Listen, Listen. . .
All of my life, long before I was introduced to LDS missionaries and the LDS church and all that entails, I have noticed a special feeling that I get when I find something that is good or true. I may not have felt it very frequently through my teen years, but I did feel it and recognize it.
As a young adult, I went on a weekend trip to a church-y thing in Indiana. I went with a group from the United Methodist Church in Columbia which I occasionally attended. I wasn't a solid part of that "group" but they were welcoming and I was curious about this odd group of people who were so wrapped up in God. I was conflicted between the partying life I led in college and the responsible, religious life with which I was raised. Both seemed so extreme: like, go ahead and keep partying and come try drugs too or do a complete 180 and become devoted to church as a minister or layperson who talks to every stranger on the street about coming to Jesus . . the kind of people you cross the street or duck behind a cereal display to avoid.
Neither one really felt right. I partied to fit in with my friends and because it helped me loosen up and let go of my shyness. While it was fun, it didn't feel "right" and it left me with guilt. I was just one of the sheep following the herd. On the other hand, when I went to church (having chosen the Methodist church only because I was raised in it), I felt a bit like an impostor (pretending to be virtuous long enough to go to church and feel better) and I wasn't entirely convinced that going to church was anything more than an attempt to please my parents from a distance. They were all very nice, but I was really on the fence.
I remember very little of that weekend in Indiana, except for one thing. Over the course of the weekend, in spite of my "impostor complex" and in spite of feeling really weird around people who were just overflowing with hallelujahs and amens, I felt that "feeling" confirm to me that God is real. The rest of the stuff (the hallelujahs, talking to everyone about being "saved," and the thought of abandoning all fun to be "good") still left me feeling a little weird, but I knew then that God was not a fairy tale. Now, what remained to be seen (or figured out), was whether or not God actually cared what I did or if he wouldn't mind if I slept around or tried pot or followed along with whatever else my friends were doing. Because we already know he has a soft spot for sheep, right?
I didn't have a name for that feeling at that time, but I knew what it meant, or what I thought it meant. This morning as I've been going back over my lesson for Sunday School (topic: I will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost), I was reminded that I knew what this feeling was long before I knew what to call it. This feeling, that many call a burning in the bosom, is really a direct communication from God. It often comes in the form of thoughts or feelings in our hearts that enlighten us and help us to feel peace. When God communicates with us in such a delicate way, it's so important for us to pay attention to the message. It's difficult to ignore a burning bush or a heavenly visitor, but we do not need a marvelous, miraculous thing to communicate with God. President Joseph F. Smith's said:
"When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still, small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth."
I often think of my conversion in terms of the August day that I went to church with the sister missionaries and listened to a talk specifically about the Book of Mormon and felt that whisper of the Holy Ghost in a way I could no longer deny. . .but really, I had been in the process of conversion for some time before that. First, I began to feel dissatisfied with my life as it was. Then I became certain that God was real, though I still wasn't sure if he objected to my partying ways. Then I met the man who introduced me to the missionaries and gradually learned that Mormons are not total freaks and weirdos. Then I met the sister missionaries who gradually, gently taught me line upon line about the truth.
As I look back now, I can see the Holy Spirit whispering to me all along the way, even when it wasn't dramatic enough to stop me in my tracks, immediately. As I go back to preparing the Sunday School lesson after writing this, I think I'll be paying special attention to learning how to recognize the Spirit each day, rather than 15 years later. Happy Sunday!