Comer: A testimony of the importance of general conference
I was telling my 8-year-old son this week that my favorite times of the year are — in no specific order — Thanksgiving, Christmas and general conference, the semiannual gathering of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
From the talks to the music to the temple announcements to the spirit that is palpably present throughout, there isn’t one aspect of general conference that I don’t completely enjoy.
It hasn’t always been this way.
Before my mission, I never felt any sort of eagerness for general conference. I didn’t like going to the stake center and sitting on the hard metal chairs in the overflow area for two-plus hours, I didn’t feel like I connected with any of the speakers and, frankly, I was kind of spiritually lazy. I just wanted to be at home doing things that I enjoyed.
That all unexpectedly changed one morning in Taiwan as I sat in my apartment with my companion. He had CDs of one of the recent general conferences and was listening to them. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland began to speak. I’m embarrassed to admit, but at the time I knew pretty much nothing about Elder Holland. I knew he was an apostle, and one of the more recently called ones compared to the other apostles, but that was about it. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t know that I even knew it was Elder Holland just by hearing his voice.
Immediately, I was captivated as he spoke about Jesus’ visit to the Americas following his resurrection and his subsequent interactions with the children.
“We cannot know exactly what the savior was feeling in such a poignant moment, but we do know that He was ‘troubled’ and that He ‘groaned within himself’ over the destructive influences always swirling around the innocent,” Elder Holland said. “We know He felt a great need to pray for and bless the children.”
“In such times as we are in, whether the threats be global or local or in individual lives, I too pray for the children. Some days it seems that a sea of temptation and transgression inundates them, simply washes over them before they can successfully withstand it, before they should have to face it.”
Elder Holland then transitioned into some counsel to adult members of the church “who may be given to cynicism or skepticism, who in matters of whole-souled devotion always seem to hang back a little, who at the church’s doctrinal campsite always like to pitch their tents out on the periphery of religious faith.”
Between the eloquence and the power of the message, I sat completely entranced, unable to focus on anything else other than the words that were being said. Then came an emotional conclusion.
“Nephi-like, might we ask ourselves what our children know? From us? Personally?” Elder Holland said. “Do our children know that we love the scriptures? Do they see us reading them and marking them and clinging to them in daily life? Have our children ever unexpectedly opened a closed door and found us on our knees in prayer? Have they heard us not only pray with them but also pray for them out of nothing more than sheer parental love? Do our children know we believe in fasting as something more than an obligatory first-Sunday-of-the-month hardship? Do they know that we have fasted for them and for their future on days about which they knew nothing? Do they know we love being in the temple, not least because it provides a bond to them that neither death nor the legions of hell can break? Do they know we love and sustain local and general leaders, imperfect as they are, for their willingness to accept callings they did not seek in order to preserve a standard of righteousness they did not create? Do those children know that we love God with all our heart and that we long to see the face — and fall at the feet — of His only begotten son? I pray that they know this.”
In 15 minutes, I went from not thinking anything of general conference to suddenly thinking I needed as much of it as I could get. I had to listen to more talks from that general conference to see what else I could learn and feel.
Over the years since, I’ve had many powerful experiences listening to and watching general conference. One talk showed me just how much is possible when I humble myself and accept the counsel given — a talk by Elder David A. Bednar titled “The Windows of Heaven.”
In the talk, Elder Bednar spoke about the blessings given to those who obey the law of tithing as well as the importance of tithing to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just as had been noticed with Elder Holland’s talk, there was a powerful conclusion.
“The honest payment of tithing is much more than a duty; it is an important step in the process of personal sanctification,” Elder Bednar said. “To those of you who pay your tithing, I commend you. To those of you who presently are not obeying the law of tithing, I invite you to consider your ways and repent. I testify that by your obedience to this law of the Lord, the windows of heaven will be opened to you. Please do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.”
At the time I heard this talk, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t obeying the law of tithing, but I definitely was not prioritizing it. I had allowed my tithing to add up over the course of the previous few months, always planning on paying it eventually but never quite being able to find the spiritual power to do so. Not helping matters was that a month prior to this general conference, I lost my job. It wasn’t by any means a great job, but it was my way of providing for myself and my wife. Upon losing it, I was in shambles emotionally, completely unable to see a way forward.
Hearing Elder Bednar’s talk, and specifically his words “Please do not procrastinate the day of your repentance,” provided the push I needed. That evening, I went to the stake center for the priesthood session and gave a member of the bishopric a check for my tithing in full. Astonishingly, I don’t recall feeling a whole lot of trepidation while handing it over, even though it was more than I had ever paid in one instance. I simply felt relief. I felt like I was doing what had to be done.
The next week, I felt impressed to seek a job at a place I had not previously considered. I can honestly say it just popped into my head. I went and turned in my resume and the person I met with told me that they could use me, but only on a part-time basis. Part-time is better than unemployed, so I happily accepted the opportunity. Despite it being only part-time, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of peace. I knew it was exactly what I needed to be doing. I knew it wasn’t going to work long-term for me to only work part-time, but I vividly remember thinking, “Just be patient. Give it six months. If it hasn’t turned into something full-time by then, seek opportunities elsewhere. But give it six months. You need to give it an honest try.” Again, I felt total peace.
Six months later, an opportunity to work full-time came up, and because I had proven my abilities over an extended period of time, I was given the position.
As I watched Elder Bednar’s talk again in preparation to write this column, I was amazed by a few lines in particular:
“We may need and pray for help to find suitable employment,” Elder Bednar said. “Eyes and ears of faith (see Ether 12:19) are needed, however, to recognize the spiritual gift of enhanced discernment that can empower us to identify job opportunities that many other people might overlook — or the blessing of greater personal determination to search harder and longer for a position than other people may be able or willing to do. We might want and expect a job offer, but the blessing that comes to us through heavenly windows may be greater capacity to act and change our own circumstances rather than expecting our circumstances to be changed by someone or something else.”
Another person in my position might have overlooked the place where I sought employment for various reasons, including the fact that it would only initially be part-time with no guarantee of advancement. But I had peace and confidence it could work. Another person might not have been willing to persevere when challenges came up, which they did. But I had “the blessing of greater personal determination” to stick with it because I had received confirmation that it was what I needed to do.
“Sometimes we may ask God for success, and He gives us physical and mental stamina,” Elder Bednar said. “We might plead for prosperity, and we receive enlarged perspective and increased patience, or we petition for growth and are blessed with the gift of grace. He may bestow upon us conviction and confidence as we strive to achieve worthy goals. And when we plead for relief from physical, mental and spiritual difficulties, He may increase our resolve and resilience.”
Every word is true, and I know because it has played out that way in my life. Because of that, there isn’t a force strong enough to compel me to not pay tithing, regardless of my situation. I strive to have the faith of the widow documented in the gospel of Mark and highlighted by Elder Bednar.
“And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.” (Mark 12:41-44)
This all represents just a small portion of what’s resonated with me from general conference. I can’t wait to find out what I learn this weekend.
Contact Ryan Comer at email@example.com.