I have a couple family members who have lost their faith in God. I love them dearly, and I greatly enjoy the time that I am able to spend with them, though it is rare because of distance and other factors. And yet I qualm when it comes to talking to them about things of religion. This morning I was pondering why that is.
I think for me it comes down to fear. I'm not afraid of them, but I am afraid of what effect talking with them will have on my own hard won faith. What if I lose the answers that I have prayed, studied, pondered, and prayed some more to achieve?
Both of them are powerful writers. They ask a lot of questions, and I don't have all the answers. Some times the only answer I have is that I don't know why, and yet, I have a firm testimony that it is so... and they don't accept a heart felt testimony as an answer - and I don't blame them. Like the five wise virgins in the Savior's parable, I can't give them my oil of testimony. They have to go and acquire it themselves. And yet, I'm realizing that maybe I can seek more oil myself so that my lamp can glow brighter and maybe illuminate the way for them to seek their own.
Like most people, my testimony has grown gradually. At first I believed because it was what I was taught to believe in my home as I was growing up. But as I got older, my testimony gradually grew a more solid foundation.
When I was a freshman in college, I realized that I needed to know for myself if the church of Jesus Christ was true. I had been taught that the process to do that was to read the Book of Mormon, and then ask God in prayer if it was true. And so I did that. And I received a witness that the Book of Mormon was indeed true. And by logic, if the Book of Mormon was true, then Joseph Smith was a true prophet. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the church that he established is also true. The witness I received wasn't anything powerful or mind blowing. It was just a quiet thought, a conviction, "You already know that it is true." And I realized that I did.
A couple years later I decided to serve a mission. I don't remember now why I wanted to serve. Maybe it was just because I was graduating from college and wasn't sure what to do next, but felt that I "should" serve a mission. I walked out of my final interview with my stake president, my missionary papers completed and ready for him to submit, and as I walked back to my dorm, I felt an incredible feeling of joy. I wanted to start singing and dancing. I wanted to laugh and cry. It was the most powerful emotion that I had ever felt, and I had a conviction that my Heavenly Father was pleased with what I had chosen to do. I don't remember praying before to ask if I should serve a mission. I just believed that it was right so I acted in faith, and AFTER I had put everything in motion to go, I received the confirmation that it was right.
As a missionary, the experiences that helped my testimony to grow were almost daily. Every time I quoted Joseph Smith's experience in the grove in his own words, I felt something. I knew that the experience I was relating had really happened. It was true. One time I was talking about how we have a living prophet, and I suddenly felt a conviction - I KNEW that President Gordon B Hinkley was a prophet of God.
Shortly after Steven and I were married, we faced a time of financial hardship. We were preparing for the birth of our first child. Steven was going to school. We had tuition payments and rent payments, and there was a time that we debated if we should pay our tithing. There didn't seem to be enough money to cover everything, and the church wasn't going to kick us out of our homes or school if we didn't pay immediately. But in faith we payed the tithing anyway. And then we watched the blessings come in. I don't remember now everything that happened. Steven may have received a scholarship. We may have been gifted money from some source. I do remember that we were given a bassinet, a crib, a changing table, tons of baby clothes, pretty much everything we needed for our new baby, and I remember looking around our now crowded little apartment and thinking, "Wow, the promise about paying tithing is true - we have been poured out so many blessings that we didn't have room to receive them all." I received a conviction that the law of tithing was true.
Sometimes there have been other things, more complicated things, that I have wondered about. As I keep the questions in the back of my mind as I read the scriptures or listen to talks, and as I go on walks and just think about them, answers come. They don't come all at once, but often a thought here and a thought there and they grow. Often when I have something on my mind, I will compose a blog about it because that helps me to focus my thoughts and as I write things out I see how things fit together. Are the answers I come up with truth? Maybe. Maybe they are just steps on the way towards truth and there is more that I still need to figure out. I'm okay with not knowing everything because I do know the important things - the Book of Mormon is true. The gospel is true. We have a living prophet on earth today.
I can tell these stories about how my testimony has been shaped and how it has been strengthened. I can tell people what I have come to believe because of my own studies and prayers and experiences, but I can't make anyone else believe based on my experiences. They can always say it was just a coincidence, or a figment of my imagination. But I don't believe it.
But what if they keep talking? What if they use their logic to confuse me? What if they persuade me to disbelieve or discredit the feelings that I have received? What if they pull me out into that morass of confusion and doubt that they appear to be wallowing in themselves? I don't want to go there. I want to remember the experiences that I have had and hold firm to what I have learned is true.