Since today is the 29th anniversary of my baptism, I thought I’d engage in some more exhibitionist self-analysis. I have been on a recovery trend lately, after suffering some health problems, and it is with gratitude that I look at my life as a whole. The lessons of life can be hard sometimes, but with the right attitude, anything can be a positive influence for us.
So, as I wrote almost a month ago, I was inclined to think about subjects that we classify as “religious” from a very early age. I didn’t think about “religion” specifically, though. For me it was just a way of trying to figure out how life works. As a teenager, I had a course in my curriculum at school about the history of Christianity. The Bible was not required reading, but as I had been interested in it from the beginning, I again picked it up and read the New Testament through. At this point in my life, I had renounced organized religion, but I had a yearning inside for answers to the big questions of human existence.
Reading the Bible again confirmed that there was no organization that I knew of, that would have the properties that the New Testament church had. Some of my complaints were:
- The priests should not be salaried bureaucrats, but should be motivated by faith and concern for their fellow men (see, for example, 1 Pet 5:2). I also felt that they should be called of God (see Heb 5:4), in a manner related in some way to the way Matthias was chosen to witness of the resurrection of Jesus, as described in Acts 1:22-26.
- Speaking of Matthias, the motive for his call was clearly implied in the narrative; the Apostles understood that there should be 12 Apostles as special witnesses (see also Eph 2:19-20).
- I could not see how infant baptism could be right. In Mark 16, for example, Jesus says, “he that believeth and is baptized…”, and I couldn’t see how I could have decided what I believed when I was two months old. (There were and are organizations that practice baptism of believers, but I had other complaints about them.)
Like I said, these were only some of the issues – and, with the arrogance of a teen, I made my opinions known. When I was talking with the LDS missionaries, I naturally asked them about many things like this. As a missionary myself later, I thought about how untypical I was of the kinds of people that talk with them. And I don’t mean that I think I am especially keen, but that I had been prepared by the Spirit.
When I read the testimony of Joseph Smith, I did feel strongly that it was true. Later, as I read Doctrine & Covenants 8:2, I realized, that the Spirit was telling my mind and my heart the truth of the message. It made sense and it rang true. When I say it made sense, I mean that I instinctively connected it as a “burning bush” or “road to Emmaus” moment – if God were to call a prophet with an important message, that would be how he would do it. Again, as a missionary later, as I was relating the First Vision account to a person who was interested, I felt very strongly that what I was telling her was true. The presence of the Spirit was very strong. When I paused to give her a chance to digest or to ask questions, she asked, “why is it that I find it so easy to believe what you’re telling me is true?” Her husband wasn’t interested in religion, but he said if it’ll make her quit smoking, at least it can’t hurt. More than a year later as I visited her before leaving the mission, she and her husband both related how positively the gospel had influenced her life – and his (even he was beginning to have some interest).
From the eternal perspective, the most important thing was naturally that I was convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ, his Atoning sacrifice and resurrection. But the hard thing for me was that I had to turn my life around. About the only commandment I hadn’t been routinely breaking was “thou shalt not kill”, and even that had been dangerously close in a drunken fight I had had with my brother-in-law (he had attacked my sister with a knife). The hope for a new beginning had been there already, but now there was a real power that made me a new being. As Paul says in 2 Cor 5:17: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Later I would learn the danger of taking things for granted, but that is another matter. At that point in my life, a power, the power of Christ’s Atonement entered my life and I was born again. And we would do well to remember that with God all is possible. Jesus says that in Mark 9:23, for example, when he was about to heal a very disturbed young man. I think we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Christ’s Atonement.
Actually, the title of this post is wrong, in the American Heritage Dictionary meaning of the word nostalgia. Although 29 years ago I was extremely happy, I see that there has been much growth since. Some of it has been painful, but I have always emerged thankful for the experience. Although I have made mistakes that I wish I wouldn’t have, they are part of the growth, and we do have repentance for such things. I said in the first paragraph above that anything can be a positive influence for us. That idea is also reflected in D&C 100:15: “all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly”. The qualification is to “walk uprightly”. I understand that to be a combination of action and attitude that seeks to do what the Lord would have me do.