Though I’d attended General Conference before, one session, in particular, changed the way I perceived this semi-annual Mormon holiday. Some friends and I made the journey up early, and we left late. This meant that we spent significant time with each other laughing, arguing, and even crying. Our friendships forged tight over that extended weekend. But, it was due less to the time than to the circumstances. For whatever reason, each of us experienced very powerful spiritual promptings as we listened to the speakers. Like every dutiful Latter-day Saint, we took copious notes. But beyond that, a unique thing happened as we settled into the car for the long journey home.
Perhaps it was our individual yearnings to hold onto what we’d felt for the last few days that prompted it. Whatever the cause, we spent the next eight to ten hours in meaningful conversation about the impressions we had received and made plans about what we were going to do in consequence of them. I made commitments that day that have indefinitely influenced the course of my life while also learning a priceless lesson— General Conference is a singular opportunity to receive revelation about personal goals.
Long-time readers and close friends know of my disdain for New Year’s resolutions. Besides the cultural expectation that most will fail in their resolutions, and the seemingly arbitrary nature of it all, a huge reason for the diminished effectiveness of that holiday ritual is that there is absolutely no underlying structure to reinforce those momentary declarations of self-empowerment. Thus, what begins as perhaps a pure desire gets shoved out by the cares of the world in consequence of an inadequate environment ¹. Without properly nutritive and supportive structure, it’s no wonder our wishes die so quickly in the uncultivated soil of the world’s traditions.
Contrasting this system which sets us up for failure, General Conference provides extensive, rich soil for roots to dig deep. Each session occurs on a semiannual basis, six months apart. Even the seasonal schedule makes a striking symbolic statement, since these conferences take place in the Fall and Spring— significant times of change for the earth itself. Should they be any less life-altering for us? Put simply, six months is a more realistic and optimal period of time for our goals. We don’t often consider it, but focusing on the future can be just as harmful as living in the past. That’s why a six month period is ideal and why yearly goals often go unrealized.
An additional reason General Conference trumps New Year’s is in the inspired guidance offered by God’s servants. This provides a superlative opportunity to hear the most important plans for the next six months according to the Lord, offered through His official spokesmen and spokeswomen.
Above all, this semiannual conference provides a matchless opportunity for communication with the Holy Ghost as to what we should be doing. That being the case, I’d like to share some of the things that have helped me to get the most out of this opportunity for guidance.
Prepare and plan. I’ve learned that, in order to get the most out of General Conference, I need to make plans for it. I need to know where I’m going to be. It shows a lack of commitment to the Lord if we show up late and will greatly reduce our ability to receive spiritual guidance. Knowing what or where you’re going to eat in-between sessions is also important. It reduces wasted time and eliminates stress.
In line with the concept of minimizing stress and distractions, where you attend conference can also impact your ability to focus. I’ve found that going to a church building to view the broadcast works best for me. The couches at home are much too comfortable and more conducive to cradling me off into sleep.
Speaking of sleep, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get sufficient sleep the night before. Let’s face it, Conference is hardly exciting enough to keep dreary eyelids from drooping into dreams. It does not take a genius of human behavior to guess whether a person who awoke hours previous after a good night’s sleep, or a barely rested, red-eyed, last-minute arrival will get more out of Conference.
Even if you plan on watching from home, wear your sunday best. We do our subconscious a disservice when we lounge in pajama’s and eat cereal during conference because it causes our brain to ease into relaxation mode. Not only should we signal to our mind that this day, like every other Sabbath, is for enlightenment, but we should show the Lord respect. Wearing appropriate dress during Conference is a sign of our understanding of the sacred nature of the day.
The last bit of preparation and planning is tough, but provides huge returns. If you want to get the most out of Conference weekend, cancel all other plans. Don’t try to also get shopping done. Don’t try to attend a friend’s birthday party. You wouldn’t expect a Jewish friend to ditch passover― Conference should be just a sacred.
Now that you’ve planned and prepared, there are practices during Conference which pay off. First, go in prayer. Among the most repeated admonitions of the Lord is to ask so that we might receive². Discuss your worries, concerns, and questions with the Lord. Ask Him to bless you with revelation and understanding as you diligently seek it from His chosen servants. As you do this, your mind will be enlightened and your understanding opened. I can promise this because it has always been my personal experience.
Second, as you attend conference, take useful notes. Since a transcript will be published within days of the event, there’s no need to jot down every sound-byte that catches your ear. Rather, note the promptings of the spirit you receive. In my experience, these come less as abstract concepts, and more as inspired questions and implementable actions.
More important than the promptings themselves is what you do with them. Make a list of all the questions, actions, and inspirations so that you can begin to work on them. An itemized list is much easier to turn into actual undertakings. I like to put this list in multiple places where I am likely to view it. It takes some time to process all of the ideas and to prioritize. Keeping it on my mind makes the priorities much more apparent.
When appropriate, discuss these matters with trusted friends and family. I would suggest doing this as soon as possible, as in right after the sessions. Like holding sand, unless you keep a tight grip on these things, they’re bound to fall through the cracks: do not put these revelations on the shelf!
Lastly, if you choose to involve others in your goals, then ask for their help. Friends usually desire to serve each-other, but lacking an understanding of what exactly would be useful, we often end up avoiding the urge to make a difference. As you enlist your friends and family members in the cause, you’ll be surprised at how helpful they can become.
In the years since my profound conference experience, I’ve had opportunity after opportunity for spiritual growth. Resolving to make goals from conference, and then achieving them with the help of my friends has been a recurring and deeply rewarding part of my life. Allow the Lord to work that same miracle in your life this General Conference.
1. Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23, and Luke 8:1-15
2. “Ask and ye shall receive”
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