Sometimes I have suffered from convert envy.
It isn’t that I am not grateful for and proud of my convert ancestors — the Taylors in 1838, the Birdsalls in the 1880s, the Halls in the 1890s, and my own father in 1964. Their earlier acceptance of the gospel gave me the opportunity to grow up with all the blessings of a Mormon family. I didn’t have to depend on a chance encounter with missionaries, or on the willingness of a friend, for my introduction to the gospel.
But if I hadn’t had that blessing, would I have found the Church on my own? I used to wonder how — it’s not in my nature to give my name and address to a stranger on the street, or to invite two door-knocking strangers into my home.
Mostly, I wondered what it would have been like to hear the Joseph Smith story for the first time. That’s where my convert envy came in — I loved the Joseph Smith story, but I couldn’t remember a time when it was new to me. Would I have recognized its beauty without the warmth of familiarity? Would I have scoffed? I often wished I knew.
My mission call to the Switzerland Geneva Mission brought me to the MTC on New Year’s Eve. Because I already had considerable experience with French, I began memorizing the discussions on New Year’s Day. For nearly two months, I had little to do but memorize and recite while pacing the halls, standing in the shower, lying on my bunk. (I should have had the gospel prep and door approach lessons, too, but my district hardly ever remembered to call me in when they switched from language study to pedagogy.) So I memorized and memorized, including long passages of scripture once the discussions were down cold.
I loved working on the Joseph Smith story in French. Learning new words for the same story gave me a hint of what it may have been like to hear the story for the first time, but it revived my convert envy, full strength.
Tandis que j’étais travaillé par les difficultés extrêmes causées par les disputes de ces partis de zélateurs religieux, je lus, un jour, l’épître de Jacques, chapitre 1, verset 5, qui dit: Si quelqu’un d’entre vous manque de sagesse, qu’il la demande à Dieu, qui donne à tous simplement et sans reproche, et elle lui sera donnée.
I didn’t exactly lack wisdom — I knew the story — did the promise in James extend as far as merely wanting a feeling, wanting to satisfy my curiosity?
Je me décidai finalement à “demander à Dieu”, concluant que s’il donnait la sagesse à ceux qui en manquaient, et la donnait libéralement et sans faire de reproche, je pouvais bien essayer.
The desire to know what it would be like to hear Joseph Smith for the first time grew stronger and stronger over the days I worked on those passages.
One morning I was again alone in the halls, reciting the verses aloud.
C’était la première fois de ma vie que je tentais une chose pareille … me voyant seul, je m’agenouillai et me mis à exprimer à Dieu les désirs de mon coeur … je vis, exactement au-dessus de ma tête, une colonne de lumière, plus brillante que le soleil …
And that’s about when it happened. As I recited, something in my mind shifted, and I heard the story for the first time, just as if I had been an investigator listening to a missionary. Oh, I knew it was me who was speaking — I heard my own voice, and felt my lips and throat working –
Je vis deux Personnages dont l’éclat et la gloire défient toute description, et qui se tenaient au-dessus de moi dans les airs. L’un d’eux me parla, m’appelant par mon nom, et dit, en me montrant l’autre: Celui-ci est mon Fils bien-aimé. Écoute-le!
– but as I listened, it was all new to me. I heard as though for the first time, and I believed.