Jim F: My Conversion

November 21, 2005 | 33 comments
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Thanksgiving seems a good time to think about my membership in the Church and my gratitude for the Gospel. In other words, it seems to be a particularly good time for me to reflect on my conversion.

I don’t think I’ve ever written an account of that conversion except in a devotional address that I did at BYU several years ago. Even then, I didn’t give a full account. Part of my reason is that the story is extremely personal. I don’t mind telling others about it if the occasion is right, but the public character of writing and the super-public character of the internet has made me worry about what would happen were this story written down. Of course, I’ve told any number of versions of the story because the occasions for telling it have demanded different emphases and because, over time, some things stand out as more important than they once did. That is another reason for worrying about putting my account in writing: I’m not sure that I want any one of its versions to become the “official” one. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to put mine in writing.

During the summer of 1961 I was a couple of months short of fourteen. With other junior grade U.S. Army officers, my father was enrolled in a hospital administration program run by Baylor University at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. During breaks between classes, the participants talked and relaxed in the coffee room, but one of the other participants who sat next to my father in many classes didn’t drink coffee. Instead, Bob Clark drank Postum. One day my father asked if he could try some. Of course he could, but after one sip he didn’t want any more. “It tasted like boiled floor sweepings,” Dad said. The question of why anyone would drink that stuff led, of course, to a discussion of the Word of Wisdom and, you will be surprised to learn, to two questions: “What do you know about the Mormons?” and “Would you like to know more?”

The answer to the first question was “No more than what we picked up when we stopped at Temple Square on a trip through the West a year or so ago.” That wasn’t much. I’m not sure what my parents’ reaction was, but I remember sitting in the back seat of our car reading the Articles of Faith on a missionary card. Little of it seemed very different to me than my own beliefs–I was a member of the Disciples of Christ Church, one of the ecclesial descendants of the Campbellites, and I was beginning to think about perhaps being a Disciples minister. The stuff about the Book of Mormon was curious, and the idea that the new Jerusalem would be built in the Americas was outright strange. Otherwise, it looked like standard doctrine; it certainly didn’t make us want to know more. But the Postum and the fact that my father liked Bob raised Dad’s curiosity, so the answer to the second question was “Yes.” He and my mother were invited for supper with “two friends” the coming Saturday.

Mom and Dad came back from supper having enjoyed the discussion with the missionaries and interested in hearing more about the Mormons. They continued to go to the Clark home once a week for several weeks. Then they invited the missionaries to come to our house. I wasn’t interested, so I skipped the first meeting or two. Nevertheless, by stratagem (a combination of trickery and a pretty girl my age) my mother got me to come out of my bedroom to join in one of the meetings.

In spite of my reluctant entry, I was hooked almost immediately. The first discussion I took part in was on the Plan of Salvation, and I found what the missionaries taught interesting. In addition, they could answer all of my questions, which impressed me very much. It took me more than one session to figure out that they had memorized their presentations as well as the answers to my questions, but it didn’t matter. They could answer them. That was what was important to me. Everything they said made sense. Like many looking into the Church’s teachings, it seemed as if they were teaching me things I had always believed, even though I knew I hadn’t. I felt at home as we talked, comfortable with what I heard.

The missionaries continued to teach us for months. I continued to find what they had to say thought provoking, and I learned to admire them in spite of the fact that I thought them strange: they were serious, studious, religious young men who couldn’t take off their black suit jackets when they visited us, even though almost no one in those days had air conditioning and it was 95 degrees outside with 95% humidity; they lived together, drove a Rambler, and couldn’t date; they couldn’t listen to the radio and consequently knew nothing about the Shirelles or Chubby Checker. But in fact of the fact that we continued to study with the missionaries, we weren’t getting any closer to baptism

During the last week or two of January, 1962, my mother and I were in the kitchen doing dishes and talking about the Mormons. I don’t know which of us said it first, but we decided we would like to be baptized. However, since my father was still not sure what to think, we agreed not to say anything to him. Though I found comfort in the fact that the missionaries could answer any question I put to them, he was bothered by that. He didn’t believe someone could have all the answers (and, of course, they didn’t–but we didn’t then know that). Mom and I waited for him to make up his mind. Shortly thereafter, perhaps even the same day, I don’t remember, my father came to us saying, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided to join the Mormon Church.” Looking back, I suspect he was telling my mother, not me, but it seemed then that he was telling both of us.

