Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How Can I Get My Testimony Back?

Q:  I was baptized a little over a year ago. I was baptized because I knew for a fact all of the things most people do: Jesus Christ is our Savior, Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, the church is true, etc... But now, I just don't. I'm no longer sure if the Book of Mormon is true. I can't read any scriptures. I don't even know if they are true. I'm not sure Thomas S. Monson is a prophet. But I want to be sure. I want to be like I was a year ago. But I don't know how.

A:  When you first got baptized no doubt you were on a spiritual high, and your emotions were probably running high as well. Now that time has passed, your emotions have cooled somewhat, and you have had to face the relatively mundane task of maintaining (and nurturing) your testimony from day to day. C. S. Lewis declared that such a change in mood is natural, and that it is precisely in moments such as these that faith is most useful:

"Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

The first step is to recognize [sic] the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?" (Mere Christianity, 140-141)

C. S. Lewis lists three things which he tells us are "necessary parts of Christian life," if we are to keep our faith "fed" and nurtured. I call these things "the three pillars of personal testimony," because they are essential in the maintenance and development of a healthy testimony and a robust faith.

*Daily prayers (Constant prayer)
*Religious readings (Consistent scripture study)
*Church-going (Regular & worthy observance of the sacrament)

Mormons often call these three things the "Sunday School answers" because they seem so obvious, and so they make for easy answers at church. However, I have noticed that people who run into trouble with their testimony have typically neglected one, or all, of these things. My advice to you is to shore up the foundation of your testimony by rebuilding these three pillars even stronger than they were before.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, late of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, recognized that it is easy to become weary in our testimony and understanding of the things of God, and he echoes C. S. Lewis in asserting the need for each of us to continually “renew and refresh” the principles (and our testimony) of the gospel in our minds.  Maxwell emphasizes that it is we who are primarily responsible for the nourishment of our minds with the truths of the gospel.

“How vital that our minds feast upon the words of Christ and that we be firm and unshaken as we encounter the challenges of life! ...To do His redemptive work daily thus requires understanding His doctrines and having them constantly refreshed and renewed, lest we “faint” in our minds of become “weary” in mind (Hebrews 12:3; D&C 84:80).  Peter used the metaphor which urges us to gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13).  Therefore, a one-time, intellectual acceptance of doctrines to then be filed away is simply not enough.  In discipleship there must be interactiveness of intellect and behavior.

There must likewise be constancy in the nourishment of the mind by truth and by “having your loins girt about with truth” (Ephesians 6:14; D&C 27:16).  The dictionary defines gird as to bind, to make fast, to surround, and to prepare for action, suggesting anything but isolation, intellectual flabbiness, or lassitude” (Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, 48-49).
Faith is a living principle, and like any living thing it takes time to develop properly--you can't expect to gain a robust testimony overnight.  Furthermore, if you neglect to care for it and nourish it properly, not only will your faith fail to grow, but it will eventually wither and die.

"Some people speak of a testimony as if it were a light switch—it’s either on or off; you either have a testimony, or you do not. In reality, a testimony is more like a tree that passes through various stages of growth and development. Some of the tallest trees on earth are found in Redwood National Park in the western United States. When you stand at the base of these massive trees, it is amazing to think that each one grew from a tiny seed. So it is with our testimonies. Although they may begin with a single spiritual experience, they grow and develop over time through constant nourishment and frequent spiritual encounters.
It’s not surprising, then, that when the prophet Alma explained how we develop a testimony, he spoke of a seed growing into a tree" (Craig C. Christensen, "I Know These Things of Myself," Ensign, November 2014, 51).
Alma 32:37-42  And behold, as the tree [of faith] beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us.  And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.  But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.  Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.  And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.  But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.  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.
If you have stopped reading your scriptures, pick them up again.  If you have stopped going to church, go back and then keep going.  If you have stopped praying, get down on your knees and pray.  If you don't "feel" like praying , then you ought to follow Brigham Young's advice: “It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Chapter 6: “Communication between God and Man”).  If you really want to know like you did when you were baptized (or better), then make these things into habits, and they will go a long way toward helping you to regain your testimony.  If you really want to know the truth of the gospel and of this church, then you will be required to ask the Lord in faith, with a sincere heart and real intent, which will require work and diligence and perseverance on your part.

"Seeking for and obtaining a testimony of spiritual truth requires asking, seeking, and knocking (see Matthew 7:7; 3 Nephi 14:7) with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in the Savior." (David A. Bednar, “Converted unto the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 2012,

If, through your diligence, you can forge these habits into the character of a true disciple you will be empowered and enabled to obtain the knowledge and assurance you will need to endure to the end in faith and devotion to Christ and His gospel.

Do not be discouraged if your testimony is not as strong as you would like it to be!  Instead, choose to act now to nourish and fortify your testimony through diligent prayer, scripture study, and church attendance, as well as through faithful obedience to the principles of the gospel.  As you do so, you will be blessed with an added measure of the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to bring all of Christ’s teachings (back) to your remembrance and to testify to you of the truth of the restored gospel and of the reality of God’s love.  This increased spiritual sensitivity will do much to reinforce and strengthen your testimony of, and faith in, God and His church.  In the process you will find that you (and your testimony) will be "transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (see Romans 12:1-2).

For more on The Three Pillars of Personal Testimony, click HERE.

For advice on building your faith, read my article "The Truth About Faith."

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