I am one of those strange people who LOVES giving talks in sacrament. Captive audience? Yes, please!! A Facebook friend of mine is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church and recently posted a video of one of their sermons. I really liked how joyful it was and how the pastor got the audience involved. I was trying do both those things in a Mormon way. I think it worked, although you'd have to ask a ward member to really know. I'm posting it in parts because it is really long and I would hate for anyone to resort to skimming :) Anyway, enjoy!
Think back to a time when you received a gift—one you really enjoyed. It could have been for a birthday or anniversary. Maybe it was Christmas. Or maybe it was just an ordinary day and the gift was a small but significant something. I want you to try and remember the weight of the gift in your hands. What was the shape of the box? How big was it? Was it wrapped? Next try to remember what you felt as you looked at the wrapping. Did you know what was inside it? Were your hands sweaty? Did your fingers tremble as you opened it? Maybe you were calm even as the anticipation was building inside you. Now try to remember what you felt as you held the gift in your hands. Gratitude? Excitement? Joy?
These were all things I felt when I was about ten years old and received a porcelain doll for Christmas. Back when I was growing up in Logan, Utah the biggest store in the mall was ZCMI; it was sort of like Dillard’s. It was the fanciest store I had ever been to and I loved going in there. Besides all the clothes they had a fabulous toy section and an old fashioned glass candy counter that housed some of the mohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifst delicious confections. To this day I am still searching for a place that sells sugared pink grapefruit chews.
What was really magical about ZCMI, though, was Christmastime. At Christmas the whole store was filled with decorations. Bows, garlands, lights, trees. The place was decorated to the hilt. And, to top it all off, one entire wall was filled with porcelain dolls; row upon row of delicate, soft–haired, satin-and- silk- dressed, beautiful, blushing dolls. They had baby dolls, Laura Ashley dolls, dolls with dogs—pretty much everything a ten-year-old girl could want. But the most fabulous of all the dolls was the Gone with the Wind set. My sister had gotten the Scarlett O’Hara in the green picnic hoop skirt dress with the oversize sunbonnet the year before so I had my heart set on the Scarlett O’Hara doll in the sequined red velvet gown with the tulle shawl and ostrich feathers on the shoulders. This doll came with real ostrich feathers and the dress was made of real velvet. It was awesome.
Now, lest you think this was a passing fancy on my part, let me tell you it was not. My sister and I spent every Sunday afternoon going through magazines cutting out all the ads for porcelain dolls, figurines, and specialty plates and spoons. We mounted and numbered each picture on cardstock and then ranked them in order of beauty and coolness. I could go on but suffice it to say, my longing for that Scarlett doll was immense.
So when Christmas morning came and I saw that rectangular box my heart jumped in to my throat. When I unwrapped it and saw the label on the foot of the box I think I squealed. Then when I pulled her out of the box and felt the impossible softness of the feathers, the real ostrich feathers, I was completely filled with amazement and gratitude and joy.
This is a fun memory for me but it also has a point. The Lord gives us gifts in many ways. Usually we call them blessings, but there are some we actually refer to as gifts—spiritual gifts. A primary spiritual gift for any follower of Christ is that of testimony. Or as it states in Doctrine and Covenants 46: 13-14, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life it they continue faithful.” Elder Richard G. Scott described the gift of testimony this way, “A strong testimony is the unshakable foundation of a secure, meaningful life where peace, confidence, happiness, and love can flourish” (The Power of a Strong Testimony). How do we feel about this most fundamental gift of testimony? Do we feel as excited and joyful about it as we do our temporal gifts? I would like to suggest today a path to understanding and gaining the gift of testimony, a path that will hopefully make us feel as spiritually vigorous as youngsters on Christmas morning: desire, experience, memory, action, and choice.
In trying to define what a testimony is we usually think of things that we know, things that we would be willing to stand up and vouch for, things like the statement, “I know this Church is true.” But a testimony begins well before we stand at the pulpit and say those words. As Alma states in his famous sermon on the seed of faith, “Yea, even if ye can more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). The seed of testimony is the desire for a testimony. The gift of testimony comes to those who want it. Just like the odds of my getting the porcelain doll would have been very slim if I hadn’t fervently wanted the doll in the first place, the odds of each of us gaining and retaining a testimony if we don’t want one are very, very slim.
This may seem like a small thing to point out—the fact that we have to want a testimony in order to receive it—but it really isn’t. From the Lord’s perspective, our desires are among the most important things we have and we are, in fact, commanded to school our desires to the Lord’s path and let our “eye[s] be single to the glory of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:5). We are to focus our all on Him and His glory.
As Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “We should remember that righteous desires cannot be superficial, impulsive, or temporary. They must be heartfelt, unwavering, and permanent.” He then went on to quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell, saying, “What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.” This is what is meant in Moroni 10:4 when Moroni says that to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon we must have, “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” A testimony is first and foremost a desire. It was so for Joseph Smith before he went into the grove to pray. It was so for Nephi when he prayed about the vision his father, Lehi, had. And so it is for each of us.