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Testimonies don't come on demand
By Orson Scott Card October 9, 2008

A teenage girl we know went to an EFY (Especially for Youth) last summer and enjoyed the whole experience -- except for one long, awkward moment. "They gathered us in a circle and then asked everyone to share the deepest, most profound spiritual experiences we had in obtaining our testimony."

You can imagine how dismayed she felt, because ... she had never had any. "I have a testimony," she said, "but it just ... grew. There wasn't a single dramatic moment to tell about."

So you can imagine how delighted she was at this last General Conference, when in the Sunday afternoon session Elder Carlos A. Godoy spoke about being in exactly that situation.

In a way, it was easier for him than for a teenager. After all, whether or not he had any such experience to share, he certainly had authority -- it was obvious, from his calling, that he had earned the trust of the Lord and of his leaders.

Teenagers, however, are at the point in their lives when they are most vulnerable to pressure from others.

Years ago, two Young Women we knew went on a temple trip. A temple official addressed the whole group, saying, "At this temple, we are keeping records of the spiritual experiences people have while doing temple work. When you're through, we'll give you paper so you can write down yours."

The two girls had opposite responses. Girl A -- let's call her Agnes -- felt a thrill of excitement. As she went down into the water and performed baptisms for the dead, she kept watching her own emotions -- and in the process she found herself having stronger and stronger feelings, until she was convinced that she had had a great spiritual experience. So Agnes wrote it down with all the fervency of youth.

Girl B -- Betsy -- felt a great dread. What if she didn't feel anything? What if she was the only one who had nothing to write about? And, indeed, while she felt good about taking part in the sacred ordinances, she had no great rush of feeling, no sign from God, no special connection with the Other Side.

Afterward, when everyone else (or so it seemed to her) was furiously writing, Betsy was miserably disappointed in herself for not measuring up.

Both of these girls were cheated out of the real temple experience by the false expectation -- the demand, really -- that they have and share a "spiritual experience."

Years later, Agnes said, "You know, I don't think what I felt at the time was real. I think I just worked myself up."

And Betsy reports that the only thing she really remembers from the temple trip was sitting there with nothing to write, feeling like a failure.

It's wrong to expect people to receive a sign from heaven. Especially young people, for whom the result is so often either deception or disappointment.

Maybe the temple worker who laid that false expectation upon these young people had good intentions, but the scriptures make it clear that this is very much out of line -- in the temple or at EFY or anywhere else in the Church.

Aren't we told that it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign? And isn't that just what adults are doing when they demand of young people -- not to mention visiting General Authorities -- that they produce a sign -- a profound spiritual experience -- on demand?

As Elder Godoy pointed out so beautifully, everyone has their own road to a testimony, and not every testimony comes with a story.

I must also add that even when there is a story, it belongs to the individuals who had the experience, to be shared only when they decide the time is right.

When you demand that people share "spiritual experiences" right now, it's like giving them a pop quiz. Quick -- can you come up with some memory of a spiritual experience that other people will think qualifies as "deep"?

And if there's any element of turn-taking, it doesn't matter if you say, "It's completely voluntary." The decision whether to speak of sacred things should be as private as the secret ballot in a free election.

When everyone is watching, some will feel that they must come up with something to top, or at least equal, the stories already told. While others will apologize because their story isn't good enough. They feel as if they lost.

Fear of embarrassment is not a tool of the Spirit.

Elder Godoy uttered not a word of complaint about the well-meaning teacher who expected him to produce a profound spiritual experience on demand.

But if you were the host at a dinner, you would never be so rude as to ask your guests, each in turn, to express their feelings about the dessert.

Why, then, would you do such a thing as part of a spiritual feast?

Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card

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