As with most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, general conference is a time that is long anticipated. The opportunity to recalibrate one’s life and hear from living prophets is something that is dearly needed. During President Russell M. Nelson’s address entitled, “The Power of Spiritual Momentum,” all seven members of my family were reverently occupied, a rare experience indeed, and the words of our prophet lodged deep into my soul.
President Russell M. Nelson’s plea and invitation
In particular, the invitation to end conflict in our personal lives was of poignant relevance to me. President Nelson said: “I repeat my call to end the conflicts in your life. Exercise the humility, courage, and strength required both to forgive and to seek forgiveness. The Savior has promised that “if [we] forgive men their trespasses, [our] Heavenly Father will also forgive [us]” (Russell. M. Nelson, “The Power of Spiritual Momentum,” Liahona, May 2022). At this moment, I turned to my wife and stated, “It’s as though this invitation was tailored directly to me.”
We live in a world that is ravaged by the challenges of wars between countries, polarizing identity politics, clashing ethnic groups, and even conflicts within families. Social media can often exacerbate tribalism and rather than finding common ground we feel the urge to identify ourselves based on how we differ.
More now than ever before we stand in need of the healing balm of our Savior’s unconditional love by striving to “love our enemies, and to pray for those who despitefully use [us]” (3 Nephi 12:44; Matthew 5:44).
Conflict is difficult to contain
Conflict and contention spread like a wildfire. Not only does this toxic attitude transmit easily, but if left uncontrolled, a spirit of contention will leave destruction in its wake.
On August 30, 2017, after an intense lightning and thunderstorm, Parks Canada fire management staff in Waterton Lakes National Park detected a wildfire in British Columbia about ten kilometers from the park boundary. In nearby towns and communities, ash rained down from the sky for days and many local residents were evacuated. For weeks firefighters and park officials worked tirelessly to contain the blaze. In the end, the wildfire burned approximately 35,000 hectares, including 19,303 hectares in Waterton Lakes National Park. The wildfire had a significant impact on the infrastructure in the park. Akamina Parkway (16 kilometers), Red Rock Parkway (15 kilometers), associated bridges, guardrails, signs, picnic areas, and parking areas were affected despite the best efforts of facility protection crews.
In a most significant way, the townsite of Waterton was largely unimpacted by the raging fires. High-volume water pumps and sprinkler systems were installed around the edge of the community. Trees, shrubs, grasses, and other flammable items were removed from properties. These proactive measures saved important private and public infrastructure.
In a similar manner, we can protect our homes and personal lives from the fiery effects of conflict by following the Savior’s admonishment to love our neighbor. Alma identified love as a virtue that can prevent contention. He taught that “every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention” (Mosiah 23:15). The Lord commanded His followers to “cease to contend one with another” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:23), and asked that they “be one” as He and the Father are one (John 17:11).
Healing the results of conflict
Elder Loren C. Dunn (emeritus General Authority Seventy) declared: “There is a need for us, perhaps more than ever before, to reach within ourselves and allow the qualities of mutual respect, mingled with charity and forgiveness, to influence our actions with one another; to be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable; to lower our voices and build on common ground with the realization that once the storm has passed, we will still have to live with one another” (Loren C. Dunn, “Before I Build A Wall,” Ensign, May 1991).
While we cannot control the fire that burns in the hearts of others, dousing the flames of conflict in our personal hearts is necessary in our mission to becoming disciples of Christ. Pursuing peaceable ends to conflicts, forgiving, and seeking forgiveness take similar proactive measures to those taken in the Waterton wildfire. It is an easy path to recognize the blemishes in others’ behavior. However, such a fixation never results in healing and reconciliation.
Many years ago, my mother and her siblings contended at length over the ownership of our family cottage. The cottage had been in the family for half a century and was cherished by all. However, during negotiations conflict ensued, words were said, and the fire of contention spread for many years. Hurt feelings resulted and tender relationships became strained. Gratefully, with the passage of time, concerted efforts to show love led to forgiveness and healing for all parties involved.
Over the years since, and because of this experience, our family has had many dialogues on the importance of family solidarity and the mission and vision of an eternal family. To safeguard our family from the raging inferno of contention we have committed to focus on the eternal and not the trivial. These proactive efforts require the daily fortification of faith and the sustaining influence of the Holy Spirit.
As each of us takes such actions, we continue to travel on the covenant path and light the way for others to peaceably follow. May each of us follow the Savior’s call to love our neighbor, to cease to contend one with another, and to be one. In so doing, I believe we will avoid the fiery destruction of conflict.