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When General Conference Hurts

By Emily Milner

Our fifth Sunday lesson last week discussed preparing for General Conference. People talked about their conference traditions, about preparing spiritually by listening to talks from last conference, and about the importance of getting on board with whatever new changes actually emerge from all the rumors we’ve been hearing.

It was a good lesson, and a good discussion; I’m not criticizing the class, just musing about it. During the entire class, I kept feeling like I should raise my hand and comment about this: what about when General Conference hurts?

What do you do when there’s a talk that’s painful, that hits you badly because it pokes at a place where you are already wounded, or because the doctrine itself is hard? I felt like the teacher and most of the class operated on the assumption that everyone in there would be listening to Conference and inspired by all of the speakers. And there was also this underlying idea, unspoken but still present, that no one in the room would be anything but inspired by Conference. For me, that’s not always true, even though I’m trying.

So I did comment. The teacher acknowledged my comment and quickly returned to the main point of the lesson, which was fine. I wondered if there was someone else in the class who needed to hear what I had to say–I hoped so, because I would have preferred to stay silent.

Then I went home and thought about it some more. Here’s what I came up with:

-I listen to Conference assuming that the men speaking are truly prophets, seers, and revelators. I sustain them as such. I believe that this assumption is vital (see, for instance, this post). I do not want to be someone who makes prophets and apostles offenders for a word, or even for an entire talk. I am grateful for the sacrifices they make to serve, and I do not want to speak disrespectfully of them. I try to come to Conference with an open heart. I realize that these talks go through many drafts and many prayers.

-Having said that, there are times when I’ve really, really struggled with Conference talks. I have listened to certain talks and felt like this speaker does not know me, and maybe, since that speaker is called of God to say these things, God doesn’t know me either. Discussions of women’s roles are particularly challenging. To feel at peace I need to go back to times when I have felt the comfort of the Spirit, that I’m doing the best I can in spite of the gap between my lived reality and the ideals preached, and let that sustain me.

-Sometimes with talks that hurt, I have reviewed them, and studied and prayed about them until I felt more peace. Sometimes I didn’t do that, and instead focused on the talks that did resonate for me and gathered strength from them.

-I keep showing up. I’m there, surrounded by blankets, snacks, and Legos, every six months. Sometimes when I’m hurting from a talk, it’s a message that God wants me to dig deeper, to find comfort and strength in Him. Sometimes I need to learn to see my leaders with greater charity. I think it’s important to keep showing up, to be present, to witness. I’ve been blessed by General Conference, by talks that immediately spoke to my soul and healed things I didn’t even realize were broken, and also by talks that caused me to wrestle and struggle and weep.

I believe that God is with me–in the wrestle, and also in the joy. May He be with you this weekend, too.

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.

15 thoughts on “When General Conference Hurts”

  1. My approach is pretty much opposite from yours. I go into it remembering that our leaders are good men, but they do not have a bat phone to Jesus. Their inspiration is flawed, just as mine is. Maybe not as flawed, or maybe worse. But the only way I can know for sure, is to pray for confirmation.

    In my own life, I have had times when I was sure about inspiration, only to find out later, that I was so sure because I wanted something so bad. Or, I found out it was my ego and pride, or one of the many other reasons that someone can think something is from God when it is actually from themselves. Since none of our general authorities have been declared perfect and taken to live with God as the city of Enoch did, I have to assume that they still let their human egos and human desires get in the way of inspiration, just as all the rest of us do.

    So, if something hurts, I first check to see if I am misunderstanding the talk. Sometimes, it is just poor wording on their part, or a trigger or sore spot on my part that can blind me to what they mean.

    Second, I see if the talk hurt because I am really falling short. Guilt causes pain, and I want to be sure I am not reacting out of guilt or lack of humility. If I am doing my best, then I reject their guilt mongering. They hold up an ideal as if it were possible and I do not need to feel worthless because I am not perfect.

    Then, if I am sure I understand the intent of their message, I remember that our Heavenly parents want us to be happy and any message that causes real pain is not from God.

    All of this is done with prayer and all the humility I can muster.

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  2. Thanks, Emily, for opening this up. I know your faithful heart, so it is actually inspiring to read about the struggles of even the most faithful among us. I've no doubt there were many in that classroom who resonated with your comment but didn't yet have the words/courage to speak. Like Anna, I've always listened to our leaders with respect and anticipation, but I've never hopped on the GA Celebrity Bandwagon. I get all my real information and instructions directly from God and only act on what Spirit teaches/directs me. But I like General Conference because it so often prompts or triggers vital conversations with God that I need. I have to say, too, that something deeply miraculous happened for me at the last Solemn Assembly and I have a clear witness that Pres. Nelson is on target (and on fire!) with the Lord's plan for the earth and its people. That's never happened to me before and it's changed how I hear the prophet. Even so, it's my God-given task to live my life according to the specific instructions I receive. And though general counsel may apply, those instructions are deeply personal for each of us.

