Yesterday in church, I watched as an 11-year-old, newly minted deacon got up and bore his tearful testimony with sweet conviction. You could feel his feelings of awe and love for the spiritual experiences he was having. He worked to express what he was feeling, to be clear about what he was trying to say. He finished, still overcome with emotion and walked to the pew where his family was sitting. He climbed past his Dad and siblings and headed straight for his Mom’s side, where he buried his head in her embrace. He was back in his safe harbor. He had done it! He left me with a feeling of beginning and possibility , and I was so grateful I got to be a witness to his wonderful, emerging feelings about the gospel. The amazing thing is that he was willing to be vulnerable and get up and share what was deep in his heart, to a very large group of people.
Our children can feel moved to go up and speak in front of our congregations or maybe some feel pressured to be speak. Some rattle off a proscribed, formulaic ramble. All of it is scary and valuable for them and us. I am grateful there is a time and a place where we have an “open mike” to speak about our religious feelings and experiences.
I read the book, My Name Used to be Mohammed, and the author, Tito Momen, a Muslim, was attracted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after he attended a testimony meeting. He heard an eight year old bear his testimony. It astonished him. He had never seen any church service like that before with adults and children speaking so freely. It started him on a path into membership in our church. Oh, the power of a young testimony!
Over a year ago I was with a group of women who had gathered in a friend’s home. I was talking to someone I didn’t know very well—what I call a “new friend”– and she told me that her son’s seminary teacher had called her about her son’s bearing his testimony. She told me that she had always told her children to bear “what they knew.” She said, ” I told them if their testimonies were short, they were short. But the purpose is to bear what we know to be true.” She was afraid that the seminary teacher wasn’t happy about something, but he actually wanted to tell her how heartfelt her son’s testimony was. She was feeling relief over the phone call, and I just happened to be there to hear her relief.
A couple of weeks later, my own son who was 17 at the time, was telling us about his stake youth conference. I said, “How was the testimony meeting?” He said, “It was in a grove of trees. It was hot and there were a lot of bugs.” He had really liked everything overall, it was just the kind of bare facts you get from your children. I told him the above story and to bear “what he knew”. I said, “Isn’t that beautiful, to really just bear a simple witness of what you have experienced in your own life?”
The next morning, my husband went to our assignment in another ward, I went to a niece’s baby blessing, and my son went to our home ward to get the info on the upcoming high adventure the following morning. I got a text from a friend, that my son had borne his testimony. She said, “It was very short. He said that he knows that God lives and that He answers prayers. He acknowledged that getting answers isn’t easy.”
I was so happy to hear that! I have never heard him bear his testimony and maybe it was easier because we weren’t there. I know he was still feeling strongly about youth conference and the impact it had on him. It had enough of an impact that he wanted to get up and say something. Even if it was only what he knew to be true.
President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:
“It is not unusual to have a missionary say, ‘How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’
“Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!”1
I have never thought to approach testimony bearing in this way with my children. Just bear what you know, so that is authentic and sincere. And—the more you bear it the more conviction you will receive. I feel like the Holy Ghost helped my son have the courage to get up and speak. I am grateful someone let me know of this spiritual step my son made. Any other suggestions in how we can help our children say what’s in their hearts?