As I thought about the conference talk I particularly wanted to write about this week I was attracted to several. There was no obvious one, as there sometimes is, that through controversy or exceptional spiritual power jumped out as the one I needed to focus on.
I often enjoy President Uchtdorf’s talks most and, like many of our female members, I am an unapologetic fan, not because of his looks (though I can’t help appreciating his hair) but because he always seems to speak about subjects I love in ways I find almost poetic. For example, in this conference I loved both his talks, identifying profoundly with his image of finding God in the night sky as he piloted planes across dark oceans and continents.
I also loved his talk to the Priesthood where he referred to helping those in need as the responsibility of all priesthood holders, all the time. I sometimes think that if we put aside our lesson manuals and just talked in our priesthood meetings about what we are all in need of, and how we could help each other, and those others in our wards who are in need, we would have much better and more spiritual and fulfilling meetings. Why don’t we do that, even just once in a while?
There were also great talks by President Eyring and Elder Holland, two more of my traditional favorites. But this time, I heard something that resonated in President Monson’s address at the end of the Sunday morning session. He began it with a somewhat well-worn lament about the moral deterioration of our times, and of our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard:
It may appear to you at times that those out in the world are having much more fun than you are. Some of you may feel restricted by the code of conduct to which we in the Church adhere. My brothers and sisters, I declare to you, however, that there is nothing which can bring more joy into our lives or more peace to our souls than the Spirit which can come to us as we follow the Savior and keep the commandments. That Spirit cannot be present at the kinds of activities in which so much of the world participates. The Apostle Paul declared the truth: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The term natural man can refer to any of us if we allow ourselves to be so.
That struck a chord with me because, in all honesty I have spent a good part of my life undervaluing the joy and peace he refers to here and overvaluing the fun. In my youth I certainly never intended to forgo anything that might be fun for the promise of joy and peace. Those words meant little to me.
They mean much more to me now. As I look for what is of value and search for meaning in my life, the words joy and peace seem to have an almost musical sound. I long for them. I have too little of them. I think most of us do. I look at my teenage children and I see some of the same restlessness and rebelliousness that I had. Luckily, they are smarter than I was and I have great hope for them but I also have great fear. How do you get teenagers to value joy and peace over the lure of the fun and the cool? I don’t have much hope that anything I do or say will make much a difference. But when I think that they are not mine alone, but God’s children too, I have great hope.
President Monson’s prescribed remedy for the moral deterioration that he sees was somewhat unexpected to me:
As a means of being in the world but not being of the world, it is necessary that we communicate with our Heavenly Father through prayer. He wants us to do so; He’ll answer our prayers. The Savior admonished us, as recorded in 3 Nephi 18, to “watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you… Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name; …and whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”
President Monson’s way of holding back the effects of the moral deterioration of society in an increasingly immoral world is simple prayer. Sounds almost too easy. He illustrates this concept, as he usually does, with a couple of great stories: the story of the five dollar bill in the wash and the story of the missing speaker. both are entertaining, as his stories often are, but both teach firm lessons too.
Some I have known are quick to ridicule stories like the one about the five dollar bill. If there is a God, says the skeptic, surely he has better and more important things to do than watch over a child’s lost five dollar bill or help you find your missing car keys. How can you say that God helps in such miniscule circumstances and yet allows things like the Holocaust to happen? The whole idea is ridiculous isn’t it?
And yet, somehow, that’s exactly what God is like to President Monson and, after many, many such experiences, to me as well. I don’t know why God allows horrible things to happen to his children. To me it seems that it’s simply part of the deal we made when we entered mortality that we would be subject to the operation of chance, and that God would not necessarily intervene to stop even terrible things from happening. But the story of the five dollar bill and other experiences I have had show that when misfortune, large or small, comes into our lives, he will be there to comfort, strengthen and provide for us if we seek him out and ask him for what we need.
This may be small comfort to those who look at great cataclysms and see the horrible suffering and loss of life that sometimes occurs, but to those who find themselves in difficulties, whether they are enormous enough to capture the attention of the world or small enough to be important only to a small boy, it can make all the difference.
The second story shows that prayer is not a one-way communication. We are intended to get answers and to listen to them when they come, even if they seem to cause difficulties. President Monson’s great faith in the inspiration that he knew he had received, cause him to stand in a meeting he was conducting and announce that a certain speaker would address the congregation even though he had been told with certainty that the man was not in attendance. This inspiration required not only that President Monson be in tune with the Spirit, but the missing speaker as well, who ended up listening to the Spirit and arriving to speak just in time.
It would have been much easier, and a lot less stressful, for President Monson to simply have called upon a different speaker at that time, one who was present. But for whatever reason, God wanted this certain man to speak that day and provided the necessary inspiration, inconvenient as it was, to make that happen. I don’t know whether that experience was a test of some sort for President Monson or the speaker, or if it was simply a necessary message that needed to be heard by someone in attendance that day, but it’s a story that emphasizes to me that God’s messages to us will not be easy or comfortable, and may in fact cause a certain amount of disruption, but will be worthwhile to us if we follow them.
President Monson closes with this great promise:
My beloved brothers and sisters, communication with our Father in Heaven—including our prayers to Him and His inspiration to us—is necessary in order for us to weather the storms and trials of life. The Lord invites us, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me.” As we do so, we will feel His Spirit in our lives, providing us the desire and the courage to stand strong and firm in righteousness—to “stand … in holy places, and be not moved.”
As the winds of change swirl around us and the moral fiber of society continues to disintegrate before our very eyes, may we remember the Lord’s precious promise to those who trust in Him: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
That’s a promise I need to be fulfilled in my life. I can testify that it has proven true in many circumstances where I felt in great need. Though maybe those circumstances were important only to me, they taught me that I can rely on God to answer my prayers. I treasure that knowledge as I pass it along to you.