This post is dedicated to Venus–may your conversion to the Master be enough to pull you through the challenges of life.
In the New Testament, the story is told of a rich young ruler who sought out the Savior to ask him a question: “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” We don’t know many details about the young man, but from the three accounts that are given in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we can surmise quite a bit about his character. We know that he was a fairly young ruler, so he must have been motivated and a hard worker. Because he sought out Jesus to receive counsel, we can assume that he was interested in becoming a better person. He was respectful,too, kneeling before the Savior and calling Him, “Good Master.” And he was righteous, as evidenced by his willingness to keep the commandments and follow the Lord. This young man seems to have been a devoted disciple of Christ. As a matter of fact, he was probably a lot like you and me. He had a desire to be the best he could be, and his faith led him to seek for answers from God. Clearly, he had a testimony of the divinity of Christ.
The definition of “testimony” is “to receive a witness, or gain evidence of proof.” In a religious sense, testimony is acquired through the Holy Spirit as it witnesses to a person that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. In the case of the rich young ruler, I think it is safe to say it was his testimony which led him to seek out the Savior to ask his question. The young man didn’t seem to like the answer, however. When Jesus told him that the way to eternal life was through living the commandments, he acknowledged that he had done so and then pushed for more. Perhaps in an effort to show the Master how serious he was about securing for himself life eternal, the young man asked another question, “What lack I yet?”
To those who know the Bible, the ending of this story is familiar. In answer to this man’s question, “…Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
It seems interesting, and maybe a bit perplexing, that the rich young ruler would go through all of the trouble to seek out the Savior, kneel before Him, and ask the incredibly important question of what he needed to do to gain eternal life, if he was not prepared to follow the counsel he would be given. It makes me wonder what he thought Jesus would ask of him. Did he think the answer was going to be easy? Or was he hoping that he was already doing everything he needed to in order to obtain eternal life?Was he simply seeking for “kudos” from the Lord? Whatever the case, the ending of this story has always left me feeling a little bit distraught for this man who was unable–or unwilling–to do that which was asked of him.
This past week, I have been studying in the Book of Mormon in the Book of 4th Nephi. The first half of this book gives an account of a group of people who lived for two hundred years in total peace and righteousness after the resurrected Christ visited the Americas. As I read about the conversion of these people, I found myself wishing I could have been alive during that time. Although they had watched mass destruction at the time of the Savior’s death, and many of their loved ones had been killed while their homes and cities were destroyed, they experienced a mighty change of heart after they were visited by the Savior. Their conversions were not immediate, but over the course of a few years, every single person in their society accepted Christ, repented of their sins, and chose to be baptized as they accepted the gospel. For two hundred years, the strength of their convictions and the decision to turn away from all evil allowed them to live in a Zion society, a Utopia of sorts. The scriptures tell us that there were no contentions or disputations among them because they dealt justly with each other. There were no rich or poor, either, but all things were common among them. These people chose to live unselfishly, loving, serving, and caring not only for their own families, but also for their friends and neighbors. They were not concerned for worldly possessions, for they knew their treasures would be found in heaven.
As I studied the people of Nephi, I came to understand the missing element in the story of the rich young ruler. Although he had a testimony of the divinity of Christ, received through a witness of the Spirit, he had not experienced a true conversion, the kind that brings about a change of heart. His possessions, his riches–his worldly treasures–meant more to him than the gospel of Jesus Christ. His testimony had brought him to the point of asking, “What lack I yet?” But he was missing the key component of conversion which would have given him the confidence to act on Christ’s commands.
President Marion G. Romney, who was a former counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the following insight regarding the meaning of true conversion:
“[The dictionary] says the verb, ‘convert,’ means ‘to turn from one belief or course to another.’ As used in the scriptures, ‘conversion’ generally implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and in his gospel—a faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God—in interest, in thought, and in conduct. …
“In one who is wholly converted, desire for things [contrary] to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died, and substituted therefore is a love of God with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments. …”
I have often felt that I was born with a testimony. Although the home I was born into was far from perfect, I never questioned the existence of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Throughout my life, I have relied on Him and his atoning sacrifice during times of trial and heartache. A few years ago, I was in a position to spend a significant amount of time studying the gospel and attending the temple. I was also given the opportunity to teach seminary to the youth of the church. Because of those experiences, my life was constantly filled with the Spirit, and through him, I gained a greater love and appreciation for the Lord and his gospel. Had you asked me then, I would have told you I was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and there was nothing that could shake me. However, the past few years have brought about tests and trials I could never have imagined.
