When I first met Judy 30 years ago, I had no idea she had been a member of the Church for only 4 years. She had an important responsibility in the Church, and I had no reason to believe she had not been a member all her life.
Three years ago Laura gave a lovely opening prayer in our stake conference. After the prayer we were informed that Laura had been baptized just a few months earlier. “Wow!” I thought. “She has made remarkable progress.”
Only when I talked to Judy and Laura about their experiences as new converts did I learn that both had found their new Church membership to be more challenging than expected. It’s something they have in common with many—if not most—new converts.
Judy says, “You don’t just change where you go to church. You change your life. After my baptism I found myself asking, ‘Can I really do this?’”
Laura agrees: “I had no idea it would be that hard.”
It’s important to recognize that you are not alone in feeling challenged or even overwhelmed. Knowing that your experience is shared by many, you can be patient with yourself. You can reach out for help—to your bishop or branch president or to home teachers or other members—without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. And most important of all, you can have real hope that, yes, you can do this with the Lord’s help. He did not guide you into His Church only to abandon you. “The Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
If ignorance is not bliss, it’s not a sin either. You may feel overwhelmed because there are new words and terms to learn. (Tithing settlement?) There is a whole organization that is unique to the Church. (Stake high council?) Reading and navigating the scriptures may be a new experience. (Where is the book of Omni?) There are responsibilities, or callings, in the Church that you didn’t know existed, and all of a sudden you are asked to accept one of them. (Just what does a Young Women secretary do anyway?)
Don’t worry. The Lord does not condemn you for what you don’t know. But He’s the only one who can read your mind. Others can’t, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. As you reach out and begin to make friends in the Church, find a mentor—a member friend who can answer questions and explain things. If you have trouble finding a mentor, ask your bishop or branch president to help you find one. If you have a calling, ask to have your duties explained to you. Request a copy of any handbooks or other helps that may be available.
Then, as Judy counsels, “just build knowledge line upon line. Start with the basics.” And remember that you already have the foundation for the rest of your gospel learning: you know the Church is true.
Sometimes you will disappoint yourself. Baptism and confirmation made you clean, not perfect. It’s the same for the other members of the Church. We all make mistakes, and we all have to repent and renew our baptismal covenants by taking the sacrament. (For more about those covenants, see Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s article on page 10.) And as we continue to repent and strive to do better, the Holy Ghost helps us become more pure. We begin to lose our desire to sin (see Mosiah 5:2). The power of the Atonement begins to change our very nature.
Laura says, “It has now become easier to be a member. Heavenly Father has given me a greater desire to do what is right. Things are coming more easily and naturally.”
As for those occasions when other Church members show their less-than-perfect side, Laura says she’s not bothered by the imperfections of others. “I work hard at not being judgmental,” she says. “I try to accept others for who they are. We’re all doing the best we can.”
The Savior has given this invitation to all:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
A yoke is a device that allows two animals to fairly and comfortably share a burden that one alone would find difficult or impossible. It is still used in many parts of the world today where animals plow fields or pull wagons.
Speaking of the Savior’s yoke, President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95), fourteenth President of the Church, said: “His yoke requires a great and earnest effort, but for those who truly are converted, the yoke is easy and the burden becomes light. …
“Obviously, the personal burdens of life vary from person to person, but every one of us has them. … To one and all, Christ said, in effect: As long as we all must bear some burden and shoulder some yoke, why not let it be mine? My promise to you is that my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”1
Conversion is a process, not just a single event. Our Heavenly Father is patient, kind, and gracious. He gives gifts of the Spirit not only “to those who love [Him] and keep all [His] commandments” but also to “him that seeketh so to do” (D&C 46:9; emphasis added). Live what you know, and more knowledge and strength will come. Let the Lord make of you what you could never make of yourself. He promises, “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
Doubts are natural. They can spring up from within, or they can come from others. Regardless of the source, there are some tried-and-true ways to deal successfully with doubt.
1. Remember the spiritual experiences you’ve already had. For example, Oliver Cowdery was Joseph Smith’s scribe during much of the translation of the Book of Mormon. He had already received a witness of the truthfulness of the Prophet Joseph’s testimony regarding the golden plates. But apparently he wanted additional reassurance from the Lord. Speaking through the Prophet, the Lord counseled Oliver:
“If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon [remember] the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22–23).
The Lord expects us to remember the witness we have already received from the Spirit.
2. Be patient. When you come across things that you don’t understand, be patient. Hold fast to what you already know (in other words, remember). As Laura says, “I cling to what I already know and don’t let questions bother me. I keep asking in prayer, knowing the Lord will answer when I’m ready for it.”
3. Feed your faith; starve your doubts. As you continue to pray, search the scriptures, and keep the commandments, you will receive additional strength to your testimony. Alma compares this process to nurturing a seed as it sprouts and grows into a tree that provides sweet, precious fruit (see Alma 32:28–43). Nurturing doubts produces the opposite effect, and testimony withers.