Within a day or two the missionaries came by once again. When we opened the door, one of them said, “We have something we have to tell you.” My mother answered, “First, let us tell you something: we have decided to be baptized.” Needless to say, they were surprised. From their perspective, they had been teaching us for eight months or more and, though we had become friends of the Church, we were not close to being baptized. We were wasting their time, and they had come to tell us that the mission president had advised them not to continue to work with us.

We wanted to be baptized right away, but since we were very involved in the First Christian Church of San Antonio, we had to make some arrangements. We had, at least, to tell the minister, Dr. Sandlin, what we were doing. Not to do so would have been rude as well as disruptive since my father was one of the church’s elders, and it was at Dr. Sandlin’s urging that I had begun to think about a career in the ministry. Besides, the missionaries said we needed to attend an LDS service at least once, something we had never done.

Dr. Sandlin took the news of our conversion poorly to say the least. He came to our house and spent some time with us trying to talk us out of making the change. It was the first time I heard anyone talk about the Mormons as cultists. Though that isn’t the word he used (no one did then), that was the message he brought. Dr. Sandlin was sincere and he was our friend, so all of us cried together as we talked about our leaving. But we didn’t change our mind.

Our goodbye’s said, within a few days we went to an LDS church service for the first time, ready to be baptized. The truth is, though, that I did not yet have much of a testimony. Regardless of what I told the missionaries when they asked, I hadn’t prayed about the truth of the Church’s teachings. I also hadn’t read anything from the Book of Mormon except the passages they had marked, though I said I was reading if they asked. I liked them. I thought what they taught made sense, and I didn’t want to let them down. Lying was an easy way to deal with their questions. But I didn’t have much of a testimony, partly because I had no idea what a testimony was. I felt good about my decision, but other than the feeling that the teachings made sense and feeling comfortable when we talked about Mormon doctrine, I had little spiritual confirmation of what I was learning.

In those days it was customary for missionaries to ask investigators not to take the Sacrament. The missionaries told my parents, but no one thought to tell me. For the Disciples, it is a point of doctrine that everyone takes Communion. So, after the bread was blessed and when it was passed to our row, I took a piece of bread and put it in my mouth.

Suddenly I was overcome from head to toe. The Spirit moved me and told me that the Church is true in a way that I could not and cannot deny. I knew it. That is the only honest way to describe the result of my experience: I had new knowledge, knowledge that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church. Though I was no Paul, neither in my previous opposition nor in the power of this experience, I knew something about what Paul’s experience was like. The decision to be baptized was no longer mine; it had become something I had to do. Nothing else mattered. On 3 February 1962 my parents, my younger brother, my maternal aunt, and I were baptized.

Since then I have had a few occasions when I’ve felt the Spirit in something like the way I did that Sunday, but never as powerfully as I did then. Since then I’ve sometimes run up against spiritual obstacles–personal foibles, intellectual difficulties, simple weakening of faith–but I’ve continued because that experience of almost forty-six years ago remains the foundation and touchstone of my faith. Recalling it has kept me going when it would have otherwise been easy to leave. The truth was given to me in that moment, and it continues to be the foundation for my life.

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33 Responses to Jim F: My Conversion

  1. Emma Marsh on November 21, 2005 at 1:43 am

    Hi Jim -

    I like your story. I think it might shed some light on the difference between converts that stay in the church and those that fall away after baptism…Do they have something other than a simple ‘it sounded good’ and ‘i liked what they had to say’ that they can look back on and truly say they know why they were baptized AND that they (and God) would not have had it any other way.

    Actually, I think the point you make in the last paragraph is a big one: “it has kept me going when it would have otherwise been easy to leave.” Everyone, whether baptized at 8 or baptized later in life, needs to have an answer to that question: “Why do you stay?”
    What experience can we point to that keeps us here? What do we think back to when times get tough?
    The church is not perfect and I know I am one of its biggest critics and complainers…yet, I would never leave. Without going into too much detail (for reasons that echo yours above – in that it is extremely personal to the point that it’s hard to describe in an understandable way – BUT I do admire the courage you have to give the full story) the only reason I know that I would never leave is that once I tried to leave, but after a year or two I realized that I couldn’t go any further or make any headway in the course of my life until I ‘knew’. And what followed was not a night or two of reading and praying, but a whole-hearted full-fledged effort to know. And what I came away with was not just ‘the book of mormon’ or ‘the church’ is true, but that Christ knows me personally and cares for me and is listening. And that he was carefully watching over me – at the same time that I was completely ignoring him. The fact that I personally felt the love of Christ in my life is what brought me back to the church and what keeps me here…so that’s “why I stay”.

