My comments today are mostly directed toward young people. But I’m going to talk to you like adults and I’m going to be as plain and frank as I know how to be. I want to talk to you about your testimonies.
It seems to me that testimonies are a bit like baseball. In a baseball game, you’ll find yourself at times surrounded by teammates out in the field or safe in the dugout together—yet there come moments when you stand all alone at the plate. Just you and the pitcher and nobody to lean on. Others may cheer you on, but nobody but you will be able to stop that fastball before it crosses over for a strike—or hits you in the ear.
Similarly, each of you will need to make your own independent decisions regarding matters of faith, testimony, and the Church.
The Church is True?
I worry about the oft-repeated statement, “I know the Church is true.” It is said positively, of course, and with good intentions. It affirms (albeit vaguely) an acceptance of the Church. But I worry that it creates a framework for judging the Church unfairly—because if it’s “true,” it must then all be true, and if, then, anything or anyone is amiss, then the whole thing must apparently, after all, not be true.
Let me give some examples:
- The Church teaches doctrines that are true. Does that mean that every statement made by every Church leader in the history of the Church is correct? No. Does it mean you’ll never hear a false comment or teaching in a Church meeting on Sunday? No. But does an incorrect statement in the classroom or even from the pulpit negate the fact that the Church teaches doctrines that are true? No, it does not.
- Or… The Church is led by apostles and prophets who receive revelation and inspiration. That is true. Does that mean that God provides for them a constant stream of highly specific, detailed instructions such that their own judgment and biases never contribute to their decisions and they never err? No. But does an erroneous judgment, even by a Church leader, negate the fact that the Church is led by inspired men who hold legitimate priesthood keys that can bless you and your family? No, it does not.
- One more… The Church teaches that we should love our neighbors—that we should be Christ-like and full of charity. That is true. Does that mean that no church-going neighbor of yours will ever be judgmental, thoughtless, insensitive—or maybe just flat-out rude and offensive? No. But does a church-going neighbor’s poor behavior mean the Church is a driver of civic unrest and therefore false? No, it does not.
The Church is a divinely inspired and divinely authorized institution run by humans. The humanity in the Church sometimes obscuring its divinity no more negates that divinity than clouds obscuring the sun reduce the importance of the sun.
In the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are, as President Nelson recently taught, three great truths:
- We are, in a very literal sense, children of Heavenly Parents.
- Our Father in Heaven desires a covenant relationship with us wherein He and we commit to each other—in a very deep way through which the greatest blessings of eternity become available to us.
- Jesus Christ helps us overcome the issues that prevent us from completing that covenant path on our own if we will receive and follow Him.
Critical to those great truths is this: The Church plays an essential role in connecting us with these truths, as it is only through the ordinances of the restored priesthood that we can make the necessary covenants with our Father and formally commit in the Savior’s way to discipleship to Him.
A loving Heavenly Father, the Covenant Path, and Jesus as our Savior. These three things are each true and correct. I “know” that through a host of experiences. But your turn to stand at the plate, largely by yourself, is coming. You will need to know for yourself. So how do you find out?
Let’s start with distinguishing between what Elder Corbridge calls the Primary and the Secondary questions—or, in other words, the “critically important” and the “important but not nearly critically so” questions. Let’s also acknowledge the “difficult” questions, which I think should get a category of their own.
The critically important, or “primary,” questions revolve around the three great truths just mentioned. Here they are again in a little different order and in the form of questions…
- Does God really exist, and, if so, what is the nature of my relationship with Him?
- Is Jesus really my Savior? Do I even need a Savior? If God is really a loving father, won’t he just forgive my mistakes anyway?
- Does the Church, in fact, play an essential role in my relationship with my Heavenly Father and the Savior? More specifically: Are the ordinances and covenants offered to all of humanity by the Church truly essential for me?
Those are the primary questions. Those are the ones you’ll need to answer.
“Secondary” questions include such things as:
- Where did the Book of Abraham come from?
- Why does the Book of Mormon talk about horses?
- Why isn’t every account of the First Vision identical?
- Why do changes in the Church sometimes coincide with social and political pressures?
- Why are temple ordinances similar to masonic rituals?
- Et cetera. It’s a long list.
For a person who is positively settled with the primary questions, the secondary questions are distantly secondary because answers to them come with relative simplicity—and because they are outside the core issues of our relationship with God. A person’s anxiety over the secondary questions will typically be proportional to their uncertainty regarding the primary questions.
Further, it is a myth that one must first answer the secondary questions before he or she can answer the primary questions. There is an easy answer to the Book of Abraham question, for example, but I don’t need to know it before I can conclude that God is my Father, that covenants matter, and that Jesus is my Savior.
What about what I would call the difficult questions? These include such things as:
- How can the Savior’s Church deny temple marriage to gay couples or transgender individuals—especially when Jesus, himself, during his life, championed those who were rejected by others?
- How do we explain polygamy—past and… future? And should we be worried about it?
- Why did the Church go for so long withholding priesthood and temple blessings from black people? Why did it go for any amount of time doing that?
These questions always—but today more than at any time in the history of the world, perhaps—strike at the very dead center of our sensibilities regarding equity, fairness, and justice—and that makes them more difficult. They are also difficult because any specific, Church-centered answers to them involve important unknowns.
If we can’t answer the primary questions positively, we will see these difficult issues as irreconcilable conflicts between the Church’s claim to priesthood authority and the virtue of equity.
If we can answer the primary questions positively, then, even though the difficult issues remain difficult, we will be willing to trust in a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for His children—all of his children; we’ll be willing to trust in the power of an infinite Atonement; and we’ll be willing to trust in the merger of divine inspiration and human imperfection that both inform Church leaders—but with emphasis on the former.
(With regard to any question that seems difficult to us, it is important to remember that we don’t share the same perspective as Church leaders—and we definitely don’t share the same perspective as God.)
Gaining a Testimony
So, then, back to the important primary questions. How do I settle them and gain a testimony? I suggest you do five things.
First, take a positive approach. Too much skepticism that the world is round—or that the earth revolves around the sun—only impeded people’s ability to recognize the truth. The opposite of such a mistake, though—blind faith—is not the answer. We should most definitely be thoughtful! But a person’s approach to testimony must involve some desire and willingness to believe—and must include the fair and objective approach we should always take toward learning and truth-seeking.
Unless your name is Saul or Alma—and I don’t know any Sauls or Almas in our stake—an antagonistic approach to the question of the Church’s validity will only land you where you started. A desire to exercise faith—which Alma speaks of in the Book of Mormon—and an open mind are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Second, begin to learn how the Spirit communicates with you. The scriptures point out that the “voice” of the Spirit is still and small and gentle. It is not in the windstorm, the earthquake, or the fire. It is subtle. It is with you more often than you perhaps realize. It can speak to you in your mind and your heart. We experience the Spirit at different times in different ways and we are each different. It comes exceedingly seldom in an unmistakable vision or audible voice. It is quiet.
