I can’t remember the time I wasn’t thinking about what happens when I die. At three I broke both bones above my ankle so that my leg was immobilized with a cast from hip to toes. I was pretty active before, but that slowed me down. During that forced immobility I learned to read just before my 4th birthday. Among the first books I picked up was the family Bible, without really knowing what it was – I had never seen anyone else read it; that may have made me curious about it. As one might expect, I really didn’t understand anything.
Later, in school, as part of the curriculum, we went through the well-known stories in the Bible that form the basics of our Judeo-Christian culture an religion. That gave me a new start, and I read more and understood a little more, too. One of the things that I was still wondering about was what happens when I die. Anything I came upon didn’t answer my question, but at least I got a basic understanding of what’s in the Bible.
When I was approaching teen years, I again picked up the Bible as a part of learning about the history of Christianity (again a school subject, but the Bible was not required reading). I got the basic understanding of how the primitive Church worked. That spurred me on to study other religions. Within about three years I read books about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and then moved on to existential philosophy. Nietzshce in particular appealed to my sophomoric arrogance. Something in my early childhood had created in me a need to be very good at what I was doing, and since I seemed to remember everything I had heard or read, I was a top grade student at school. “Superhuman” seemed like a natural career goal.
At about the same time I had had some contact with representatives of organized religion. To put it mildly, I was disappointed in them. Now I realize that most of them were sincere in their motives, but they just put me off completely. So much so that I declared that I was done with organized religion. I figured that if you can believe in something good, it’s fine with me, but I won’t have anything to do with it.
With the same attitude I listened to a couple of people talk to me about their contacts with Mormon missionaries. I figured if they want to approach religion, it’s fine with me, but I won’t have anything to do with it. Some of what I heard sounded good, but I had heard good things before and they had turned out to be false in my eyes. I listened without protesting much, but also without absorbing much.
Then I heard that one of these people had decided to cast her lot with the Mormons. I knew her family was against it, and I decided that I would support her. Consequently, I attended the baptismal service. I knew none of her family would be there, likewise I figured most of her other friends would be too prejudiced to be there, so I decided I would, for moral support. I thought that she had the right to follow her conscience even if I couldn’t understand her decision. While in there, I found myself feeling oddly good, despite my reservations. When the ordinance itself took place, I felt a completely new sensation that I still am at loss to fully describe. If I had been a cartoon character, the artist would have drawn a bright lightbulb lighting up above my head at that moment. In some way that I couldn’t explain to myself I knew that there was real authority in that ordinance.
That happened on a Saturday. The experience stuck with me despite my contrary wishes, and on the following Tuesday I went to meet the missionaries (I knew they were meeting this other person who had told me about them). I asked them to tell me what the Church teaches, along with all sorts of questions. As I was listening to them, it was as if I had been on a long journey away from home and had come to a familiar territory. As if I had finally found the way to assemble the pieces of the puzzle I had been trying to fit together all my life. In just a few days, I experienced a change of heart. A mere two Saturdays later it was my turn to be baptized.
In these almost 30 years since I have learned much about my relationship with God. Now I know enough to say that I have only scratched the surface of what is possible. I also know the limitations that all of us humans have, and my world is less black-and-white. And now I think I know what happens to me when I die and the thought doesn’t scare me anymore.