    So…thanks to Jim, and to others out there…why do you stay?

  2. drex davis on November 21, 2005 at 2:27 am

    As an offshoot to what Emma has said, and on a related note to Jim’s experience, a couple very dear to me once told me, “If it were not for the the strong confirmation of the Spirit we received when we were dating (that we were to marry each other), we may have very easily divorced one another by now. But we’re glad we had that experience to go back to when the going got rough, and were able to recommitt ourselves to one another.”

    I think that when it comes to the big decisions – marriage, joining the church, etc. – it’s best to have a strong spiritual experience that leaves an indelible impression, one that can be recalled and revisited during difficult moments.

    Jim, thanks for sharing. At times I’ve had a flagging will and thought it might be better if the church were better off without me (or vice-versa), but I always fall back on my own conversion experience to take heart and keep working. Without the foundation of religious experience, I highly doubt that social or intellectual experiences would keep me tethered . . .

  3. El Jefe on November 21, 2005 at 3:26 am

    My experience of conversion was somewhat different in that it didn’t come at a moment that is fixed in time. As a result of prayer, it grew, steadily over the period of a few weeks, until I KNEW the Church was true.

    Why have I stayed? I can only echo the words of Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
    This is my only home, and I can envision no other.

  4. Dan in Baghdad on November 21, 2005 at 6:24 am

    An example of why I stay-
    The other night, my wife and I were talking on the phone about Rough Stone Rolling, and how challenging so many elements of Church history can be. It was a really difficult conversation, wondering aloud about how to reconcile or at least be at peace with some of these uncomfortable facts of Church History in general, and the life of Joseph Smith in particular.
    The next night, I was at dinner with a soldier friend of mine, and he asked me a bunch of questions about the Church, and when I told him the story of Joseph Smith — angels, plates and all — I felt the Spirit very strongly as I spoke. I guess there are a lot of things I have no idea how to make sense of, but there is absolutely no denying the Spirit. There’s nothing like it. It’s real, verifiable, tangible evidence that the belief system we belong to is true, even if we don’t have all the answers we would like.
    So Jim, your assertion that the spiritual experience you had is the foundation of your faith really resonated with me. I definitely know what you mean.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on November 21, 2005 at 8:33 am

    I’ve said this before, Jim, but let me say it again: thanks for sharing this story with all of us. There are details in this version that I hadn’t heard before–like your parents breaking the news of your family’s decision to your pastor. What a painful experience that must have been. And your story of your first encounter with the sacrament always moves me–both because it must be a wonderful thing to have such an experience to fall back on, and also because it is a vivid demonstration of what an important role remembrance in all lives, whether we realize it or not.

  6. John Mansfield on November 21, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Thanks to Times and Seasons for doing these essays this week. One small point I take from this one is that with all the devotion inquiry receives, it is worth remembering that answers matter too, not just questions.

  7. danithew on November 21, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks Jim for sharing your conversion story with us. It was edifying and uplifting.

    I couldn’t help but ponder how some people are content to find a Church that provides answers to all their questions and others find that disconcerting. In my own conversion story (though I was born into the Church) that was one of the attractions of the Church. But one of my closest non-Mormon friends found that problematic and said so. Your shared experiences reminded me of this.

  8. B Bell on November 21, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    Jim,

    That is a tremendous conversion story. I am thankful that you shared it with us. Each individual conversion is a miracle in itself.

  9. Mike on November 21, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    I am going to visit a good friend this week. Before he moved to another state he was (in my opinion) the most Christ-like member in our ward. He is now pretty much inactive and shopping around for other churches.