Why is this so? Why doesn’t God just speak loudly and unmistakably clearly to us? Because, I suppose, if He was going to do that, we might as well have just stayed with Him where He could personally instruct us. But we were separated from Him for a reason—to struggle and learn with agency and opposition and choices—and to learn to walk by faith. God will communicate with us, but not in a manner that imposes excessive influence over our agency.
Nevertheless, you can learn to discern—and constantly improve at discerning—both the presence and the absence of the Holy Ghost—especially as you strive to keep your baptismal covenant. For me, I would describe the Spirit best as feelings of love, clarity, and quiet approval. And I would describe the absence of the Holy Ghost as feelings of emptiness, negativity, and being alone.
Third, learn, ponder, and pray. Prayer is an essential element of seeking a testimony—but so is trying to understand what you’re praying about. You’ll need to study. Since billions of people and thousands of years haven’t settled the question of the Bible’s value, you’ll want to focus your studies on the Book of Mormon and on the words of living prophets. If those are true, then the Bible is also, even if not in every small detail.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” The Book of Mormon also tells that we should ask God if the Book of Mormon is true and that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” This does not mean that we simply ask God a question and he drops down a note with the answer on it from heaven. You will need to work to discern an answer, the timing of which is uncertain.
Fourth, live the gospel. The importance of this cannot be understated. Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or… [not]”. We should also place a lot of weight on this statement from Joseph Smith, who said that “a [person] would get nearer to God by abiding by [the] precepts [of the Book of Mormon], than by any other book.”
If you want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, you don’t need to stress over the secondary questions related to it, you need to live what it teaches. You won’t learn Spanish by speaking English and you won’t learn how to shoot a free throw by watching others do it. You’ll need to jump in. It is no small thing that the Book of Mormon is the “keystone of our religion.” Its power is most effectively unlocked when we try to live its teachings.
Fifth, consider the fruits of living the actual teachings of the Church—as opposed to misperceptions, misinterpretations, cultural flaws within the Church, or criticisms of the Church. What does the restored Church teach, encourage, and sometimes prod me to do? It tries to help me…
- Be a good husband
- Be a good father
- Be a good neighbor and a contributing citizen
- Serve others
- Develop Christlike attributes such as kindness, compassion, mercy, patience, and love
- Practice living by optimism, faith, and hope
- Be healthy—and become physically and emotionally self-reliant
- Strive for growth and improvement—while at the same time being kind and fair toward myself
- Seek learning
- Care for the poor and alleviate suffering
- Accept my value, potential, and lovability—and that of others
- Accept peace for the eventual resolution of the things that hurt or worry me
- And other good things.
One of the reasons the secondary questions are so distantly secondary is because—though they are often wielded as weapons of criticism against the Church—the strength of those weapons diminishes quickly in comparison to the good the Church brings about in the lives of individuals and families who embrace the Church’s actual teachings.
There are many good and important questions. Some are primary. I encourage you to settle the answers to those in your hearts and minds and then continue with them as you learn and grow.
- We do have a loving Father in Heaven.
- The covenants we make with Him through restored priesthood authority and ordinances are of utmost importance.
- Jesus Christ is our Savior.
I testify—from the basis of my own study, ponder, and prayer; my own interactions with the Holy Ghost; and the fruits I see born out in my life as I strive to keep my covenants—that God is our Father, Jesus is our Savior, and our Church-provided priesthood covenants matter, a lot, in our relationships to Them. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Ward Conferences, 2019]
In our last General Conference, President Nelson said, “The long-standing objective of the Church is to assist all members to increase their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Atonement, to assist them in making and keeping their covenants with God, and to strengthen and seal their families… Scriptures make it clear that parents have the primary responsibility to teach the doctrine to their children.”
Our conference today focuses on the idea of home-centered church—or home-centered gospel learning. I would like to suggest twelve things that parents should especially teach their children at home—and that children should make a point of learning.
First is the nature of our relationship with God.
God is our father. He loves us as a perfect father would love his children and desire their development and happiness. Jesus Christ is our brother and also loves us with a perfect love.
Neither of them will tolerate or excuse any sin – yet their plan for us provides an escape from the worst effects of sin for those – and only for those – who love them and submissively receive them.
When I imagine meeting the Savior or my Father in Heaven, I anticipate feeling great love. I imagine receiving an embrace that will melt all my feelings. I imagine an overwhelming gratitude that helps me embrace them back. However, for all their kindness and goodness, I do not think of them as my “chum” or my “buddy.” I also imagine at that meeting an overwhelming impulse to prostrate myself before them in acknowledgement of my nothingness and in total awe and respect for their perfection.
God is to be loved and gratefully reverenced.
Faith is one of those lovely thoughts that seems so warm and cozy when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. But the Lord makes the rain to fall on the just and not just on the unjust. And those of us who fancy ourselves just are sometimes quite shocked and indignant, even feeling betrayed or abandoned, when the rain falls hard on us.
How will your child react when the rains of life have the water up his chin? What does God’s plan for us really look like? Why is uncertainty an essential element of the mortal experience? What is the role of adversity? How am I special? And how am I not? Why did God leave his Only Begotten alone in the Garden of Eden? And why will he leave you and I (more or less) alone at moments to experience things on our own? Why should I trust God in those moments? And what does it mean that faith is a principle of action?
Each of us feels a responsibility to dress our small child in a warm coat when they must be out in a cold rain. How much greater our responsibility to teach our children to trust God in their toughest moments.
We need to teach our children how to develop testimonies. Where does a testimony come from? The Holy Ghost is the most important place. There are additional evidences that the doctrine of the Church is correct and that the Church is led by men with legitimate priesthood keys.
Our children need to know how to pray, how to try to recognize the Spirit, and how to observe the impact of following the teachings of the Savior and the counsel of living prophets. They need to know the critical importance of the Book of Mormon.
They also need to see and hear our testimonies, which we must each nurture. This brings us to…
What is your daughter to do when she has questions that might challenge her testimony? Here is a catastrophic scenario for how she might handle it.
- First, she encounters a truth that is easily open to criticism, such as: Joseph Smith had some young wives in addition to Emma.
- Second, she thinks this might be a game changer and wonders why nobody ever told her before.
- Third, she thinks it possible that people have been trying to keep unpleasant truths from her so her best bet for exploring this is from people outside the Church.
- Fourth, she immerses herself in the viewpoints of so-called “anti-Mormons” and “former Mormons.”
- Eventually, she opts out of church activity.
In this scenario, she has taken an understandable path for someone who believes people have been trying to hide things from her.
How might parents handle this better?
