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 lds.org. 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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Aileen for sharing. This is inspiring and motivates me to keep my focus on the things that matter most.

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