    One of the most powerful lessons my friend ever taught in EQ was entitled “Innoculation Against Inactivity.” He wrote it himself or rather felt that the Lord gave it directly to him. If I remember correctly the major point of his lesson was that until you experiences a direct personal revelation as described by Jim above, you are vulnerable to being driven out. Nothing else will sustain you. We discussed the idea that often this personal revelation comes suddenly and powerfully. In the Book of Mormon, where it is referred to as being born again, it is often described to be even more extravagant than what we typically see. King Lamoni swoons for days, or one appears to be dead to the point that they stink, or whole congregations collapse into some other spiritual state, etc. Then they wake up and have been changed into new creatures.

    We also noted that it can be a slow process that comes over years or even a lifetime of faith. We probably discussed the idea of The Will to Faith, where a person chooses to believe and how we might have to suspend disbelief to a degree. But that in the end this unshakeable testimony is a gift from God and we can not always predict where or when he will bestow it.

    We talked about how the “true but crummy church” will destroy just about any superficial convert and often rather quickly. A warm and friendly country club type of congregation can keep a person active and comfortable for many years but eventually a trial of faith will come. My friend promised the quorum that our ward would try their faith; he guaranteed it. Retention rates seem to be related to how nice we treat people when they first come in and this lengthens out the time and increases the opportunities for a person to experience this mighty change of heart. But in the long term if they do not experience it they will be infected by the pathogens of apostasy and leave.

    {Personally, I feel like a DNA Mormon. I really can’t point to a single powerful experience of conversion. I think the church is like a big dysfunctional family, but it is MY FAMILY and I will be damned with it if necessary. I loved the church of my childhood when McKay was the Prophet and I really hope and choose to have faith in Christ, that most of my favorite principles are true; like the Resurrection and the Atonement and Eternal Families. I really don’t think God is going to burn me in hell if I can’t seem to figure out that it isn’t true. If you believe Calvinism, then I just was not predestined for extravagant salvation and it is as much God’s fault as mine that he made me incorrigibly sagebrush Mormon. If annihilation of existance is the fate of all of us, then I think for me the Mormon life is no more (and seemingly rather less) meaningless than another. I have issues, lots of them; but when it comes down to it, I choose to paddle along in the Good Ship Mormonism, or the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Joseph, David O., Gordon B., et. al. }

    What perplexes me is how this good friend of mine (I believe to have been given one of the most powerful and pure testimonies and so he was innoculated better than most) seems to have subcumbed. I know he has been born again in Christ and has given up much in the past for the Lord. His wife has solid faith but follows him. I know his 4 boys are not happy at church, the oldest is of missionary age and has no plans to go. The programs of the church have completely turned them off and they are not oriented to church in the least. I know my friend is strongly attracted to the gospel principles on a conceptual level. But he finds the weekly grind at church pointless and is searching for something better. I think there is an element of burn out. And these gospel concepts are fine for old men to discuss late into the night, but young people like his sons could care less.

    I know he has been insulted and mistreated by local leaders in the distant past and that at the time he forgave and appeared to move on. One example; he is small physically but wrestled in college at the 120 lb bracket. He once broke up a fist fight between a couple of 250 lb teenage bubba brothers (and Eagle Scouts to boot) in the ward at YM. Their father was in the Bishopric and was very angry at my friend; although he never struck them, he did wrestle them to the floor and turn the two into a couple of whimpering pretzels. The Bishop notified DFAC, not about the fight at church, just that my friend might have a problem with his own little boys. The police came and took his four sons, very small at the time, out of their home the next night for a few days while they investigated. (What they found is that if anything he is too lax in his discipline and he should back his wife up more when she lays the law down to the boys in the home). Brother Bubba filed criminal charges and when they were thrown out of court he filed a civil suit and it was eventually deemed without merit. My friend did not want to settle this in court and tried to use church avenues, but eventually he was forced to get an attorney. He felt like the Bishop (who was an attorney) had no basis for putting his small children through this and he could have done more to stop this legal harassment. This was at least 10 years ago and I admit to not being the most accurate conduit of information. But my friend does have a little bit of bitterness towards some of the more remote and severe perpetrators of this spiritual abuse, this being only one bad example. But he also says he has forgiven them.

    So I am cheered by this testimony of Jim F. Thank you for bringing this to my mind. Also what I am asking for is some support from any of you. I really don’t know what to say to my friend with whom I have served in EQ leadership shoulder to shoulder and I know him as well as any of his friends (and better than his brother, whom he introduced to the gospel and is now a Branch President). I will need your Prayers. Perhaps I will say very little and just listen to him and see where he is at, which I fear is in poor shape testimony-wise.