- They might teach their children about Church history and about the Church’s reasons for its same-sex policies and about its love for gay people and all
- They might teach their children that questions are normal and good and that they have no need to fear expressing them.
- They might teach their children about the answers we have to their questions, including in Church-published materials.
- And they might teach their children about the fact that we don’t have an answer to every question – and about how we handle unknowns.
I recently heard two mistaken expressions with regard to someone who had committed an egregious sin and, wonderfully, wanted to repent and move on. The first was that this person decided to go to his bishop to “begin the repentance process.” The second was that, in so doing, he wanted to get his sin “taken care of.”
Well, repentance does not begin with confession. And talking to him won’t “take care of” the issue.
For some sins, talking to the bishop is an essential step. But even then, repentance doesn’t happen in the bishop’s office. Repentance happens inside a person’s heart. Repentance isn’t a two-step, five-step, or 50-step process. Repentance is a genuine change of heart and mind that inevitably results in a change of behavior; it is a reorientation of a person’s entire life toward God.
Genuine repentance is the most rewarding and comforting—and one of the most testimony-building experiences that we can have.
Sixth, the Holy Ghost.
We parents generally do a decent job of teaching their kids about the Holy Ghost. When an 8-year-old is interviewed for baptism and the Bishop asks about the role of the Holy Ghost children give some good answers:
- He will warn me of danger.
- He will comfort me when I’m sad.
- He will help me know what is true.
- Some even know that the Holy Ghost will testify specifically of Jesus.
I think we need to teach them one other very important thing. Her is how Elder Bednar put it, quote:
“The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who cleanses and burns dross and evil out of human souls as though by fire… Receiving the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost in our lives creates the possibility of an ongoing cleansing of our soul from sin… We are blessed both by our initial cleansing from sin associated with baptism and by the potential for an ongoing cleansing from sin made possible through the companionship and power of the Holy Ghost.”
“May I respectfully suggest that our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son do not intend for us to experience such a feeling of spiritual renewal, refreshment, and restoration just once in our lives.”
Your children know that they were clean at baptism. How many of them understand that they can be (and many are) as clean now as they were then?
If you’re unrepentant, you’re in serious trouble. If you’re humble, repentant, and striving, the Holy Ghost is cleansing and sanctifying you on an ongoing basis and you are clean.
Seventh, teach your children about the ordinances and covenants beyond baptism.
Do you—both dads and moms—know how to teach your sons and daughters about the covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood? What does it mean to receive the Priesthood, the Savior, and His servants? What does it mean to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God? What does it mean to magnify your calling?
If your sons think that serving a full-time mission is a bigger deal than receiving the Priesthood, then we’ve failed them and their future wives and children.
What about the Endowment? Will you provide your children with the same level of unpreparedness that we received from our parents? Or will you help them understand what it means to make a full, adult-level commitment to God and to ponder and learn?
Parents would do well to focus more on their kids’ preparedness for the temple than for a mission, though the latter is also important. Parents might also help their children who aren’t serving full-time missions consider the timing of receiving their Endowment and the wisdom of receiving it well ahead of their temple marriage.
Eighth, being a missionary.
We must undo the compartmentalization of missionary work in many of our minds. Nobody should start being a missionary when the stake president sets them apart. And nobody should stop being a missionary when they are released from their calling.
A great topic for family discussion is how to be a conscious, active missionary without a name badge.
Let me share with you four statements from Church leaders.
First, from LDS.org: “The law of consecration is a divine principle whereby men and women voluntarily dedicate their time, talents, and material wealth to the establishment and building up of God’s kingdom.”
Next, Joseph Smith: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.”
Next, Bruce R. McConkie in General Conference:
“The law of sacrifice is a celestial law; so also is the law of consecration. …we must be able to live these two laws.
“Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.
“The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.”
Lastly, the following statement is included in this very first week’s study material in Come Follow Me—For Individuals and Families. It says, speaking of the infamous “rich young man,” “What he learned—and what we all must learn—is that being a disciple means giving our whole souls to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
Tenth, many are called, but few are chosen.
Setting our hearts upon the things of the world and aspiring to the honors of others—whether through misguided ambitions, social media, or neglect of God and His commandments—will keep us from the blessings of heaven. “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
How do we, as families, establish and maintain proper priorities and be spiritually minded? What a great topic for a family discussion!
Eleventh, perfectionism and vulnerability.
There is a little epidemic that runs through Utah County LDS culture. It manifests itself in our trying to convey to each other that all is well with us and we have no challenges or struggles. We try to look good on the outside and keep others out of our insides. The answer to every “Hi, how are you?” is “Fine, how are you?” because we can’t change the subject fast enough.
Smiling, looking nice, and keeping a nice home, of course, are not sins.
The problem is when we create a culture based on shame and judgmentalism. Too often, we are following Satan’s advice to “hide” out of unhealthy shame and we do it to avoid the judgments we imagine from others—judgments which are frankly not coming if we’d allow ourselves to discover that.
I don’t think we should go around reciting to everyone we meet all of our failures, shortcomings, and embarrassments. But I do think we need to teach our children how to be real and vulnerable and how to create a community of genuine love and understanding.
How do our sons learn to become outstanding husbands and fathers? Two ways, I think. We hope their own fathers’ examples will teach them positively. And we hope some good things will rub off on them if they go to Church.
But it’s not enough. All fathers set bad examples in addition to good examples, and osmosis doesn’t magically and sufficiently happen at church. We need to be explicit and address the subject head-on.
This will require vulnerability from fathers to teach what they should be instead of who they are. And it will require a willingness from mothers to explain to both their husbands and sons what a wife needs and what genuine manhood looks like to a woman.
Paul said men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Boys need to be taught by their fathers and mothers what it means to love a woman in a Christlike way.
Brothers and Sisters, a new era has come to the Church. Our homes are to be the center of our worship, our study, and our development. Fathers and mothers have a divine responsibility to teach their children.
I testify that President Nelson holds priesthood keys and is the mouthpiece of the Lord today. I testify that Jesus Christ lives and is our Savior. And I testify that life eternal is to know God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]
As we all know, it doesn’t make sense to try to reduce the gospel or gospel living or righteousness to a checklist. I could, for example, say my prayers morning and night, read a couple of chapters in the Book of Mormon every day, attend the temple each week or two, refrain from watching football on Sundays, lead my family in daily scripture reading and prayer and in Home Evening every Monday—all good and desirable things—and yet still lack something very desirable and ultimately essential.
The goal is not just to check all the boxes. The goal is to become. To be changed. To experience and nurture a “mighty change” in our hearts. The apostle Paul wrote of us becoming “new creatures.” So did Alma the Younger. King Benjamin spoke of a change within us so profound that we would “have no more disposition to evil, but to do good continually.” Paul also taught that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” The change that each of us should strive to experience is one that should be deep inside us, affecting our hearts and minds and our very natures.