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  3. Like you, I keep showing up to watch, with my kids, since that didn't happen for me as a kid (I didn't start watching conference until I went to college at BYU and it was available on TV). I've had similar experiences with talks–some are wonderful direct revelation, and some really hurt.
    I've also had the experience of feeling like my life and my situation had been forgotten about my church leaders, and it's a hard place to be in. Interestingly, I've had a few times where I've gone back to re-read a talk afterwards and had a very different reaction to my initial one (not every time, but re-reading can be valuable).

    As my kids have gotten older, I've also sometimes discussed this with them–what are they hearing and how are they receiving it? Are there things they are confused about or that felt hurtful to them? We talk about some of the ideas that you and other commenters have listed, including asking ourselves "Is it I?" when we react badly to things we hear over the pulpit. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Emily. I wish we could discuss this idea more in my Relief Society as well, because I'm sure that not every woman was touched by every talk in the same way.

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  4. Thanks, Emily. Conference can hurt, too, when you’re longing to hear something that fills a deep need, but nothing addresses that need. Teachers and classes don’t want to hear that, either, but it’s real.

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  5. Thanks for this post. I have always gone into conference expecting to be inspired, so I was surprised when I found myself literally weeping through a couple of conference talks last April. The only thing worse than my raw feelings was my sister-in-law’s comments on my tears (we were watching with my brother’s brother and his family). I really felt like something was wrong with me … and still feel that way a little bit. Thanks for speaking up about it; it helps!!

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  6. Anna, I love your approach and I don't really see it as opposite to mine–maybe the way we perceive leaders is different, but both analyzing whether I've misunderstood the talk, and deciding whether I'm really falling short, are things I do as well. I think prayer and humility are essential elements too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    Lisa, thanks for your kind words. It's really helpful to me to hear how others receive revelation and apply it–thank you for sharing your impressions regarding President Nelson. It helped me a lot today as I listened.

    Beth, Alice, and Allison, I am so glad it helped. I really appreciate your comments; I needed my own post tonight, and I'm glad we are not alone. I struggle but I'm still showing up. Love to all of you.

    Ardis, yes it is real. I've written talks in my head that are doctrinally correct but never spoken in Conference. I know it's the Spirit comforting me, but it would be so lovely to have them spoken over the pulpit as well.

    Jessie, I wish we could talk about this in Relief Society too! I love that you are open with your children about what they hear–"Is it I" is an important attitude. Rereading has helped me reframe talks differently too.

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  7. Cried twice already. Thank you for this. I love how the internet can make things less lonely. I agree, discussions of women’s roles *are* particularly challenging.

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  8. As the mother of an incredibly wonderful gay son, and grandmother of an obviously, since he was 2, gay 10 year old grandson, who is just the most innocent, sensitive, wonderful brother, conference has turned from a feast to a famine. I am so saddened by this. I am barely hanging on and have watched my whole family be evicted from the church we loved.

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  9. If I truly, deeply believe this is the Savior’s church and He does indeed communicate with His prophet and apostles, then the question is the same for me as expressed by Sister Marriott: “what lack I yet?” – not them. Are the perfect? No. Called and inspired to what the Savior wants us to hear? Unequivocally yes for me.

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  10. Conference used to really hurt me. Those old pews in the old tabernacle were so close together that I banged my knee on the back of the pew in front of me every time I tried to squirm into another position to ease the pressure on my backside. But seriously….

    Imagine being a plural wife in the audience when President Woodruff disclosed the Manifesto. I wonder what it would be like sustaining a document which recognized the illegitimacy of your marriage before the laws of the land. You sustained a document which set your feet on a path of living in the shadows for the rest of your life. Now that is some serious pain and some serious faith.

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  11. K, I'm sending you virtual hugs. Shari, I'm so sorry. I don't have a lot of words beyond that I know having gay loved ones creates a unique pain during Conference, and I'm just really sorry that it hurts.

    Lynn, I also believe the apostles and prophets are called and inspired to speak the Savior's words. That's, for me, what makes Conference even harder at times–if I believed less in their prophetic calling it would not be nearly as hard.

    Old Man, it's true. Dang.

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  12. I loved the honesty of this post and also the comments. I feel that lots of people feel this way but don't admit it in public. Many of my friends have issues with things that have been said, sometimes it is the tone, the words, the attitude, so many ways it can hurt. I was single for many years and felt out of place in church, no matter that I was told I would have my blessings one day, probably in heaven. Now I am married but all of my children are less active and I feel less than acceptable to some people. They all stopped coming to church while my husband was serving as the Bishop, and many members had plenty to say about it and us as parents. I have a testimony and want to feel happy at church but sometimes it is so hard to feel you have a place especially when you hear things from the leaders that make you sad. However, I keep coming and attending meetings and listening to conference in the hope that one day it will work out. x

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  13. Kay, so good to read your comment! I also believe that one day it will work out. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt right now, though, but the hope that we will all see eye to eye keeps me going.

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