  10. Ian R on November 21, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    Jim,

    Thank you very much for sharing your conversion story.

    I too had a Pauline momement, and it is good to be reminded of the power that can flow from such a memory. Thanks.

  11. Bookslinger on November 21, 2005 at 8:25 pm

    Mike, I too left the church after having a “burned-in” testimony. 2 things to recommend:

    1) I suggest that your inactive friend read The Enchiridion by Epictetus. It helped prepare me for coming back to church after a 15 year absence. Much of it is the philosophy of overcoming negative reactions to the outrageous affronts of others.

    2) The 2nd thing that helped me was learning about the half of the Atonement that I didn’t previously understand. I knew how the Atonement was applied to forgive sinners, but I didn’t understand how it applied to heal the wounds of victims of sin, or any kind of wounds. As sinners have to repent to unlock the forgiveness aspect of the Atonement, victims have to forgive to unlock the healing aspect of the Atonement. I finally learned that the Atonement covers both sides of the sinner-victim transaction. The Atonement stands between my offenders and me, just as it stands between me and Heavenly Father, and hopefully it stands between me and those whom I have offended and hurt.

    I experienced emotional and spiritual abuse in the church, mainly in the missionary program. Many of the ex-mormon stories concerning negative mission experiences that I’ve read on the net are uncomfortably familiar.

    There are plenty of opportunities in the church for both well-meaning-but-clueless members and “dark-hearted” members to cause real harm to other members. It wasn’t until I was humbled and started practicing forgiveness that I then realized that I also had gievn offense that was probably as bad as that which I received and over which I left the church.

    Once you lose the Spirit due to bitterness, then every little thing, that you formerly could have shrugged off, becomes an unforgiveable offense. It’s very frustrating, almost impossible, to reconcile a “burned in” testimony (I call it a “Page 38 testimony, as it’s described on page 38 of Gospel Principles) with the existence of things that you find intolerable in the church. It seems like those who don’t have a Page 38 testimony then conclude that the church must be false, and start buying into all the anti-mormon claims.

    Those who do have a burned in testimony may try to resolve the conflict by believing they aren’t good enough to repent, or are using agency to choose not to repent, and then chose not to associate with those who hurt them.

    Another point that people are uncomfortable both hearing and saying is that forgiving and repenting on inextricably linked. When we don’t forgive, it’s harder to repent. When we don’t repent, it’s harder to forgive. But the cycle works in the other way to: repenting leads to forgiving others, and forgiving others leads to repenting.

    Sometimes, in order to forgive others, we have to start by repenting of our own sins. Therefore, repenting of our own sins is a key, though another step removed, to unlocking the Atonement’s power to heal us: Repent -> forgive others -> be healed.

  12. Fredrick W Smith on November 21, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    Jim,
    I am courious to know if you were in Korea with your family around the time of JFK’s assasination? I was in Tegu at that time on a mission and if I’m not mistaken your family suppied us with peanut butter for our korean flapjacks. And, you also returned on a mission later, after I had left. If I’m wrong please accept my appology. Fred Smith

  13. Jack on November 21, 2005 at 9:35 pm

    Mike,

    I, too, am unable to “point to a single powerful experience of conversion.” And yet there’s that dad-blame Book of Mormon. I can’t shrug it off.

  14. Christian F. on November 22, 2005 at 4:20 am

    This was very touching.

    This morning I was on a plane with about a dozen LDS missionaries headed to Mexico City and about a dozen members of the German speed skating team. In the row in front of me one of the missionaries gave the first discussion to a member of the speed skating team. I tried to listen to the missionary as if I were hearing Joseph Smith’s story for the first time. The missionary was very new and sometimes awkward and as he started to quote from the Joseph Smith History my first thought was how odd it was that he had memorized the quote about Joseph seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ. Almost immediately, however, I felt the feeling of comfort that you described feeling in your conversations with the missionaries.

    Thank you for creating the “official” version of your conversion.

  15. Jim F. on November 22, 2005 at 4:47 am

    Frederick W Smith: Yes, we were in Pusan from the late Spring of ’62 until the Summer of ’63 and then in Taegu from the Summer of ’63 until the late Spring of ’65. It’s good to hear from you Elder Smith! We moved to Korea within three months of being baptized. That is a story in itself, but for us Korea has always been where we grew up in the Church, thanks to the Saints there, Korean and U.S.