Here, though, is perhaps a little irony. While the goal is in what we become rather than in just checking all the boxes, doing good reflects what we have become and it is in the very doing that we not only become, but that we also discover the truthfulness of the Gospel.
Jesus taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
President Vernon recently told me a story of interviewing a woman in the stake for a temple recommend. He did not share with me her name and I don’t know who she is, but her story illustrates a point. President Vernon came to the third question in the interview and asked this sister if she had a testimony of the restoration of the gospel. She hesitated before saying “yes” and then hastened to make what she referred to as an “apology.” She said that she had not studied and read things to the depths that others had. She didn’t feel that she could quote chapter and verse on everything related to the restoration, but, she said, “I only know that when I live according to the teachings of the restored gospel, I feel good, I feel happier and better off. And that is largely what I base my testimony on.”
What on earth have we done that would leave this dear woman feeling like she needed to apologize for doing and experiencing exactly what the Savior said she would? She described it perfectly. Paraphrasing, “If any woman will do his will, she shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
Knowing is in the doing and in recognizing the resulting whisperings of the Holy Ghost.
Truth, testimonies, and gospel knowledge often don’t come from spectacular spiritual events. More often, the voice of the Spirit is still and small and works quietly within us.
Becoming, like knowing, is also in the doing. Let me provide a few illustrations.
Every year, our stake, on average, sends out about 65 full-time missionaries. I meet with them the Sunday before they leave for an MTC somewhere in the world. They are wonderful! Many come to that interview wearing new missionary clothing, including a pair of shoes that looks like it’s being worn for the first time. Eye contact may or may not be very steady. Each is a different combination of excitement and nervousness, perhaps even fear—for the unknown things ahead and the moments that will challenge them. Most have graduated from seminary, been active in Church, read their scriptures, and learned well from excellent parents. Most are what I might describe as thriving youth, but inexperienced youth nevertheless.
Fast-forward 18 months or two years. That same young man or young woman returns to the same office, this time to be released as a full-time missionary. Shoes often look very worn. Pants may have a hem coming apart or even a hole in them. Once-white shirts may be a little off-white now. Faces and bodies may even look a little tired, but those faces are different than when they left! There is a lot of eye contact. There is something new and changed behind those eyes that are full of confidence—and sometimes full of tears that are both joyful and sorrowful for the end of a wonderful season.
I frequently ask these young men and young women what has changed—what is different about them from the last time I saw them. They often answer with things like, “God gave me the gift of seeing people as He sees them.” Or, “Everything has changed. I am completely different.” Or, “I know God loves me. I really know it.” Or, “I thought I had a testimony when I left, but now I really know.” Or “I have learned that the Atonement is real and applies to everyone.”
One might even call it a mighty change. How did it happen? It happened because they said, as Nephi, “I will go and do.” And they went and did. And in the doing, they experienced God; they experienced the Holy Ghost; and they were changed from the inside out.
For us older people, this is not merely an opportunity long gone. Just two nights ago, Joe and Barbara Barry returned from their full-time mission in Palmyra, where they served in the temple and in other important ways. Like younger missionaries, Joe and Barbara were wonderful before they left, they just weren’t quite as young. That didn’t mean, though, that they didn’t return home with similarly glowing and smiling faces, full of goodness that resulted from what they had done, what they felt, and what they had further become. They blessed many lives in Palmyra. They blessed the lives of their adult children here in Utah. And, inescapably, their own lives were blessed and changed forever.
In the middle of preparing this talk, and as if on a heavenly cue, I received an email from President Frandsen, currently president of the San Francisco Oakland mission and a member of our stake. Here is the full text of what he wrote:
“Good Morning President: I thought I would send you an update I received from Elder and Sister Lay. What a difference they are making in this mission and the two Wards and Stakes in which they are serving! President Frandsen.” Below that was an email to him from David and Sharon Lay of the 22nd Ward. It is too lengthy to share in its entirety, but here are a few lines…
- The Bishopric called us to head up the Christmas party for the ward and we are working with a committee.
- We have helped establish a greeter program at the chapel doors for Sacrament Meeting to welcome the members and visitors.
- Sharon is accompanying the RS president with some visits to special sisters and shut-ins and I am attending the Elders Quorum and accompanying the President on visits.
- We are working with the Stake Family History committee to generate a Family History Fair to culminate before the temple closes in March.
- The Bishop has been very forthcoming in assigning a list of about eight members that he would like us to focus on right away. With only a couple of exceptions, we have been in their homes and have become friends.
- We have been asked to teach a temple preparation class in Sunday School for eight weeks to help prepare some to return to the temple, also before it closes in March.
- We have participated in several lessons with the Elders where they needed a third participant as well as helping to conduct a family home evening with a new family and a new-member lesson with a recently baptized member.
- We are now registered with the Reading Partners program to do remedial reading instruction at the local elementary school near our apartment. We go for an hour each Tuesday and Thursday and tutor students who are below grade level in reading. It is very rewarding and we wear our name badges.
Brother Lay ends his report to President Frandsen with these words: “We are grateful to be here and feel that we are where the Lord wants us. Thank you for the latitude to follow the spirit where it is leading us. We feel His hand every day in our affairs.”
Brothers and Sisters, knowing and becoming are in the doing.
Full-time missions are only one example of doing leading to becoming. We become through temple and family history work. We become through home and visiting teaching and through a host of opportunities for kindness and loving our neighbors of all kinds. We become by striving to develop Christlike attributes within ourselves.
May I invite you to ever strive for greater personal conversion. To live the gospel and experience that “mighty change” —which may not come in a single moment, but rather, “line by line,” “here a little and there a little.” That the Lord will help us become new creatures and realize all the joy and happiness offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents August, 2016.]
Tonight I would like to speak on three different topics. They may or may not seem like they are related, but they all are core to our task and privilege of parenting and so they do share some commonality.
I will use a slide to illustrate each of my three topics.
Topic 1: Nurturing Your Faith and Testimony
Let me describe for you a simple scenario that I experience frequently. It’s a Sunday or a weekday evening and in the context of my calling I am meeting with a man or a woman (or both) from our stake. He or she arrives and I invite him or her into the office and I ask the question, “How is your testimony? Tell me about your testimony.” And the person answers in any of a large variety of ways ranging from describing why their testimony feels so solid to acknowledging that their testimony is thin or even non-existent. And then I ask, “Do you nurture your testimony?” Which isn’t a very good question to ask because it’s a “yes/no” question, but I ask it anyway—and I never get a straight “yes” or “no.” Very frequently the answer is comprised of words like these: “I could do better.”
Now, pretend you’re me. You’ve just asked someone if they prioritize time and energy to nurture their testimony and they answer with “I could do better.” What does that mean? How do you interpret that answer? Of course we can all do better at everything, so it doesn’t really answer the question.
