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4 hidden gems you may have missed from general conference footnotes

Author’s note: Every other week, the “Found in the footnotes” column explores some of the footnotes from remarks given by Church leaders. I recently had the opportunity to summarize a few of my favorite columns in an article for the September/October 2020 issue of LDS Living magazine. Those of you who follow this column will likely recognize these insights, but I hope they can act as a reminder of some of these great teachings from our leaders. 

In April 2017, I embarked on a project to find out which verse of scripture was the most referenced during general conference. My plan was to memorize the verses quoted the most by Church leaders in the April 2017 conference prior to the next session of conference in October.

As I started diving into the footnotes, not only did I find scripture references, I found profound insight. There were entire stories in the footnotes that I may otherwise have never heard that touched my heart and made me love the conference talks even more. Now I read the footnotes along with every talk.

This year, I have had the opportunity to share thoughts that I have uncovered in the footnotes through a bi-weekly column on the LDS Living website. Here are a few that stood out.

The Sacrament

At the 2019 Mission Leadership Seminar, President Russell M. Nelson had just partaken of the sacrament and was about to address the congregation. Before he began his formal message, he paused to share a message about the significance of what had just taken place:

A thought has occurred to me that my making a covenant today is a lot more important than the message that I have prepared. I made a covenant as I partook of the sacrament that I would be willing to take upon me the name of Jesus Christ and that I am willing to obey His commandments. Often, I hear the expression that we partake of the sacrament to renew covenants made at baptism. While that’s true, it’s much more than that. I’ve made a new covenant. You have made new covenants. . . . Now in return for which He makes the statement that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. What a blessing!

These words are found in footnote 18 of Elder Dale G. Renlund’s October 2019 conference talk, “Unwavering Commitment to Jesus Christ.” Though only 164 mission presidents and their companions were in attendance that day, President Nelson’s insight is now shared with even more people through a general conference address footnote, and I don’t know if I would have found it otherwise.

When I think about President Nelson’s quote, I reflect on the many times I have taken the sacrament. Do I pause to think about the new covenant I am making? Am I willing to take upon me the name of Jesus Christ? At that moment, am I willing to obey His commandments?

This footnote was a touching reminder to me that perhaps I, too, can do better at reflecting on the Savior and my covenants when I partake of the sacrament.

► You may also like: As we strive to ‘hear Him,’ President Eyring says we can take courage from this verse in Helaman

The Iron Rod

Knowing he was speaking at a Brigham Young University devotional in March 2007, Elder Neil L. Andersen asked Elder David A. Bednar, who was going to speak at BYU a month before Elder Anderson, if he had selected his topic.

“I was taken aback when he responded that his talk was about holding fast to the iron rod. This was the exact title I had chosen for my talk,” Elder Andersen wrote in the footnote of his October 2019 general conference talk, “Fruit.”

A week after Elder Andersen’s conversation with Elder Bednar, President Boyd K. Packer also gave a devotional at BYU and addressed the topic of the iron rod.

The incredible part? Each devotional addressed a different meaning of the iron rod.

“The connection of these three talks was no coincidence,” Elder Andersen wrote in his footnote. “The hand of the Lord was at work as three talks, prepared for the same audience, identified three aspects of the iron rod, or the word of God: (1) the scriptures, or the words of ancient prophets; (2) the words of living prophets; and (3) the power of the Holy Ghost.”

This story is found in the fourth footnote of Elder Andersen’s October 2019 general conference talk. As I have studied each of the talks he mentioned in this footnote (“A Reservoir of Living Water,” “Lehi’s Dream and You,” and “Hold Fast to the Words of the Prophets”), I have gained a deeper understanding of the rod that marked the strait and narrow path to the tree of life.

► You may also like: 3 reasons revelation might not come

Mental Health

Shortly after she delivered her October 2019 general conference address, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!” Sister Reyna I. Aburto shared a post on Facebook and explained why there were so many footnotes in her conference talk:

Have you ever prepared a Sunday lesson and had way more information than you could possibly share in one class? That’s exactly how I felt when I prepared my talk for the women’s session of general conference! There were many scriptures, talks, and publications I wanted to share, but I didn’t have time. That’s why the endnotes are extensive. My hope is that if you want to know more about how to cope with emotional issues, you will find in there inspired resources that can guide you (Reyna I. Aburto official Facebook page, November 12, 2019).

