No, I’m don’t usually feel offended or hurt during General Conference. In fact, I never do. I mean, I do get a little sting every once in awhile because I need to change, but more often I feel comfort and peace and I feel excited to get to work on what needs to change in my life.
What I do see online, however, are people expressing thoughts along the following lines: How could President Packer say that? He obviously doesn’t know what it is like to __________… or This is the problem! Elder Anderson just made matters worse when he said __________…
In fact, I’d imagine that people are going to get a little worked up about Elder Cook’s priesthood session address where he stated to unmarried young men (that are in the marriage age realm):
…the longer you remain single, after an appropriate age and maturity, the more comfortable you can become. But the more uncomfortable you ought to become! Please get anxiously engaged in spiritual and social activities compatible with your goal of temple marriage. (Elder Quentin L. Cook, Conference Report, October, 2014)
I can imagine some people saying: Easy for him to say! He’s married! Doesn’t he know how badly I want to get married? I’m trying! I already feel uncomfortable. His words only make me feel worse…
I just don’t think it needs to be this way, and there are a few keys from this most recent conference mixed with a conference address from a few years ago.
President Uchtdorf gave some instruction regarding our attitudes during conference addresses:
Now, stick with me for a moment. Yes, the start of really learning and growing through our participation in General Conference is to ask ourselves where we are on the subject being spoken of. At that point, you typically have two options. Either it is me, and I need to listen both to the speaker and the Spirit to determine what the next step is for changing. Or, well, it isn’t me. At least not now. Then what?
Here are some thoughts from Elder Jeffery R. Holland regarding that moment:
In wanting to measure up to the stern as well as embrace the soothing in our general conference messages, please be reassured that when we speak on difficult subjects, we understand not everyone is viewing pornography or shirking marriage or having illicit sexual relationships. We know not everyone is violating the Sabbath or bearing false witness or abusing a spouse. We know that most in our audience are not guilty of such things, but we are under a solemn charge to issue warning calls to those who are—wherever they may be in the world. So if you are trying to do the best you can—if, for example, you keep trying to hold family home evening in spite of the bedlam that sometimes reigns in a houseful of little bedlamites—then give yourself high marks and, when we come to that subject, listen for another which addresses a topic where you may be lacking. If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you. (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Conference Report, April, 2011)
In other words, for the young man who thinks that Elder Cook is only making matters worse because the he is already trying to get married despite the fact that things haven’t fallen into place quite yet, Elder Holland has the answer: Give yourself high marks…and move forward. If you have asked yourself, “Is it I?” and the answer is clearly, No, this one isn’t for you…then you can move on, cheerfully, and look for something else to work on.
The gift of discernment would be helpful here. Certainly we don’t want to assume that a talk doesn’t apply to us because we can’t sense in ourselves a weakness. But at the same time, there is no need to beat ourselves up over an issue where we are already improving.
If the speakers in conference only spoke on topics where there was universal need to improvement, they would only be allowed to speak on pride. Instead, they follow the dictates of the Spirit of God and hopefully each listener finds an item or two where they can improve…