In his talk, Elder S. Mark Palmer Of the Seventy, told the tragic story of his sister’s death by drowning when she was only 17 months old. Naturally, this had a profound effect on his parents. As a parent myself, I can imagine how awful that would be.
Elder Palmer said “Dad wrote years later that [when their daughter drowned] some of the laughter went out of their lives forever. It also caused a yearning for answers to life’s most important questions: What will become of our precious Ann? Will we ever see her again? How can our family ever be happy again?”
A number of years later, the missionaries found them, taught them the gospel, and they were baptized.
Elder Palmer continued, “Many years later Dad told me that if not for Ann’s tragic death, he would never have been humble enough to accept the restored gospel. My parents’ faith continued to grow until they each burned with the fire of testimony that quietly and humbly guided their every decision in life.”
Then Elder Palmer concluded, “With all my heart and soul, I choose to follow Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. This blesses every aspect of my life.”
I can relate. I feel the same way.
Elder Taniela B. Wakolo of the Seventy talked about how the chastening by the Lord is for our own good. He mentioned some of the many trials that Joseph Smith faced as he lead the saints in the early days of the church, and then he mentioned one of his own trials.
Apparently Elder Walkolo has a rocky relationship with some of his family members. He said he felt very badly when no one in his family told him that his sister had died.
Because of the gospel, however, he’s able to see how trials, or “chastening by the Lord”, as he called it, is for our own good. Elder Wakolo went on to declare “because of the Savior’s sacrifice and ransom, I will no longer refer to my challenges as trials and tribulations but as my learning experiences;”
The Lord said it best in a revelation to Joseph Smith while he was imprisoned on false charges in Liberty Jail. After listing several awful things that might happen to the Prophet, the Lord concluded by saying “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” and then added “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”
Of course, in every General Conference, the words we should pay the most attention to are those of our current Prophet. I was struck several years ago when someone at church mentioned that a non-member friend of his had asked him what the prophet had said during the previous Gen Conf – and he couldn’t remember. That’s not a position I ever want to find myself in. So after every conference, I try to prepare myself in case someone were to ask “what did the Prophet say?”
Pres Nelson spoke a total of 4 times during the conference and had something important to say each time. I will briefly review his Sunday morning, but I’ll invite you to review the other 3 talks as well.
In his Sunday morning address, Pres Nelson spoke about the pressing need that each one of us has to strengthen our faith. He said that we need to have the kind of faith that will move mountains – “not the mountains of rock that beautify the earth, but the mountains of misery in your lives. “
“Your mountains may be loneliness, doubt, illness, or other personal problems. Your mountains will vary, and yet the answer to each of your challenges is to increase your faith.”
Pres. Nelson then offered five suggestions to help us develop faith and trust:
- Study the gospel.
- Choose to believe.
- Act in faith.
- Partake of sacred ordinances.
- Ask God to help you.
Then concluded with “Your flourishing faith willhelp you turn challenges into unparalleled growth and opportunity.”
What struck me about his remarks is that he didn’t talk about faith as an abstract concept, but instead he talked about the importance of faith as it relates to our individual circumstances and the trials we are facing. He spoke directly to people who are facing severe challenges in their lives. He also spoke to those who have doubts about the church or it’s leaders.
I’d like to talk now about doubts. Though some people are more confident than others, no one is immune from having doubts about everything from our ability to accomplish certain tasks to our faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel.
Though we as church members are fond of saying that we “know” this or that to be true, the reality is that we all have doubts to one degree or another.
I’d like to talk about a time when I had a lot of doubts.
I was raised in a very religious home here in Ohio. My parents were not members of this church, but they had strong Christian values and were determined to raise me and my siblings in a religious environment.
When I was very young I accepted everything my parents taught me, but as I grew older, I began to have doubts about many things including religion.
My mother had a strong faith and an endless amount of knowledge and wisdom regarding spiritual matters, and tried very hard to pass that faith and wisdom on to me. But, sadly, it was largely in vain. I’m sure it was quite frustrating for her when I would question her endlessly.
Despite my doubts and questions, I really wanted to have the kind of faith that she did and found myself continually searching for answers, but never seemed to find them.
This went on throughout my teen years and into my early twenties. At age 23, I found myself at a particularly low point in my life and made a rather dramatic decision. I had graduated college and had a decent job, but I was ready to give it up. I decided to quit my job and more or less drop out of life for a while, hoping to find some answers. I spent the next 6 months driving all over the United States visiting old college friends, some distant family members, as well as national parks and other places of interest.
In the middle of my travels, I decided to make a quick stop in Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anyone there nor did I know anything about the Mormons. But I was very impressed with the city. It was a beautiful city and different from any other place I had visited.
I decided to visit Temple Square which was right in the middle of the downtown area. A man greeted me and offered to give me a tour. I was impressed, but not ready to believe anything that he told me.
At the end, he presented me with a copy of the Book of Mormon.
I politely thanked him and then left. I checked out a couple more things in the city, and then left town the following day with a favorable impression and with a special feeling about the area.
Three months later, when I ran out of people and places to visit, I felt prompted to return to Salt Lake City and settle down. I found a job, got an apartment, and slowly began making some Mormon friends. Before long I also started meeting with the missionaries and taking the discussions. Despite the fact that I loved meeting with them and learning about the gospel, I remained a doubter and found myself wanting to believe, but unable to do so. Once again, I felt I was in a rut, continually in search of answers that never seemed to come.
This went on for three long years. During this time, I moved a few times and went through several sets of missionaries. In fact the missionaries dropped me a couple of times when I refused to make any progress.
Of course, as you can see, I eventually did join the church, but not because I was given a great vision or sign. It was only after humbly accepting the fact that I had already been given all the proof that I really needed that the church was indeed true. I realized that I had actually received a testimony during my very first visit to Salt Lake City over 3 years earlier.
At age 27, I was finally able to receive the gospel into my life and accept baptism. Having searched so long for answers, it was indeed a very happy day for me — one I will never forget.
Forty one years have now passed since that day and much has happened. Has it all been good? No, but am happy to report that I have not faltered in my faith.
Have all of my doubts and concerns disappeared? Not really. To be truthful, I still have doubts about many things.
But, as Pres. Nelson counseled us three weeks ago in Gen Conf, I have chosen to believe, or as Pres. Uchtdorf said it a few years ago, I have chosen to doubt my doubts before I doubt my faith.
Though I still consider my faith to be weak I have absolute confidence in our Prophet and other leaders. I know that I am part of a wonderful organization that is a tremendous source of good in the world. I feel confident that I am on the right path and I believe that the Lord is blessing me in many ways that I cannot fully comprehend.
I am reminded of the words of Elder M Russell Ballard in a conference talk a few years ago where he reminded us of a point in the Savior’s ministry that many people doubted Him and had fallen away. He turned to Peter and the remaining disciples and asked “Will ye also go away?” Peter answered by asking another question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
Elder Ballard went on to say:
“If any one of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question that Peter asked: “To whom shall [you] go?” If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The decision to “walk no more” with Church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now.”
If you are anxious to find flaws and faults in the church or it’s leaders, you will find them. I choose to, instead, find the good, There is much good to be found. I believe this is the best approach, not only regarding the church and its leaders, but in everything we do.
Like Elder Palmer, I say that the gospel and my membership in this church blesses every aspect of my life.