Six Months of Study: Messages for Today

I love general conference. Every six months I am strengthened and inspired as I watch the broadcasts. I intend to make these messages a core part of my family’s study so that they become central to our direction and faith. This can be done through Family Home Evening, but as homeschoolers, we have the unique opportunity to give even more of our attention and time to general conference addresses in our day to day schooling.

We are blessed. Ephesians 4:11-15 tells us:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

What a loving Father in Heaven to give us living prophets and apostles. What do we do with that? We sustain fifteen men as prophets, seers, and revelators, but do we spend as much time coming to know them, hearing and heeding their inspired counsel, as we do studying historical figures now passed away?

In a fabulous article, Elder Neil A. Andersen, then of the Seventy, wrote, “Viewing the general conference sessions with our family is not sufficient to bring a love for the prophets. On one occasion some years before my call as a General Authority, I conducted a meeting presided over by one of the Apostles. After the meeting, I asked him about his stake conference talks. “Do you prepare something specific for each stake conference?” I asked. He replied that he generally did not, but relied upon promptings received just prior to and during the conference. But then he added, “But my general conference talk is very different. I will normally go through twelve to fifteen drafts to be certain that it is what the Lord would have me say.” Many times since then I have asked myself, If an Apostle will go through twelve to fifteen drafts, is it pleasing to the Lord if I listen to or read his message one or two times? I don’t think so.” (Neil A. Andersen, “Teaching Our Children to Love the Prophets,” Ensign, April 1996, or read it here.)

As a child growing up in Nampa, Idaho, I remember every radio in the house broadcasting general conference on conference Saturday. We still had housework and yardwork to do, but no matter where we went, my parents had a radio plugged in and talking. We couldn’t get away from it! When I became an adult, I realized that many really good talks were during the Saturday sessions and I found that I didn’t want to miss them. While living in the Seattle, Washington area, it wasn’t so easy to listen to conference, but as a young mother, I decided I wanted to instill the importance of conference in my children, so we would dress up and go to the stake center, even on Saturday. I wanted to make it special, so I packed candies and activities for my little ones that they didn’t normally get, just for general conference. Later we were able to watch via the Internet or at friends’ houses who had satellites. But I determined that general conference weekend should be a celebration as much as anything; I wanted to establish traditions associated with it, much like a holiday, to set it apart from other weekends and celebrate the blessing of living prophets. It’s been a way of life that my kids do not question, and with special foods and a break from the routine, they look forward to as much as I do.

This past conference was so filling. I couldn’t believe how many personal questions were answered pointedly and specifically for me in the talks. I was excited to examine and assimilate the talks with my family and there were many things I wanted to point out, but I wondered what my children picked up individually on their own. I wanted to know what conference meant to them.

The morning after conference weekend, our studying began. This school year we’ve had a theme of “work” to our studies, meaning through various means, tools, classics, and sources we’ve been learning about the value of work as well as the different forms of work. I approached our initial discussion on general conference from that angle:

We sang and discussed the hymn, "Today, While the Sun Shines," which is so thorough in covering all forms of labor.  We talked about conference weekend, about how there were many other things that needed doing that we could have spent our time on, but that conference was "the better part" and the "work" that we needed to focus on for those two days. 

I asked each of the children to name something that was talked about in conference that stood out to them.  The varied answers were personal and individual.

My 6-year-old couldn't come up with anything specifically, so she mentioned the music, which she loves. We talked about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and if they had to practice to be such a good choir.  We discussed how even with amazing talents, we still have to put forth effort to develop and refine them.

My 8-year-old said, "Prayer."  I was happy to hear this because we have spent some time on prayer this year as a form of work (see Bible Dictionary). So, we revisited the topic of prayer and evaluated how everyone was applying what we'd already learned and talked about how we could do better.

