Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Bearing testimony

This post has a story, some sarcasm and some seriousness. Despite it jumping around, I truly have a point to make.

Two days ago, in Fast and Testimony meeting, my three-year-old son asked why people were crying.

"Is she sad?" he asked as the third woman in a row got up and immediately lost control.
"No, son. Sometimes, people cry when they are happy. She is talking about how much she loves Jesus," I patiently explained, as his attention already drifted from what I was saying to something else more interesting to a three-year-old mind
"I want to go up there!"

How could I say no to those big, brown eyes?
I told him no. In so doing, I tried to explain why.

"You need to practice what you will say," or " It will be scary up there," or "Go ask your mother to take you up there." None of these convinced him to stay with us in the audience.

Why did I resist? I did not feel in a particularly spiritual mood. Not anything bad, or of spiritual concern. I just didn't feel moved to go talk in front of the ward. Heck, I rarely talk up in class. I am just a reserved person. I did not want to go up there this particular Sunday.

My son went to his mother and told her he wanted to go up front. She, too, did not want to go. "Go ask Daddy to take you."

To a believing Mormon, this might sound like a horrible story. We should always be ready to testify, and we robbed our son of a valuable opportunity (in the church, everything is an "opportunity," just listen to every public prayer or talk and count how many times that word is used) to learn about testimonies. What are we doing wrong so that we didn't feel spiritual ready to go up there? I will justify our decision in a few moments.

One proactive thing I did was to leave the meeting, enter the halls and talk to my son. I asked him what he would say if he were up there. I really wanted to know if I was making a mistake in resisting.

"Disneyland!" he proudly exclaimed.
Hoo, boy! I swallowed and dove in. "That's a good thing to talk about, but in church, we don't talk about Disneyland." I could see his disappointment, but persisted, hoping his attention-span (measured in milliseconds) would last. "Here in church, we talk about Jesus. What would you say about Jesus if you were up there?"
He thought for a moment, then answered, "He's not very nice!"
Hmmm. That's his phrase for anytime someone does something he doesn't like, such as not talking about Disneyland. I don't think you are ready to go up there, son.

I made a promise that we would practice bearing testimony in Family Home Evening. He was not going up there yesterday, that's for sure. We went back into the meeting. He kept asking/begging for us to let him go up, even started going by himself at one point, but my wife and I were firm. He eventually gave up and the meeting ended, but not before I took him out of the chapel for another three-year-old offense, making excessive noise.

I have since thought a great deal about this incident. Are there times when it is not appropriate to bear your testimony in sacrament meeting? Sure, we should stand as witnesses of Christ and Joseph Smith. Sure, we gain forgiveness of our sins when we bear our testimonies. We are also serving others with our testimony. But I still say yes, there are times. If a testimony is insincere for any reason, it is better left unsaid. Here are some other possible reasons not to, which can be used as guidelines, all from off the top of my head:

When the time remaining does not permit, don't get up. "Oh, there are two minutes left! That's just enough time for me to blab for 10 minutes about nothing important." Um, no. You should have gone up there much earlier. If the spirit has been prompting you for a half hour, why did you wait? It's not really fair to keep an already long meeting longer, especially for people with children. Yes, those extra ten minutes are torture. We would rather poke our eyes with sharp crayons than stay another ten in that meeting when our children are acting up.

When you have nothing to say, don't get up. Inane ramblings do not justify your being up on the stand. We hear enough "thankamonies" ("I'd like to thank my roommates and my home teachers, and the bishop, and . . . ") and "cryamonies" ("I'd like to . . . boo hoo . . . I'm not normally like this . . . ") and "travelmonies" ("When I was traveling in Israel for the thirteenth time, I learned . . . "). They might be interesting, but most often, they are not. I want to hear testimonies. Don't just get up and ramble the first thing that comes into your head, either. That is not the guidance of the spirit, it is abusing an open forum in a club.

When you have an axe to grind, don't get up. That's not to say you can't bear testimony about a particular subject that has been on your mind, because that seems fine to me. But if you are standing there to tell the ward how wrong they are for not caring enough for the lonely or the poor (or whatever), sit down. Unless you are the bishop or stake president, most likely, you are not authorized to reprimand your ward.

Politics do not belong on the stand. Sit down. I don't care if you want to talk about our "spiritual" president. Do not tell everyone how righteous a particular war is. Not everyone will agree, and the chapel is not the place to talk about such things. Don't do it. If you want to profess how wonderful you are or condemn other people, what are you doing in this church? I mean, really! After hurricane Katrina ripped through the South, I can't tell you how many "testimonies" I heard saying how the people there should have been more prepared, and they are getting retribution for being so wicked. Excuse me? Last I heard, the Lord is our judge, not pompous "I-live-in-Utah-so-I'm-more-holy-than-thou" members of the church. When this happened in my ward, my wife very calmly and politely got up and bore her testimony and slipped in that this could happen to anyone (natural disasters) and that she has family from that area. Thankfully, that changed the tone of that meeting. She actually bore her testimony and did not condemn, and though she may have had an axe to grind, she resisted preaching or censuring the ward. She stated her love for the people of New Orleans and her sadness that these things happened, as well as her testimony of the gospel. Her comments were therefore appropriate and helped change the ugly tone of pride coming from the ward. And she was prompted by the spirit.

