More and more it seems the Church and our leaders are focusing on simplifying programs, meetings, and reports to focus on the core of the gospel. To me, the overall message seems to be that, no matter our age, we won't be babied or shepherded through membership in the Church. Instead, we have the opportunity to embrace our discipleship, rely on our Savior and receive His grace, and pursue exaltation and the divinity within us, with the loving support of the Church and its members behind us to catch us when we fall.
Our membership in the Church is all about strengthening our relationship with God, our Savior, and the Holy Ghost so we can begin creating heaven now, not in some distant future life.
While I love the way this past general conference challenged and stretched each of us, I'm nervous that I and some of my fellow members might be missing the mark when it comes to the messages of our Church leaders.
The prophet and apostles issued many challenges and charged us with ministering to one another, teaching the gospel in our homes, taking greater care with the name of the Church, improving our scripture study, rededicating ourselves to regular temple attendance, and many, many other wonderful tasks that come with powerful blessings.
But directly following these talks, I began seeing quotes cropping up in conversations or appearing on social media that people clung onto to prove a point, justify an action, or even turn into a weapon against others, even themselves. What scared me so much about this trend was that I could see the tendency within myself—the selective hearing that caused me to praise, write down, share, and remember certain quotes from talks while discounting those that I didn't want to hear.
It made me wonder, are we listening to the prophet and apostles with the intent to prove our own biases, or are we listening humbly, willing to accept that which is difficult to hear? Are we sharing quotes to pass judgment, or to spread love—including of ourselves? Are we weaponizing the words of Church leaders to feel better about ourselves, or are we striving to take them to heart and make a change?
In pulling quotes out of context, we tend to share a fragmented, distorted message that can pull us away from others instead of uniting us and knitting our hearts together.
While our prophet and Church leaders did issue many challenges this weekend, calling us to a higher level of discipleship, what I feel has been lost amidst the retelling of these messages is the mercy, patience, and love also shared.
While President Nelson said, "When we omit [Jesus Christ's] name from His Church, we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives," we can tend to forget he also shared, "We will want to be courteous and patient in our efforts to correct these errors."
While Elder Gong challenged us to find joy in wholesome creativity, minister in holier ways, seek the Lord with all our hearts, establish patterns of righteous living, and prepare to meet God, we can tend to forget he also asked us "to remember perfection is in Christ, not in ourselves or in the perfectionism of the world. God’s invitations are full of love and possibility."
While Elder Cook said, "We trust you to counsel together and to seek revelation for implementing these adjustments [about home-centered teaching]—while not looking beyond the mark or trying to regiment individuals or families," what we may forget is that he promised, "members will be blessed in extraordinary ways."
In this conference, some form of the word "judge" appeared in only two talks given by our prophet and apostles, and both instances quoted scripture ("ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26–28) and "that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (D&C 138: 33–34)). In contrast, some form of the word "love" appeared exactly 190 times. Does that focus shine through in our conversations and experiences since conference? With every challenge our Church leaders gave, they also offered encouragement and understanding.
I think this aspect of conference is best illustrated by this sweet story from President Eyring:
"As I’ve mentioned before, one of our bishops once said to me: 'I’m amazed. Every time I hear of a person in the ward who is in trouble, I hurry to help. Yet by the time I arrive, it seems that your wife has always already been there.' That has been true in all the places we have lived for 56 years. "Now she can speak only a few words a day. She is visited by people she loved for the Lord. Every night and morning I sing hymns with her and we pray. I have to be voice in the prayers and in the songs. Sometimes I can see her mouthing the words of the hymns. She prefers children’s songs. The sentiment she seems to like best is summarized in the song 'I’m Trying to Be like Jesus.' "The other day, after singing the words of the chorus: “Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do,” she said softly, but clearly, 'Try, try, try.' I think that she will find, when she sees Him, that our Savior has put His name into her heart and that she has become like Him. He is carrying her through her troubles now, as He will carry you through yours."
We are all imperfect. We are all trying. And our Church leaders, who have more right than anyone in the Church to get frustrated with us, instead offer understanding, patience, and love. But their mercy is only a small measure of what our Savior extends to us.
As Elder Uchtdorf noted:
"You will find that this Church is filled with some of the finest people this world has to offer. They are welcoming, loving, kind, and sincere. They are hardworking, willing to sacrifice, and even heroic at times. "And they are also painfully imperfect. "They make mistakes. "From time to time they say things they shouldn’t. They do things they wish they hadn’t. "But they do have this in common—they want to improve and draw closer to the Lord, our Savior, even Jesus Christ. "They are trying to get it right."
As we try together, let us remember the loving words of our Church leaders so that we can uplift one another and enlighten one another.
"There is no room for fear in these holy places of God or in the hearts of His children. Why? Because of love. God loves us—always—and we love Him." —Elder Ronald A. Rasband "In a similar way that the Solimões and Negro Rivers flow together to make the great Amazon River, the children of God come together in the restored Church of Jesus Christ from different social backgrounds, traditions, and cultures, forming this wonderful community of Saints in Christ. Eventually, as we encourage, support, and love each other, we combine to form a mighty force for good in the world." —Elder Ulisses Soares "Brothers and sisters, Jesus has asked that we 'live together in love' with 'no disputations among you.' . . . My beloved friends, in our shared ministry of reconciliation, I ask us to be peacemakers—to love peace, to seek peace, to create peace, to cherish peace." —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland