BoM 8: Personal Testimony, Personal Responsibility

One of the Come, Follow Me prompts for last week’s study of Mosiah 25-28 suggested that we discuss the importance of taking responsibility for our own testimonies. Chapter 26 identifies “the rising generation,” those who were children at the end of King Benjamin’s reign, did not understand his teachings and did not make the covenant along with their parents, and who chose not to believe and not to be baptized as they grew older. (See Mosiah 26:1-2, BoM.) Testimony, or belief, is the foundation for participation in a faith community.

Another great word for testimony is conviction. The older generation who, under King Benjamin, entered into a covenant with God to believe in Christ and take His name upon them, were convinced of the truth of King Benjamin’s words (see Mosiah 5:2-7, BoM). This conviction led them to behave in ways consistent with the teachings of their king and the diverse group of people became unified under the covenant. They had peace in their land, they welcomed strangers to join their community, they worked hard to serve each other. Each person who had made the covenant honored it individually and as a community of believers.

Years ago I sat in an ecclesiastical endorsement interview with my Bishop so that I could attend a church university. My bishop asked me to share my testimony. I shared typical statements of belief: I know the Church is true, I know Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration, I know Jesus Christ lives, etc. When I finished, my bishop unforgettably stated, “that’s nice. That is a very simple testimony.” The paternalism dripping from these words offended me deeply. What’s wrong with my testimony, I fumed to myself? It’s a sincere testimony!

About six years later I discovered what my bishop meant. As I suffered through the first months of my mission, with my self-construct crumbling, facing rejection every day and feeling very isolated among colleagues who didn’t know or love me, I had to learn to rely on a personage who I believed in and whose existence I felt certain of, but with whom I had never had “real” experience.

You see, it turned out that I had been living the Gospel in a vacuum, following the teachings of the Church and keeping commandments in carefully controlled settings that presented almost no challenges to me or to my faith. I grew up in a sheltered home, was oblivious to many things in high school that could have given me some real life experience, attended a Church university where it was easy to keep Church standards and follow Church teachings, and then lived with my grandmother while I worked and prepared for my mission. Each situation certainly had its own challenges, but none of those challenges constituted the sort of rich environment that allows for deep testimony development or growth. I lived the Gospel but with very little opposition. Without realizing that I had created a controlled environment for myself, I made internal claims as to having overcome various personal weaknesses. In reality I hadn’t actually overcome anger management problems, I had only removed myself from situations that caused flare ups. I didn’t actually love other people like Christ does—I just created an environment for myself in which I could associate with people when and where I wanted to and love from a distance.

All of that changed on my mission where I was suddenly forced to live in an environment completely out of my control. I begged God to help me get out of the worst of the situations and then I developed a bitterness against Him for not removing the challenges. This was my first real experience grappling with faith and testimony. Did God really exist if I couldn’t feel His presence? Did He really exist if He didn’t answer my prayers right way or in the manner I expected?

As I endured and tried to process the various experiences of my mission, I began to learn profound truths about the nature of testimony and what it takes to truly believe, to be convinced and change one’s behavior to be consistent with those convictions. King Benjamin’s people became so convinced of their lost and fallen state—they felt that truth deeply—that they begged for a solution. They believed in Christ because they also felt deeply the truth that only He could save them. (See Mosiah 4:1-3, BoM.)

In my darkest moments as a missionary I relied on the basic “simple” truths I had learned as a teenager: Christ exists. I found a deeper connection to Him in my anguish and built personal strength to believe regardless of my circumstances. I learned how the Atonement is supposed to work in helping us change our “natural wo/man” tendencies to godly characteristics and behaviors—it’s a painful process that cannot happen in a vacuum! I needed opposition (2 Nephi 2:11, BoM) to challenge me, to allow me to confront my weaknesses and, with Christ’s help, practice behaving in better ways until my heart could be changed and I could “naturally” behave in godly ways; in other words, have my nature changed.

