Last week my bishop encouraged us to read M. Russell Ballard’s talk “Pure Testimony” from last General Conference. I did, and it has caused me to reevaluate how I share my own testimony.
Many people I respect have complicated testimonies, but mine is almost absurdly simple. It began with the Book of Mormon, which I read as a non-member freshman at BYU almost 25 years ago. Elder Ballard’s words reminded me of that time: “A testimony is a witness or confirmation of eternal truth impressed upon individual hearts and souls through the Holy Ghost, whose primary ministry is to testify of truth, particularly as it relates to the Father and the Son.” I have felt that witness, not just about the Book of Mormon, but about the Father and the Son, about Joseph Smith, and about Gordon B. Hinckley.
I have also seen this: “[T]estimony — real testimony, born of the Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Ghost — changes lives. It changes how you think and what you do. It changes what you say. It affects every priority you set and every choice you make.” Yes! My experience with the Book of Mormon changed me. As did many other experiences with the Holy Ghost. I am different now than I was 25 years ago, different even than I was 25 days ago because I am still working at this.
Then Elder Ballard turned to the topic of bearing testimonies, and he said this:
My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them. Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies. Those who are entrusted to speak and teach in our meetings need to do so with doctrinal power that will be both heard and felt, lifting the spirits and edifying our people.
As I reflected on my own participation in testimony meetings, I realized two things. First, I don’t participate very often. Once a year? Maybe. After reading Elder Ballard’s talk, I feel the desire to bear my testimony more often. Second, when I describe my testimony, I rarely say “I know.” I often express gratitude for the Gospel, for the scriptures, for my family, etc., but I have moved away from the “I know” testimonies of my youth. Not because my conviction has waned, but because somewhere along the road, I decided that being cautious in my speech sounded … what? More mature, perhaps? Or thoughtful? Or sophisticated? In any event, it sounded less like the Primary children who unthinkingly parrot the testimonies of adults, even when I think they cannot possibly know what they purport to know.
God lives. Jesus is my Savior. Joseph Smith was a prophet. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet. Those are the foundation stones of my testimony, and I know that “[m]iraculous things happen when members join with missionaries and share pure testimony with those who are not members of the Church.”