Rich Watson currently resides in Hope Mills, North Carolina, just near Fort Bragg. He served in the United States Air Force for 20 years, and has an education in psychology, with other degrees in education and social sciences. He has been happily married for over 22 years and has 4 amazing children. Since his retirement from the military, he works for a veteran service organization, in their mental health department. He and his team provide resiliency-based retreats for individuals, couples, and families. He joined the church in 1996 and has had the pleasure of serving in varying leadership roles, some of them multiple times. (One of the “benefits” of moving so often during his military career.) These include ward mission leader, elders quorum president, high priest group leader, young mens presidency, branch president, bishopric, high council, and more. Rich also has shared his insights in a Leading Saints Podcast, “Ministering to Veterans in Your Ward.”
As a convert to the Church I never quite grabbed hold of the importance of General Conference and the importance of hearing from our leaders frequently. However, in 2010, I was deployed to Afghanistan for several months and during this time missed the April session, which, at the time, I didn’t think was that big of a deal for me. However, following a prompting from an individual I was deployed with, I challenged myself to make it a priority to study the conference I had missed when I was deployed. This was the first time I had studied conference, rather than just listen to it, since my conversion.
How Promptings Grow
Shortly after this, my wife and I decided to use this prompting to make our daily conversations more impactful while I was away.
Being the Excel nerd that I am, I decided to make a simple Excel sheet that would have us each listen to one conference talk a day with the intent of discussing that talk during my nightly conversation with her. This proved to be such an instrumental decision for us, and we haven’t looked back since then.
Upon returning home from the deployment, when the October conference came around, we shared this approach with our ward and several participated with us. We continued to do this as a ward even after moving.
In 2013, while serving on the High Council we shared this idea with the stake and we started a Facebook group, wherein we would post the schedule, and each day post a link to the talk we were going to study. That way, individuals would comment on the talk and everyone could have a discussion about what impressions they received.
The Facebook group, which is now called “General Conference Challenge,” was created in April 2013 and has since grown to over 10,000 followers in countries all around the globe.
Thoughts from April 2023 Conference
As my wife and I continue to facilitate this group, it helps us to hear each talk, ponder it, read comments from others, and more. With that backdrop, the intent for this article is not to share one particular talk from General Conference, but rather share a few insights on various talks that have been presented to my wife and I as part of the April 2023 General Conference Challenge.
Empowering Through Delegation
Referring to Christ having His disciples move the stone, as opposed to commanding it to move, from where Lazarus was laid, Elder Bassett stated:
“That which His disciples could do, He instructed them to do. The disciples were certainly capable of moving the stone themselves.”
How often do we as individuals, as leaders, as parents, as significant others, do so much for others that we are enabling them? An example that we see all too frequently is a loving bishop who takes everything on himself, rather than delegating that which he can to his Relief Society or Elder’s Quorum Presidents. When this occurs it can, and often does lead, to compassion fatigue for that Bishop coupled with a lack of feeling needed for the other two leaders. The delegation, which is shown by the Savior here, is not about delegating tasks, any leader can do that. Rather it is about delegating authority to those in your stewardship; trusting and empowering them to lead.
The Impact of Positive Intent
In this talk there was a great emphasis on not speaking negatively about one another, rather using uplifting and edifying language. He states:
“Consider ways we can transform ourselves into uplifting and supportive people, people who have an understanding and forgiving heart, people who look for the best in others…”
One of the most difficult aspects of this earthly experience is assuming positive intent in others, often most frequently with those closest to us. When we can work with others, even those we disagree with, from the standpoint of assuming positive intent, the conversation will change.
Recently, while facilitating a couple’s retreat, I was able to take the couples on a tandem kayaking excursion. Before leaving the shore, I asked the question “Do any of you have the intent of flipping over your kayak once you get in the water?” Of course, the unanimous answer was that not a single person wanted to do so.
With that in mind, my next statement was “Perfect, then if your partner is doing something contrary to what you think is right, you now know they are not trying to flip the kayak, they are doing what they think is right. You both have the same goal, to stay in the kayak.” After the kayaking we spent some time discussing how viewing problems or disagreements from that same lens can help us in our daily lives. If we assume those we interact with are not trying to “flip over our kayak” then we can proceed in a significantly more Christ-like manner. As Elder Soares stated we can proceed in a way that “is more cordial and sensitive to the needs of our fellow beings.”
Christ Has the Ultimate Solution
Sharing a comment from his father, Brother Camargo opened his talk with:
“Don’t focus so intensely on your problems that you can’t see the solution.”
The talk was geared towards allowing Christ to be the solution to our problems and not allowing any problem to overshadow that. This single piece of advice encompasses so many of the roles we take on. As leaders in the church, to help individuals, we often focus on solving the problem with our wisdom, our experience, our ideas, and more. However, when it comes to Church stewardship, the answer we often seek will rest with Christ, the ultimate solution. Praying for His guidance, searching through His words, and, keeping covenants made with Him, will open our aperture to solutions we have yet to think about. This also applies to other aspects of our life; His guidance is not limited to what happens in the realm of our calling. Rather we can, in all aspects of our life, strive to not focus so much on the problems we are presented with and focus on Christ, the solution.
In discussing Palm Sunday and the week that would follow, Elder Rasband stated:
“They were drawn to Him, His miracles, and His teachings. But the adulation for many did not last. Some who earlier had shouted, “Hosanna,”soon turned and cried, “Crucify him.”
I don’t know if any single statement from this particular conference impacted me as deeply as this. Living in this world, we are often inclined to sway with the popular trend. What we see on social media, what we see successful individuals doing, what we hear on the news, etc. We allow the opinions of others to influence us. In doing so, we never become fully cemented in our values, The same values that are supposed to guide and direct us throughout our life. If we don’t have firm values we have no clear direction and will consistently go with whatever, or whomever is in the moment. We have to be firm in our values and beliefs to find lasting joy in this life. A purpose-driven life is a life that is guided by our values, and what is important to us, not to those around you.
The Impact of Remembering
While these were just a few examples of how just a sentence or two from the April 2023 General Conference that have impacted me, there are so many more that likely haven’t even been found.
We each have an opportunity, twice a year, to hear those who are called to be our spiritual leaders—men and women of great faith, who have diligently prepared messages for us.
Our conversion is an ongoing endeavor. Thus, our charge is to listen to the messages, discern how each applies to our lives, keep them in our hearts and minds, and implement them for our betterment—a process that if we continually do will help us grow into the individuals He intends us to be.
If you would like to join us in our General Conference Challenge, we’d love to have you check it out.