I had the privilege of attending Brigham Young University, and President Cecil O. Samuelson was the University President during my studies there. I received a lot of counsel from President Samuelson over the years at the University, and I have always been very appreciative of his wisdom and guidance. He gave a really pivotal talk to women in the fields of math, science, and engineering when I was just starting out in my educational path. That talk influenced my understanding of a lot of gospel principles. Perhaps I will post my notes here later.
On the topic of President Samuelson’s Conference talk, I have to admit that I only listened to this talk during Conference and maybe once since then. I usually focus on listening to the talks of the Apostles, since those are the words of those called as prophets. But I do find strength and wisdom in all the other talks from General Conference, and I try to make sure that I study all of them, because their words are still inspired and inspiring.
President Samuelson testified that “the fundamentals of gaining and retaining a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ are straightforward,clear, and within the capacity of every person.” “Within the capacity of every person” means that no matter who you are, no matter what your trials and struggles, no matter your situation in life, you are eligible to receive a testimony of the gospel. Heather over at Women in the Scriptures recently posted about this. She wrote, “Like the Nephites, modern Later-day Saints, often get conceited in thinking that we have the monopoly on faith and testimony.” We do not have to be baptized to receive a testimony – which makes complete sense if we remember that the first principle of the gospel is Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. What prerequisite is there to faith? Absolutely none at all. And faith is the only perquisite to testimony.
Growing up not in Utah, one of the most important lessons I learned was that we can find truth anywhere (and the Spirit will testify of the truth) and that when we were sharing the gospel, we needed to build on the existing faith and testimony of the person we were talking to. Most people already have, to some extent, some kind of faith and testimony. To tell them that they are faithless and testimony-less will only drive them away. A more effective method for conversion would be to build on their existing testimonies, like Ammon did with King Lamoni – when King Lamoni recognized something in Ammon that was like the “Great Spirit” Ammon didn’t say “You don’t know what you’re talking about, there is no ‘Great Spirit’ – only God.” Instead Ammon said, “I am not the Great Spirit, but tell me what you know about the Great Spirit!” Ammon then proceeded to build on King Lamoni’s faith and testimony of the Great Spirit, which Ammon helped him understand was really God the Father.
“Everyone who is willing to pay the price—meaning keeping the commandments—may have a testimony.” The Lord says that anyone who “will hear may hear.” (emphasis added) All we need to do is be willing, and the Lord will grant us a testimony.
So how do we gain a testimony? President Samuelson quoted the greatest scriptural quote on testimony-building.
“And when ye shall receive these things”—meaning you have listened, read, studied, and pondered on the question at hand—“ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true”—meaning you will pray thoughtfully, specifically, and reverently with a firm commitment to follow the answer to your prayer—“and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things”(Moroni 10:4–5).
President Samuelson then likened a testimony to a living organism – one that could live or die, depending on how we take care of it.
Of the observations and suggestions President Samuelson recorded from his young adult friends, he said, “Unfortunately and especially at times of our own struggle and distress, we may temporarily forget or discount their applicability to us personally.” This is all too true for me. Sometimes I forget principles, but more often than not I find myself discounting their applicability to me.
“We must understand [a might change of heart] often occurs gradually, rather than instantaneously or globally, and in response to specific questions, experiences, and concerns as well as by our study and prayer.” I frequently find myself lamenting the fact that I cannot change overnight. But when I look back to the person I was ten years ago, I realize that my heart has changed – mightily. My “mighty change of heart” has come through experiences, and through much study and prayer, and I am sure through the prayers of others, as Alma the Younger’s change of heart was brought about by his father’s prayers. When I remember that my heart has changed (for the better) I get overwhelmed at the ability of the Lord to touch my heart and allow it to change.
When I am in the midst of trials and adversity, I sometimes doubt what I know. “We must learn to trust the things that we believe in or know to sustain us in times of uncertainty or with issues where we struggle.” I have been giving many great blessings in my life that have at time sustained me during times of uncertainty, but sometimes it takes me a while wallowing in my uncertainty before I realize that I know things, and that I will never not know those things. “We must learn to grow from our challenges and be grateful for the lessons learned that we cannot gain in an easier way.”
Alma taught that “gaining a testimony is usually a progression along the continuum”. I had never thought of testimony this way, but I am very familiar with continuums. I believe most things in life are continuums, and that Heavenly Father meant for this world to be that way. The continuum President Samuelson is speaking of is “of hoping, believing, and finally knowing the truth of a specific principle, doctrine, or the gospel itself”. In some principles and doctrines, I may be still in the “hoping” area of the continuum, while in others, I have already moved to the “knowing” stage.
And of course, President Samuelson couldn’t leave out the “primary answers” to “How do we build our testimonies?” “Prayers, scripture and gospel study, attendance at Church meetings,temple worship, fulfilling visiting teaching, home teaching, and other assignments all strengthen our faith and invite the Spirit into our lives.When we neglect any of these privileges, we place our testimonies in jeopardy.” Remember when the answer to every question in Primary was “read your scriptures, say your prayers, and go to church”? Well, turns out the answers haven’t changed.
“It is good to remember that being too hard on yourself when you make a mistake can be as negative as being too casual when real repentance is needed.” This is a great piece of advice because I often err on both accounts – being too hard on myself in some instances, and in other instances denying my need to repent.
And perhaps President Samuelson’s most profound remark:
We must always be clear that the Atonement of Christ is fully and continuously operative for each of us when we allow it to be so. Then everything else fits into place even when we continue to struggle with certain details, habits, or seemingly missing parts in the mosaic of our faith.Too often I see people (including myself) discounting the atonement because we are not perfect all at once. When we continuously struggle with a habit or sin that we are trying to repent of, we feel as if the atonement is not working for us. But as President Samuelson says, the atonement is “fully and continuously operative for each of us when we allow it to be so.” When we remember that fact, things will not seem as bleak when we continue to struggle.
President Samuelson closed his remarks with his personal testimony and then with the comment that “if you are struggling, you can rely on the truthfulness of the testimonies you hear from this pulpit at this conference.” What a great principle of the gospel! That we can strengthen our testimonies by listening to the Spirit testify of truth through the testimonies of others.
How do you take care of your testimony? Do you sometimes have to rely simply on the testimonies of others when your testimony may be weak? Do you believe that everyone is eligible to receive a testimony of the gospel?