Converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether they were born into a Mormon family or joined later, love to tell their conversion stories. They share why they decided they needed to know what is true, who helped them, and how they searched for the answer. Finally, they share the moment they knew the gospel was true. Sometimes, those stories lead people to think that conversion is a once and done event.
This can make it difficult for people who got an initial confirmation of the truthfulness of the gospel but who still have questions or doubts about certain aspects of the faith. It can also make it hard for non-Mormons to take our conversions seriously. In truth, conversion is a life-long process and sharing that story along with our initial conversion can help people better understand the role of faith in becoming and staying Mormon.
When Mormons talk about testimony, the issue of blind obedience sometimes comes up. This is an issue close to my heart, because I worried about it in the beginning. I’d known since I was ten there had to be a prophet somewhere, even though I didn’t know who he was. I started investigating the Church when I was sixteen and learned they had a prophet. This was both exciting and scary.
Somehow, the idea of an abstract “must be one somewhere” prophet and one with a name and a face was very different. I’m a person of strong opinions, as people who know me are aware, and the idea that someone else could tell me what to believe was unnerving.
When I started meeting with the missionaries, who were wise beyond their years, they taught me how to pray to find out if what they were telling me was true. When I reached a point where I believed them because I now trusted them, they insisted I pray, anyway. They told me I wasn’t supposed to trust them–I was supposed to trust God. That’s when I realized that if I really believe God knows everything and is the source of truth, I did need to ask God.
Once I had an answer from God, it was no longer blind faith–it was believing based on proof that something was true. At first, I prayed about everything. Eventually, I realized my prayers always confirmed what the prophet said, so what I really needed was to pray to know if the prophet was really the prophet.
The missionaries assured me I could still–and should still-pray if I heard something I wasn’t sure about, even when God had confirmed the authority of the prophet. So, for me, it isn’t blind faith–it’s trusting in God. I don’t pray about everything, anymore, just as I don’t have to touch a hot stove every time to know it will burn me. I do, though, pray when I’m not sure.
Having a Doubt Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have a Testimony
When I listened to people sharing their testimonies that they knew without a doubt the gospel was true, that made me nervous. When I started, I hadn’t actually been able to get an answer to the question of whether or not the Church was true.
I did get an answer when I asked if I should become a Mormon. I presumed God wouldn’t want me to join a false church, so I took it to mean it was the true church, but you might say I was hoping it was true. Eventually, I moved up to believing, and finally to knowing.
However, I didn’t know every part of the gospel was equally true. Some doctrines were easy for me to accept. Some I struggled with. Once in a while, I’d come across something I did not expect to find, especially in the earlier days before the Internet and LDS.org made it possible to go look it up and confirm what I’d been told.
I think it would be hard for me to be Mormon if I just had to take someone’s word for things—even the prophet’s word. It is comforting to me that the Church is sure enough to tell us we can ask God personally. If they were lying, they would not do that, and I’m always a little worried about churches that instruct members not to pray about their faith—or ours. I once read a blog post by someone attacking the Church who said that if you just went by prayer answers, everyone would be Mormon, but that’s not what you should do. I had to laugh—I wondered if he knew he’d just admitted that God would tell you the Church was true if you prayed about it.
Most of us have faced moments when we read something by an anti-Mormon or heard the prophet say something we didn’t know was doctrine. Sometimes there are bits of the Church that just don’t fit what we would like to be true. (Since we’re not perfect, we don’t always understand the bigger picture of the gospel.) This isn’t apostasy and it isn’t bad. God anticipated this and it’s why he taught us how to pray for a testimony.
Generally, testimony emerges over time and through life’s experiences. We can compare testimony to the process of watching a photograph develop. Powerful impressions of the Spirit come like flashes of light on receptive photographic film.
Like the chemicals needed to develop the picture, certain spiritual conditions and experiences are needed in our lives for our personal testimony to develop into a certain truth and knowledge. And like a photograph, a testimony, if not carefully preserved, will fade with time (Robert D. Hales, Receiving a Personal Testimony, October 1994 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Praying for a testimony isn’t something we reserve for that first personal revelation. It’s something we can draw on always as a way to keep our testimonies strong, to cope with the false information and the challenges the world sends our way, and to help us grow in our understanding of gospel truths. It’s a beautiful and wonderful gift from an understanding Heavenly Father.
Let’s make good use of that gift—and make sure we let others in and out of the Church know it’s a desirable thing to do. Remember that even Nephi, already a teenager or young adult, went to God when his father shared his visions. He wanted to know for himself they were true. He got his answer and stayed strong, while Laman and Lemuel fell away because they did not bother to pray. Praying for a testimony and growing our testimony is not a once and done event. It’s something we will do all our lives—and that’s something to celebrate.
This article is filed under “Mostly for Mormons.” We are looking for a volunteer blogger who is a faithful, practicing Latter-day Saint to write this weekly blog column. Although most of this site is aimed at people of all faiths, this particularly topic is designed to be more specifically aimed at the needs of church members. If you’re interested, click on the picture below to learn more.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that have appeared in LDS magazines. She is married to Lincoln Bittner and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to two girls. Terrie became a Mormon at the age of seventeen and has been sharing her faith online since 1992. She can also be found blogging about being an LDS woman at LatterdaySaintWoman.com.