It sounds like an answer driven by some sense of guilt, but it’s still ambiguous. On the one hand, a person might do nothing or next-to-nothing to nurture his or her testimony and so “I could do better” is just a gentler way of saying “no,” perhaps without wanting to say so so abruptly. On the other hand, Mormons—and particularly Mormon women, perhaps—are really good at making up reasons to feel guilty when in fact they are doing plenty to nurture their testimony.
I bring this up, though, because in too many cases it seems evident after some discussion that we really don’t prioritize the nurturing and development of our own faith and testimonies enough. We are busy Moms and busy Dads and taking time for spirituality is easy to neglect and too many of us are neglecting something that will take its toll on our children.
I’m not sure that it’s true that we have to love ourselves before we can love someone else or that we must learn to forgive ourselves before we can forgive other people. The scriptures don’t seem to support those ideas very clearly.
But where it comes to nurturing testimony and where we are talking about parenting, I do not believe we can escape the reality that you are going to have to take care of #1, so to speak, if you’re going to be able to help #2 and #3 and… #8.
I have on a few occasions encountered a less-active parent who believes their child will benefit from an upbringing in the Church in spite of their own inactivity and so they facilitate getting their kids to Church but do not back that up through their own practices at home or by their own consistent attendance at church. How well does that work?! You can love and forgive a child even while you are in the process of learning about Heavenly Father loving and forgiving you. But the likelihood of your children ending up with deep spiritual roots in the gospel is pretty low when you are not establishing strong roots, yourself.
Why are faith and testimony so important for both you and your kids? Let me suggest four reasons:
- Salvation. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Way—the only way to overcome the effects of our sins and errors which separate us from a perfect God. We cannot go the Savior’s way without exercising faith in Him. Faith in Him is the first principle of the gospel and neither we nor our children will realize a cleansing from our sins without faith in Him. Your children are much more likely to exercise faith and nurture a testimony if you
- Happiness. We believe that the greatest, most genuine happiness—both ultimately in eternity and immediately in the present—are found through the Savior and in realizing His We learn to see ourselves and others the way He does and we discover our own value and acceptability through Him. The highest form of happiness is only available to those who truly and deeply receive the Savior. And your children are much more likely to nurture a testimony and receive the Savior if you do.
- Adversity. Faith and testimony provide a firm, resilient foundation during the inevitable storms that come to each of us during our lives (and which do not appear to be meted out equally; some people seem to face more difficult storms than others). The Savior spoke of having a house built upon a rock. Helaman spoke of that rock being Christ, himself, and about wind, whirlwinds, hail, and mighty storms that will not “drag” us down to “misery” if we build upon the rock of faith in Christ. Your children will be better equipped to understand and withstand adversity if they do so from a position of faith, which they’re more likely to develop if you
- Family. We believe that the greatest family unity depends upon family members choosing the Savior and receiving the ordinances and observing the covenants made available to us in temples. This is true in eternity where we believe such marriages and families can live in an exalted unified state. It is also true in a very practical sense right now on the earth. This is painfully illustrated when two church members marry in the temple under the belief that their spouse will maintain beliefs in Church doctrine and maintain a commitment to commandments and covenants—but then one of those two parties changes their mind post-marriage. In such a case, the difficulties in the marriage and family can be staggeringly painful and the family may not survive intact. The promise of strong eternal families is much more likely to be realized for your children if you nurture your own faith and testimony and help them do the same.
So faith and testimony are important. For your kids, your example is huge. Your setting a good example, won’t guarantee anything, but it will increase the chances. Whether you set a good example or a poor example in this regard, it will be noticed!
Now, how do you nurture your testimony?
- You speak to God personally through prayer morning and night. You won’t be nurturing anything, though, if you just go through the motions. You pray meaningfully morning and night.
- You seek out and listen to God’s voice daily through scripture reading and through paying careful attention to the words of modern prophets (of which there are 15 on the earth today, not just one).
- You make the temple and temple worship part of your life. You do work for the dead and return again and again to learn and to renew covenants. If the ceremony and ritual of the temple are uncomfortable to you, come see to me or one of my counselors and let’s talk about it.
- Lastly, and very importantly, you live the gospel like you’re truly committed to it. Let me give some examples:
- You maintain high standards for your consumption of media. How serious do our kids think we are about the gospel if they know we watch inappropriate media. After all, I can still get a temple recommend after watching R-rated movies, so what’s the big deal?!
- You make family prayer a priority. How serious do our kids think we are when they hear references to family prayer over and over again in church but it doesn’t seem important to their father or mother?
- You approach modesty as if your body really is sacred and that words of Church leaders matter. How serious do our kids think we are when we wear immodest exercise clothing or swimwear and/or don’t seem very anxious to get back into our garments?
- You honor the Sabbath in meaningful, noticeable ways. How serious do our kids think we are when our Sabbath consists of three hours of Church followed by hours of football and other things that really have no basis at all in worship?
Some will accuse me of over-emphasizing the letter of the law and being Pharisaical with such examples, but here’s the deal: 1) These are exactly the kind of things that strengthen or weaken our children spiritually. And, 2) You are not nurturing your testimony if you are not striving to live the gospel in deep and meaningful ways, including observing practices that invite the spirit. The Savior taught that those who do the will of God find out the truthfulness of his gospel. Those who go primarily just through the surface-level visible motions are far less likely to be increasing in testimony.
Brothers and Sisters, for your children’s sake, please place a significant priority on nurturing your own faith and testimony. And do all these things with an attitude of gentleness, love, and affection toward your children that they may know that this is a gospel of love and not come to suspect that it is just a gospel of strict rule-keeping.
Topic 2: Punched in the Mouth
There is a quote that seems to be attributed to the boxer Mike Tyson, although I’m not sure it originated with him. He was apparently asked once, just before a fight, about his plan. And in talking about what he wanted to do and what the other boxer was expected to do, Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Most Mormon children, during their childhood or during their youth or during their adult years, eventually get punched in the mouth. Some seem to get punched extremely hard. Some seem to get punched over and over and over again. Many here in this room probably know what it is like to be punched in the mouth.
How do we help our children prepare for this? There is much we can teach them to help them avoid adversity in life and the troubles that will come to them through their own poor decisions. We can teach them to follow the prophet, to keep the commandments, to stand in holy places, to understand agency and consequences. And if we teach them these things and they adhere to them, they will, in fact, avoid a lot of trouble.
But it will not exempt them from troubles that come through the poor choices of others or the troubles that are simply inherent in this mortal experience. It will not exempt them from the very purposes of mortality, which include testing and gaining experience with opposition, temptation, and agency, including others’ agency. It may not exempt them from abuse at the hands of others or from tragedy through the fault of no one in particular.
