I've wanted to write about my core beliefs here for awhile now, but have been unsure of the best way to go about it. They're personal, and they're sacred to me, two things that aren't exactly the Internet's strong suits. But after writing a talk for church last week, which is mainly about how I came to have my testimony, I felt it was in a format that could work here.
I've adapted it into what I hope is a readable blog post, although it's longer than usual. At least, unlike church, you can pause and skip to your heart's content.
The assignment was to talk about something that impacted me from General Conference. I chose to discuss my struggle to find a testimony of my own, a topic President Dieter F. Uchtdorf covered.
Here goes nothin'!
About six years ago, a close friend of mine left the LDS church. He had been a highly dedicated lifelong member, but little by little began choosing doubt and skepticism over hope and study. It was a slow process, and one of a lot of personal reflection on my part.
Departures like this are described by President Uchtdorf:
If we remove ourselves from the light of the gospel, our own light begins to dim—not in a day or a week but gradually over time—until we look back and can’t quite understand why we had ever believed the gospel was true. Our previous knowledge might even seem foolish to us because what once was so clear has again become blurred, hazy, and distant.
Since that time, I have seen this happen several times with people close to me, and I can understand it. Maintaining a testimony takes more than living a certain lifestyle. It takes more than reading a certain book every day. I have felt a dim inner-light.
I’ve spent portions of my life trying to read the book of life by the light of a setting sun, over time having to squint harder to decipher the text. Then, experiencing the feeling of someone walking in and flipping on the light, and only then realizing how hard I had been struggling to see.
This past month when thinking about my friend, I thought, If I had given up my testimony six years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been out much. Although I would have been out eternal blessings and much support throughout life, for all intents and purposes, my day-to-day life would have remained essentially unchanged.
Several years ago I attended a Q&A meeting for young, single adults in Manhattan, with Elder David A. Bednar as the speaker. He was asked what he saw as the greatest problem facing our generation*. His answer was, "...a lack of being doctrinally grounded, and a lack of having paid the price for your testimony".
He went onto explain that we may superficially believe things, but our testimony isn’t deeply rooted in doctrine, doctrine which we come to understand through much labor and prayer.
Today, my testimony is my most precious possession. I would not be living a wholehearted life without it, and things in the day-to-day would be incredibly different.
My testimony is only so valuable to me now because I earned it.
After I spoke in church, a woman in the ward whom I admire approached me and said, “In your talk you said, ‘I don't want to sound prideful, but I earned my testimony.’ I was so happy to hear you say that- it is not a prideful thing to say. Each and every member of the church should feel confident enough to say that, because having a testimony is an accomplishment.”
What made the difference?
I decided to finally pay the price for something I had been freeloading from others my whole life. It’s something I have to continue to do daily, and it’s something that isn’t always pleasant, joyful, or easy. It’s rarely easy. It's also not always consistent. I often slack and allow my light to dim, which dulls life until I choose to face the light again.
But I can testify that the blessings He promises- the comfort, the joy, the will to carry on in the midst of tough questions or struggles, the very personal answers and assurances needed to stay with it- they do come. I also testify that they require effort on our part. As Elder Christofferson said, “A God who makes no demands is the functional equivalent of a God who does not exist".
President Uchtdorf’s talk about testimony and the spirit is such a comprehensive resource on how to really gain a testimony and increase the light in our lives. I'll just tell you a little about how I have put the practices he speaks of to use, and thus have come to know that what he spoke of is true.
'If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.' In other words, when you are trying to verify the truth of gospel principles, you must first live them. Put gospel doctrine and Church teachings to the test in your own life. Do it with real intent and enduring faith in God.
To get started along the path of gaining a testimony of my own and stop being passive about the gospel, I knew I had to start with the Savior. But I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
Here's an experience that may paint a picture of how it looked as I figured out what it actually means to 'start with Christ'.
Last month I took a couple of cross-country flights with my nine-month old son. On each flight, the same pattern emerged.
Enter the plane, he is making friends left and right with his sparkling personality. He excitedly looks about at the new surroundings, interested in everything. I hold him as he jumps and jumps in my lap, never holding still even for a moment. Each time I give him food, he devours it, enjoys it. Each time a stranger tickles his tummy or makes a face, he laughs and squeals. Life is good.
A few hours in, however, the same actions, the same strangers, the same jumping, become a source of frustration for him. He is tired. I know it and he knows it, but he thinks continuing to play is the way out. Each time I attempt to lay him in my arms, he shoots up, reaching for any object in sight to distract his tired mind.
Over and over this goes, my attempts thwarted. Eventually, after letting out one final, desperate squeal, he collapses in my arms and shuts his eyes.
The relief is instant. His whole body relaxes; his little heart that had been racing begins to thump more slowly as his breathing deepens. It’s so calming watching a baby fall asleep!
Upon waking, his world is bright again. Everything that once caused irritation is now ready to be enjoyed for that which they were designed.
This was essentially what happened when I finally allowed the Savior to… save me. I first had to trust Him, trust that He knew what I needed and what would make my life the very brightest it could be. I had to trust that He could remove the frustration, unhappiness, and confusion I was experiencing.
This trust came little by little. But to gain it required that I stopped going my own way, stopped looking for distractions, and stopped resisting his quiet comfort.
As soon as I did, the relief was instant. Problems weren’t solved right then and my testimony was far from complete. But the peace came right away, the moment I showed real intent and desire for Him to help me.
Sometimes, I had to pray to even have the desire to start. When those prayers went hand-in-hand with even the smallest action, the desire came in due time.
