SERENA: I have never been a leader worshiper. I believe the brethren serve out of a place of love. We are all fallible, our human leaders included, and I worship Jesus Christ, not man. I have admiration and respect for the apostles, general authorities and general officers of the Church who devote so much of their lives to the service of our Heavenly Father. I believe they are good men and women doing their best to do the will of the Lord. I sustain them by listening and seeking revelation as to how to apply their teachings in my life in ways that strengthen my relationship with Heavenly Father and help me be more in tune with His will for me.
My favorite talk was Elder Holland’s talk. When Elder Holland speaks, I sense he truly understands the pain so many endure. I say this while acknowledging that, for some victims of sexual abuse (particularly when the abuse was handled poorly by church leaders), his words about forgiving offenses that drive us from participation at church likely caused anguish. He spoke more than 1,000 words (or two thirds of his address) before he clarified:
“Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven,”11 Christ taught in New Testament times. And in our day: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”12 It is, however, important for some of you living in real anguish to note what He did not say. He did not say, “You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another.” Nor did He say, “In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.” But notwithstanding even the most terrible offenses that might come to us, we can rise above our pain only when we put our feet onto the path of true healing. That path is the forgiving one walked by Jesus of Nazareth, who calls out to each of us, “Come, follow me.”
Elder Holland was also inspired and guided to note that forgiving and letting go does not mean returning to toxic situations but a reminder to walk with Christ. Elder Holland’s talk left me feeling comforted because the idea that reconciliation brings peace rings true to me, provided the reconciliation keeps people physically and emotionally safe. By including that detail, I hope his words help countless people reach a place of peace in their lives.
I also enjoyed the address by Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, President of the Young Women General president, about ministering in a way that means nobody walks alone. She quoted the New Testament when Jesus is asked: “When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee thee in?” Her response to this question touched my heart because it focused on the one:
Brothers and sisters, the key word is saw. The righteous saw those in need because they were watching and noticing. We too can be a watchful eye to aid and comfort, to celebrate and even dream. As we act, we can be assured of the promise in Matthew: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me.”
She invited all, but especially the youth, to participate in seeing the one. Her caution to not simply bring brownies, but to minister with our attention moved me deeply. I’ll ponder in my heart for a long time how I can better pay attention to the individual.
I will also spend time studying the talks in the months to come, and I am sure I will find more and more nuggets of wisdom and truth to incorporate into my life from other speakers.
Since the close of October 2018 General Conference, there’s been a lot of discussion about its weaknesses. I agree with many of the points I’ve heard. We need more women speakers. We need more inclusiveness and sensitivity toward marginalized people, particularly our LGBTQ members. We need to talk about all of these things. But we also need to focus on what was good in General Conference.
Each of us is different. Line upon line, we learn and progress. We are all in different places. I believe God understands why I am where I am in the Gospel because He knows what I have experienced. For that reason, I believe that I am entitled to personal revelation for myself to navigate the words that were spoken this weekend and apply them to my life in an individualized way. I will be reading the Book of Mormon. I will be focusing on the positive. Given my obligations, I won’t be able to do a social media fast at this time, and I don’t feel guilt about that. I am doing what works for me and applying the words of our leaders in ways that suit my situation.
Some will contend that I don’t sustain the leaders if I don’t obey everything all at once or in the way they are obeying them. But Jesus asked me to come as I am. That is what I am doing—the best that I can. I’m trying. Not gonna lie, I struggle at times, I hurt at times, and I have questions some categorize as doubts. But I have faith in Jesus Christ and believe I am a member of His restored church. For those reasons, I push along the best I can and have no ill-will to anyone who sees things differently than me.
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