General Conference resumes this weekend. I would have said starts, but this 187th worldwide conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began with last weekend’s Women’s Session.
I think it’s significant that the Church officially marks the beginning of conference with messages to and from women. In the Garden, it was Eve who first sought to better know, understand, and follow God’s word and will. Likewise, women first approached their crucified Lord’s tomb, and they first heard the angelic declaration before they “departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word” (Matthew 28:8). And, of course, the resurrected Jesus first showed himself to Mary Magdalene.
So it seems fitting to me that the prophet and apostles of the Church today, restored by that same Lord, now acknowledge the women’s session as the official beginning of the timely, inspired messages broadcast semiannually to all the world.
When I was young (back in the days when we attended two-hour Sunday school meetings in the morning and two-hour Sacrament Meetings later in the day), Sabbaths meant long days in uncomfortable church clothes. General Conference weekend meant doubled endurance; I had to wear Sunday clothes for what seemed like all day Saturday too. “How much longer?” I whispered too loudly and too often during sessions, often while wondering what the grownups found so captivating.
In those pre-internet days, few cable (and no radio) stations broadcast Mormon programming in Florida, so we watched from the stake center. Twice a year we exchanged hellos with the same stalwart families gathered there, and those who drove farther than we did picnicked in the grass behind the parking lot between sessions while we drove home for our sandwiches.
When my children were young, General Conference meant essential preplanning: gospel-related activity books and games, easy-to-manage snacks and drinks, diapers and a change of clothes (or two), and two days of casseroles or slow-cooker meals readied for serving the minute we heard the closing prayer’s amen.
In those satellite-enabled days, we enjoyed the luxury of watching General Conference at my dad’s house, where BYU TV allowed us the comfort of Grandpa’s squishy couches and where our girls surrounded themselves with snacks, crayons, coloring books, and dolls everywhere. (No shushing required, but not as much reverence, either.) With three girls of varying ages, we heard “how much longer?” more often than we heard speakers utter words like faith, endure, patience, and charity combined.
With my children now grown (and grandchild number one a few months shy of birth), I find myself asking “how much longer?” in the months leading up to each General Conference. How much longer will it take me to reread the talks from last conference before I fully apply them? How much longer until this coming conference arrives to help me answer the questions I’m seeking guidance on now? How much longer before I’ve spiritually prepared myself to hear the answers the Lord wants me to recognize?
I’ll watch conference alone this weekend via the almost-taken-for-granted luxury of my laptop — most likely while propped in bed with tissues, water bottles, and cough medicine spread within reach. My children, two living thousands of miles away and one on the other side of my bedroom wall, will watch (or not watch) in their own ways and times: One works all weekend in a medical lab. One volunteers Saturdays teaching refugees vital language skills. One currently avoids all things religious.
But even in the solitude of my room, I’ll be gathered in spirit with followers of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Like followers seated on the ground as Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount, like families who pitched their tent doors toward the temple to hear King Benjamin’s words, we all have the opportunity “to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul” (Jacob 2:8).
And along with that opportunity to hear comes the opportunity to choose.
What will I hear as I turn my attention toward the prophet and apostles? Will I allow the clarion call of conscience to direct my reactions to their messages, or will I focus on polarized matters of policy? Will I latch onto and grab tightly to the iron rod of God’s word — trusting His path even where burning truths pierce my perspective — or will I turn away to navigate un-railed, uncharted distractions?
How will I use General Conference to help me chart the course ahead? How will you?