One day before the start of October 2023 general conference, J. Corby Gardiner of Mesa, Arizona, attended the Friday, Sept. 29, funeral of Doug Hunt, a 34-year-old Latter-day Saint from the same city, who was hit and killed five days earlier when he stopped as a good Samaritan to help strangers involved in an early morning multicar, multiple-injury accident on a Phoenix freeway.
Gardiner’s heart ached for the Hunt family, whom he has known for decades.
The same morning elsewhere in Mesa, a bishop friend of Gardiner’s presided at a funeral for a young woman who died by suicide. Looking for help in crafting a message of consolation and spiritual foundation to share at the funeral, the bishop had asked for a copy of a talk Gardiner has given as a ward and stake leader over the years to help others in similar situations.
The message of Gardiner’s talk — and the feelings of his heart all week — drew from Church leaders’ teachings in past general conferences. He reached out to the Hunt family, the bishop and other friends and family members, encouraging all to listen intently to the upcoming general conference.
“I have felt a strong need to let people know what a blessing and comfort general conference can be in our lives,” said Gardiner to one friend. “I have witnessed how the words we receive in general conference have blessed so many who are suffering.”
He shared from Elder Quentin L. Cook’s October 2011 general conference message. In “The Songs They Could Not Sing,” the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Sometimes tragedies are very personal. We lament the things that will not be accomplished and the songs that will not be sung.”
Elder Cook said some frequently asked questions include, “Why does a just God allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?” and “Why are those who are righteous and in the Lord’s service not immune from such tragedies?”
“While we do not know all the answers, we do know important principles that allow us to face tragedies with faith and confidence that there is a bright future planned for each of us,” Elder Cook said.
He listed three important principles: there is a Father in Heaven who loves and knows everyone individually, the Atonement of Jesus Christ compensates for the unfairness in life, and the plan of happiness includes a reunion with those who have been lost.
Following October 2023 general conference, Gardiner said he found great solace strength in Elder Cook’s latest message and its parallels to the 2011 message.
God knows and loves His children personally and understands their suffering perfectly, and Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, Elder Cook taught in his Oct. 1 Sunday morning address. “He invites, ‘Come unto me,’ and as we do, He gives us rest, hope, strength, perspective and healing” (“Preach My Gospel” second edition).
The Apostle added: “I testify that ‘peaceable followers of Christ’ will find personal peace in this life and a glorious heavenly reunion.”
The power, blessings and benefits of general conference messages are as varied as the millions who watch, listen, read or otherwise study the talks, reference them in discussions and lessons, and are reminded by social media mentions or memes.
Gardiner specifically liked the messages of consolation and strength. Other listeners also heard themes of focusing with faith, understanding divine identity, using one’s agency along the covenant path and drawing on Christ to endure.
President Russell M. Nelson invited listeners to have an eternal perspective and “think celestial;” President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, detailed God’s plan for His children and His kingdoms of glory; and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke on the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
October’s general conference didn’t include a solemn assembly or Hosannah Shout. It didn’t feature a new proclamation or any churchwide adjustments. Saturday evening’s session wasn’t dedicated to a specific group of Church members.
To some, the 193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, may have seemed “regular” or “standard” — some might have even used the word “ordinary.”
Far from it.
The October 2023 conference was one of inspired instruction. Invitation. Encouragement. Strengthening. Consolation. Validation. Motivation.
That instruction provides benefits beyond the two days of the conference — for weeks, months and years to come, as Gardiner proves by still pointing back to a conference message from a dozen years ago.
The most important aspect of general conference is the source of divine message, as Gardiner reminded others.
“The Lord,” he said, “can speak to all of us through His servants at general conference.”