I experienced a new facet of God’s grace as part of this testimony-building experience. For several months on my mission my behavior towards my companions was nothing short of despicable. My self-construct or false identity was gone and I began behaving in my most “natural” way; it turned out that a really mean and judgmental person had been lurking beneath my façade (see Mosiah 3:19, BoM). Despite my awful behavior, however, I experienced how deeply Christ loved me and desired my improvement. He blessed me continuously with powerful experiences ministering to local members and investigators, He magnified my singing voice to touch people’s hearts, He helped me and my companions teach in unity with the Spirit, He saw the unspoken righteous desires of my heart and answered them in subtle and meaningful ways. I didn’t deserve any of it—I recognized that all too clearly—but the patience and love with which Christ ministered to me helped me begin changing my heart. As I experienced the power and depth of Christ’s love for every single person on Earth I began to see others with new eyes.

So, while I “knew” as a young person that God is real and that Jesus Christ is my Savior, I did not have the experiential knowledge that makes for a deep or multi-faceted testimony. Not until I followed spiritual promptings to serve a mission and had to take responsibility for my spiritual life, did I begin to build true conviction.

The message I most wanted to share with my children this week is the importance of taking responsibility for their personal testimonies. We discussed different experiences they could have as children that will help them build their testimonies. I can teach them simple Gospel truths, simple enough that they can understand (see Mosiah 26:1, BoM); but I also need to invite them to take action to find out for themselves if and how those principles are true and what that truth means for them. This is the locus of belief or faith.

As a parent I want to create a safe environment in which my children can learn and grow in both secular and spiritual knowledge, but I also want them to have significant life experiences earlier than I did that will help them build deep and abiding convictions in God’s literal existence, His awareness of them, the worth of souls, and Jesus Christ’s infinite love and ability to help us all become exalted individuals and families.

NT 8: Marriage Feast at Cana Object Lesson

Through Jesus Christ we can be transformed.

Change and transformation are two of my favorite Gospel topics. I find it so compelling that a person can identify character traits, desires, behaviors and more that they want to refine or change and become a new, better person. The source of the power that effects those changes? Jesus Christ.

This morning I retold the story of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1-11, NT). My kids could understand how special the occasion was and that running out of wine was a big problem. Thinking ahead, I had poured a glass of apple cider and hidden it on my counter. As I told my kids how Jesus’ mother instructed the servant to “do whatever he tells you,” I pulled a matching glass out of my cupboard and filled it with water to illustrate Jesus’ instructions. I turned my back to the kids while describing the instructions to fill a cup and take it to the governor of the feast. I poured some of the water into my pre-filled glass of cider. Swapping the glasses, I handed the apple cider to one of my kids and asked her what her drink tasted like. Apple cider!

We talked about Jesus’ divinity and how he could transform water into the best wine. The kids had good thoughts to share about Jesus’ power to create, change things, and transform them. I testified of His power to transform us if we will identify those parts of our lives we want to change and seek His help.

NT 7: Temptation, Mortality, and Hope

img_2650I made bread today. This is my late grandma’s recipe and every bite brings a wave of nostalgia. And it’s just really, really delicious bread.

Today I studied the temptation of Christ following His forty-day fast in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11, NT and Luke 4:1-13, NT). The temptations Jesus experienced seem to reveal a pattern of human frailty: physical hunger, desire for control over life and death, and lust for power over external things and people. If we have Christ’s perspective of the reality of earth life and eternity, that perspective quickly exposes Satan’s lies about the supposed importance of satiating physical hunger at the expense of more important things, his lies about mortal ability to control anything, and his lies about the need for “power.” Satan knows mortal weakness, though, and knows just how to get us.

Like today. Some of the “magic” I have felt the last few weeks has rubbed off and I’m left to my own strength again; left to fight those temptations that are uniquely mine. But are those temptations only mine? Going on the strength of 1 Corinthians 10:13, maybe our temptations and sufferings really aren’t that unique. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NT). If temptations fall into a pattern of human frailty, maybe our temptations and sufferings aren’t that different from people around us.

