Monday, May 24, 2010

Teaching the Restoration

I went out with the missionaries in my ward last week, and we taught a discussion on the restoration.

I love teaching that particular lesson. I always have. To me there is great power in the testimony of Joseph Smith regarding his experience in the grove and the restoration of the gospel.

I confess that my earliest testimony of the church was not focused on the restoration. It was focused (perhaps as it should be!) on the Savior as He is revealed in the Book of Mormon. And yes, I heard all those quips about how if you accept the Book of Mormon you must accept Joseph Smith as a prophet. Except that I didn't. Not because I actively did not believe his story. It just wasn't relevant to me (or at least as relevant as my Book of Mormon experience).

I joined the church with my family at nearly age 9. A year later we were in the Salt Lake Temple being sealed. Those two ordinance experiences were huge for me. I felt something when I was baptized, and I really felt something in the sealing room of the temple. I knew in my heart, with no intellectual understanding, that I was in a place that was good.

I was a pretty normal apathetic teen early on. I was not particularly rebellious and had pretty good friends, so I didn't get into trouble. And I went to church and was comfortable talking with adults, so I got along very well there. But my first brush with my own testimony, I think, besides those deep feelings in the baptismal font and the temple, came when my sister, who had just come home from being in the Hill Cumorah pageant, shared some thoughts about the Book of Mormon with me, and particularly her feelings about the Savior's visit to the Nephites.

The baptismal font/temple feeling came back as she spoke to me. And I began to notice it more in certain church meetings and when I read the Book of Mormon myself. Just before my senior year, I attended a youth conference (one of those I went to because my mom asked me to, not because I wanted to go) where I was particularly touched by a guest speaker in a priesthood meeting, and it was impossible for me to describe to anyone else at the time why it was so important to me (and when I tried, it seemed to cheapen the experience).

So I had this growing testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the Savior and of the church, but I was still nowhere as far as Joseph was concerned. Again, it's not that I did not believe he was a prophet. But having that testimony that he was just didn't seem that important to me at the time.

As a freshman at BYU I grew in my gospel maturity as I began to study more on my own, particularly with a friend whose dad had challenged the church for years. In the process of researching questions for myself, I came to a clear testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith, too. And so by the time I went on my mission the next year, I could with confidence testify about the events of the restoration. It would be years before I felt fully firm in my testimony as I continued to have some unanswered questions, but I grew to love the simple restoration story we taught as missionaries.

And I still enjoy it. And as I listened to one of the elders recite Joseph's words in our discussion last night, I felt that baptismal font / temple feeling again – that confirming witness of the restoration.

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