When my oldest son turned 12, I wanted to take him to a priesthood session of general conference in the Conference Center. I knew this experience would help him feel the spirit and the importance of the priesthood. But despite my best efforts, we rarely went to the priesthood session together, let alone made the trip from Arizona to Utah for a live session.
When my second son turned 12, I vowed to do better. I knew I had waited too long. So the three of us planned the trip. Ski first, conference second. It sounds bad, but it got us in the car and on the road. During our trip, I quizzed my sons about past conferences, speakers and themes. I told them to write down questions and burdens that had been weighing on them and to listen carefully for answers during the talks.
By the time we arrived in Utah, and completed the skiing portion of the trip, I knew my sons were in for a real spiritual treat. I began to feel excited as well, as I had not been to live session of conference in 20 years. I even wrote down a question or burden or two of my own, wondering if my advice would really work. At the top of my list: Wanting to feel like I was entitled to the full blessings of the gospel no matter my many failings, i.e. divine forgiveness and acceptance by the Lord. And a related thorn that afflicts me: letting go of pride as it pertains to church callings and not envying others when they receive that recognition.
When Saturday morning arrived, I left my two sons in the care of my father who would bring them to priesthood session later in the day. I had to leave early to Salt Lake City for a meeting. As I drove to the meeting I listened to the end of the Saturday morning session. I began to feel a strong longing to be in the Saturday afternoon session, but I had no ticket, and tickets are hard to come by these days.
I arrived at my meeting and enjoyed the company of old friends, but the feeling continued to grow. I finally made a few calls and found that a relative was going to the afternoon session and might have an extra ticket. I excused myself and made arrangements to meet my relative.
The atmosphere outside the Conference Center is hard to describe. I certainly took advantage of my "growing up in Utah" circumstances when I was younger, but being from "distant" Arizona made me appreciate my surroundings that warm afternoon. Thousands of Latter-day Saints from all of the world joined together to listen to prophets of God and to worship their Lord. It was a sacred feeling for me.
I lucked out and received a ticket from my relative. He had to attend to a large group of friends and family, so I wandered off on my own. As I entered the Conference Center, I was led closer and closer to the ground floor. Just before the session began I was invited to sit on the ground level. I couldn't believe my luck. (I found out later that sitting on the ground level isn't necessarily luck, but it still felt special.)
As the session started and the speakers spoke, my notebook began to fill-up. All of my questions and burdens were being answered as never before, except the initial ones. They continued to stare at me. Perhaps mockingly. I thought: "Maybe I'm the only one who struggles with this. Maybe it's too specific of a concern to be answered in general conference."
That's about when Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke on "The Laborers in the Vineyard." After reciting the parable in a clear and succinct way that only Elder Holland can, he taught:
"Envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is, downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment! To say nothing of the chagrin in the end, when we find that God really is both just and merciful, giving to all who stand with him 'all that he hath,' as the scripture says. So lesson No. 1 from the Lord's vineyard: coveting, pouting or tearing others down does not elevate your standing, nor does demeaning someone else improve your self-image. So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind. It is a happy way to live."
I looked down at my list. "Envy." Check. I felt grateful for such a direct answer to one of my questions. I determined to stop storing and drinking pickle juice.
A few moments passed. I wondered if I might get direction on my primary question: a longing to feel accepted and loved by my Father in Heaven and his Son no matter my failings. Then Elder Holland said:
"I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don't have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines."
I felt very grateful for two direct answers to my personal challenges, including specific counsel to the "who in this vast audience," e.g. me, who needed to hear the message of divine love. And, yes, the priesthood session was everything I was hoping it would be for my boys and for me.
Scott practices bankruptcy law with Lewis and Roca LLP in Phoenix.