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General Conference and the Burden of the Word

By Emily Milner

In anticipation of General Conference, and after listening to President Nelson’s recent BYU devotional, I’ve been thinking about the burden of the word of the Lord. That phrasing fascinates me—it’s from Jacob 2:

Verse 9: Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded.

And verse 23: But the word of God burdens me

The word of the Lord, although a source of joy, also burdens. It burdens the prophets who teach; it burdens wounded people who hear.

I’ve been pondering this idea, the burden of the word of the Lord, in the context of General Conference. I want to approach General Conference with a hermeneutic of generosity—I talked about that idea in this post years ago. “Hermeneutic of generosity” basically means that I assume that the leaders who speak to us are good men and women who have fasted and prayed about the topics they will teach us. They may feel compelled to teach hard truths because the word of the Lord burdens them with that responsibility. I choose to assume their good faith, their good intentions, their love for Christ, and their commitment to serving Him to the best of their abilities.

And sometimes, in spite of my hermeneutic of generosity, I will also feel burdened by the word of the Lord, by the disconnect between my life and what I’m taught to do, by the distance between prophetic teachings and the lived experiences of others. I’m thinking of everyone, as Dr. Eric Huntsman so beautifully says in this BYU devotional, on the margins, in any way.

But God tells me how to handle burdens. If the word of the Lord burdens our prophets, and me, and those I love, it is my sacred calling to follow the counsel in Mosiah 18: 8-9:

…and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in…

I see these verses as a logical progression of thought: as I mourn, comfort, and bear others’ burdens, I stand as a witness of God at all times.

I can help bear prophets’ burdens by listening, by following, by wrestling with hard teachings in humility and without criticism.

And I also bear the burdens of those wounded by the word. These duties are both important to my spirit and my faith.

I also love the story in Mosiah 24:14-15, where the people of Alma, persecuted by King Noah’s priests, beg for relief:

14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

To the extent that I submit cheerfully and with patience, I believe the Lord will strengthen me to “bear my burdens with ease,” including the burden of the Word.

But my favorite Book of Mormon reference to burdens is in Alma 33:23:

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 may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son.

Alma’s teaching about the seed of faith growing into a tree culminates in this beautiful prayer for everyone in his audience: that God will ease our burdens through Christ.

Conference can be hard; it can also be joyful and sublime. This weekend, I echo Alma: may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of His Son.

About Emily Milner

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

6 thoughts on “General Conference and the Burden of the Word”

  1. I don't think I've heard the word of God being defined as a burden before. That's an interesting thought–probably similar to a "two edged sword" or "sword of the spirit," where it must cut through sin. The scriptures you cited also have revealing context into why Jacob and Alma said what they said. I think it is worth mentioning in the case of Jacob, the Lord told him to tell the people to repent of their polygamous practices and sexual sins which burdened the women and children, held them in bondage, and caused them to mourn. The cause of burden in Jacob's case is having to address such gross crimes when he knew a once covenant people had slipped so far into apostasy. He called them to repentance. That is a hard burden indeed to be commanded to address these people who should have known better. The burdens placed upon the backs of Alma's people had everything to do with the pride, hijacked authority, and greed that Amulon (supposed priest who had also practiced sexual sins and whoredoms) had set up over the people. It was when the people turned to the Lord directly and hearkened unto Him for their deliverance, that they were saved from their literal bondage. Once again, they called upon the name of the Lord and covenanted with Him to follow His commands. Like you mentioned, the word of God is also good news, hope, and joy that the Savior has overcome all and we can be forgiven and redeemed in this life when we repent and turn to Him. What a beautiful message! I hope with all of my heart that General Conference is full of the word of the Lord as he inspires the speakers, but I hope even more, that each of us prays for a witness that what is being spoken in each of the talks is truth. Nowhere in scripture does it say that we must take others' words for it. A true seeker always asks of God. The Israelites were all too content to let Moses go up to the mountain and speak on their behalf and ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before they all died out. They refused to sanctify themselves and work out their own salvation before God. We as a church are all too content with having our leaders do all the heavy lifting, when the Lord has always said we can all come up the mountain. Thanks for giving me a lot of things to ponder.

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  2. Heather, yes!–it does feel similar to the word of God as a two-edged sword. I didn't go into all the context for the scriptures, for the sake of space, so I appreciate your doing that. I just picture Jacob wrestling with what the Spirit has told him he has to say, not wanting to disobey the Lord but at the same time knowing he has to teach the truth to people who need to repent. I think that the idea of applying the phrase "the burden of the word of the Lord" to the people who listen instead of just the people who preach might not resonate with everyone, and that's okay. My point is that even if/when the word of the Lord feels burdensome, 1-it is still the word of the Lord, and 2-there are ways to ease our burdens and find relief. I really love the phrase "the Lord has always said we can all come up the mountain." Thank you!

    Nana and Lynn, thanks for reading! I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

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  3. This was beautiful and new way to look at the word burden in the scriptures. Thank you for your thoughts and sharing them. Enjoy your conference weekend.

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  4. Inspiring thoughts. This post will change general conference for me. Thank you. Jacob’s words also seem to channel Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1 regarding the burden of the word of the Lord, and perhaps Isaiah and Jeremiah.

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