  16. Jim F. on November 22, 2005 at 4:26 pm

    Christian F: Thanks for that story. I think that if we pay attention, we have more of those moments than we might otherwise notice.

    As for this being the “official” version–I hope not. I want to keep telling the story rather than have it become a text.

  17. gary on November 22, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Jim–do you have a theory as to why some people have the kinds of experiences you describe and others do not? I have some close friends who have spent years seeking this kind of spiritual witness without success. I have also had very faithful members of my ward confide to me in interviews that they too have never had any kind of spiritual experience of this nature. I think I know these people well enough to know that their sincerity is not to be doubted. Some of these people have now left the church, while others remain but are frustrated. And yet, for others powerful spritual experiences seem to come with little effort.

  18. Jim F. on November 22, 2005 at 6:08 pm

    Gary (#17), I wish I did have some explanation, but I don’t. I know that there are many who have not had this kind of experience. Why I had it, I can’t explain, but it is clear to me that it has little, if anything, to do with personal righteousness.

  19. Emma Marsh on November 22, 2005 at 6:45 pm

    Gary and Jim-

    About why some have the experiences and some don’t…I have a theory. I do think it does have something to do with whether or not you seek it, just it that you have to have a desire. But just like answers to prayers, not all that want answers will get them. I think it has to do with, based on Heavenly Father’s intimate knowledge of you, whether or not you really need the experience. It wasn’t until I was on the brink and I said to myself “I want more than anything else to know whether or not this church that I’ve been a part of my whole life is truly inspried and truly God’s plan” and then some…that I finally got an answer. So, maybe there are those people that want it, but in HFs eyes really do already believe…I think that might be what happens with those people that say, I always knew. I don’t mean to belittle either type of experience (although I realize it may sound slanted towards the lightning bolt or rather ‘slowly turning up the voltage until it was undeniable’ experience I had)
    .
    And even if the experiences seem like ‘gifts’ at the time..like in Jim’s case he was 14, it’s not until you go back and look at it later in life that you realize how significant it was and how life would’ve been different without it (correct me if that’s wrong Jim, but that’s what I glean from your last paragraph above)…and how much you need it to keep you going.

    So, there’s my theory, I hope this thread doesn’t get to overshadowed by the 4 types of mormons, but I think it’s too late to keep that from happening…maybe we can pick these ideas up again in another one of the upcoming conversion blogs…

  20. manaen on November 22, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    11
    Bookslinger, I enjoy your explanations.

    Before my crash, burn, and recovery through the atonement, I was caught between a spiritual testimony and nit-picking annoyance at all the faults I saw — that weren’t giving me what I needed. It only was through the atonement’s healing, which includes finally feeling the love from God which I do need, that I came to the understanding that you described so well.

  21. Ralph Hancock on November 22, 2005 at 7:19 pm

    Thanks, Jim, for reminding me of the beautiful story of your conversion.
    Born as I was “in the covenant,” I used to be tempted to envy converts, but now I see how ungrateful and wrong that is. I’m still curious about how the restored gospel looks “brand new,” but I now appreciate better what it has meant for me to have the gift of the Holy Ghost since I was 8 years old. I can see that the Lord sustained me and enlightened me all through the years in ways I am only beginning to understand. A spiritual comfort and a kind of understanding that I’m afraid I rather took for granted I now believe is associated with this gift.
    Not to say I never struggled or doubted; and I did have some young adult “conversion” experiences, epiphanies — one that decided me to serve a mission, and another during my mission.
    These can serve as anchors, touchstones — but the real key is to learn to connect the explosive spiritual experiences with the business of daily life. Our family faced some heavy challenges starting about a decade ago that required a deeper conversion of me, and I’m just hoping that it may be starting to take. Somehow shattering transcendence and daily cares, loves, duties have to be integrated. This is the work of a lifetime — the only work, finally, I suppose.
    Thanks again, Jim.

  22. El Jefe on November 22, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    ” For all have not every gift given to them…
    To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God…
    To others it is given to believe on their words…” D&C 46

    I think those who go looking for some “great” spiritual manifestation may actually undermine their ability to receive it.
    “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” D&C 6

    Undoubtedly, it may well be that we will have a “great” spiritual manifestation if we truly seek it; but we should be careful we do not seek it for the wrong reasons.

