At every corner, missionaries, either elderly couples or young sister missionaries, were there to point out features of interest, answer questions, and most of all, to testify. They bore testimony to group after group of visitors, all day long, for as many days as they served there. Nothing they said was objectionable, nor do I think they were insincere. And yet it bothered me greatly, this repeated performance of testimony on demand.
We are encouraged to bear testimony to everyone we meet. Our friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers on a plane; no one is to be excluded from our witness of Christ and his gospel. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard from the pulpit and in Sunday School that if I run into a difficult conversation with someone regarding a gospel principle, that I should just bear my testimony and let the Spirit take care of the rest, the idea being that either the Spirit will witness to the receptive heart of the listener the truth of my testimony, or the listener is too hard-hearted to feel the truth, so I will have done all I could to acquit myself. (My personal thought is that a testimony, by introducing an irrational, often emotional element to the conversation, often shuts down any further possibility of reasonable discussion, and thus automatically ends the conversation. This is not to say that irrational is bad. I think faith is irrational and that is one of its strengths. Too strong an attempt to make faith or matters of personal belief conform to rational laws will either weaken them or open them to rational attacks that they cannot withstand.)
I am not comfortable throwing my testimony around so freely. We have also been counseled that some things are to be kept sacred to ourselves, to only be shared at the right time with the right audience. We hold these things close to our hearts, like Mary, treasuring and pondering them (Luke 2:19). How much of our testimony, the core of our sacred experiences and fundamental beliefs, are things to be held close to our souls, and how much of it is to be put on display for public consumption? Are we to cast our pearls before swine? Or if not swine, those who may have no appreciation for pearls?
And so we have a tension: the imperative to share our testimony, and by so testifying to reinforce and strengthen it, opposed to the need to keep our most sacred knowledge untarnished and protected from the cheapness of overexposure. Perhaps if I had served a visitor center mission, I would have learned how to resolve this tension for myself. As it is, I’m willing to testify when it feels right to me. But it doesn’t feel authentic if I try to force it, and I worry that for me, that lack of authenticity robs my words of the power of truth and Spirit.
Have you felt this tension? What is your resolution?