The Humility of an Apostle

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

President (then Elder) Thomas S. Monson was the first speaker during the Friday afternoon session of the October 1975 General Conference, but we’ll never know what talk he planned to give because he threw it away:

In the balcony to my left I see a beautiful girl of perhaps ten years. Sweet little one, I do not know your name or whence you have come. This, however, I do know: the innocence of your smile and the tender expression of your eyes have persuaded me to place aside for a future time the message I had prepared for this occasion. Today, I am impressed to speak to you.

The story that followed was poignant and sad, but the thing I couldn’t help but noticing was the amount of humility implicit in how President Monson shared this story. He mentioned others being inspired—like President Benson, who sent him to Louisiana in response to a prompting—but he never talked about any inspiration of his own.

In contrast, he described himself making the wrong decision and then being corrected by the Lord. When considering whether or not he would make the trip to visit a sick little girl, he reports that:

I examined the schedule of meetings for that evening and the next morning—even my return flight. There simply was no available time. An alternative suggestion came to mind. Could we not remember the little one in our public prayers at conference? Surely the Lord would understand. On this basis, we proceeded with the scheduled meetings.

But this was not the right decision. As he prepared to start his meeting:

I was sorting my notes, preparing to step to the pulpit, when I heard a voice speak to my spirit. The message was brief, the words familiar: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14.) My notes became a blur. My thoughts turned to a tiny girl in need of a blessing. The decision was made. The meeting schedule was altered. After all, people are more important than meetings. I turned to Bishop James Serra and asked that he leave the meeting and advise the [family].

And so he travelled to the bedside of a dying girl and, there he found holiness.

I have been in hallowed places—even holy houses—but never have I felt more strongly the presence of the Lord than in [her] home.

He gave her a blessing, but he does not record what that blessing contained. Only that, four days following, the little girl passed away. Some might ask why—if an apostle was guided to Louisiana and then specifically to the home of this sick girl—she could not be spared. That is an issue I will not tackle today.

Instead, I simply want to observe that President Monson’s story itself has a childlike quality of love, trust, and humility. His story was not only about a child and delivered to a child, but exemplified how we can be like children ourselves.

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5 thoughts on “The Humility of an Apostle”

  1. At the re-dedication of the Tabernacle in 2007 he gave a sort of the-rest-of-the-story:

    During the message I delivered at general conference in October 1975, I felt prompted to direct my remarks to a little girl with long, blonde hair, who was seated in the balcony of this building. I called the attention of the audience to her and felt a freedom of expression which testified to me that this small girl needed the message I had in mind concerning the faith of another young lady.

    At the conclusion of the session, I returned to my office and found waiting for me a young child by the name of Misti White, together with her grandparents and an aunt. As I greeted them, I recognized Misti as the one in the balcony to whom I had directed my remarks. I learned that as her eighth birthday approached, she was in a quandary concerning whether or not to be baptized. She felt she would like to be baptized, and her grandparents, with whom she lived, wanted her to be baptized, but her less-active mother suggested she wait until she was 18 years of age to make the decision. Misti had told her grandparents, “If we go to conference in Salt Lake City, maybe Heavenly Father will let me know what I should do.”

    Misti and her grandparents and her aunt had traveled from California to Salt Lake City for conference and were able to obtain seats in the Tabernacle for the Saturday afternoon session. This was where they were seated when my attention was drawn to Misti and my decision made to speak to her.

    As we continued our visit after the session, Misti’s grandmother said to me, “I think Misti has something she would like to tell you.” This sweet young girl said, “Brother Monson, while you were speaking in conference, you answered my question. I want to be baptized!”

    The family returned to California, and Misti was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through all the years since, Misti has remained true and faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fourteen years ago, it was my privilege to perform her temple marriage to a fine young man, and together they are rearing five beautiful children, with another one on the way.

    I have heard other people retell this story with more detail so I wonder if it’s written down somewhere else too.

  2. It is refreshing to see an apostle follow a prompting, put aside their talk and speak by the spirit.
    Things are a bit different in conference now. What takes more humility: submitting your talk to correlation and sticking to the script or submitting to a prompting that contradicts the protocol? Is being bold a more honorable attribute than humility?
    Either way I love President Monson and the day in age that he was able to pull that off and still be obedient.

  3. Talks are pre-written these days not so much out of a concern for correlation and protocol, but rather to give the translation teams more time to prepare and (most importantly) to make sure the session doesn’t go overtime. Boldness and humility can happen just as much in a scripted talk as an extemporaneous one.

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