Do we teach our children the doctrine of adversity and opposition? What is the doctrine? The doctrine is that, for our own benefit, there must be opposition in all things and that that opposition isn’t pretend or hypothetical—it’s real. The doctrine is that we came here to learn under different and more difficult circumstances than existed in the pre-existence. The doctrine is that a veil exists so that we can make choices and deal with opposition with faith and without a perfect knowledge—and without immediate relief from difficult circumstances every time we ask Heavenly Father to provide the relief we want in the way we want it.
Let me mention three specific types of punches to the mouth that we need to be prepared for and that we need to prepare our children for. These three things can overlap each other.
First is the broad category of unexpected life-changing challenges, disappointments, and tragedies. This includes things like loss of a loved one; a sudden physical or mental health challenge, loss of a job, birth of a seriously limited child, abandonment from a parent, betrayal of a spouse, divorce, absence of an acceptable marriage offer, inability to have children, etc. You could add other things to that list.
Keeping the commandments does not exempt us from difficult things in life—including very painful experiences and tragedies that come to us through no choice of ours. Can bad things happen to good people? Can horrible things happen to good people? Yes. And they do every day. Might they happen to us? Yes. How do we prepare for them?
- We understand the doctrine of adversity and opposition.
- We accept that we are not exempt even though we may do many things correctly.
- We develop faith and testimony.
- We develop deep, sincere, real humility and submissiveness.
- We develop a work ethic.
We can soften the pain of life’s inherent unfairness by understanding and accepting the doctrine and by recognizing that, while each of us is special, we are not special in the sense of being exempt. Then, when extreme hardship or tragedy comes, we turn to the Lord, we place our submissiveness on the altar and our trust in Him, and then we humbly but resolutely and patiently go to work on whatever it is we need to do or endure. As we know, the Lord is not likely to change or remove even the worst circumstances during the moments that we are on our knees asking Him to change them. What He will do is enable us to work through or around those things—or sometimes to simply endure them—after we plead with Him and then go about doing our best to resolve or handle the difficulty.
More easily said than done. But that is what makes such elements of preparation all the more important.
We need to teach these principles to our children. We also need to model them.
Second is the category that I will refer to as the Absent God. It sometimes comes immediately upon the heals of the types of challenges, disappointments, and tragedies I just listed. In some cases, a person turns to God—perhaps repeatedly—but doesn’t feel like He’s listening and then wonders if He’s even there at all. It can also happen when a person seeks a testimony through a personal spiritual witness but doesn’t feel like that witness has come. In these types of situations, it seems like God is absent.
He is not absent. But connecting with Him can seem elusive to the point of generating doubt and disbelief. When you get punched in the mouth and turn to God and do not immediately find Him or evidence of Him, but you expected to, it can feel like you’ve just been punched in the mouth again and are going down for the count.
What is the doctrine? The doctrine is that God is our father. And the doctrine is that He wants us to become like Him, which surely means that we eventually become spiritually and in every way self-reliant and capable, just as He is. In order to help us do so, there will be moments where he helps us in obvious ways and there will be many moments where He offers His love and emotional support, but allows us to lean into the wind ourselves. There are simple but profound truths here. A parent cannot help a child become all that the child can become without allowing the child to experience growth through struggle.
Our daughter, Anne, just went through her first transfer—or six-week period—of her mission in Texas. She was assigned to a trainer who would not or could not work. Her trainer was dealing with depression to the point that she could not bring herself to leave their apartment until very late in the afternoon and so Anne became—or at least felt like—a bit of a prisoner in that apartment. It was very hard for her. She left the MTC excited and was anxious to be a missionary and to learn how to be a missionary. Getting up at 6:30 in the morning and having nothing to do for the next 10 hours but read your scriptures, study Preach My Gospel, and practice Spanish verb conjugations, mostly by herself, was hard. In fact, it was miserable and, perhaps worst of all, she felt a lot of guilt and began feeling very depressed, herself.
As her parents, we were very worried about the situation. I knew it was taking a toll on her and I felt very tempted to intervene. I imagined conversations I might have with her mission president. I thought about calling her. Texas isn’t so far away I couldn’t have just gone to see her! Anne would have liked a hug from her Dad and Mom. She would have appreciated a phone call. She probably would like to have exchanged texts and letters every day. Instead she heard from us once or maybe twice each week in a letter or email and she was mostly left to herself to work her way through it.
Meanwhile, she was turning to her Father in Heaven, but he didn’t send any angels to help her and things seemed to get worse and worse before they got better.
What happened, though, is that Anne turned to the Lord and then went to work on loving her companion and developing patience. To make a long story short, she came to love that companion and she found meaning in their experience together. She grew in ways that those difficult circumstances encouraged. Neither her earthly father nor her Heavenly Father intervened to make the problem go away and at moments were or seemed absent. But these things ended up fostering instead of hindering her growth.
Even the Savior, at the most extreme moment in human history, was left by His Father to struggle through something staggeringly enormous on His own. Apparently that was necessary.
We must teach our children the purposes of mortality and the meaning of growth and struggle and effort and the ways in which our Father in Heaven will and won’t help us or reveal Himself to us. We must teach our children also about the ways He communicates with us, which occasionally may involve an intense “burning in the bosom” experience, but most often is more quiet and subtle—sometimes to the point of not even being noticed.
My third category of being punched in the mouth regards those members of the Church who have not been exposed to criticisms and difficult-to-resolve questions in Church history. And then when they are exposed to them, feel very much punched in the mouth and, in some cases, worse, like they’ve been betrayed by Church leaders they trusted who, they may feel, actually conspired to keep truths from them. For some members, this picture behind me is a fairly accurate representation of how they feel. To make matters much worse, some members in those circumstances become suspicious of who to trust and who not to and they develop fears over the response they’ll receive if they confide their fears and concerns and doubts and questions and mistrust and sense of betrayal in church members they should be able to trust and lean on.
So, of course, there are two categories of things we should be doing about this. The first relates to nurturing our own testimonies. Moms and Dads need to understand their own faith and how to approach these issues. It may help to begin with the reality that while the internet can connect you with many disaffected members of the Church, you also have, right here within an arm’s reach, members of the Church who are very familiar with the issues, appreciate the doubts and questions those issues can inspire, and who are yet full of faith and devotion to God and His Church. We are happy to listen and happy to share and we don’t condemn, accuse, or belittle people who have honest questions. And you will find us reasonably capable both of us using our brains objectively and approaching spiritual matters spiritually.
Now, do I think that you need to do hundreds of hours of research into each of these issues in order to become secure in your faith and testimony? No, I don’t. Faith comes through agency and testimony comes through evidence. And the fact is that agency can be exercised and evidence can be accumulated independent of exploring criticisms of the Church. However, there is a problem. While a person can have a strong, legitimate faith without being expert in Church criticisms, you run a risk as a parent if you cannot be somewhat conversant on these issues and, perhaps, if you cannot say, “Yes, I am familiar with those things but here are my answers and here is why I am not losing my faith and testimony because of things critical, unpleasant, or unknown.”