If you are not prompted by the spirit, you may still have good reason to bear your testimony. Evaluate those reasons and see if they are selfish ("I want people to think I am spiritual"). Evaluate those reasons and see if they are going to edify those around you. Remember that "opening up the meeting" (the words often used by the bishopric at the beginning of the meeting) is not an invitation to work on your own agenda.

If you don't feel the spirit with any kind of clarity, avoid getting up. I say this one tentatively, because there are people who go to the stand and talk so they can learn how to bear testimony and those who want to feel the spirit and go up for that reason. These are valid reasons, in my mind, as long as the other guidelines I set forth are observed. But if you are angry, distracted, not really thinking about the gospel, or whatever else might interfere with the spirit, you may want to sit this one out, because it is too easy to give in to the temptation to vent or ramble or moralize or censure. There is always next month. Not getting up is not a reflection on your worthiness, but can be a courtesy to the other members who are trying to feel the spirit, when you are not really ready to follow the spirit.

If you have a story that will take ten minutes to tell, don't. This is courtesy to others who wish to speak, as well as to the audience. Most audience members check out after five minutes, so if you are still talking, the spirit better be very strong. And other members of the ward want to get up and talk, many of whom are shy and reserved and less likely to get up, because they feel they don't have as much to say.

We are there in church to edify and uplift one another. We are there to worship our God and Savior. We are there to renew our covenants and feel the spirit and serve others. Testimonies should be stated in a way that aims toward those goals, with as much brevity as possible. If more people remember these guidelines, maybe, those who are less inclined to speak will be given the time to also get up and profess their love of the gospel.

You will note that I said nothing of children bearing their testimonies. That's a whole other issue. I'm not going to touch that one today.


Mark said...

Thanks for sharing your point of view; you bring up some good, valid, if even sarcastic points.

My 4 year-old son has started expressing a desire to bear his testimony. My wife and I have been helping him to understand exactly what a testimony is and how to share it. I captured his testimony and set it to pictures to help him remember/practice it.

With today being fast Sunday, he has expressed a desire to go up to the pulpit, however, I continue to recall the guidance given in a leadership meeting by Elder Russell M. Nelson, "Younger children should learn to share their testimonies at home or in Primary until they are old enough to bear an appropriate testimony unaided in fast and testimony meeting."

That's pretty clear. As much as we as parents do not want to snuff out the light in our children, sometimes we just have to remember that "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under heaven."

Anonymous said...

Tha nkyou for your comments although i feel you could have expressed yourself clearly without being rude.

ljl88keys said...

I appreciate the comments on this blog. I attended church today with my three and a half year old son. Having served a mission, I remember years back in the early nineties, FEARING taking our investigators to church on Fast & Testimony meeting Sundays; or as our Vermont investigator called these particular days, "Squall and bawl." :)

Today one of our salt of the earth ward members said that she knew that the Church was the only true and living church on the face of the whole earth. ((Nothing wrong with quoting the Doctrine & Covenants.) (Here is the CLENCHER:) She just KNEW that there wouldn't be good Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, or Jehovah's Witnesses in heaven!"

My eyes are ready to jump out of their sockets, my jaw is hanging on the floor, and my mind is screaming, "Are you KIDDING me?"

HELLO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!???????????????????????????? SOME of our LDS church members are sooooooooooooooooooo shallow, judgmental, clueless, holier than thou and (may the Lord forgive me for this one, but) so brainwashed!! Do people forget NOT to judge? OR the fact that the Prophet Joseph saw his brother Alvin in the "Celestial kingdom" without having ever been baptized or having heard the gospel message? Do these people not remember what the Lord said in the Doctrine and Covenants about non members WILL be in the Celestial Kingdom, because HAD they been given the chance to hear the gospel, they were GOOD people & deserve to be there? THey lived the truth to the best of their ability! If this is the case, than does the Atonement mean NOTHING? (The Atonement is the central most important event that occurred here in mortality not to mention ALL that the Lord did for us in Pre Earth life. When I hear crap like this, I think of how complacent we are in what truth truly is!!!!! What happened to the humility factor???

Don't get me wrong! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is TRUE! The Church is the vehicle to deliver those ordinances. The PH authority is true, Joseph Smith did see God the Father & the Savior in the Sacred Grove, but why do people insist on "Only Mormons are going to heaven."

Was your SS lesson on PH succession? My ward members ripped on the RLDS & FLDS churches. Can people not stick to topics on hand?

It's one of those days when you just PRAY that the ward missionaries didn't bring investigators to church!

Kell said...

I am actually writing a blog about this right now and was looking for the talk given in conference or maybe a BYU devotional about testimonies, how they should be given, etc. Do you know what I am talking about by any chance?
I really like the points you made in your post!