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.