Some people feel that the Church’s approach to helping members build faith and testimony has amounted to a betrayal because the Church has not made an open discussion or even rebuttal to these issues part of Church curriculum or Sacrament Meeting talks. Similarly, our children may lose confidence in their parents where they think their parents are unwilling or unable to address a faith-based approach to the issues.
My suggestions tonight are that 1) you become comfortable with your own testimony, 2) that you do so with some familiarity with the issues your children will surely encounter and question in the digital age, and 3) you teach your children a faith-based, thoughtful and honest approach toward spirituality and toward evidence and unknowns.
A couple of years ago, the Church was about to release its essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. While our family culture has always invited awareness and questions and I have talked to my kids about various critical topics and they certainly have known that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, I had never spoken with them in any detail about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and about the particularly difficult-to-understand aspects of it. I knew, though, that I wanted them to hear about that from me before they heard about it from someone else and began to feel critical of either my “ignorant faith” or of my “withholding information.” So I gathered them together and we talked about it.
I invite you to understand faith, agency, testimony, evidence, and unknowns and to teach the related principles to your children.
By the way, don’t raise your kids in an overly black-and-white environment. Not all doctrine is settled; answers to both historical and present questions of “why” are often not readily available; people’s motives are not always known; and faith, by definition, includes uncertainty. There must be opposition in all things. Agency matters. All these things indicate that while God will give us spiritual helps (confirmations, etc.), he is still asking us to live by faith including with matters of uncertainty and things that are not entirely known.
Topic 3: Consistent Unearned Love
My third and final topic this evening relates to these pictures…
…both of which focus on the father of the prodigal son. I am particularly fond of the picture on the left. I think that artist captured very well in the father’s face the anxiousness and concern and focus of a father who loves his son and yearns mightily for his happiness. I have long believed that the whole point of the Savior telling that story was to teach us not about the son but about the father because he is a representation of Heavenly Father. We note from this story that the father respected the son’s agency, that he watched for him, and that, at the first sign of his son’s willingness to accept him, the father closed the gap between himself and his son and embraced him.
I wish to emphasize one point. We must not condition our children to believe that God’s love for them and His acceptance of them is conditioned upon their performance. On the contrary, we must help them be receptive to the idea that at their very worst moments of life, including moments of extreme personal shame, embarrassment, and disappointment, their Father in Heaven will love them and accept them in His arms. We will do this by their seeing this type of treatment from us.
When our children do poorly, which, of course, we have all done, whether it is by mistake, poor judgment, or outright rebelliousness, at these moments we need to withhold criticism or any kind of “I told you so!” or “Why didn’t you just listen to me?” or “See! That’s what I’m talking about!” or “Didn’t I warn you?” or all those kinds of things. Instead, they need to find us at their worst moments receptive to them, patient and understanding and empathetic.
When we hug our children and lavish praise on them after they do well and then we distance ourselves from them, perhaps by sending them to their rooms, or stopping talking to them or withholding affection from them when they have done poorly in our eyes, then we are conditioning them to believe that this is how God is, which isn’t true.
At each of our worst moments in life we need the Lord and we need the support of those who love us and whom we should be able to trust to have patience with us. Let us help our children to find safety in us at those tough times just as each of us can find safety in our Heavenly Father and in the Savior at our worst times. By the way, I believe I can say with complete confidence that there are nine bishops in this stake [now 10] along with myself and my counselors who you can trust to be supportive of you and not judgmental and condemning when you have erred. All of us are familiar with our own shortcomings and errors.
So, brothers and sisters, I am suggesting three things tonight:
- Make a priority of nurturing your own faith and testimony.
- Teach your children how to prepare for and handle adversity.
- Help your children discover that your love is not conditioned upon their earning it.
Brothers and Sisters, we have the true gospel. We don’t know everything, but we know the critical things. We do know the path to happiness and peace and wholeness. Parenting is a sacred privilege and it is one of the great schools of mortality. It is certainly tough.
Do not waste time lamenting your shortcomings. It’s good to recognize and acknowledge them and to work on them. But it’s no good to marinade in feelings of inadequacy. Were all inadequate. That goes without saying and it’s just the way it is. I always think of that book, “I’m OK, You’re OK.” We could write one called, “I’m Inadequate, You’re Inadequate. So What?”
We do have a Father in Heaven. He will help us in our inadequacies. He will help us work on or around our shortcomings. He will be with us and magnify our efforts. He loves and cares about your children—His children—with a perfect love and enjoys a perspective of seeing the end and not just the present. The fact that He knows how this ends and is happy must surely tell us something.
God bless you. You are wonderful. Whether listening to Becky and me tonight was worthwhile, your coming speaks very highly of your interest in being a great parent. May the Lord bless you and may you increasingly feel his presence in your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, October 2015.]
When I was 16 years old, my brother returned from his mission to Montreal, Canada. We had shared a room together for many years. Curt is one part genius, one part (more than one, actually) Christ-like model, and one part absent-minded. He would come home after a date when I was 12 or 13 years old and sound asleep, turn the light on in our room, which was right in my face since I was on the top bunk, and then go off to brush his teeth and get ready for bed, forgetting he had left the light on. He would fall asleep sometimes while kneeling at his bed saying his prayers.
On this night, though, it came time for us to get to bed and since he hadn’t been around for two years and both of us had changed a fair amount during that time, we weren’t talking much—probably because neither of us knew what to say. So I asked him a question: “Curt, tell me what the most important thing was that you learned on your mission.” He paused and thought and finally said something like this: “I have learned that we need to focus on the very most basic principles of the gospel—on faith and repentance. We have enough to worry about with those things; we don’t need to strain at doctrines that are less basic.”
I have given that statement a lot of thought in the 33 years since then. It came in some contrast to the sometimes edgy and always inquisitive mind of my father, another great man, who enjoys pondering aspects of the gospel that we know little about. He just finished writing his 8th (I think) unpublished book since his retirement, this one titled “Questions for the Next Life” in which he poses a few hundred questions he is looking forward to getting answers to when he gets to the other side. Questions like “How long were the days of the creation?” and “What, exactly, are cherubim?” I will always be grateful to have been raised in an atmosphere of questions and learning. I believe that has provided many advantages for me in my life.
Meanwhile, I am constantly reminded of the importance of my brother’s statement about focusing on the very most basic principles of the gospel. The opportunities I have had to observe, learn from, and counsel with others continues to affirm for me the importance of that statement. I would like to talk today for a few minutes about the importance of nurturing two critically important and basic things: our faith and our testimonies.
Why are Faith and Testimony so critical?
