I read the Book of Mormon - all by myself - when I was seven years old. I suspect it may have been Mum who first planted the idea in my head, but I eagerly took the challenge on: I wanted to read the Book of Mormon before I turned eight so that I could know for myself that the church was true, and have a strong testimony before I was baptized.
What kind of kid does that?! I'm in awe, sometimes, of the strength I seem to have been born with. I certainly don't have as much of that strength these days, but as I child, I had oodles of it. By the time I was 10, I think I'd filled 8 or 9 journals (with mostly unintersting tidbits about what I'd had for breakfast, and what friends I'd played with), but I wrote without missing a day for several years because I'd learned about the Prophet Wilford Woodruff and his personal committment to recording his day in his journal before going to bed each night. I can clearly remember, around the age of 11 or 12, really carefully examining my character and my faults and setting little goals to help myself improve: "I will be kind to everyone for 30 days" or "I will do 3 acts of service every day for the next 3 weeks", writing them down on cards and ticking of my progress each day. I even set (and accomplished) a goal to read the Old and New Testiments and the Doctrine and Covenants before my 12th birthday. I loved to learn and discuss the gospel with my (patient and wonderful) parents, and I had so many amazing experiences with prayer as a little girl - I knew I had a Heavenly Father, and that He was there ready to talk, everytime I bowed my head to discuss something with Him.
Looking back, it seems a bit of a wonder that I wasn't translated! lol :)
It's hard sometimes, remembering the innocent, committed, humble and completely obedient heart that I had back then - because I'm much more crumpled,spritually slow, proud and disobedient now! But life has it's ups and downs, and I've come to understand and appreciate that. In some ways I'm worse than I was, and in other ways, I'm much better because I have greater levels of the understanding and experience that comes with 'growing up'.
Today was Fast and Testimony Sunday, and I was looking forward all morning to sacrament meeting. I was feeling hungery for the strength that comes as we listen to other people's testimonies, and it really was a wonderful meeting. Two testimonies in particular stood out: the first was a fellow who said that he never feels that he 'knows' the things that other people talk about 'knowing' in their testimonies. But he believed lots of things, and he worked hard at that becuase it made him happy, and brought him peace. I know that believing is easier for some people than it is for others, and I really admired his 'decision to believe' even though it didn't seem to be a naturally easy thing for him to do. A second fellow spoke about the fact that he has always known that God is his Father, that Jesus Christ is his Saviour, and that the church is true. He said he'd had his ups and downs, and that he often is saddened by his seeming lack of ability to actually 'do' what he 'knows', but that he nonetheless has never been able to bury, or deny, or shake off that absolute knowledge.
I realize that I'm a lot like that second fellow. I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated and angry with myself over my millions of shortcomings, because I 'know' better! But the positive flipside of that, is just how gloriously wonderful it is to 'know' better at all! There are so many wonderful spiritual gifts that Heavenly Father gives his children, and I have taken for granted (for most of my life) the gift of Testimony that I was blessed with. I remember in Seminary deciding to 'pray to know' if the Book of Mormon was true. I spent quite a bit of time at it, and was hoping and waiting for a real 'lightening bolt' experience, before I realized that the Spirit was there (in my minds eye he was actually rolling his eyes at me), trying to point out that I already absolutely knew that it was true, so the question was a tad ridiculous!
All through the stalwart righteousness of my childhood and youth, and then through the spiritually-turbulent(and often less-than-righteous) years of my twenties, I've known that I have have a Father in Heaven, and that he loves me. It's an absolute in my mind, and forms the core, really, of my understanding of the world and the way things work. I've tried to imagine what it would be like not to know that, but I can't really, because I can't even imagine a world where that might not be the case.
Others who may not have the gift of testimony will undoubtably have natural abilities in other areas that I simply don't have, and we all have the opportunity to develop whatever spiritual gifts we put our mind to, but as I look back over the last 30 years, and the things that have made my life 'wonderful', I think my testimony has to be at the very top of that list.
There is a peace and a sense of place and context to my life that I take for granted because I've never known otherwise. But it's been such a blessing to also feel that safety net hanging just under everything I do; knowning that Heavenly Father has it all under control (if I'll just listen and actually 'do' from time to time!)
Pretty wonderful, huh?!