My 10-year-old said, "Temples."  We talked about the phrase "temple work" and what that means.  The children asked questions about what we do in temples.  I asked them what their work now, as children, is regarding temples.  My 10-year-old said he should pay tithing to help pay for the new temples being built.  (That led to needing jobs—work—to earn money so they had something to pay tithing on.) We talked about how learning everything they could, choosing the right, and preparing and being worthy to go to the temple was their work right now, and then did the math for how long they had until they'd enter the temple prior to missions.

My 13-year-old said, "Missionary Work."  That led to a discussion about preparation and what he needed to work on in that department.  It also brought out sheep and The Shepherd and gave me a direction for a discussion another day when we talk about the work of raising sheep.

My 15-year-old said, "Be an example of the believers."  We discussed what that meant and whether or not it was work to do that.  We talked about how there is always more to learn in our efforts to become or "be" and that it takes work to make our faith grow to even be a believer.

A few days later, I assigned Elder Lynn G. Robbins’s talk, “What Manner of Men Ought Ye to Be?” to my oldest son as the basis for his Family Home Evening lesson. The next morning we reviewed his lesson, and continued the discussion of how you can do without being, but you cannot be without doing, and applied that to the principle of work. This led us to begin reading Gordon B. Hinckley’s book Way to Be as our family read-aloud. We then compared the things to be in this book to the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, which we studied earlier this year as the basis of our spiritual work.

Of course, I’m not the only one having good experiences with the messages of conference. Following the April addresses this month, I asked the members of my scriptureschool group what they’re doing.

Marni Hall, of Clinton, Utah wrote, “We talked about D&C 88:77-80 and all the huge variety of things that means we should learn to be prepared for our missions in life.  We brought in Elder Robbins’s talk, that Jesus said we need to be "Even as I am," and that to be the creator of the earth he had to know a lot.

“We also talked about the do vs. be part of his talk; that education isn't something you just check off as done, it's something you should be working on your whole life.

“Then we talked about D&C 130:18-19, talking about how the more educated we are, the more advantage we'll have even in the next life.”

Jennifer Tillitson, of Weston, Idaho, wrote, “We have tried to review each of the talks.  I try to pray before so I know which one I should use.  As I scroll down, I try to listen to my thoughts and feelings.  We go through them (and) sometimes I make a copy for them to keep in their binders.  We also talk in length about them.  We stop through the talks and discuss thoughts. 

“This proved to be effective.  I had one of my sons come to me because of (a particular) talk and confide in me something very important to him and his development.  I don't know if he would have come to me soon to talk about it if we hadn't just discussed and watched the conference talk.

“This time I am going to assign talks or have (the children) choose which one they would like to teach.  Then they will be the teachers and the learners.  I am excited to start this soon.”

Sally Bishop, of Logan, Utah, took an analytical approach. She came up with a list of scholastic activities to apply to general conference talks. My favorites:

*Analyze essay structures in various talks:  intro, theme development, supporting information, conclusion (testimony), etc.

*Compare "voice" and "style" considering presentation of point of view, sentence length, verb tense, etc.  Oaks and Scott have wildly different "voices," but how, exactly, do they differ?

*Tally the number of times words are mentioned in a talk (family, love, Christ, testimony) and learn to bar graph or pie chart the numbers.

*Find the birth places of the speakers on a world map. (It's exciting to have so many more international leaders in our church!)

*Google-map newly announced temples and learn about one of the cities.

*Compare the numbers in 2 consecutive Statistical Reports, or even over a year or decade. Graph, do subtraction, division, etc.

As homeschoolers we find there is much to be done every day and a great deal to learn. It can be a lot of pressure, but we have the blessing of continued revelation and living prophets and apostles, and the freedom to breathe the life of living waters into all of our learning. Let’s not forget the most important information and instruction, and the source from which it comes. President Harold B. Lee said, “As the Latter-day Saints go home from this conference, it would be well if they consider seriously the importance of taking with them the report of this conference and let it be the guide to their walk and talk during the next six months. These are the important matters the Lord sees fit to reveal to this people in this day” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1946, p. 68). I can’t wait to study the rest of the talks!

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Sasha