BYU Women’s Conference: Answering difficult questions

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In a BYU Women’s Conference address, Sister Ally Isom said everyone will face difficult questions at some point. (Universe archive)

LDS Church Director of Institutional Messaging Sister Ally Isom and Ward Relief Society President Sister Lark Galli spoke on how disciples of Jesus Christ can answer difficult questions that come up in conversation among family, friends, colleagues and major audiences.

Sister Isom explained that everyone will face times when difficult questions will be directed towards them, and it’s possible that answers will not be readily available.

“When you find yourself in either instance, be assured—you are not there by accident,” Sister Isom said. “Whether you know it or not, you have been prepared, your voice is needed and you are there by divine design.”

She continued by reminding that the role of members of the Church is to testify of Jesus Christ. Members are instruments in His hand and His purpose is not to win debates but to save souls, according to Sister Isom. She explained when members find themselves in the circumstance of not having all the answers to the difficult questions being thrown at them—they need to realize that not having all the answers can be a wonderful thing.

“Not having answer provides humility and perspective,” Sister Isom said. “It keeps us seeking, helps us connect with fellow seekers and reminds us that it is not about us.”

Sister Isom acknowledged that while not having all the answers can be a wonderful thing, there will be circumstances where the pressure is felt to provide explanation to difficult questions—especially when they are laced with hostility and in a public setting. To this, she charged that a S.P.E.L. be cast on the audience.

First, S for the Spirit.

“When you place your discipleship first, the Spirit will dictate principles to your heart and communicate meaning beyond words.” Said Sister Isom. She continued by quoting 2 Nephi 33:1 where Nephi writes, ‘When a (woman) speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost, the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.'”

Sister Isom assured in moments of need, if we are earnestly seeking light, the Spirit will minister to everyone and will teach, calm and encourage.

Second, P for Perspective.

“We need to remind ourselves this conversation we are having, it’s part of a journey, not an isolated event,” Sister Isom said.

She explained we need to remember that the ultimate outcome is already known and that Jesus Christ is counting on His disciples to be both peace seekers and peacemakers. Sister Isom suggested the point of communication is the conversation rather than the outcome. She said that the ultimate point of any conversation is not being right but to become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

“A faith-centered conversation is a partnership of heaven and earth,” Sister Isom said. “It is how we create heaven on earth. It is how we become like our Heavenly Parents.”

Third, E for Edify.

Sister Isom reminded that with any conversation, it is best to keep the end goal in mind. She encouraged the audience to ask themselves what they hope to accomplish with any conversation.

Sister Isom answered this rhetorical question with a teaching from the Apostle Paul, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but (only) that which is good (and edifying) that I my minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Sister Isom suggested that as we take part in our conversations with others, we should always consider how they will feel after the conversation has ended.

“Throughout the tough questions, when we keep in mind our goal of edifying others, we use words that build rather than destroy, we see with spiritual eyes and hear with spiritual ears, and depart edified and closer to Heaven,” Sister Isom said.

Finally, L for Love.

Sister Isom noted that in 1 Corinthians 13:1, it is taught that without Charity, our conversation is just noise. She explained when we have Charity, we have the ability to see other through God’s eyes.

While having this perspective may be easier said than done, Sister Isom challenged the audience to look into the hearts of those that are asking the difficult questions.

“They are not the enemy,” Sister Isom said. “They are not problem. They may very well the solution.”

Sister Isom continued by suggesting that in those difficult conversations we choose to love.

“Authentic communication happens when we communicate heart to heart, and spirit to spirit,” Sister Isom said.

Sister Galli began by referencing a prophecy made by President Kimball.

“He foresaw that we (faithful women in our day) would ‘reflect righteousness and articulateness in (our) lives and…(be) seen as…different—in happy ways—from women of the world,” Sister Galli said.

Sister Galli suggested that faithful disciples of Jesus Christ can use those gifts mentioned in President Kimball’s prophecy to really help those who live with difficult questions. She said members of the Church can be publishers of peace in a frantic world in which we live.

To do this, Sister Galli said we must be motivated by the desire to bless others, and not by the need to be right.

“The Savior never met strife with strife,” Sister Galli said. “Time and again he was provoked, but he responded in a way that diffused or redirected the tension…If we are not focused on being right, or on fighting back…then we can turn our focus outward to answers that really help. We can start publishing peace and love.”

Some questions are especially vexing, whether it is because of the content of the question, the tone of questionnaire, or a lack of understanding on our part, according to Sister Galli. In regards to these difficult queries, Sister Galli suggested we examine and model ways in which the Savior answered difficult questions.

First: Jesus Christ spoke boldly.

“Like the Savior, we can be bold in our callings when speaking with active as well as less-active church members… but in being bold we do not need to be contentious,” Sister Galli said. “For some of us, speaking up is a new skill that takes practice, but we can take comfort in the encouragement of the spirit, and leave the consequences to the Lord.”

Sister Galli recommended that with this call to answer with boldness, we may also need to use discretion. That we need to ask ourselves what we truly know and what we don’t know.

Sister Galli reminded that while Church policies may change and Church doctrine may stay the same; our understanding of both is continuously maturing.

She quoted President Uchtdorf by saying, “The Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes ‘all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and the many great and important things that He will yet reveal.”

Sister Galli said when appropriate, members of the Church, like Nephi in the Book of Mormon, can admit that we do not know the answer, but instead can declare of God’s love for all of his children.

Second, Jesus Christ answered with soft or tender answers.

Sister Galli recounted many examples of how Jesus Christ spoke with compassion in the bible, specifically with women such as Martha and Mary.

“What could a soft answer look like for us an invitation to walk with a troubled friend, an inspired note or even a spontaneous hug,” Sister Galli said.

She said it is important that we communicate our differences with love and compassion, just as the Savior did even though differences of opinion can bring about contention.

“Sticking with those we care about is so important, even though it can be difficult,” said Sister Galli. “The differences of opinion between me and those who don’t agree with me have helped me become a better, more humble person, absolutely, though they have brought me some of my most difficult experiences.”

Finally, Jesus Christ answered in an unexpected manner.

“As I look back on my young days, I realize that my most difficult questions were never actually spoken aloud…rather than asking anybody, I listened to people…(and mostly) their answers were also unspoken,” Sister Galli said.

Sister Galli explained that it was between the lines and lessons where the Spirit communicates and can answer our difficult questions.

She said we should take comfort in President Kimball’s prophecy and that LDS women will influence others through their different, happy lives and their articulate speech.

“For centuries our great grandmother’s voices were heard only by those closest to them,” said Sister Galli, “Now we can speak in a thousand ways…we can declare to anyone who is asking, ‘I am a believer, the gospel brings me joy, and I love you.’

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