Do I have a testimony?

I recently had the opportunity to spend 6 days with a large group of wonderful, energetic, intelligent, young people. I learned so much from them. I learned how important it is to include others. I learned that a hug always makes you feel better. I learned how to live on no sleep. I learned how to text message. And they learned (the hard way) that no one should trust me on how to get out of Central Park. But I especially cherish the insightful conversations I had with these sweet young people. One day I was visiting with a dear friend over breakfast about his future plans. As a senior, life looks a little frightening and confusing. We talked about some of the options—working, college, perhaps a mission. This dear friend said to me, “I’m just not sure about a mission. You see, I’m just not sure that I know.”  

I don’t remember what I said to him at the breakfast table. But I have thought about it repeatedly since then. My young friend’s question is one that I have had before, perhaps you have had before… Do I really have a testimony?

I’ve prayed and studied a great deal about this question. And so, I address my thought to my friend, and my other young primary friends, to our youth, and to all who have wondered “do I have a testimony.”

You are not alone.

I’d like to tell you about 4 people who had the same question

Elder Neil Anderson, my brother Brad, my sister-in-law Barbara and me.

Elder Anderson’s story:
“Nearly 40 years ago as I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, “Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?” I believed in the Church, but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited.” I imagined he panicked, “How can I spend two years teaching something I’m not sure I totally know myself.”

Brad’s story:
“When I was young I often wondered if I had a testimony at all. I knew that I had not yet had that singular experience on my knees, that I could point to as “The moment” I received my own testimony. Early in my life I expected that prayer worked somewhat like an ATM… I would say the right words and then in a transaction-like mode, the answers would spit right out. All I knew was that the ATM wasn’t working for me.”

Barbara’s story:
“When I was seven, I read the Book of Mormon. I noticed a warm peaceful feeling. Sometimes I felt so good inside that my eyes would tear up, which I thought was strange, since I felt so happy. I decided to make a make a plan and ask Heavenly Father for an answer. There was a gigantic oak tree in front of our home. I knelt down in my room and told the Lord I was going to go outside and read a book under the oak tree. I said, “Heavenly Father, if the Book of Mormon IS true, please make an acorn drop from the tree and land on my head while I’m sitting there. I’ll know it’s you.” Then I went out and sat under the tree for what seemed like about an hour.”

“Nothing happened. The next day, I tried my experiment again, but no acorns fell at all. Day after day for about a week, I’d go out there and read or just sit, thinking. I felt a little discouraged that Heavenly Father wasn’t telling me the book of Mormon was true, because I’d grown to love it so much. I just couldn’t understand why other people got answers and testimonies of their own and I didn’t have one.”

My story:
“I must have been 11 or 12 when I finally completed the last verses of the Book of Mormon. I was quite excited to finally put Moroni’s challenge to the test. I knelt next to my bed in my pink bedroom and asked Heavenly Father if the Book of Mormon was true. I remembered that you had to ask in faith nothing wavering. I remember squeezing my eyes shut and exerting all the faith I had in my sincere prayer. I thought I would see a light in the corner of my room like Joseph Smith did. I finished my prayer and waited. Nothing happened. I prayed again and waited. Nothing happened. I waited for a long time. I finally got off my knees and walked back into the family room, wondering why I didn’t have enough faith to get an answer to my prayer.”

Do you ever expect a light, or an acorn to fall on your head in order to know? I wanted to see a light. I wanted to feel a surge of electricity from head to toe—so that I could say like others, “I know for myself.”  I had heard my mother and others share such experiences. I knew they were sacred and powerful. That’s what I wanted. But I’ve since learned that not all testimonies come in that way.

Elder Allen Packer in our April conference stated, “While testimonies can come as dramatic manifestations, they usually do not. Sometimes people think they need to have an experience like Joseph Smith’s vision before they gain testimonies. If we have unrealistic expectations of how, when, or where answers come, we risk missing the answers which come as quiet, reassuring feelings and thoughts that most often come after our prayers, while we are doing something else. These answers can be equally convincing and powerful.”

Hmmm. The answers which come as quiet, reassuring feelings and thoughts. Perhaps that’s what Moroni meant when he said, “He will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. Quiet, reassuring feelings and thoughts—Perhaps that’s what the Lord was trying to teach Oliver Cowdery and us when he said, “Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. No light, no acorn, no ATM. Just an enlightening thought or a tender feeling.

Let’s go back now and look at the four people we discussed earlier. Did they ever gain the testimony they all wanted so badly?

