A Testimony Is a Work-In-Progress

October 29, 2023

I spent the last couple of weeks preparing to speak in church today. I spoke about our belief, as Latter-Day Saints, that we can live together as families for eternity, beyond this life.  I touched on the importance we place on making and keeping covenants with God, and I felt strongly that I wanted to put a particular focus on the process of building a testimony. 


When I use the word testimony here, I'm using it with this definition in mind:

A testimony is a conviction, knowledge, or belief in a truth. It is a spiritual witness of what you believe or know to be true.


Certitude vs. Faith

As I studied the topic, I kept thinking about how it's okay not to feel certitude in your belief... how you can't really have faith if you have a sure knowledge. Faith is such an important part of our religious lives, so it's clear to me that we're not expected to have a certain knowledge of things- in many cases we're meant to rely on hope and faith.

I'll put the text of my talk here, for my own records, and if you'd like to read it, of course it's here for you:

Families Can Be Together Forever

Here are some words to a song I have sung probably hundreds of times in my life, since I was a child in Primary. It would later become a favourite to sing to my girls before bed:

I have a family here on earth
They are so good to me
I want to share my life with them through all eternity 

Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father's plan
I always want to be with my own family 
And the Lord has shown me how I can

The topic of this song is the same as the topic for my talk today.

The Lord has shown us how to be with our families forever.

Making & Keeping Covenants

In a talk in 2019, our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson said:

"So, what is required for a family to be exalted forever? We qualify for that privilege by making covenants with God, keeping those covenants, and receiving essential ordinances.

This has been true since the beginning of time. Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Lehi and Sariah, and all other devoted disciples of Jesus Christ- since the world was created- have made the same covenants with God. They have received the same ordinances that we, as members of the Lord's restored Church today have made: those covenants that we receive at baptism and in the temple… are required if we want to be exalted with our families and with God forever."

So, the key to being with our families forever and receiving what D&C 138 calls a "fulness of joy", is to make and keep covenants with God.

A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and you. God has revealed specific conditions, and He promises to bless you as you obey those conditions. 

In President Nelson's quote, he's talking about the saving ordinances which are:

- Baptism & Confirmation
- Priesthood (for males)
- The Endowment
- Sealing

Some of the covenants we make with God at these times are to take Christ's name upon us, to keep His commandments, and to dedicate ourselves to serving Him and supporting the Lord's work on earth.

Blessings from Keeping Covenants

Keeping our part of the covenants we make qualifies us to receive the blessings God has promised, as His part of the covenants.

If we choose either not to make covenants, or not to keep them, we cannot receive the blessings.

Referring to those who choose not to make covenants, President Nelson said that, "…while there is a place for them hereafter-with wonderful men and women who also chose not to make covenants with God- that is not the place where families will be reunited and given the privilege to live and progress forever. That is not the kingdom where they will experience the fulness of joy- of never-ending progression and happiness."

A Testimony Takes Time & Effort

So why would someone choose not to make these covenants with God when the promised blessings are such a big deal, and have important eternal implications?

Well, we make a lifelong commitment when we make covenants, so of course we would want to be sure to have a testimony and a knowledge of the truth of these things for ourselves, if we're going to make that kind of commitment that affects the way we live so deeply.

But gaining a testimony is not a simple task, and in my experience, it's not something you can just check off a list as complete. It takes a lot of time and effort, and a testimony continues to grow, change, and evolve as we go through life.

It may start with hearing messages at church or general conference or from the missionaries.
But that's just the beginning. We need to go home and spend time and effort studying, pondering, applying, and praying about what we learn.

As President Nelson said, "Pour out your heart to God. Ask Him if these things are true. Make time to study His words. Really study! If you truly love your family and if you desire to be exalted with them throughout eternity, pay the price now- through serious study and fervent prayer- to know these eternal truths and then to abide by them."

That may sound overwhelming, but as he goes on to say,

"…If you are not sure you even believe in God, start there."

It doesn't matter where you are right now- it doesn't matter your age or experience with learning about the gospel. Just start wherever you are. 

Questions & Doubts

Many of us have already started on this path. If you haven't already run into some bumps in the road and difficult challenges on your testimony journey, you're pretty likely to.
What should you do if you’re still in the process of finding out for yourself what you believe the right thing is to do? Or if you've hit one of those "bumps in the road", or have a question you haven't found an answer to?

Elder Ballard compares life to hikers climbing a steep and difficult trail, saying, "It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.

The danger comes when someone chooses to wander away from the path that leads to the tree of life. Sometimes we can learn, study, and know, and sometimes we have to believe, trust, and hope."

I like the example we find in the story in John, chapter 6, where we read about how some of Jesus' disciples found some of His teachings and doctrine difficult to accept. 
Some of his disciples decide not to follow him anymore, since they're not sure about all of his teachings.

Verse 66 says, "from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." 

But this isn't the reaction of all of his followers:

In verse 67, Jesus turns to the Twelve apostles and asks, "Will ye also go away?"

Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."

Peter and the other apostles were also finding some of Jesus' teachings difficult to accept, but they didn't leave.

In reference to this story, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, "In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ."

"Today is no different. For some, Christ's invitation to believe and remain continues to be hard- or difficult to accept. Some disciples struggle to understand a specific Church policy or teaching. Others find concerns in our history or in the imperfections of some members and leaders, past and present. Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much… For these and other reasons, some church members… [wonder] if perhaps they should follow those who "went back, and walked no more" with Jesus."