We sometimes wonder if Christ really did experience every pain, affliction, sorrow that every person on earth has ever or will ever experience. The conceit of suffering suggests that no one can know, no one can possibly fathom just how difficult this temptation or challenge really is. The conceit of suffering also convinces us that if no one has experienced exactly what we’re going through, then no one can possibly help. And we effectively cut off the only real source of comfort, help, and healing that exists: Jesus.

He really did experience EVERY pain, sorrow, affliction, sickness, disappointment, temptation (Alma 7:11-12, BoM). He KNOWS. He understands what we’re going through. He wants to help. If we acknowledge His prior experience and accept His knowledge, we can open ourselves to help, healing, and change.

As for my temptations today, I don’t know if Jesus had any of His own kids to yell at, but He did experience mortality and I believe that He understands (at the very least) the weakness at the heart of my temptation to yell. He provided “an escape” for me several weeks ago (when I didn’t yell at my kids for a whole week!) and He can help me learn how to overcome my weakness, stop giving into temptation, and change my behavior to something more godly.

Day 82: Where my treasure is

Ether 14:1

As I read in Ether 14 about the curse on the land, I remembered a related experience I had a few years ago. In Ether 14 the Jaredites have become so wicked that they are on a crash-course for total destruction. The “curse on the land,” as Ether and Moroni call it, resulted in material possessions disappearing: “if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place wither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it” (Ether 14:1).

Whether this means that people were stealing each other’s stuff or something else, I’m not sure. But a few years ago, when we first moved to our current state, things started disappearing from our car. It culminated (for me) in the theft of my iPod. It feels really trivial now and I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I was really mad about it. For years. I used to listen to music every day on it. All my favorite music was there. I also had recordings of myself singing on my mission, recordings from a choir I sang with, favorite audiobooks. Suddenly I didn’t have any of it anymore. I had to accept that I would never get it back.

I take the history from Ether as a warning that the “curse” could come back. Certainly theft is a major problem in our society and it will probably only get worse. But the warning I really took to heart this time is to let go of material things. Jesus taught, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NT; 3 Nephi 13:21). I really treasured my iPod. The length of my bitterness (and anger at my husband for not locking the car) should have been a big red flag to me that my heart wasn’t in the right place.

I am trying to change my attitude toward material possessions and change my heart to treasure my family, my faith, and my God more than anything else in the world.

Day 45: In the Absence of Charity

Alma 31:28

Of all the sins committed by the Zoramites, the one that intrigues me the most this time reading the Book of Mormon is their belief in being chosen people. The Book of Mormon states that “the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord” (Alma 31:1). They would mount a special platform and recite a prayer that included, “We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish” (Alma 31:28). The Zoramites’ belief in being saved because they’re chosen and others perishing because they are not chosen goes against one of God’s defining characteristics and primary concerns. Up to this point in the Book of Mormon, the prophets have repeatedly stated and provided examples in action of God’s character, what constitutes righteous behavior, as well as essential and eternal doctrines. At the heart of God’s character is His love for mankind, His children. And His primary concern is their eternal welfare. The Zoramites, in perverting the ways of the Lord, lost these beautiful and essential truths.

God’s love––charity––impels so many Book of Mormon people to share their knowledge of Christ and the Plan of Salvation with others. The concern for the welfare of others’ souls leads them to fear for their eternal wellbeing and they go to incredible lengths to bring as many people to Christ as possible. But the greatest example of charity is Jesus Christ. Charity impelled Jesus Christ to accept the daunting role as Savior and provide the Atonement for all of God’s children. He willingly accepted this responsibility so that every single one of His Father’s children would have the opportunity to achieve eternal life.

In the absence of charity, apathy toward and carelessness for our fellow man creep in. As Christmas approaches, let’s examine our lives and discover ways we can change our hearts to love our fellow man more perfectly, more like Christ.