One of the really rewarding things about studying the collected talks of a single Prophet or Apostle is seeing how they grow into their prophetic office and how their speaking style evolves over time.
As time passed, I have noticed how President Nelson has become so much more vulnerable and emotional in the things that he shares.
In April 1995 one of President Nelson’s daughter’s Emily died. President Nelson did speak beautifully about how he wished he could have done more to heal or save his daughter (and also President Howard W. Hunter who had just passed away):
“My tears of sorrow have flowed along with wishes that I could have done more for our daughter and for our President. If I had the power of resurrection, I would have been tempted to bring them back. Though one of the ordained Apostles, each of whom is entrusted with all the keys of the kingdom of God, I do not hold keys of the Resurrection. Jesus Christ holds those keys and will use them for Emily, for President Hunter, and for all people in the Lord’s own time.”
He then turned to the theme of Covenants and how we are blessed through our covenants and have the promise of eternal reunion. It is a well-written and well delivered talk. But it comes off as a bit dry and impersonal. The connection between the topic and the loss of his daughter is only made once more when he mentions how “[g]reat comfort comes from the knowledge that our loved ones are secured to us through the covenants.”
I could not help but contrast this talk with a recent talk given by President Nelson entitled “Come, Follow Me” where he focused on the death of another one of his daughters in 2019.
President Nelson discusses his daughter and the feelings he has with poignant and moving affection.
“I held her hands and told her how much I loved her and how grateful I was to be her father. I said: “You married in the temple and faithfully honored your covenants. You and your husband welcomed seven children into your home and raised them to be devout disciples of Jesus Christ, valiant Church members, and contributing citizens. And they have chosen spouses of that same caliber. Your daddy is very, very proud of you. You have brought me much joy!”
She quietly responded, “Thank you, Daddy.”
It was a tender, tearful moment for us. During her 67 years, we worked together, sang together, and often skied together. But that evening, we talked of things that matter most, such as covenants, ordinances, obedience, faith, family, fidelity, love, and eternal life.
We miss our daughter greatly. However, because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we do not worry about her. As we continue to honor our covenants with God, we live in anticipation of our being with her again. Meanwhile, we’re serving the Lord here and she is serving Him there—in paradise.”
The rest of his talk is then focused on a powerful and very personalized invitation for each of us to thin carefully about how we need to make and keep covenants and receive “essential ordinances” to be exalted with our family forever. Notice the highly emotional language throughout:
The anguish of my heart is that many people whom I love, whom I admire, and whom I respect decline His invitation.
I understand why God weeps.6 I also weep for such friends and relatives. They
I’ve wondered what I could possibly say so they would feel how much the Savior loves them and know how much I love them and come to recognize how covenant-keeping women and men can receive a “fulness of joy.”
Now, as President of His Church, I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the Church and with you who have not yet really sought to know that the Savior’s Church has been restored. Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out.
President Nelson’s 2019 talk is bold and direct. He forges a powerful emotional connect with the listener and uses that connection to call to repentance. His 1995 talk was a good talk that could teach and uplift. But his 2019 talk has the power to truly change lives.
Seeing the difference between these talks reminded me of a painful lesson that I learned many years ago. My mom died when I was a high school senior. A few months later during graduation I was given the opportunity to give a talk as the class salutatorian. I wrestled for a while to know what to say and whether I should talk about my mom. I ultimately made a choice to give a talk that was well-written and intellectually satisfying but was devoid of emotion and power. (I was a nerd so I made an analogy between stem cells and those graduating and how we had the potential to become whatever we wanted to). I regret deeply not taking that opportunity to speak of my mother and how much she had impacted me. Doing so would have been so much more authentic and powerful
In light of President Nelson’s talks I am committing myself to never let my analytical side get in the way of bearing a powerful testimony of the Restored Gospel. I will not be afraid to talk about my personal experiences and to connect with those I speak with on a deeper level.