Elder Anderson continues: “As I prayed often [about going on a mission], the feeling came: “You don’t know everything, but you know enough!” That reassurance gave me the courage to take the next step into the mission field.” (Ensign Nov 2008)

Brad continues:
“Despite my mistaken notions about a testimony being like an ATM machine, I noticed so many tender feelings that I could not explain. Sometimes, when I was reading scriptures, saying prayers, singing hymns or listening to my older siblings talk about their missions I remember feeling so good, so happy and sometimes excited. Sometimes I would unexpectedly tear up and feel a rush of emotions that came from somewhere inside.”

“It took me years to understand the Lord was working “line upon line, precept upon precept: to build my testimony one experience at a time. Now I know that I DID have a testimony as young man, the Lord WAS answering my prayers.”

Barbara shares:
“One night, during a testimony meeting at girls’ camp I got that very warm, peaceful feeling again that I had felt so many years earlier while reading the Book of Mormon. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Then our camp counselor spoke and said, “Do you feel that warm feeling that’s here? That’s the Spirit. The Spirit is here because the things we’re talking about are TRUE. Whenever you feel this feeling, you can KNOW that He’s talking to you and saying, “Yes, This is RIGHT. This is TRUE.”

I felt my eyes had suddenly been opened.! A thrill rushed through me. Heavenly Father had been answering me all along! Learning to recognize that still, small voice—finally was so exciting! It changed my life.”

Deanna’s story: I also have learned something about my experience: I can look back in my mind’s eye and see a young girl, walking sadly out of a pink bedroom, saying nothing, wondering why she didn’t have enough faith to get an answer to prayer. But now I can also see in my mind’s eye a loving Heavenly father who was close by in that moment. I can almost hear him saying, “Deanna, I love you, and I hear you. I need you to trust what you have always known. Of course it’s true. You already know that it’s true.

I like to think of testimonies this way: Water can come from the sky in lots of different ways right? Well testimonies are like that. Maybe you’ve seen a cloudburst? A clap of thunder and rain that comes down in sheets? There may be those who receive their testimony like that—who can pinpoint the exact moment of the thunder and lightning. But for most of us, it is more like arising in the morning and quietly finding that the dew is already on the ground.

Do you remember the story of the Nephites in 3rd Nephi? There were tempests and earthquakes and days of total darkness. As the people were gathered together marveling over what had happened, they heard a voice.

“It was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear it to the center, … yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.

And it came to pass that again they heard the voice and they understood it not.

And again the third time they did hear the voice and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof;  … And behold the third time they did understand the voice which they heard.” (3 Ne. 11:3-6)

Brothers and sisters, we need to learn how to understand that voice. How often has he spoken to us and we understand it not. It is called the still, small voice because it is just that… still and small and quiet. So often we miss it because the world is fast and noisy and busy.

To my young friends that are here today.
You have felt that still small voice. You do have a testimony. You already know a lot.

You know that you are a child of God. You’ve been taught that since you were a small baby. It feels right.

You believe in prayer. It is often the first thing that comes to mind when you scared, or hurt, or desperately needing to talk to someone. That means you already have a testimony that God lives. That he loves you and that he hears your prayers.

You believe in the Savior Jesus Christ. You love him. Something in you wants to be like Him.

You don’t know everything. I don’t know everything. I suspect President Parker doesn’t quite know everything. But your testimony is strong. 

One day while playing on the school playground,  my 6 year-old nephew Karl was discussing religion with one of his friends who was not a member of our faith. His friend asked one question then another and another until Karl became very frustrated trying to answer them. Finally, Karl stood up, pointed his finger up to heaven and declared, “All I know is, He’s up there… He’s up there… He’s up there!”

Karl didn’t know everything. But he had a testimony.

Have you assumed that everyone else has had a stronger witness than you have? If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the ways in which the still small voice speaks to them and you’ll realize that you know, the same way they know.

Have you had a good feeling while singing a song?  Then you have a testimony like our beloved prophet Gordon B. Hinckley. As a 12 year old boy, he gained a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as 300 men stood and sang “Praise to the Man who communed with Jehovah”.  He just knew.

Have you ever had a peaceful feeling while your were reading the scriptures? Then you received a witness like Oliver Cowdery did. The Lord told him to think back to the night he had cried out to know. “Did I not speak peace to your mind…What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D & C 6:22-23).

