What Do You Really Know?
Today’s guest post is by S. Paul Steed a past counselor in the Sacramento temple and current sealer, taken from a talk given at a regional single adult conference.
It is fairly easy to describe our convictions, but much more difficult to explain why we have them. Because it is difficult to explain why we have our convictions, we sometimes feel hesitant about using the verb know when we bear our testimonies.
Why is it difficult to explain the basis of our convictions? The reason, I believe, lies in the nature of a testimony.
I read a lot, and asked many questions. Nothing clicked. The answer finally came – surprise – during a testimony meeting. When a brother got up to bear his testimony, the first words out of his mouth were, “A testimony is the sum total of all the witnesses that you have received.”
THE NATURE OF A TESTIMONY
It is fairly easy to describe our convictions, but much more difficult to explain why we have them. Because it is difficult to explain why we have our convictions, we sometimes feel hesitant about using the verb “know” when we bear our testimonies. Why is it difficult to explain the basis of our convictions? The reason, I believe, lies in the nature of a testimony.
During the months leading up to my mission, I agonized about my testimony, knowing that on my mission I would be expected to bear my testimony many times. But, I didn’t know if I had one. I thought that if I could find a good description of a testimony I would be able to recognize whether or not I had one. Then I would decide whether or not to go.
I read a lot, and asked many questions. Nothing clicked. The answer finally came during a testimony meeting. When a brother got up to bear his testimony, the first words out of his mouth were, “A testimony is the sum total of all the witnesses that you have received.”
In an instant I knew two things:
1. I knew what a testimony was.
2. I knew that I had already received a number of witnesses.
I could not remember all the witnesses individually, but I knew that I had received them. So now that I had a testimony, I could go on my mission.
Over the years I have grown to appreciate even more that dear brother’s important contribution to my life, in large part because it made it easier to recognize the witnesses when they came. It did not, however, make it easier to remember the witnesses.
There appeared to be a couple of reasons for that:
1. Most of the witnesses I had received were brief and of small intensity.
2. The witnesses came from the Spirit to my spirit, but time pushed me past the moment, the senses of the body took over and life moved on.
What surprised me was that time even had that effect on the few witnesses that I considered to be “big”. For me, the best description of that kind of forgetting was given by a mother who expressed gratefulness for the pictures that she had of her daughters wedding, “Memories of great moments fade into indistinct emotions.” (Marian Mitchley)
I found that to be true for me. Little witnesses faded beyond recollection; big witnesses faded into indistinct emotions.
Perhaps that is why it sometimes feels difficult for us to follow the scriptural injunction to “… be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you ….” (1 Peter 3:15) Specific witnesses are hard to remember.
Perhaps that is why we also feel more comfortable bearing testimony in Fast Meeting after a recent spiritual experience, a witness easy to remember.But even then, we feel a little uncomfortable. For one recent witness can sometimes feel inadequate as a justification for the use of the word “know” in the rest of testimony that we feel impressed to bear.
HOW WE COME TO KNOW
I believe that we come to know things through the senses of our physical body and the senses of our spiritual body. The senses of our physical body are familiar to us: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. Through them we detect the temporal realities around us. Through the senses of the physical body Father in Heaven teaches us about the world in which we live.
The senses of our spirit are less familiar to us. Nevertheless, it is through them that we detect the spiritual realities that surround us. Through the senses of the spirit body we receive the promptings of the Spirit of Christ, our conscience, which help us distinguish between good and evil. Through the senses of the spirit we receive revelations from the Holy Ghost, which teach us, guide us, and comfort us. God tries to reach us through all of these senses, body and spirit
One of the conditions of mortality appears to be that the senses of the physical body can overwhelm the senses of the spirit body. One of Satan’s favorite strategies is to stimulate the physical body’s senses with sensations so strong that they mute the senses of the spirit body. We have been given the gift of fasting and prayer as a means of allowing the senses of the spirit body to be better heard.
In that context, every witness received, large or small, is moment in which the senses of both bodies have detected something, and we have come to “know” that thing. Though the memories of the specific moments may fade, the knowledge remains, and justifies our use of the word “know” in describing our testimonies.
I would like to submit for your consideration my conviction that a testimony born using the word know is, in fact, totally justified. The memory of the specific witnesses may have faded, but the knowledge they brought is still there. Emerson once said, “I can no more remember all the books that I have read than all the food that I have eaten; but they have both made me the man I am today.”
For me the parallel statement would be, “I can no more remember all the witnesses I have received than all the experiences I have had; but they have given me the convictions I have today.”
Forgetting appears to be a human condition that the Lord understands well. The words remember and remembrance occur over 500 times in the scriptures. But the Lord has done more than just encourage that effort of us. He has provided us with aids for our memories.
The scriptures : One of the more important aids, their value is best understood by examining the impact on the Mulekites of emigrating without the scriptures (Omni 1:17).
A personal journal: I have 3 partial journals (not a particularly sterling accomplishment), when I read those fragmentary efforts I am impressed with how much I have forgotten, especially things that I want to remember.
The Sabbath Day: Time set aside to remember the truths that affect eternity, time to remember and renew our covenants.
The Church: With living prophets who help us remember truths that are important and relevant to our day. During the most recent General Conference there were four talks that explained what a testimony is, and how to get one.*
Marriage reminds us of heavenly parents.
Children remind us of pre-mortal existence.
The world and the universe, remind us of God. As Alma taught Korihor, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)
Winter and Spring, nature’s death and rebirth, both remind us of our Savior.
And the list goes on.
We have all received many witnesses. Most are small, a few are big. The small ones get forgotten, the big ones “… fade into indistinct emotions.” However, our difficulty in remembering them specifically does not alter in the least their reality. Each did occur. And with each witness what we knew increased. And the combination of all those witnesses allows us now to describe our convictions with confidence, with integrity, and with the words, “I know ….” because, in fact, we really do know.
What do you really know? Lots.
God is not only gracious, He is generous.
The Will of God
The will of God for me
Would be my will for me
If I knew about myself
What God knows.
To follow His will
Is not to surrender, but to trust
Is not to lose identity,
but to perfect its potential
Is not to sacrifice agency,
but to use it best.
To follow His will
Is to trade my incomplete knowledge for His complete knowledge
Is to trade my imperfect love of self for His perfect love for me
Is to trade my flawed course of action for His perfect course of action.
To follow His will
Is to be in tune with reality
Is to know peace now, joy later
Is to fill the measure of my creation
Is to walk in the light
Is to never be alone.
The will of God for me
Fills best the longings of my soul
And brings me home
Whole and clean
More than the child that left
Less than the God to be
But worthy to be one
With they who are love.
S. Paul Steed March 1997