  23. J. Stapley on November 22, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Thanks Jim. I am moved by the spirit in reading this.

  24. Bookslinger on November 23, 2005 at 12:30 am

    I think total commitment might be one of the prerequisites. Lamoni and Lamoni’s father are examples of this. In Alma 18: 21, Lamoni promises to grant Ammon whatever he wants. In Alma 18:23, Lamoni promises to believe all of Ammon’s words.

    In Alma 22, Lamoni’s father makes similar commitments. Verse 11, “I will believe thy words.” Verse 15, “I will give up all that I possess.” Verse 18, “I will give away all my sins.”

    Without being truly prepared to commit to everything, to forsake everything, to do everything required, the additional light and knowledge of a spiritual testimony would only serve to condemn us when we sin against it.

  25. Jim F. on November 23, 2005 at 4:53 am

    Bookslinger: Without being truly prepared to commit to everything, to forsake everything, to do everything required, the additional light and knowledge of a spiritual testimony would only serve to condemn us when we sin against it.

    But I didn’t have that kind of commitment when I had the experience I describe. And I wish I could say that I’m totally committed now, but I think that if I were I would live a different life than I do. In fact, though I don’t presume to judge any particular individuals, my experience in the Church makes me think that most of us are not usually totally committed.

  26. LisaB on November 23, 2005 at 11:35 am

    My husband related some of your story to me, Jim. Thank you for posting it. My mother was a convert. Her sharing that experience several times and in various ways was formative and faith-building for me.

    Emma–I tend to think “the difference” is a combination of God’s wisdom about what we need (what is actually given), personal motivation, and reflection–though I’d place the most weight on God’s wisdom about what we need (and can take). I’ve had people close to me who have had pretty strong experiences, and others whose testimonies are based on lots of little things. Others who have had a combination, and some who feel frustrated to not sense any strong divine direction in spite of life-long (or years of) effort on their part. I think part of the picture is the idea that we are only accountable for that which we’ve been given. At times, ignorance is a blessed mercy.

  27. LisaB on November 23, 2005 at 11:37 am

    Hmm… I need to temper that last line. We are told to knock and it will be openned. And it is extremely frustrating to be in unanswered (even if only for a time) mode.

  28. Jesse on November 23, 2005 at 1:58 pm

    I want to thank all of you who have, at various places in T&S who have posted their conversion stories. For me personally, an intellectual understanding of the atonement of Christ and the various doctrines of the gospel has been quite important, and I still enjoy thinking that way, but I at this point, those deeply personal, spiritual experiences have become much more meaningful, powerful and foundational than the intellectual endeavors. I have come to view those experiences either as I have experienced them, or as others, in an appropriate way, time and forum, have shared with me, as much more meaningful, valuable and useful as a basis of my faith and belief, than the intellectual conclusions and exercises. So, again, I thank you.

    Gary:

    You ask a question that has plagued me for years. Why is it that someone like Paul, or Alma the Younger, who went around actively tearing down people’s faith in Christ, should be given an experience that made disbelief impossible? Because of how my own life has played out, this is an intensely real question, not simply one that forms the basis of a passing conversation. I have no valid general responses, but I know how the answer to that question has played out in my own life. The stand out thing for me in resolving this dilemma is that God knows us better than we know ourselves; knows those around us, how they impact us, the thoughts and desires of our hearts, and most importantly, knows what we, individually, need to be put through to move us closer to Him. That last point is important, because it differs from person to person. What has become my answer to this question, therefore, may not apply to you, and almost certainly cannot be taken as a universal statement. What I would put forth as a universal, is that God can be trusted, including His timetable and methods, and that the important thing for us is to follow as closely and faithfully as we possibly can those spiritual impressions, moments of insight, and bits of revelation that are given to us through the Holy Ghost and not let those most precious things be scorched by our intellects, formal education, trials of life, or the faults of others. Those things can be useful and valuable tools, but to rely on them alone is to, I think, rely on the arm of flesh. And I would also state that in my experience, the answers do come, even if it sometimes takes twenty frustrating years.

