The Paths We Walk


This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

One of the most memorable of the talks I’ve read so far was Lost Battalions, which I read near the start of the General Conference Odyssey. The talk was by (then) Elder Thomas Monson. He has been serving as an apostle since 1963, when he was just 36 years old. That’s longer than I’ve been alive by almost two full decades. And yet because (to be perfectly honest) I haven’t paid such close attention to GC talks in the past, I’m only now beginning to get a real feel for his voice. And there’s more to it than just “tells stories.”

His talk for this week was called The Paths Jesus Walked, and it was filled with a lot of the same pathos as his earlier talk about the Lost Battalion. He described how Jesus walked the paths of disappointment, temptation, and pain. Not exactly cheery stuff, but definitely uplifting and encouraging when we feel our own paths are not all sunshine and roses:

Yes, each of us will walk the path of disappointment, perhaps due to an opportunity lost, a power misused, or a loved one not taught. The path of temptation, too, will be the path of each. . . Likewise shall we walk the path of pain. We cannot go to heaven in a feather bed. The Savior of the world entered after great pain and suffering. We, as servants, can expect no more than the Master. Before Easter there must be a cross.

I think I have heard somewhere—and I wish I could remember it—that because the Savior suffered, he made suffering sacred. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes we or others make choices that inflict needless pain. And so not all the pain that we experience in life is necessary. But all of it can be made meaningful.

President Monson also laid out the paths we can walk, as disciples, to find that meaning. We can walk the paths of obedience, of service, and of prayer. Obedience and service make sense; they cover a lot of ground. Walking the path of prayer seems more interesting, but I like that it is included. “It is by walking the path of prayer that we commune with the Father.”

I was struck by two more things from the talk. First:

Jesus changed men. He changed their habits, their opinions, their ambitions. He changed their tempers, their dispositions, their natures. He changed men’s hearts.

And so we have to ask the question: in what ways is our discipleship changing us? Are our habits, opinions, or ambitions changing? Our tempers, disposition, and natures? Can you look inside at your own life and point to the specific ways in which your heart has been changed? If not: why not? After all, “The passage of time has not altered the capacity of the Redeemer to change men’s lives. As he said to the dead Lazarus, so he says to you and me: ‘… come forth.’”

Second, speaking of Paul (then Saul) in the time just before his conversion, he said of the Old Testament that “For some reason, these writings did not reach Paul’s need.” This struck me as an unusually penetrating and frank insight to make. We almost always hear that the scriptures are powerful. And they are, nothing here contradicts that. But they are not always—by themselves—sufficient. It’s a reminder of the limitations of men and of the limitations of any one aspect of the Gospel. It implies that discipleship has to be full spectrum or there is no guarantee that it works. We have to strive to be well-rounded saints, or we won’t be saints at all.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!