Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Gift and Path of Testimony (Part Two)

Here's the second part of my recent sacrament meeting talk on testimony. This is the part where I talk, over the pulpit, about what's it's like to be depressed. It was only a brief part of my talk, but I was really scared to say it out loud in front of people. But I saw several heads nod when I described my experience and then I was glad I had taken the risk. To read Part One go here.

Quite often the desire for the gift of testimony leads to an experience of testimony. These experiences are as numerous and varied as there are members of the Church because the Holy Spirit will work in each of us in an individual way. Nephi had a vision. Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Of course for most of us the witness of the Spirit will not come in an epic manner. The experience might be a simple feeling of peace after family prayer. It might be the rush of coming out of the waters of baptism. It might be a depth of feeling that comes when pondering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It might be the strength we feel after hearing someone else testify. Testimony, for most, is an accumulation of experience. The experiences come “line upon line and precept on precept, here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10) but they come. This is how it has been for me. I cannot point to one big, dramatic experience. Rather, testimony has entered my heart bit by bit, surreptitiously. It is only when I think back to years past that I realize how my testimony has grown.

Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way, “Your testimony may begin from the acknowledgment that the teachings of the Lord seem reasonable. But it must grow from practicing those laws. Then your own experience will attest to their validity and yield the results promised. That confirmation will not come all at once. . . It requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and a willingness to sacrifice.”

It is precisely because the process requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and sacrifice that testimony is also very often a memory. We live in a fallen world and are beset by the turmoil of mortality. We get sick, people hurt us, natural disasters occur, we fail or fall short. Difficulties of every shape, size and flavor arise. But God expects us to keep our testimonies intact, even when we are faced with the most frustrating and daunting events. This is when memory becomes important. Perhaps in the midst of a trial you may not feel particularly comforted or blessed, but the memory of your testimony and experiences will be there to hold you up and until the trial has passed.

This too has been true in my life. I have depression. Usually this is a well-managed condition and doesn’t put too big a damper on my life. It’s something I’ve come to understand about myself and I’ve learned to live with it. Occasionally, though, the dark times come and I temporarily lose my perspective. It is very difficult for me to feel the Spirit then. I believe my mood disorder prevents it. It is easy for me to forget the blessings Heavenly Father sends. It is easy for me to overlook His guidance in my life. It is easy for me to get bogged down in my emotions and lose my way. During those dark and sometimes desperate moments I remind myself that I know Heavenly Father loves me, that I know I am His child, that I know Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that I know He suffered for me and because of his sacrifice I will be okay. I remind myself that I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for my life and that His plan compensates for whatever struggle I am having. Even if I can’t feel the Spirit in that moment, I can remember occasions where I have felt it and it is enough.
President Henry B. Eyring told a story once about how he came home late from work one evening to see his father-in-law doing some home repair work for him. While thinking of what a nice thing this was a voice spoke to President Eyring and said, “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.” So President Eyring did. In fact, he wrote each day about how he had seen the Lord’s hand in his life in a journal that he later shared with his children. Of this effort he said, “Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening of heart and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.” Our memories play a key role in defining and sustaining our testimonies.

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