Thursday, August 27, 2015

line upon line, eureka! upon eureka!

I missed a week, but that's okay, because after writing this, it's better that I did. As with all of my posts, I hope that just one person reads this and feels it has been written for them. If you're that person, let me tell you: it was written for me too.

As a physics major, I can tell you, "Eureka!" moments are, for me, few and far between. The ones that come are from dedication and work and practice and rereading and being frustrated and re-rereading and studying and plenty of crying. When everything comes together and I finally see things and next time I can far more easily than ever remember how to calculate the energy of the photon emitted as an electron jumps to a lower energy shell, it's a beautiful sense of peace and clarity.

And then it's back to the books for the next pain in my neck.

Too often we feel that the Spirit will tell us the answers we seek in these big magnificent ways, or that we’ll realise everything about our situation at once, that we’ll have the whole plan given to us on a rolled-up piece of blueprint paper. We think that the gift of the Holy Ghost that we as confirmed members have means that we are set, or that because we really really want something, we’ll get it when we think we need it. As I write this, I think, nah! I know that’s not true! I know that isn’t how things work!

But honestly, in the thick of things, I want my answers, I want them then, and I want them under my terms and conditions.

That is hardly conducive to the Spirit! Perfect heavenly parents would never spoil me in such a way; how could I learn and grow? How could I develop the meek, mild, humble, and patient spirit I (sometimes, I feel, foolishly) ask my Father for if I was given everything as I felt I needed it? I believe in a God who is an eternal being who sees all things as they were, are, and will be; how can I forget that this so often means my faith, patience, and long-suffering will be tried?

The Spirit speaks in plainness and truth, only in the language that we will understand. But He also speaks line upon line, precept upon precept. There are times where the circumstances are dire and a person might hear a very clear thing that they know to be the spirit. I, personally, cannot even think of a time that I have heard the voice of the Spirit. Isn’t that crazy? I’ve lived on this earth almost 19.5 years. I was baptized and confirmed at 8. I have had the Holy Ghost as my constant companion for more than half of my life, and I have never heard His voice (that I can recall; but I do feel that if I had, I’d remember it, because though it is mild, it pierces the heart).

This fact has shaken me before. Just a week ago, I was really fighting with this. But why doesn’t that shake my faith now? How do I continue forward when this is such an important part of my testimony?

I hold to the fact that the Spirit does speak to us exactly in the way we need Him to. I feel the Spirit. I am a deeply emotional person, and the Spirit moves my heart in ways that I can understand the direction in which I need to proceed. I trust my heart and I trust that the Lord will only guide it in righteous paths so long as I am obedient in His commandments and as I keep covenants I have made with Him. I grow my testimony in reading the scriptures and as I write and as I speak I feel that sense of peace.

Line upon line, I have been able to come to terms with the ways in which the Spirit doesn’t actually communicate with me at this time. A good friend gave an incredible Sunday School lesson on the Spirit. I heard something very relevant in a Sacrament Meeting talk from a stake high council member. The concern I expressed to Heavenly Father for a while was addressed in such simple but personal ways as I went about doing what He needed me to do. Such is another language of the Spirit.

I feel this is a subject that I will ponder for years to come. I know I can develop new ways for the Spirit to communicate me. Maybe someday, in some very deeply personal situation, I will hear His voice.

As I left the temple just yesterday evening, walking from the house of light into a dark and warm August evening, I felt peace and love. It was hardly overwhelming, but it moved in my heart. Just a simple feeling. Plain. But I knew it was of the Spirit.

Heavenly Father is waiting to bless us. We so seldom understand His timing until we see it all in perspective. He knows what we need and when we need it. All He expects from us is to ask for it and then to trust that He will hear us out--but only when it is the appropriate time. He works no sooner, no later ("a wizard is never late”).

I testify of these things in the name of my beloved Redeemer, my best friend, Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

the Joseph Smith experiment

In my last post, "the scientific method of testimony", I detailed in what I assumed was poor writing in my tiredness the process of gaining a testimony. It's all in there, it turned out okay, so I won't write too much here for redundancy's sake. It got over three times the views of my last couple of posts, so I figure it's safe to assume most people reading this read that one as well. But feel free to skim for a recap, because I'm going to be talking about the same thing right here.

I am taking a summer class at the LDS institute across the street from Sierra College. I took outstanding Book of Mormon classes there this last year. The class I'm currently enrolled in is the Pearl of Great Price class, where we study other works of Joseph Smith than his Book of Mormon translation and revelations in the Doctrine & Covenants. It's all fantastic stuff, worth reading and explanations that are too lengthy to include here. We finally made it through to Joseph Smith - History, studying the first 20 verses that any member of the faith (especially returned missionaries who know verses of it by heart) would recognize. Joseph Smith details his "First Vision" to put rumors to rest about it. 

Recap: 14 year old boy during the Second Great Awakening in the Eastern US wants to know which church to join. He's way more sober and thoughtful than your average twerp this age, though he is a farm boy with little education. He studies the Bible religiously and is distraught by the confusion and hype of the time. He reads James 1:5 (If you lack wisdom, ask God about it, and he'll let you know what's up) and decides that there is no other solution possible to him. He finds a good place in a grove of trees a short walk away and heads out there one spring morning to pray and hopefully know which church to join. He has no idea what's coming; he fights off the very powers of hell, prays vocally for the first time with all the strength he has, and God and Jesus Christ appear before him. They essentially say that none of the churches are true, they're all there to get gain and be popular, they don't have the fulness of the gospel, so it's now going to be Joseph's job when he gets a bit older, but for now, he's just gotta chill.

