; who only pray:‘Let this cup pass,’ and cannot seeThe purpose in Gethsemane.”
“Like the Savior, we will all have our Gethsemane. And although the road may be rough at times, if we will hold fast to the rod of iron, spoken of by Lehi, it will lead us through the mist of darkness.” ~Henry D. Taylor
“[P]eace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high….” (quoted by Henry D. Taylor)
Franklin D. Richards quoted more of the revelation given to Joseph in Liberty Jail:
“[I]f the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:7–8.)
Elder Richards also quoted B.H. Roberts, who said,
“The eyes of the saints were turned to it (Liberty Jail) as the place whence would come encouragement, counsel—the word of the Lord. It was more temple than prison, so long as the Prophet was there. It was a place of meditation and prayer. A temple, first of all, is a place of prayer; and prayer is communion with God. It is the ‘infinite in man seeking the infinite in God.’ Where they find each other, there is holy sanctuary—a temple. Joseph Smith sought God in this rude prison, and found him. Out of the midst of his tribulations he called upon God in passionate earnestness.” (Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 526.)
There is an irony to me that in a jail called Liberty, in the midst of abuse, illness, false accusation, and excruciatingly difficult separation from his family and friends at a time when they were suffering as well, Joseph found the true meaning of liberty, as defined in the scriptures. In these desperate circumstances, he did something we all can do in our Liberty Jail times: he prayed. In his seeking, he was reminded of God’s love and awareness of him, and was taught more truth about the plan, about the priesthood, about peace.
“[A]nd ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“[W]here the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” –2 Cor. 3:17
It’s all too easy to think of liberty as an absence of bondage, but I think there is a deeper meaning to be found in these scriptures.
Besides the examples of hard trials given in these Conference talks (and to highlight a few examples of those not of my faith who have strengthened my faith), I think of Corrie Ten Boom and Viktor Frankl. They found liberty in their captivity because they came to understand how to trust in God in the face of their trials.
I think also of a post written by a Christian blogger that a friend recently shared:
“It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks of Him giving us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens– not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it beautifully says this instead:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)
I didn’t really know what needing him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart–or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear. Those are the times that taught me he’s not just a want or a convenient symbol of love or a reason to do good deeds.
No, he’s the very air we breathe.
And he’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply anything but.”
Many of the talks spoke of freedom of choice that God gives us. In the face of opposition, we have really two choices — will we turn toward God, or away from Him. We are not meant to walk this mortal journey alone. He wants to help us, free us, comfort us, guide us, strengthen us. I pray for the strength to use my God-given agency to choose Him and His will in all I do so that I can find the truth, the peace, the Spirit, the liberty that He promises.
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Restoration scripture has a priceless record of the Lord teaching Abraham — and all of us — in the premortal world about the purpose of life.
“ This gospel is the plan of salvation. It was ordained and established in the councils of eternity before the foundations of this earth were laid, and it has been revealed anew in our day for the salvation and blessing of all our Father’s children everywhere.” ~President Joseph Fielding Smith
“Let us go back together in our thoughts to the time before this earth was created—to the time of the great council in heaven, when you and I and all of us were instructed by our Father in heaven as to the purpose and opportunities of this earth life.
“’And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“’And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them….'” ~Eldred G. Smith
“The prophet Abraham found favor in the sight of the Lord. He was given the assurance that he was a great and noble intelligence before coming to this earth. Helearned that the earth was created as a place for the intelligences to dwell after their birth as mortal beings.Here they would be tested and tried to see if theywould do all things that the Lord God would command them to do. Earth life would thus become a testing ground.” ~Henry D. Taylor
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet, has given assurance that we were present as spiritual beings at a council when the plan was presented, and we gave it our approval.” ~Henry D. Taylor
Opposition and temptation are part of the plan — the devil is real , but God and the Atonement are more powerful. Opposition enables the blessing of agency, of the opportunity to seek God, trust Him, and follow Him. The choice is ours as to whether we will seek God, trust Him, and follow His will.
“The devil is well organized. Never in our day has he had so many emissaries working for him. Through his many agents, his satanic majesty has proclaimed his intentions to destroy one whole generation of our choice young people….
“There must needs be opposition in all things. Freedom of choice is a God-given eternal principle. To escape Satan’s snares and booby traps by following the Lord is our assignment. It is not an easy one.” ~Elder Benson
When my children were young, they once asked me if the devil has more power than God. I wish I could have had this quote to share with them:
“Remember, Lucifer did not come here of his own choosing. He lost that war in heaven and was put hereto do a job, and he is doing a good job.
“God is just. Lucifer, then, can do on this earth only what he is permitted to do.” ~Eldred G. Smith
“Free agency requires that there must be a choice. There must be an opposing force. There is no growth, no movement, no accomplishment or progress without overcoming an opposing force.” ~Eldred G. Smith
So we have nothing to fear!
“We need not fear the fiery darts of the adversary, nor be troubled by world conditions, as long as we walk in that light which a gracious Father has so abundantly shed forth upon us in this final gospel dispensation.” – President Smith
All we need to do is seek God’s help. We need His help; we are not meant to walk this path alone.
“Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Ask and you shall receive.”(See Matt. 7:7; Luke 11:9.)
“It’s your decision. Each individual must make his own decisions. No one can live someone else’s life for him.
“If you ask the Lord for help, he will give you strength, power, and ability to overcome Lucifer and withstand his efforts, and thus you will be strengthened and made more perfect. We must seek the Lord’s help in prayer.
“The Lord has made no promise to those who try to go it alone.” ~Eldred G. Smith
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Other posts from this week’s Odyssey reading: