One of my favorite things about reading or watching general conference talks is that the same words can mean dramatically different things as circumstances in life change. And it isn’t always the message the speaker explicitly conveyed that stands out. Because the spirit can convey additional and much needed messages.
I first read the talks from the Priesthood Session of the October 1971 conference several weeks ago, and at the time none of them stood out in particular. But today when I reread, I had a particularly strong reaction to Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s talk.
Nine days ago, my father passed away. It was not unexpected, but still heartbreaking nevertheless. Since then, I have been buoyed and strengthened by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which Christ promised to all his disciples. Even though I have wept, I have also been overjoyed by the promise of resurrection and reunion.
And yet, I also have a lot of questions. Since my father was not a member of the church and was displeased with my decision to join the Church, I have struggled with the question of whether he truly has a chance to convert and to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. I hope with all of my heart that this is so, but it is also hard to be sure. Our doctrine is very clear that those who never learned of the gospel can inherit the celestial kingdom, but it is less clear on what happens to those who knew of the Gospel, but did not have a good opportunity to truly learn about it.
I have certainly felt the assurance of the spirit, whispering to me that all will be alright. And yet, I also crave reassurance and reaffirmation that my hope is not in vain.
And so, with this on my mind, I re-read Elder Ashton’s talk entitled “You Can Get There From Here.” Elder Ashton begins his talk with a story about a man lost in a big city who stops and asks for directions. The man is then told that in light of the many obstacles, one way streets, dead ends, and etc., that “[y]ou can’t get there from here.”
But in our life’s journey, that simply is never the case. It is “[t]he disciples of the devil” that “teach there is no way back.” In contrast, disciples of Christ declare ““Yes, you can get there from here. Come, follow me.”
The rest of Elder Ashton’s talk focused primarily on helping wayward youth know that they are loved and wanted. It was a good talk and still very relevant and topical. But it was these introductory words that resonated with me. Even though Elder Ashton was talking about wayward youth, his words brought me comfort as I thought about my father.
For I know that “God loves [us] no matter where [we] are.” God will never give up on a single one of his children. As I imagine my father “lost, bewildered, confused, scared, sick, insecure, and discouraged” by his new circumstances, I also imagine those he loved and who love him sharing with him the reassuring message “Yes, you can get there from here. Come, follow me.”
God will never abandon a single one of us. He will give us every opportunity to come to him. I don’t believe that God’s mercy has an arbitrary cut off. As long as someone is ready and willing to take the steps needed to repent and come unto him, his arms are always open.
I have been comforted as I have read Joseph Smith’s vision of his brother Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom. God reminds the Prophet that he judges “all men . . . according to the desire of their hearts.” To be in the Celestial Kingdom, we must desire it with all of our hearts, but that great desire and a willingness to act is all that we need.
I have reason to hope for my father, because I know that his greatest desire and his joy in life was his family. And I believe he will do whatever it takes once he finds out that he can be with his family forever. And he is now in the place where he can listen to that message from the one who can reach him in the most powerful way: From the one who will embrace him with love and tell him, “Yes, you can get there from here. Come, follow me.”
For an overview of the General Conference Odyssey see.
Here are the other posts focusing on the Oct. 1971 Priesthood Session
- Mormon Privilege (Nathaniel Givens at Difficult Run)
- Don’t Do Acid (John Hancock at The Good Report)
- Our Virtue – Faith and Education (Ralph Hancock at The Soul and The City)
- Commandments and Compassion (Michelle Linford at Mormon Women)
- Becoming a Male Mother (Silver Rain at The Rains Came Down)
- The Way Back into Love (Chastity Wilson at Comfortably Anachronistic)
- It Takes Men and Women (Jan Tolman at LDS Women of God)