  29. comet on November 23, 2005 at 2:05 pm

    The scripture that speaks to me on this issue is the one in which Christ comments that the “wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whithereth it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

    I was born in the covenant and experienced spiritual promptings during my mid to late teenage years, to repent, read the BoM and go on a mission. These were genuine spiritual motivations that were for the most part unbidden. I have been active in the church ever since but not without spiritual/moral struggles. Some ten years following my mission, while in a graduate degree program, I had a spiritual experience the beauty and power of which was of an order I had never before imagined to be possible. It was totally unanticipated. Looking back now it was an obvious peak experience, one that I desparately wanted to keep going but alas…the wind bloweth where it listeth. But it wasn’t totally without purpose. I have an unstoppable curiosity that entails intellectual and spiritual risk-taking; spiritual in the sense that I am willing to set aside my spiritual convictions and invest my belief/faith in alternative ways of making sense of the world that have underwritten the experiences of others now or in the past (historical record). Graduate training and scholarship in general have only enhanced my capacity to do this, producing various kinds of cognitive dissonance along the way. As a result, I’ve come to see that earlier spiritual experience as the Lord’s anticipation of my future spiritual-intellectual needs, and as a form of validation for my particular gifts/desires.

  30. Keith on November 23, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    “You ask a question that has plagued me for years. Why is it that someone like Paul, or Alma the Younger, who went around actively tearing down people’s faith in Christ, should be given an experience that made disbelief impossible?”

    This is an interesting question. I don’t know how everything works here, but notice that such an experience does not change Laman and Lemuel, or Sidney Rigdon, or others with similar experiences. It may make it such that no “disbelief” is possible, but certainly faith as trust, obedience, fidelity, etc. is not inevitable after an experience like this. One can sin against the light, in other words and even sure knowledge does not guarantee obedience.

    As Jim says, it’s hard to say why some receive these experiences and others don’t. Alma 29 says the Lord gives the amount of light he sees fit to give and we can trust his judgement will be righteous and we’ll someday see that there’s justice and mercy and wisdom in what he does.

    One question that follows this, then, is why some respond to the light and others don’t. Ultimately (and I’m skipping steps to get here) one responds how he or she wants. Nothing predetermined, nothing set. The Lord will give the light he will give when he gives it. The effect this light has on us, and how much we receive after that, is according to what we are willing to receive.

    (Nice to read the story again, Jim, and to get more of the details.)

  31. Naiah Earhart on November 23, 2005 at 6:48 pm

    Wow…What a moment. I am still a little stunned at how it just popped in there at the end…Thank-you so much for braving the ever-so-public internet to share that. I am truly grateful. I’m in the midst of coming back to the church after 3 years away (been writing it up on my site, too). Just, wow, and thanks.

  32. Jesse on November 25, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Keith:

    Your distinction between belief (or, rather, sure knowledge) and obedience is a good one. I would hope that if I ever got chewed out by an angel I would be willing to make another attempt at getting the brass plates (as well as to put aside my fratricidal ambitions), but I suppose I could always choose not to. Alma’s messenger allowed for the possibility that Alma might, of himself, choose to be destroyed by not responding to his angelic lecture.

    One thing that has helped me in my feelings about how it is unfair that Alma got such an experience, is his comments in Alma chapter 5, where, after talking about the effects of the atonement and what it means in our lives to know Christ, he then says that he had to fast and pray many days to know those things and that they were put into him by the Holy Spirit, in pretty much the same way as the vast majority of us must acquire a testimony of Christ. Alma’s relationship with Christ apparently DIDN’T all come in one overwhelming blast.

    I sometimes think that those singular experiences help to orient us, to point us in the correct direction, in a way that we really do know what direction we should be going in. Whether we choose to go down that path is what gets worked out day-to-day. And sometimes life can really make us wonder about that path again. My experience has been that when those doubts about the direction have been taking come, and when the possibility of taking another path was a reality, that another sign post (or series of them) showed up, pointing, again, in the same direction. And they came in such a way as to be intensely personal and so obviously tailored to me that there was no way I could say that God was not involved.

  33. Adam Greenwood on December 10, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    “I think total commitment might be one of the prerequisites. ”

    I can testify from my own experience that it isn’t. I don’t know the answer to Gary’s question. I don’t think we’re any further along than in old times, where ‘the Spirit listed where it would.’