"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
March 20, 2013
Coming to Conference
by Marian Stoddard

I look forward to the approaching General Conference. I have learned to love the opportunity to hear the Lord’s chosen servants speak to us as a Church. It seems to me that Conference has become more wonderful, more spiritual, in its focus in the last few years, but maybe the change is in myself.

Life experience, “soul experience” if you will, gives me spaces in the heart where the messages and counsel penetrate more. I think I feel the love of the gospel message better, and I have gained more trust and less fear.

Two people can sit in the same meeting and hear the same speakers offer the same words, and yet have very different reactions.

“Wow, wasn’t that a great session?”

“It was fine, I guess, but it’s not like we heard anything new.”

One listener is lifted up and filled, the other hearer thinks: same old, same old.

Henry B. Eyring gave a talk early in his apostleship, just two years after his call, that pierced my heart. He was talking about this principle of truly hearing. He explained that we are supposed to hear the same messages again. He referenced occasions where the current prophet quoted the previous prophet, who had quoted yet an earlier prophet on the same principle.

“One of the ways we may know that the warning is from the Lord is that the law of witnesses, authorized witnesses, has been invoked. When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention and fill our hearts with gratitude to live in such a blessed time” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1997/05/finding-safety-in-counsel?lang=eng).

When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention. It means that this is what the Lord knows we need to hear. It means that he wants us to pay attention.

That statement riveted my attention, and I thought about what that meant. If we hear something we’ve heard before, maybe we feel like we’ve heard it umpteen times before and we’re restless to hear something else, maybe it means we haven’t fully heeded it yet! Once we take it into our hearts and lives, he can tell us something else. He can’t give us the next step while we’re still ignoring this one. “That should rivet our attention” and make us sit up and take notice, because maybe we’ve been sloughing it off and we’d better not.

Why do we have living prophets? So that we will know what the Lord wants of us right now. So that we will not be lost in the problems of the world; he promised that we would never be left forsaken or without guidance.

After all, as we emphasize, the gospel of Jesus Christ did not arise for the first time in his earthly ministry. It was laid out to us before the world was formed, and we chose to come and have this mortal experience, with all its challenges, which was the basis of that plan. We shouted for joy, anticipating our possibilities, and our Father promised that he would not leave us without guidance — but now as he gives it to us it’s not exciting?

If the rest of the world understood that there was real help, immediate care, in the cosmos, good people everywhere would flood in to find what we take for granted. We do missionary work so that we may make them aware of that very fact.

How many things do we do over and over again? It’s a fact of life, in the mundane and the spiritual.

I had a literature professor in college once who wanted us to write something he had never read before in our analysis of the works we were studying. He didn’t seem to care if our ideas were valid, just novel. I decided that was a loony way to learn. Do we itch more for something new than for something true? Then we are focusing on the wrong things.

It is one of our greatest blessings that the Lord calls his servants to convey his counsel to his children, and that this modern age allows us to hear them in the very moment. General Conference is a chance to bring ourselves together to be touched, reminded, taught, and filled up again. If you are running a little ragged, here is a good way to find renewal. If you are uncertain, here is direction.

I have learned to be able to come ready to listen. If the expressions are familiar, then they touch places in memory and recognition, and bring them forward to my renewed awareness. That’s what gospel study is about, to learn something new and to apply something learned before. Hearing the Lord’s servants today or reading the scriptures which are a record of his servants in earlier times, that’s the process we use.

Elder Eyring continued,

“Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel. Those without faith may think that they hear only men seeking to exert influence for some selfish motive. They may mock and deride...” (and never understand.)

The teachings of truth are reiterated through the generations of hearers. Come now, and let us reason together, he spoke to Isaiah, and again to Joseph Smith. Of course there will be things you have heard before. Treasure them, and realize: Truth bears repeating.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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