Listening with generosity

Last Sunday, I was walking down the hallway toward Sunday School right at the end of the allotted hour; as I neared the foyer where the class is given I heard a lady giving the closing prayer. As she prayed for the Conference speakers in preparing their talks I was moved by her expression of faith.

I do not understand the mechanism of prayer and I do not pretend to comprehend how and why God answers our efforts to supplicate and petition him but, as has been noted many times before, I believe that the act of prayer has a quite real effect upon the person praying.

Moreover, those prayers for the speakers at General Conference can change us in quite specific ways. I suspect they prepare us to listen with charity, with kindness and with hope. Implied in this prayer is a sense of the struggle that these speakers have very probably faced as they have prepared their remarks. It captures some of the time and thought they have given to their assignment. By expressing this sensitivity we are perhaps more willing to hear what they are imperfectly trying to convey. Such prayers extend a form of generosity toward the fallibility of those who are struggling to know the will of God themselves and who are struggling with a feeling of their own inadequacy. These petitions verbalize a desire for God will’s to be manifest through the words of another, often an unmet person whom we may never see or hear from again, but who we hope will change our lives for the better.

Those prayers articulate one dimension of a practical humility, which is also a hallmark of sainthood.


  1. Beautiful Aaron. Thanks for this.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Very good. As ever the most effective prayer seeks to change the utterer.

  3. Chris Gordon says:

    Great thoughts, Aaron. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch that the same prayerful mercy could be applied with greater sincerity as we say Amen to the customary prayers at the opening of Sunday meetings that pray for blessings upon the speakers, teachers, etc.

  4. Wonderful thoughts. Thanks for sharing that experience.

    “I suspect they prepare us to listen with charity, with kindness and with hope.”

    I don’t envy anyone who has to speak at General Conference. Not only will there be many LDS members who will dissect the talks looking for understanding and to be addressed personally (and many other members misunderstanding and feeling “not addressed”), but there will be many non-Mormons who will dissect the talks looking for problems and new ways to criticize and attack the Church.

    Yes, the speakers need our prayers – but, as you say, we probably need those prayers even more. I’ve believed for a long time that our reactions to talks in General Conference say as much about us as about the talks and the speakers who give them.

    I wrote the following post last Wednesday – and I was thinking a little of General Conference and some people’s reactions to some talks when I wrote it (but, mostly, about comments in the Bloggernacle):

  5. Aaron, wonderful. Thanks for this.

    In our HP group last week, we had a lesson on Elder Holland’s talk from last conference in which he described the efforts of those who speak: “Each has wept, worried, and earnestly sought the Lord’s direction to guide his or her thoughts and expression.” I take him at his word, remembering the description in Elder Maxwell’s biography of the many, many drafts he would write of his conference talks.

  6. Beautiful thoughts. Hopefully those in the room hearing the prayer (or hearing part of it now online) will also experience a real effect from the prayer.

  7. observer fka eric s says:

    Years ago I was given a “behind the scense tour” of temple square because the father of the girl I was dating was the facilities dood for the plaza. He took me down to a faux pulpet below the main level. It was in a tiny room that felt like a recording studio. He explained that the speakers at conference gave their address at this pulpit to make sure i) the timing of the address was correct and ii) the content was correct. He explained that these two thing were important because the satellite broadcast was regulated by the FCC, and any deviations could mean fines or something. The import being that the speakers’ addresses were somewhat “set in stone” for the most part at least a few weeks before conference. So why I am sharing this?

    Well, I think about the OP and prayers that occur after the addresses have been set in stone. I’ve noticed over time that we don’t specifically pray much for the Conference addressees prior to a week or two before conference–during the time when it seems they are still preparing and tweaking their message. I’m not saying post-preparation prayers have no effect. And I’m not saying that the speakers are not prompted to go “off script” during conference, which they do on occasion. My thoughts are more aligned with Steve’s thought in (2)–that prayer must somehow have more significance to those who offer it than it might have on the address giver. But I don’t know, exactly, how it works either way.

  8. I’m also confused sometimes about prayer and what it’s meant to be. Why, if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, does he need for us to express our wishes to him/ask?

    And why, if the prophets and apostles are already righteous men who have sought the spirit in preparation for their talks, do they need us to intercede on their behalf as well?

    That parable of the door, and knocking, comes close to explaining it for me. God wants to be asked. Though to be honest, I don’t understand that sentiment, either–
    I’d much rather my kids didn’t ask incessantly, but waited patiently for the things I give them :/

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Sarah, those questions are likely to haunt you your entire life. Suffice it to say that God doesn’t ask us questions because He doesn’t know the answers.

  10. Thank you Aaron. The cloak of charity is a great and magical thing.

  11. Excellent. Thank you and the woman for helping prepare me for Conference.

  12. Aaron, thank you for reminding me of something I need to do this week. Excellent.

  13. # 7 seems a bit apocryphal. FCC regulations just impose penalties for broadcasters that allow obscenities, but cannot censor broadcast stations (in this case the Tabernacle I assume) ( I think the idea of conference being highly regulated timing-wise is more palatable since President Hinckley frequently expressed the sentiment that Priesthood session was more relaxed (broadcast over satellite) because they didn’t have the stricter broadcast schedules of network affiliates to work with.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the prayers we offer for conference speakers are probably most beneficial to us. I don’t know if there really are any type of linear time constraints placed on the blessings of prayers.

  14. mrsbrittdaniel says:

    Thank you. Succinct, sweet and wise.

  15. Thank you for the kind comments.

    Chris, that is nice reminder also.

    Ray, in many ways, this prayer which I heard (and the subsequent post) are very much for me. I am guilty of that kind of critical dissection which although I think has a place in our discourse is not always productive in terms of my own spiritual life.

    Paul, I see no reason either to doubt that for the majority of speakers that is accurate. It was certainly a forceful statement.

    Observer, I don’t know how set in stone the talks are and by when but certainly I think those prayers are more for us regardless of the details.

    Sarah, I agree with Steve. Certainly prayer is as much about relationships (with others, God and ourselves) as it as about changing things in the world.