If you have followed my blog, you know some of the trials our family has been dealing with. They began with a cancer diagnosis nearly 4 years ago and climaxed with an accident that nearly severed my right hand.While in the midst of these trials, I had an experience similar to that of the rich young ruler. I’m not sure why, but during the weeks between my cancer diagnosis and the beginning of my radiation treatments, I was actually buoyed up by the challenge that lay ahead of me. I resolved to fight my way through the battle and I was determined to win. During that time, as I was listening to the annual General Conference of my church, I heard a talk given by President Henry B. Eyring entitled, “Mountains to Climb.” He spoke of a time in his life when he prayed for a test to prove his courage. I was so moved by this talk, I decided to do as he had done and pray for a test, a “mountain to climb”, something that would draw me closer to my Savior. In a sense, I was asking the Lord, “What lack I yet?” or “What must I do to gain eternal life?”
Honestly, I can’t recommend you do this.
Within days, I knew my prayer had been answered as our family was faced with one of the most difficult trials of our lives. And that was only the beginning. Over the next few weeks and months, we continued to be faced with challenging situations that tried our faith and shook our testimonies to the very core. After months of constant buffeting, I had all but forgotten about my petition to God for a test that would draw me closer to Him. Instead, I became angry, and in a fashion similar to that of the rich young ruler, I turned away.
For the next 2 years, I questioned everything I had ever believed. I shut the Lord out of my life and tried to figure out if there really was a God who loved me. Each new trial seemed to suggest that I was completely alone, and that all the teachings of my childhood were a farce. There were weeks on end when I did not pray, could not bring myself to read from the scriptures, and wanted nothing to do with church. In the back of my mind, I think I was trying to punish God for giving me things to deal with that were just too hard!
But no matter how angry I became, no matter how much I wanted to walk away, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. At some point, I had become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I didn’t understand the things I was being asked to endure, but I had to believe that somehow, these experiences were for the benefit of my family and me. That attitude did not take away the anger and confusion I was feeling, but it seemed to make it more manageable. It was something to hide behind so that I didn’t have to discuss how I was really feeling.
In May of 2014, as a celebration for our son’s high school graduation, we took a family trip to the dunes. This was something that he had always wanted to do, sort of a “dream come true” for him. After only two hours of riding, my daughter and I were in an accident that nearly severed my right hand. I was flown out of the dunes to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix, where I immediately underwent extensive surgery. The next morning, when I woke up in ICU, I had a feeling of total peace wash over me. It had been years since I had felt anything even remotely close to that feeling, but I knew without a doubt that it was the healing power of the atonement being made manifest in my life. At that point, I had a choice. I could continue down the path of anger and destruction that I had been on for the past few years, or I could accept the gift I was being offered by the Savior. I couldn’t change the situation with my hand, and I couldn’t stop the other trials that have continued to plague us from coming. I could, however, choose to fall back on the testimony that I was given at birth and listen to the call of the Master. I could allow my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ to be rekindled, and rather than continue to turn away, surrender to a merciful God.
That is the same choice each of us has to face. When life’s circumstances seem to require too much of us, we can turn away like the rich young ruler, or demonstrate the strength of our conversion by standing on the Lord’s side. While it truly is that simple, it is not always easy. Because mortality is the part of Heavenly Father’s plan wherein each of us are to prove ourselves, it is inevitable that we will experience problems that will try our faith and shake our convictions. Questions may arise that cause us to re-evaluate where we stand. Loved ones may be taken from us or we may be called upon to watch as our children stray from the principles we love. We may be challenged financially, or have to stand by and watch as relationships deteriorate because of the decisions of others. We may even be asked to face our deepest fears. It is not just possible, but very likely, that the things we are asked to endure in this life will feel like they are too much of a sacrifice. The Lord has a way of knowing which things mean the most to us and it is in those areas that we are often tried. He wants our hearts to be devoted to Him and He will do whatever needs to be done to give us the chance to show our devotion.
To ensure that our testimonies remain in tact and our conversion remains strong, we must constantly seek the companionship of the Spirit and make choices that will turn our hearts toward Christ. We must become completely converted, so we will have the spiritual resources to make it through the storms of life that are sure to come. Our preparation must be constant, for we never know when those storms will come. We do not want to be like the rich young ruler who believed he had done all that was needed to prove himself worthy. However, when the Master challenged his commitment against the thing that mattered most to him, he found that his convictions were not firmly rooted in the gospel.
I will always be grateful for that period of time in my life that I was able to focus on strengthening mytestimony and becoming converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I feel as if that was a gift from Heavenly Father that allowed me to store up the spiritual resources I would need to make it through what He knew was coming. I still have a long way to go, but I am back on the road of transformation, striving to make decisions that will strengthen my convictions and invite the Spirit into my life. I know that it is through the redeeming and sanctifying power of the atonement that I will someday be encircled about in the arms of his love.
Elder Larry R. Lawrence, a Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has counseled that each of us should turn to the Lord and ask, “What lack I yet?” As we do this, the Spirit will whisper individual counsel that will help to strengthen our conversion as we follow the promptings we receive. It is through this process that we may experience a mighty change of heart. It is also through this process that we will be transformed as we become wholly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The lord has promised: “And after their temptations and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted and I will heal them.” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:13)
It is that conversion and that healing that I seek.