Perhaps my favorite insight from Sister Aburto’s talk (which is also discussed in the footnotes she mentioned) is that feelings aren’t a failing of mortality, nor are they a sign of weakness. They are part of our divine nature. In her address, Sister Aburto says, “Like our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, we have a physical body and experience emotions.”

 Scriptures in the footnotes of her talk point us to times when the feelings God and the Savior experienced were identified: God rejoices (Isaiah 65:19); the Lord has compassion (Luke 7:13); God weeps (Moses 7:28).

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ experience emotions, and if we learn to recognize our emotions, we can learn more about our divine potential.

“Learning to identify and value our emotions can help us use them constructively to become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Sister Aburto says in the fifth footnote.

In total, there are 41 footnotes in Sister Aburto’s talk. As I studied them and the materials referenced in them, I found myself gaining a deeper understanding of emotional and mental health concerns.

Sister Aburto wrote on Facebook:

Hopefully, as we reach for the Savior’s grace and support each other in our struggles, our burdens will be lighter and we may even be able to prevent much suffering in our children, our youth, and the people we love.

That is my hope, too.

► You may also like: What I hope I’ll say when my daughter asks me about her place in the Church

Praying with Real Intent

When Elder Neil L. Andersen was serving as a mission president in Bordeaux, France, President Dallin H. Oaks, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited Elder Andersen’s mission and taught the missionaries about what it meant to pray with “real intent.”

In a footnote of Elder Andersen’s April 2020 general conference talk, “Spiritually Defining Memories,” Elder Andersen shares the following:

President Dallin H. Oaks visited our mission in Bordeaux, France, in 1991. He explained to our missionaries that real intent means that the person praying is saying to the Lord something like this: “I do not ask out of curiosity but with total sincerity to act on the answer to my prayer. If Thou wilt give me this answer, I will act to change my life. I will respond.”

When I found this footnote, two words stood out to me: act and respond. Praying with real intent means praying with total sincerity to act and respond. I also find it powerful that President Oaks used the word, “will.”

It caused me to question, in a year where the prophet has invited us to “hear Him,” if I am praying with real intent. Am I praying with total sincerity to act and respond?

Another element that struck me about this footnote isn’t so much the teaching of the footnote but the fact that Elder Andersen treasured this 1991 teaching from President Oaks. Nearly 29 years after President Oaks gave this teaching, Elder Andersen is now sharing it with the world in general conference through his footnotes. Though I do not know for certain, I imagine Elder Andersen wrote down this important teaching when it was given and that it has helped him to remember it. In his April 2020 address, Elder Andersen likewise encourages us to remember our own spiritual experiences:

Embrace your sacred memories. Believe them. Write them down. Share them with your family. Trust that they come to you from your Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. Let them bring patience to your doubts and understanding to your difficulties. I promise you that as you willingly acknowledge and carefully treasure the spiritually defining events in your life, more and more will come to you. Heavenly Father knows you and loves you!

I hope we can continue to seek more real intent in our prayers, and when the windows of heaven open, I hope we embrace those sacred moments when we “hear Him.” And I hope that you can find your own insights as you study the remarks of our Church leaders. As I have found treasures in the footnotes, I feel like I have found messages from the Lord just for me, and I hope you will find those moments too.

► You may also like: 13 Revelatory Words Used by President Nelson

Images: Lead image by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News; Sister Aburto picture from Intellectual Reserve, Inc. 

Image titleThe General Conference Addresses Journal Edition will have all the text of the General Conference addresses from October 2020 in one spiral-bound paperback. Extra-wide, lined margins give you space to record your impressions and document insights you receive. Available now for preorder at DeseretBook.com. 

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Lindsey Williams

Lindsey Williams joined the LDS Living team with a passion to find the stories that matter most. Previous stops in her career include BYU-Pathway Worldwide, the Special Projects Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah Valley Magazine. When she's not searching for stories to write, the Colorado Springs native is most likely on a hiking trail. Follow her on Twitter with the handle @lindsey5brooke.

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