Have you ever thought about the Savior—how much he loves us—how much he endured and suffered for us and felt a tear come to your eye? Then your testimony shows like that of Elder Jeffrey Holland, who shed tears in conference as he spoke of how this perfect Son walked so utterly alone. That is a testimony too.

Have you ever heard someone speak in church and it made you want to be better? Then you have a testimony like the Prophet Alma who heard the words of Abinidi. He just knew they were true. The words made him want to be better, to repent, to change the direction of his life.  He spent the rest of his life teaching others about the truth, all because of the words he heard Abinidi speak.

Have you ever listened to conference on TV and just known that these were really men of God? Then you have a testimony like mine. As I was listening to President Monson talk, I just felt this huge feeling in my heart. I realized how much the world needs him. Tears overflowed and just kept coming. I knew that I was receiving a witness of two things—that the message was true, and that the messenger was a prophet of God

When you ask yourself, do I have a testimony, the answer is… yes. Your life has been filled with witnesses, so many that you don’t even remember most of them—in church, in seminary, during quiet moments of reflection, during a hymn, reading a special verse of scripture that all the sudden takes on new meaning.  You are continuing to receive witnesses, just like the spirit you feel today. And when you say out loud, “I know God hears my prayers. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God”, “I know that Jesus is my Savior”. You are not faking it. You’re not pretending. You really do know. You know the same way all the prophets know. You’ve felt the still small voice of the Holy Ghost that whispers in your heart. “Yes. This is all good. It’s true. It’s true. It’s true.”

The world is noisy and dark sometimes. You need your testimony now. A testimony will give you comfort. It will keep you safe. It will be a foundation for your whole life. The time has come to let your foundation harden. If you are continually digging up your foundation to see if it’s really forming, you’ll never be able to build.

Trust what you know. Trust the feelings of happiness and peace and calm that you have felt in the past. And when you come to things you don’t know, don’t worry. That’s part of growing. Pray about it and put it on the shelf knowing that a loving Heavenly Father will give you knowledge line upon line.

Move forward being obedient to what you know is right. Your testimony is growing. Mine is growing. Your testimony doesn’t have to sound like anyone else’s. Stand where you are. Say what you know.

And now, I offer a plea to parents here today. The Lord needs us, he expects us to help our children in the process of gaining and understanding a testimony. May I offer some suggestions.

  1. Encourage your kids to attend. Whether it’s trek, a fireside, service project or primary activity.  You never know when the Spirit will speak to them. You can’t buy a testimony. It is built on many tender experiences. If they miss something, they really miss something. You don’t get a testimony from reading somebody’s notes.
  2. Talk, help them connect the dots. Help them see the bigger picture, Ask questions. “Do you see how the Lord answered your prayers? Do you see how you felt peaceful? That is how the Spirit speaks.
  3. Help them identify when the Spirit is present, not only that but tell them what that means. The Holy Ghost testifies of truth.
  4. Share your experiences, daily. Make your daily dependence on the Spirit visible and tangible to your children.
  5. When you bear your testimony, say HOW you know. Share your thoughts, feelings, impressions.

I know that God lives because I have felt his quiet answers to my prayers.

I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God because when I was serving a mission, we watched “The First Vision” probably 200 times. And every time when I watched Joseph go into the grove to pray, my heart pounded and I felt like I would cry. It was so amazing! I watched the movie anxiously every time, knowing that the most wonderful thing was about to happen.

I know that this is the true Church of Jesus Christ, not because of one experience but because of a thousand— a thousand lessons that I knew were just for me, a thousand hymns that made tears come to my eyes when I sang them. I know this is the true Church because of the teachings that are good and right. When I obey them, I feel happy. When I disobey, I feel miserable. I remember being in the conference center filled with Primary children as they sang, “I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”. It was overwhelming to me. It filled my soul. I thought, “This truly is the Church of Jesus Christ.”

I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I know that because I love looking at paintings of him. I can gaze at them for a long time. And every time I speak of him, a feeling of pure love comes into my heart. I know because every time I read of how he calmed the sea, or how he fed 5000 even though his heart was aching, or how he suffered in Gethsemane, I feel the biggest heart swell. I can’t contain it. I wish I could sit at his feet. I wish I could tell him thank you. I wish I could tell him I love him. And if I could sit at his feet I know in my heart what he would say to me, Deanna, I love you. You know this is true. You know it.

I pray that we may all learn to hear those whispers, that we may recognize the testimony of the truth that lies within.