Elder Ballard goes on to say, "If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight or revelation may shed new light on an issue. Remember, the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold."

"Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ… Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed."

Doubt Your Doubts

While you're studying like Elder Ballard encourages in that quote, remember that just because you don't understand something fully yet, doesn't mean you won't eventually.

I like Elder Neal A. Maxwell's counsel where he says, "We should not assume… that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable."

So, just because you don't feel like you have a full enough testimony or understanding of the covenants you've made (or are thinking about making), doesn't mean there isn't an explanation out there that you can find.

..and Elder Uchtdorf encourages us to work toward finding those answers for ourselves, when we run into questions and doubts. I have heard his 2013 conference talk quoted before, to doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. I think if that's all you heard, you could assume that he's encouraging people to ignore their doubts and proceed blindly, without understanding.  I really appreciate the context surrounding that quote. He says:

"In this Church that honours personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth."

"Sometimes questions arise because we simply don't have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn't make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction… A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others."

"It's natural to have questions… There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions."

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters- my dear friends- please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."

Faith Is Like a Little Seed

In another Primary song, we sing these words:

Faith is like a little seed
If planted it will grow
… Faith is strengthened; 
I feel it grow
Whenever I obey

I've always liked the comparison of exercising faith to planting a seed. 

When we moved a couple of years ago, we were excited to find a house to rent that has a large yard, in the country. We didn't have a lot of experience with gardening, but we were excited to give it a try. We planted a bunch of different types of seeds in the Spring and waited excitedly for the plants to emerge from the ground. Some of the plants sprouted before others, and some grew better than others. We didn't really know what to expect from the seeds since we were new gardeners, and sometimes it was frustrating when seeds or plants didn't behave the way we thought they should. 

But we didn't give up on the whole garden because some of the seeds hadn't sprouted yet.  We stayed committed to nurturing the plants that were growing, and kept watering the garden in the area where things hadn't sprouted yet.  If we gave up on the whole garden and stopped weeding and watering it because of the seeds that were late sprouting, we would've missed out on the whole harvest. Some of the things we planted that first year never thrived, but we tried again the following summer with more success (and some failure) and learned a lot! Next season, we'll begin again with our newly gained knowledge and hope to have more success and learn more about some of the seeds we haven't had a lot of success with so far.

Let's revisit part of Elder Uchtdorf's quote now. Just like we would've missed out on a lot of harvest if we gave up on the whole garden when we doubted the good outcome of some of it, "we must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."

We can benefit from the blessings of keeping our covenants in this life as a family while we are developing our testimonies. Just like we involve our children in planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting our family's garden, we can include them in discussions about the process of developing our testimonies. We set the example for them of the importance of putting in the work to gain and nurture a testimony.  

Experiment & Wait

Now, staying on the topic of seeds for a little longer:

I still remember a youth activity I went to when I was a teenager, where we talked about Alma, chapter 32 and "Experiment Upon the Word".

In that chapter, it says that if you give place that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, (and) if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief… it will swell and enlarge your soul and enlighten your understanding.

The scriptures go on to say that this will increase your faith, but won't give you a perfect knowledge.

The seed goes on to grow and sprout (which again, strengthens your faith and you can see it's a good seed). 

Alma says planting the seed is an experiment and you need to nourish the seed and wait for it to grow, to find out if it's a good seed. So, it's totally normal to not know things for sure, or to have questions, or to be waiting for clarity on something. 

Once the seed grows, you can see its fruit but if you neglect the plant, it can die- not because the seed was bad, but because it wasn't nourished.

I like this comparison because it shows the importance of diligence and patience when it comes to our testimonies. Sometimes it is like an experiment- we study, we learn, we follow commandments and we put in the effort and practice patience and faith as we wait to see the fruits.

Verse 42 & 43 say, "And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you."

I find this message very encouraging because it's easy for me to become frustrated when I don't understand something fully. 

A Work-In-Progress

I want to live with integrity, doing what I believe is right, based on what I believe to be true, but it's difficult when I find myself questioning whether I'm on the right track or when I have an unanswered question that leaves me unsure about the specifics of my beliefs.

The scriptures and quotes from prophets and apostles that I've shared in my talk today give me comfort, to know that I'm not alone in having an incomplete knowledge of the gospel or a testimony that's a continual work-in-progress.

Questions, doubts, and confusion are to be expected along the way and persistent study, pondering, prayer, and patient waiting are necessary parts of the process.

Just like Jesus' apostles stayed with Him even though they found some things difficult to understand or accept, we too can focus on what we DO know to be true- the seeds we've planted that have already shown good fruit- and stay committed on our testimony journeys. Not that we need to ignore the questions or doubts that come up, but that we keep working with faith, to gain clarity and understanding over time, as we build our testimonies throughout our lives.

Where Will This Lead?

In Pres. Nelson's recent conference talk, he reinforces the significance of our choices, reminding us that how we choose to live on this earth determines not only how we will live but also where and with whom we will live forever. 

As Dallin H. Oaks said,  "Our present and our future will be happier if we are always conscious of the future. As we make current decisions, we should always be asking, 'Where will this lead?'"  Or, as the prophet said, "Think Celestial".

As we work toward both making & keeping covenants, let's always be mindful of the path we're on. Our choices matter. Our commitments to God are not mere words but life-altering decisions that guide us toward our ultimate destination because, as the song at the beginning of my talk says, "we always want to be with our own families and the Lord has shown us how we can".

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