What is a testimony?
"A testimony is an open declaration or confession of one's faith."
"A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost."
My testimony has taken an interesting journey, as I suspect most testimonies do. I would say I received a testimony at a relatively young age and have had many powerful experiences with the Holy Ghost testifying to me of sacred truths.
Several years ago, however, a series of experiences put a little dent in my faith. Though I can say I never really doubted the existence of God, I did begin to wonder about His role in my life. Confusion, questions, pride, and fear took a front row seat in my mind. Still hoping and praying for some clear answers, I started to catch glimpses of light and strength. However, as quickly as they'd come, they would leave again.
I recently had a friend ask me some difficult questions. "What does your relationship with Christ really mean? If [recent life events] have been so hard, how has that brought you closer to Jesus Christ?" Basically, I felt she was asking me, "What is keeping you so sure?"
These were some great questions and I feel the last few years these are the exact questions I have been forced to ask myself. These are questions I wonder if we all need to ask ourselves at some point in time. In fact, Elder John Carmack once stated, "I shudder when I hear anyone declare, 'I will never deny my testimony of the gospel.'" To do so would put us in a position like Peter when he declared his devotion to Christ only to deny him three times. President Henry B. Eyring gave a talk once entitled, A Living Testimony. I love the word living because it implies, first of all, that it is something that needs nourishment. For another thing, it also signifies that it will ebb and flows, has its ups and downs. We do not receive a testimony and then expect it to stay exactly the same. Hopefully, it is constantly growing, but I would assume that sometimes it doesn't feel that way.
When my friend asked me those questions that day I had one answer to give, "I can't say [these experiences] have brought me closer to Christ themselves, but I can say that through these experiences I have learned with more conviction the why of what I do -- it is because I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. I do these things for Him."
Along my faith journey I have wrestled with a lot of questions. I have studied, read, prayed, pondered, written and cried in my desires to know where God is in my life. And for me, staying on the path was extremely helpful. I have realized that the one thing truly keeping me in the Church are the covenants I have made with my God. The one thing I would miss the most is communion with Him in the temple. For me, there is great strength and comfort in those covenants because I know His promises are sure -- no matter what chaos might be going on in my life.
Also, along this journey, it became easy to discredit emotion a little bit. Those who know me know that my threshold for tears is very low! Because of this I have had to learn and relearn which tears come because of the Spirit and which come for other reasons (namely: exhaustion, hormones, nerves, etc.). I have had to really home in on personal revelation and discerning of spirits. I have had to learn which voices to hear and which to ignore.
Wendy Ulrich (remember, my favorite!) wrote an article on belief and cognitive dissonance. Toward the end she wrote, "While cognitive dissonance theory says we behave primarily to justify our beliefs, faith teaches us that both commitment and uncertainty are valuable tools that can be sued to clarify our beliefs and increase our trust in God (italics added)." Isn't that beautiful? (Read it again!) J and I have come to believe that the law of opposition is not about having alternate choices to make, but rather the opportunity mortality provides for us to truly wrestle as we come to a pure, loving and deep relationship with God -- our Father in Heaven, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. To build, receive and nourish a testimony requires such a process.
During a recent training meeting President Nelson told the general leaders, in essence, "If you are not having opposition every day, you aren't working hard enough." The struggle is real. But it can be joyful, and I think that is what faith leads to in the end -- hope and joy. What I have come to in the last few months is that I want to be more like Paul and be not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A testimony of my Savior is in my heart. I may not be able to fully explain it in a logical way, but it is real to me. I have received a witness and I cannot deny it.
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"And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!"
Doctrine & Covenants 76:22