Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Know General Conference Is True

We Mormons like to use the word know a lot.  We know the Book of Mormon is true.  We know the church is true.  We know that loads of things are true.  I recently had a conversation with some friends about what it means to know truth.  My favorite explanation of how we know that something is true comes from Alma 32:33-36 from the Book of Mormon.  The second half of chapter 32 compares the word of God to a seed that we figuratively plant in our hearts.  After we plant the seed "it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow " so we know that it is a good seed.  Verse 34 asks if our knowledge is perfect and Alma answers his own question: "Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing..."  The antecedent of "that" is that the seed is good.  Then Alma explains what it is that you know.  He says, "ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened and your mind doth begin to expand."  I love this explanation of knowing truth because it has nothing to do with facts and everything to do with experiences.  To me, Alma is explaining that knowing is experiential.  Can I say that I have a conviction that Jesus died on the cross?  Of course.  But I can say without reservation that I have felt forgiveness when I have repented.  The reality of repentance is knowledge to me because it is something that I have experienced.  And through experiencing the atonement on a personal level I gained a conviction that the Savior really did die for me.
Below are three experiences that I have had with General Conference.  I think the phrase "I know General Conference is true" is awkward and imprecise, but I can totally picture someone saying it.  I have had experiences watching General Conference that have swelled my soul, enlightened my understanding, and expanded my mind.  These three experiences and many others make me excited for the talks this coming weekend. 

In 2006 I was doing an internship in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  It was by far the best experience I had during my time as a BYU undergrad.  I was there working for LDS Employment Resource Services teaching people how to find jobs.  It was awesome.  The mission president's family lived at the top of 12 story high rise and my roommate and I were frequent dinner guests at their house.  The mission president's wife didn't speak Spanish and was happy to have someone to talk to. 
22 year old me in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
During my time in Bolivia I watched the October 2006 General Conference.  The Bolivian members were so excited about it and the chapels had tons of people in them to watch the broadcast, even the Saturday sessions.  This is what I wrote in my journal on Sunday night: "At the close of conference the choir sang 'We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet.'  Then the congregation joined in to sing a few verses.  While the congregation sang they showed the 1st Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.  The Spirit bore witness to me in an unmistakable manner that those men are prophets, seers, and revelators.  What an amazing thing."  I sat in a chapel surrounded by Bolivian Latter-day Saints as we watched the Spanish translations of the talks.  The songs, however, were not translated.  And so, when it came time for the congregation to sing I belted out the words in English while everyone around me sang in Spanish.  I still remember the feeling that enveloped me in that moment and how sure I felt of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.  I talked to some friends after the meeting and one of them said, "Did you feel that when we sang?  Wasn't that amazing?"  I did and it really was amazing.  Whether singing in English or in Spanish, we had the same experience.  That is one of my favorite memories of conference.

President Hinckley passed away in January 2008 while I was a student at BYU and his funeral was on my 24th birthday.  I know how the church works and so when he died I knew that President Monson was the new prophet.  I knew it intellectually and I didn't doubt it.  Two months later we had our first opportunity to sustain Thomas S. Monson as the new prophet in a Solemn Assembly.  I'd never attended a Solemn Assembly before, but I knew that we would be asked to stand up in different groups to sustain the prophet.  I usually watch conference at home, but I wanted to share that experience with other members of the church in a chapel.  Most of my friends thought that was silly idea, but I managed to convince my roommate Chris to go with me to a nearby church.  Apparently everyone thought watching conference at church was lame because there were only five people there besides the two of us.  When the Patriarchs, High Priests, and Elders were asked to stand I stood up by myself in the nearly empty chapel  and raised my hand to the square to sustain him.  Logic and past precedence had told me two months earlier that President Monson was the new prophet, but when I raised my hand to sustain him I felt the Spirit wash over me in a powerful way.  I sat down on the pew amazed by the simple and powerful experience I had just had.  I now had a conviction that came from the Spirit that he was God's prophet.

September 2013 was a rough month for me.  I'd been in Tucson for a year and I'd only come out to one friend here.  I was feeling lonely and fearful about the future.  I just couldn't imagine a happy future for myself as a member of the church and I was seriously considering leaving.  The weeks leading up to General Conference I prayed and prayed and I even fasted an extra time.  I felt like I was coming undone and I just didn't want to be alone anymore.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do going forward, but I had so much hope that something said in a talk would help me know what to do.  And that's exactly what happened. 

Here's part of what I wrote in my journal about that conference: "What I didn't want from conference was a bunch of messages telling me to be patient because I've already been patient for so long, but that's exactly what I got and it's exactly what I needed.  Over and over again the speakers mentioned trusting in the Lord and being patient.  Elder Dube talked about looking back and thinking that we have accomplished so much when really what lies ahead is more important and significant.  I'm guilty of feeling like I've already done a lot, but the truth is that I'm not nearly done.  The feeling I got over and over again is that I'm on the right course and that I'm really doing my best.  The Lord knows that.  And because I'm on the right course I shouldn't worry about who I'm going to marry and when and how because things will work out if I just stay the course.  I have been feeling so exhausted and worried lately as I consider the impossible task before me of getting married, but today I felt love and confidence.  I need not worry because I'm doing my best and all will be well." 

I had felt worn out and lost, but after that General Conference I felt confident and hopeful.  My attitude did a complete 180 in an afternoon.  If I could have looked into my future I would have seen that I had every right to be hopeful because the next few months were awesome.  I was flipping through my journal just now and it's filled with loads of happy memories from those months.  The messages I heard and the Spirit I felt changed my attitude and perspective almost instantly.  It was a marvelous, life changing day.

Twice in Alma 32 we are asked if our knowledge is perfect.  The first time the answer is yes and the second time the answer is no (well, technically the answers are yea and nay).  This really confused me at first.  I recommend taking some time to ponder these verses because I think there is a profound lesson there.  Alma sums up what he's trying to get us to understand in Alma 33:23 when he says, "I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith.  And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.  And then my God grant unto you that your burdens may be light through the joy of his Son."  Through personal experience I know that our burdens can be made light through the joy of his Son.  This is true.  

I'm looking forward to General Conference.   I have every reason to look forward to it.  It has been such a positive, spiritual experience for me in the past that I know I can expect it to be an affirming, uplifting experience this time, too.  And I look forward to the experiences that I will have that will teach me truths that will expand my mind, enlighten my understanding, and swell my soul.  

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