I've been a member of the LDS church my whole life. And yet, I have never really had a testimony of this first vision, the very basis of the restored gospel. I know the Book of Mormon is true; I've done experiments. I know about the Atonement for the same reason. Logically speaking, I now know that Joseph Smith was the real deal... right? But I had never experimented, and therefore never had a real witness, and I honestly couldn't tell you what makes him different than Islam's Mohammed.

Well, I could, obviously. He got the full gospel of Christ. The Lord's church, the whole plan of life, the reason we're here, where we're going, etc. But I couldn't feel it.

Remembering what I had just blogged about, I figured it was time to do some science.

I'm grateful for a particular friend. I will call them "Samwise", because I'm a huge nerd and that's essentially the role they played. As I formulated my experimentation methods and made my hypotheses, they were there to support me and provide any help I needed along the way. A returned missionary with a firm testimony, Samwise was a blessing in my endeavors.

The first thing I did was pray. I told Heavenly Father that I was set out on a mission to gain that testimony. I told Him I knew how to do it, I told him what I was planning on doing, and asked Him to give me the witness that I needed that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that he did restore the gospel to the earth in these days, just as good as Adam or Enoch or Moses or Noah or Nephi or Alma or Alma and so on. Knowing that the Lord would consecrate my actions for my gain, I set out on my journey.

I read and re-read the account of the first vision. I didn't feel anything. Clearly we were off to a great start. I told Samwise about my goal. They offered to give me some good stuff to read, and I told them I wanted to teach them the missionary discussion on the Restoration. They've done it so many times that I knew they'd be a help; they were happy to train another little greenie.

Teaching the first discussion was interesting, to say the least. I had studied Preach my Gospel and how to be a missionary during a particularly rough time, so I had remembered a lot. Unfortunately, studying a book doesn't quite make you a missionary. Samwise gently guided me, telling me to teach less and testify more, guiding me through different passages to read. The greatest part was exchanging witnesses; each question they asked, I responded to, and then they did. As I testified of Joseph Smith, as foreign as it felt on my tongue, Samwise felt the spirit. And as they recited, "I saw a pillar of light...", I felt it. Just a tiny little bit. The beginning of the seed growing up towards the sunlight.

Samwise wasn't my main source of observation; though helpful as they were, the most witness came from looking up "Joseph Smith" on I avoided google, not because I'm afraid of the "truth", but because anti-Mormon propaganda is there for the express purpose of confusing poor souls like me, strong in the gospel and faithful in Christ but weak in belief of its great prophet-restorer. The truth is found within Church doctrine, not to brainwash, but to invite the Holy Ghost to bear witness of truth and light, as His calling is. The first night, I was too tired to stare into the backlit screen of my laptop, so I listened to the words of prophets and apostles as they taught and testified of Joseph Smith. It all felt good, bringing peace into my heart. I had yet to feel a true witness, but I knew that through my diligence, because of the peace I had felt so far, I would get it. I'd feel that warmth in my heart.

And I finally did. As I sat down to read just a little bit more, I prayed again to receive a witness. This prayer was not great, majestic, or anywhere near my "Best Prayer Ever" (is there such a thing?). It was just as simple as any other. And I began reading. The words I read brought a swelling into my chest, and as Heavenly Father knows how I need to feel the Spirit, I did. I received that kind of witness that I, Aileen Carroll, need in my life to know of gospel truths with a surety. The kind of knowledge that grows stronger and stronger until it is undeniable. Matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane through all of our pains, weaknesses, sins, and sorrows. The Book of Mormon is truth in its testimony of Jesus Christ and the great Plan of Redemption. Joseph Smith is a true prophet, ordained before this life to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ in its complete entirety in these last days before Christ comes again.

My testimony is not wordy, it is not eloquent, it is so far from perfect. It's little more than anything you hear from adorable primary children that get up on fast Sundays. But it is mine. I have cultivated it. I have experimented and grown my seed. It isn't a huge, magnificent tree yet. In some places, it may be getting there faster. But it is surely growing, and it is only by experimenting and coming to my own knowledge and my own faith.

My testimony never comes all at once. There are one or two experiences where I felt an overwhelming outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The rest of it is, as the scripture says, "...line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" (2 Nephi 28:30). Each small witness of some truth follows another. It takes time, effort, diligence, and patience, but it is so rewarding.

My testimony is mine. It is not yours. The Spirit may not even witness to you like He does to me. But I encourage anyone, how small your seed may be, to experiment. Even if it's that first simple question of "Which church should I join?". I implore you to kneel and ask. Heavenly Father loves all of His children; that is the first thing taught in the missionary discussions. He loves us so much that He makes sure we have the full knowledge of Him, so much that He gave His only perfect firstborn Son for us to come home, so much that He is so very aware of your specific needs, no matter how petty they may feel. What is important to us is important to Him. Ask Him. He is waiting for you to ask so He can answer.

I testify of these things in the name of my Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.