President Uchtdorf says,
God cares about you. He will listen, and He will answer your personal questions. The answers to your prayers will come in His own way and in His own time, and therefore, you need to learn to listen to His voice. God wants you to find your way back to Him, and the Savior is the way. God wants you to learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, and experience the profound peace and joy that come from following the path of divine discipleship
So to pay the price for my testimony, I had to learn about Christ and what He asks of me.
I had to study the scriptures and pray more than I ever had to gain a testimony of the various areas in which I was weak.
I had to ask difficult questions, ask God for confirmation that Joseph Smith’s experiences were real. I had to find out whether I could trust that The Restoration was done in the way He wanted it done. I testify that I received unmistakable, positive confirmation of both.
Before going through the temple for the first time, I worked hard at understanding the covenants I would be asked to make there. To decide if those were promises I was willing to make and keep for the rest of my life.
This was a long process, filled with much study, prayer, fasting, and opposition from the Adversary. But the work paid off, and in return I was able to enter the temple with confidence, and exit with a greater understanding of God’s plan for His children.
Along with all the study, the hardest part was actually changing what I was doing on a regular basis. Living the Word and learning the Word must go hand-in-hand if we are to truly test it.
I’ve never had a hard time with commandments. I'm like, Those are the commandments? Sure, I’ll keep them. Oh, but I’m not going to keep them all the way… then I wouldn’t be in control of my own life! I'll keep a little bit for myself.
With many commandments, there was always some portion of it I wouldn’t quite complete. I think this gave me a sense of control, a sense that I was still my own person, and in some ways, kept me from feeling the vulnerability that comes from opening yourself up completely to someone else. Particularly, the Lord.
But I learned that the whole point is to put Christ in control. Giving up the need to be wholly in charge of my destiny and live life according to my short-sighted plans, was extremely liberating.
Learning what He expected of me, and then doing the sometimes painful thing of turning away from what I wanted to do, is what finally allowed me to break down the walls of fear and stubbornness that were keeping me from connecting more fully with Him.
It also virtually washed away the feelings of insignificance, fear of rejection, and fear of not being loveable that I had carried around for years. This single act of trust improved my quality of life in real, tangible ways. I finally gained the sense of self I had been seeking when clinging to the illusion of control. Giving up the need for certainty, and choosing to obey with exactness rather than ‘almostness’, gave me more freedom than I'd ever had.
The ugly side of striving to obey a little more perfectly each day, is a tendency to feel I must always be perfect. Along the path to a stronger testimony, a crucial point was learning that with how much my testimony of obedience was growing, I needed to temper it with the most valuable, imperative piece of the whole thing:
My personal everlasting battle is not losing hope when I make a mistake, or even when I deliberately sin. To not think that all is lost and I have to start all over, that I am simply not 'good', or 'good enough'. But I have a testimony now that the only way I can be perfect, is to be perfect in Christ. This sounds like an abstract concept, but there are actual, concrete ways to implement that concept into daily life.
Perfection doesn't come from being perfectly obedient and never messing up. It comes from recognizing shortcomings and turning to the Lord for help recovering and improving.
(I'd recommend starting with The Infinite Atonement by Tad Callister.)
Out of everything I have learned over the years, the most precious is: I can rest in Him. I can rest in Him because of His atonement for me.
REST. Such a nice word.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
When my son was lying in my arms on the plane, I looked at him and had the distinct impression that I was feeling a small portion of what Christ feels for me. I was so happy that Clayton trusted I had what it took to help him feel safe and happy. I felt so much love for him, and a desire to protect him. He rested in me.
Once I gained a little more understanding of the atonement and began to trust it, my work, relationships, and play time all became better. It’s like the baby going to sleep so flustered and overwhelmed, only to find everything looking wonderful when he awakes.
All became better because I was well-rested. I knew where I stood. My confidence in myself and my God grew, and my testimony in all of the formerly weak areas grew stronger.
If you seek God’s truth, that which now may appear dim, out of focus, and distant will gradually be revealed and clarified and become close to your heart by the light of God’s grace. Glorious spiritual vistas, unimaginable to the human eye, will be revealed to you.
It is my testimony that this spiritual light is within the reach of every child of God. It will enlighten your mind and bring healing to your heart and joy to your days. My dear friends, please do not delay the moment to seek and strengthen your own personal testimony of God’s divine work, even the work of light and truth.
I echo this testimony. I continue to experience this healing and clarity in my life. Paying the price to know the Savior and follow Him is worth anything it feels like you're giving up.
I know God expects a lot from us because we are His. Our Heavenly Parents are great, and we are capable of that same greatness, joy, and love that They eternally live in.
I testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ's church on the Earth. It has the capability and the mechanisms in place to teach us more about Jesus Christ than any other way in this life, and in so doing, draw us closer to Him than we can get on our own.
I testify that the covenants we make during the sacrament and in the temple are actual bonds, binding us to God and each other for eternity.
I know that Christ IS the way. I testify that He lives, and lives to see us be happy. I know He loves me, and I know God loves me, more than I can comprehend.
I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
“Faith is the power, obedience is the price, love is the motive, the Spirit is the key and Christ is the reason.” -James E. Faust
*I thought it was worth mentioning that Elder Whitney Clayton was also at that meeting. He answered the question first. His answer was that he thinks a great challenge facing our generation is that social media is keeping us from "forming and maintaining eternal families." I thought that was an interesting point. This was about 5 years ago.