Three things come to mind…
- A testimony is a great blessing as we navigate life on earth. The prophet Mormon speaks of belief, faith, and hope providing “an anchor to the souls of men, which make them sure and steadfast.” The apostle Paul talks about being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Mormon, too, spoke of being “as a vessel” “tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor.” Faith and testimony provide safety, stability, direction, steadiness, and confidence. Faith and testimony make for homes built on rocks rather than on sand.
- If it is true that Jesus Christ is really our Savior and that legitimate priesthood keys are found in the restored Church—and I testify that those things are true—then great blessings in eternity, including the possibilities of exaltation and eternal families, hinge on the faith we exercise in those truths. Many of our eternal rewards depend upon our exercising faith and testimony in this life.
- Life is a test and your testimony is very likely to be tested, either directly to challenges about the validity of the Church’s priesthood authority or indirectly through adversity that causes you to wonder where God is and why things are not less unfair and more the way you feel like they should be. You and I will be best off if, at the time of our most difficult testing, we remain true to the faith and testimonies we have received and exercised—and, if we in fact, build on them. It is important to remember that when we refer to life as a test, it is not God being tested to see if He will give us what we want when we want it; it is us being tested to see if we will turn to Him, trust in Him, rely on Him, and move forward in faith when we face the greatest adversity.
Now, with those reasons for why faith and testimony are important as background, let me briefly discuss four important principles associated with faith and testimony.
First: Testimonies are not binary. They are not something that you either have or do not have. Testimonies exist in degrees: from developing testimonies to powerful testimonies and everything in between. Faith, similarly, can be exercised in large or small degrees or somewhere in between.
Likewise, it is not true that the testimony you have, to whatever degree you have it, will always be there. Testimonies grow or they wither. They wax or they wane.
Testimonies seldom come in a momentary brilliant flash; nor always through an intense burning in the bosom. However they come, they don’t last forever on their own. Testimonies are nurtured or neglected each day. Like the sycamore trees that Elder Ballard recently referenced for us, testimonies grow when they are watered; faith expands when it is exercised. Testimonies wither when they are neglected; faith weakens when it is not placed into action. Testimonies usually come and are strengthened slowly: “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”
If you are nurturing your testimony on a daily basis, then keep going! If you are not, you are placing too much at risk and I urge you to make the necessary changes because the testing of your testimony is very probably coming.
Second: It is not enough to have a testimony; it is also important to have a reason (or reasons) for having a testimony and to know what those reasons are. Peter admonished us: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” Especially in those moments when your faith and testimony may feel challenged, it is important for you to remember and know the reasons why you exercised faith and expressed testimony in the first place.
I do not think it can be over-emphasized that Latter-day Saints neither believe in blind faith nor in a head-in-the-sand approach to our faith. We believe that those who find are those who seek and that those who receive are those who ask. We believe that answers to prayers come both to our hearts and our minds. We believe in using reason. “Let us reason together,” the Doctrine and Covenants invites.
It is interesting that we refer to those who are actively exploring our church, not as “ignorants” but as “investigators.” Those of us who were born into the Church should be investigators and active learners, ourselves, and not “ignorants.” Those who study and learn, build their houses on rocks. Those who don’t, build theirs on sand.
Note that when I refer to study and learning, I am not referring to strictly academic exercises at all. This type of study and learning must involve our hearts and spirits in addition to our minds. The things of the Spirit are learned by the spirit. Spiritual truths are revealed through the Spirit and there is no way around that that I know of. Our reasons for having testimonies and exercising faith should be supported by experiences of the spirit, the heart, and the mind.
Third: The beginning of faith and testimony is desire – and that means agency. Alma taught clearly with his analogy of planting a seed that the very first step to faith is desire, specifically, a “desire to believe.” When Moroni talks about praying to God about the Book of Mormon he refers to “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” Testimony begins by choosing to want to believe. Faith grows when, once believing or choosing to believe, we choose to act on that belief.
I cannot believe in the restoration of priesthood authority or in the divinity of the Savior if I do not choose to at least want to believe in them.
Neither faith nor testimony is comprised of a “perfect knowledge.” This Alma also teaches clearly in his analogy. He said, “if a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.” He goes on to distinguish between knowing things through evidence we’ve accumulated and having a perfect knowledge of the whole matter, which renders faith unnecessary.
Does exercising agency with imperfect knowledge mean that faith and testimony come from ignorance or unsubstantiated choices? As Paul would say, “God forbid!” My choice to believe—or my choice to want to believe—simply opens the door, so my heart and mind may be receptive to evidences, both practical and spiritual, which allow my faith and testimony to be increasingly built on a foundation of genuine evidence: spiritual and practical and logical.
Until our faith grows into a perfect knowledge, however—which may not be very soon, considering that we came to earth to learn to exercise agency and faith together—agency and desire will remain essential elements of our faith and testimonies. If they don’t, we will lose our faith and our testimonies.
It is helpful to remember what the Savior taught Thomas, who insisted that he must see with his own physical eyes and touch with his own physical hands or he would refuse to believe. (This in spite of the fact that he already had many very good reasons to believe.) To him the Savior said, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” I think the Savior is saying here that more blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.
Lastly, let me suggest that there are two indispensable elements to developing a testimony and building faith.
One is to consistently seek two-way communion with God through the Holy Ghost. We do this by hearing and studying His words in scriptures and the words of both living and ancient prophets. We do it by praying and then paying attention to the thoughts and feelings we receive. We seek to become acquainted with the feelings of the Spirit and to be ready and alert that we might recognize them when present.
The other is to live the teachings of the Savior as we receive them through scripture, through living prophets, and through personal revelation. Jesus said that those who “do His will shall know.” I cannot expect to truly commune with God when I live patterns in my life that are contrary to His teachings. If, however, I seek communion with God and I strive sincerely to live with diligence the principles He is communicating to me, I will come to know—typically, “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”
Over time, the evidence mounts.
There are, in fact, things that I know. I can “give an answer to every man that asketh… a reason of the hope that is in [me].” There may be many things that you and I don’t yet know, as pointed out by my father’s book, for example. But if we consistently commune with God, speaking to Him and striving to listen—and if we do as He teaches, we will build a foundation of testimony sufficient to generate patience for the things we don’t yet know.
I testify that I know that Jesus is our Savior; that peace, goodness, salvation, and patience are through Him; that this Church is led by Him through living prophets and apostles on the earth who hold all necessary and genuine priesthood keys through which we can both make and receive valid covenants with God. Mine is not a perfect knowledge, to be sure, but my choice to believe is broadly and deeply substantiated by things that I have experienced, things that make sense to me, things that I have observed, things that I have felt, and therefore things that I claim with confidence to know.
May you and I consistently exercise a desire to believe, commune with God, and live our lives in such a way that our exercise of faith will be rewarded with greater spiritual knowledge. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.