Elder Rasband’s talk in the recent General Conference is, for the most part, a distillation of Elder Bednar’s “Tender Mercies” talk from a few years ago and Elder Eyring’s similar talk from last October. At its heart is a call for us as members to examine our own lives for evidences of God.
I do not want to be seen as mocking the Lord’s anointed, but it strikes me that Elder Rasband gets an awful lot of traction in this talk out of one of the vaguest stock phrases in the patriarchal blessing playbook, as it were. He says:
My patriarchal blessing indicates that I would be given special experiences that would strengthen my own testimony.
In particular, Elder Rasband focuses on the word experiences, using it in the title of the talk and several times throughout. “Experience” in itself doesn’t really mean much, which allows Elder Rasband to use it to describe a wide range of situations, emotions, inspirations, and confirmations. I am reminded in this of Elder Holland’s recent parable of the dress pattern, that the generic exhortations of the Brethren will necessarily be adjusted to the individual lives of the Saints.
Elder Rasband isn’t universalizing experience entirely however. He wants us to examine our lives for those events that teach us about God:
As experiences accumulate in our lives, they add strength and support to each other. Just as the building blocks of our homes support the rest of the structure, so too do our personal life experiences become building blocks for our testimonies and add to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…
Brothers and sisters, think of the special experiences you have been blessed with in your life that have given you conviction and joy in your heart. Remember when you first knew that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet of the Restoration? Remember when you accepted Moroni’s challenge and knew that the Book of Mormon was indeed another testament of Jesus Christ? Remember when you received an answer to fervent prayer and realized that your Heavenly Father knows and loves you personally? As you contemplate such special experiences, don’t they give you a sense of gratitude and resolve to go forward with renewed faith and determination?
These are do not express the limits of what Elder Rasband asks us to search out, but rather these are offered as a starting point. He proceeds to tell the story of his visit with some Peruvian saints. It is a beautiful evocative story of faith in what are unusual circumstances. It also offers some insight into Elder Rasband’s feelings about being a General Authority of the Church. After extolling the faith and self-sufficiency of the Saints he met on Lake Titicaca, he states:
Before we were to leave, one of the mothers asked if we would kneel with them and have a family prayer. I remember well kneeling on the spongy reeds with these faithful Saints. As we knelt, she asked if I would say the prayer and, using the Melchizedek Priesthood, dedicate their new island and home.
I was deeply humbled that, there on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, these faithful Latter-day Saint families would ask me to pray for the little island of Apu Inti and ask the Lord to bless the homes and families of the Lujanos and Jallahuis.
The kicker is that Elder Rasband knows that these families are perfectly able to bless the house themselves. They are sufficient, they have the Priesthood, they are worthy. However, they chose out of the goodness of their hearts and out of a demonstration of faith to allow him this opportunity. What they have done is not an act of entrenched colonialism, although it might be tempting to read it that way. How Elder Rasband experiences it is as an act of love, allowing and trusting him to be an intimate participant in their lives.
Elder Rasband’s talk, an example of General Conference generality, asks us to move away from the universal and to dive into the specifics of our own lives for such examples. As such, I find it inspirational.