What I Learned at Stake Conference
Stake Conference was fabulous again. It was so nice to sit down last night and just relax and listen! It cost us $15 for a babysitter, but it was worth it. Last night the theme was effective teaching, with many references to THIS talk by Jeffrey R. Holland (I’m a fan, have you heard?). Every talk was excellent and Richard and I both commented on the way home about how subtly the Spirit taught us during the session. He was inspired with a word-for-word conversation he should have with one of our children; my inspiration came more in pictures of moments I need to create with the children and Richard, and ideas for organizing and being better prepared for teaching moments. It’s so wonderful to know we have so much support on the other side in this huge project we’ve undertaken called raising a family!
The most touching stories for me were straight from the Book of Mormon, specifically the stories of Enos and of Alma Jr., who serve as shining examples that it is never too late. Their conversion stories teach us that no teaching moment is wasted, no testimony we bear goes unheard, even if we are mocked/ignored in the moment. Someday, some way, when our wandering children find themselves sinking “in the gall of bitterness,” we have to have faith that their minds will catch old, as Alma’s “caught hold” (read it HERE) upon the testimony of his father.
I hope and pray every day that my children will avoid the path that leads to the gall of bitterness; I pray they will spare themselves and everyone who loves them the heartache. But if they do go there, if they wander to places we cannot reach them, I pray that our testimonies and our actions will serve as that last shining rope of hope that they can reach for in their darkest hour, like Jacob’s testimony helped Enos and Alma’s directed Alma Jr. to Christ. THIS talk by Elder Eyring and THIS talk by Elder Holland pretty much sum up last night’s message…every member, especially every parent, needs to be an excellent teacher!
Today there were many messages I found inspiring (even amid the cacophony of children), like Mission President Gardner’s message that LOVE is the foundation of all successful conversions, and of all gospel living. But I wanted to write down President Heap’s analogy cuz it was such a gooood one.
President Heap first reminded us of that book titled “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People,” and remarked that we might ask ourselves more often, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” To answer that question, he sent us to the story (found HERE) of Christ hanging out with the publicans and sinners. When he was asked why he was with those people, he answered, “They that be whole need no physician” (and that response has always moved me; I love that quote and have applied it often, like HERE). President points out that this was another response that in itself condemns the questioner (“A trick answer”)—the tricky part is that, “there was only one WHOLE person in the room! I submit to you that the greatest sin is not to be aware of sin.”
He then went on to talk about how he often sees in our behavior efforts to live as if we are being judged on a scale: that our good deeds will be weighed against the bad and we'll be exalted if the good outweighs the bad. This is simply not the case. It never was. Consider this scripture: “For I, the Lord, cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). But consider this one, too: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Grace is a gift—there is nothing you can do to earn it, but you must be humble enough to accept it.
Then he shared an analogy that came to him yesterday as he witnessed a baptism. He imagined each of us entering into a covenant with God. You are waist deep in a font of water and God says, “Here’s the covenant: I am going to give you 100 ping pong balls, down there, in the water. If you can keep them all submerged, you’re saved! You’re exalted!” This sounds like a good deal to you, so you make the covenant. The 100 ping pong balls are poured in and bob along the surface of the font. In this analogy, the ping pong balls are our sins and our trials in life—the things that separate us from our Heavenly Father. Some of them are self-inflicted wounds, poor choices we made ourselves; some of them are heartaches beyond our control that we need outside help to deal with.
You reach out your hands to submerge the balls, but only 6 or 7 stay down. So you start to use your forearms, your armpits, your body, your chin. You think and you try everything, but the most you can do is 50 or 60 balls, and then they start popping up again. The task is clearly beyond you by yourself. You spot a trusted friend and say, “Hey, can you come in here and help me?” Your friend loves you and says, “Sure—I’ll be right there!” So your friend hops in the font, but he’s made the covenant, too, so now there are 200 balls for the two of you to submerge, and it’s not going to work. So what’s the solution? Who can help you keep your part of the covenant and keep the other ping pong balls submerged?
Some one who has no ping pong balls, that’s who. And we all have a trusted friend who carries no ping pong balls—the lamb without blemish, the Only Begotten Son, our Savior and elder brother, Jesus Christ.
He concluded this analogy with the following quote by Sheri L. Dew: “The Savior isn't our last chance; He is our only chance. Our only chance to overcome self-doubt and catch a vision of who we may become. Our only chance to repent and have our sins washed clean. Our only chance to purify our hearts, subdue our weaknesses, and avoid the adversary. Our only chance to obtain redemption and exaltation. Our only chance to find peace and happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come….The Lord knows the way because He is the way and is our only chance for successfully negotiating mortality. His Atonement makes available all of the power, peace, light, and strength that we need to deal with life's challenges--those ranging from our own mistakes and sins to trials over which we have no control but we still feel pain" (April 1999 conference).
After a few more remarks, President David Heap closed with the words, “Remember that grace is a gift—you can’t earn it. You can’t submerge the ping pong balls. But I testify that He can.”
I welcome your thoughts! Happy Sabbath, y’all!