A few months back I presided over a youth convert baptism, in which I was asked to deliver some remarks. Leading up to the baptism, many thoughts came into my mind. Would I go with the traditional baptism talk? Would I speak of keeping our focus on the temple? I’d sat through so many talks during my years in the church, some really long, others very short. Over the years I’ve witnessed talks that use Zelda to teach about baptism. (He even had a board that looked like a castle with stick on zelda items.) I’ve seen candy bars and other things used as object lessons. (Insert reference of the Holy Ghost being like a warm blanket, and the primary child getting a new blanket.) Then there were times when the talk was no more than a testimony.
Most of the time, I enjoy the variety of ways people use to teach these important Gospel principles. However, I felt I needed to go a different route and dispense with any of those methods.
I prepared and prayed and even had some ideas written down, but when I stood up to speak, something else became very apparent in my mind.
Almost 20 years ago, a much younger version of myself sat where this young woman was. Though the youth being baptized was 4-5 years younger than I was at my baptism, she was old enough to be able to process the whole event. She was uniquely positioned to understand life before and after baptism. I think this is one of the strengths converts bring into their new religious life. They can see where they were, where they are now, and where they are going. Children at the tender age of 8, don’t have this kind of perspective on life at the time of baptism. I’m not saying children shouldn’t get baptized at 8, just that converts have a unique perspective.
One thing I wanted to share in my talk, more than anything, was that the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had changed me. And it would change her, if she let it.
Let me back up a little
Before I was baptized, several members of my family were concerned that I would change after I joined the church. Some chose to be more vocal than others. It was hard and painful for me to hear. The days leading up to my baptism were not easy, in the sense that I felt my family’s anxieties. They were worried they would lose me.
I assured them that I wouldn’t change and that I wasn’t going anywhere. I would be the same Jeff. Quick to joke, willing to listen and love, and my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior would never diminish.
But the truth is that I was wrong.
I did change after joining the church–for the better. Looking back on almost 20 years of membership in the Church I can see my transformation. I can look at the 19 years before my baptism and 20 years after and I have a little perspective.
In the baptism talk, I shared this truth. I wanted the young women to understand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if fully embraced would change her.
My faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior hadn’t somehow magically disappeared. It had deepened, growing roots so far down that no amount of bluster of the enemy could knock it from its foundation. With my previous understanding of grace, and my new understanding of covenantal relationship with deity, I was becoming a better disciple and a better person.
With every calling I held, especially those when I was called to lead, I learned empathy, compassion, and charity. From a young age I had these virtues instilled by a grandfather who went out of his way to help others. But the trials and learning encompassing my different callings fortified and strengthened those virtues. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but because I have the perspective of where I was, I can see only growth in the future, if I continue to allow Christ to change me.
A Conversation about testimony
Some of my best friends and I were having a conversation about testimony recently. I remarked that I think our testimony meetings could improve. It wasn’t a bash against any members of our ward or their testimonies. I believe their testimonies are beautiful expressions of our inner feelings. There is one brother in particular that I look forward to hearing from every month, because the light of Christ just radiates from him.
What I meant was that I would love to hear more testimony about how Christ had changed someone’s heart. It’s wonderful to hear testimony about various principles of the Gospel like tithing, fasting, loving our family, etc. What moves me, and I think would move others, are personal stories of how a heart is transformed by grace. This can be uncomfortable for people, as it requires a lot of vulnerability. It can however carry so much weight and power. That is not to deny the power that testimonies of Gospel principles can have. Imagine the spirit of a Testimony meeting if every testimony cut through simple platitudes, to show how our hearts were transformed through the grace of Christ.
In his talk, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” Brad Wilcox said the following of grace:
“Grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior… The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly. The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed.”
I’m guilty as much as the next person. But more and more, when I have the opportunity to bear my testimony, I try to show how the Savior has or is changing me, or has changed my understanding. I try to show how his grace is transforming me on a daily basis.
More and more we hear our church leaders being open about their life experiences and how Jesus has changed them. They are being open and raw about where they were and what they are becoming. One recent video really stuck out to me regarding this change of heart. In the video, Elder Peter Johnson tells the story about his conversion.
What is my testimony?
I don’t intend this to be a rallying cry to fundamentally change our Testimony meetings. I know we all have imperfect testimonies, and differing levels of comfort in speaking in front of others. If nothing else, I’m using it as a reminder and a call to myself to examine what my testimony really is. I’m using these couple experiences as a spring board to really dig deep and take a good look at my spiritual life. Can I be more open in sharing how Christ has changed me? Are there ways to show that transformation through how I act?
Whether you were baptized at 8, 18, or 80, at some point you made a conscious decision to accept Christ as your Savior. You and I both made choices to allow his grace to work in our lives. What can we do to better recognize that?
If in reading this, you feel inspired to take this reflective journey with me, I would invite you to do so. Deep pondering can only make us stronger as individuals and as a family of God.