As I was investigating the church, I asked the missionaries some very difficult questions about the church on the very first day. This was before the Internet, so I couldn’t look up the answers myself and needed the information from the missionaries. To my frustration, they said, “We will be happy to answer those questions. They’re very important. But you don’t yet have the background to understand the answers. Wait until you’ve had all the lessons, and then if these questions still worry you, we’ll give you the answers, because you’ll have the background and skills you need to understand them.”
I didn’t want to wait. I wanted everything right that moment, the very first day. I wanted the fullness of the gospel in an instant, even though I didn’t have a testimony, didn’t know how to pray for confirmation of a doctrine, and didn’t know enough about the church to understand any but the simplest information.
By the time I reached the end of the missionary discussions, however, I no longer needed them to answer my questions. I had learned how to get answers for myself through prayer, and I had learned what really mattered. However, even though those questions no longer worried, I was still filled with impatience. Now that I knew a little more, I wanted to know everything. I was like a student trying to push my way into the advanced course before I’d taken the beginning course. I still didn’t have a full testimony. I had received from my prayers only the information that God wanted me to join the church. So I joined, but I was desperate for a fully developed testimony, and I wanted it immediately.
“What I have seen regarding people coming into the Church is that the Lord seems to touch people with the same truth but in different ways. In each case there is the confirmation of the Spirit, usually associated with feelings of peace and assurance. The feelings always edify and bring one in harmony with the Lord’s Church. Some people, however, wish to reach “beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14), as it were, and seek for those things they are not prepared for, with no intent to act on the truths they have already received. The Lord moves us from faith to faith and from grace to grace according to our faith, sincerity, and ability to understand. He urges us to receive the milk of the gospel before the meat.” — Loren C. Dunn, “The Spirit of Conversion,” Ensign, Jul 2000, 7
God wants us to learn line upon line, and this is for a good purpose. Think about when you learned something difficult, such as a new language. You couldn’t learn all the words there were to know the very first day. You had to master simple words and new sounds, practicing them until you got them right. You learned a few grammatical rules and learned to use them correctly. Then you were ready to move on to the next rules and words. In the same way, God gives us a little and wants us to practice. If you’ve learned about prayer this week, don’t try to start prayer, family home evening, the Word of Wisdom, and every other doctrine at the same time. Instead, learn to pray. When the missionaries teach you a new skill the next week, practice that one in addition to the first one. After baptism, live all the doctrines you’ve learned and then add the one you learned in Sunday School this week. Ask God to help you gain a testimony of each step you take, and study to understand it well.
It took me a year after baptism to gain a full testimony, but there are no prizes for speed. Let God help you set the pace. Be patient. Full conversion will come.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.