Converted after Years of Membership


Converted after Years of Membership

I was brought up in the Church, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe the gospel was true. I have tried to live according to its teachings. But I recently learned that there is a difference between a “believing” testimony and real conversion. A testimony may be simply and sincerely believing that living the gospel is the best way to live; conversion is knowing that it is the only way to live. The difference makes a real difference in the way we shape our lives.

When I compare my life now to the way it was six years ago, I am overwhelmed at the differences. Because six years ago—yes, even down to one year ago—I was asking the Lord night and day to take care of some very pressing problems in my life. I had begun to wonder if anyone was receiving my petitions, but I knew that if someone was listening, there was certainly something wrong with my communications system, because I wasn’t receiving any answers. And I felt I knew which side of the system was at fault—mine.

In my dilemma, with only disappointment and a humbled attitude to cling to, I finally began asking questions instead of insisting on answers given precisely to my specifications. “Why, Father, are you not answering my prayers?” I asked. And suddenly, it was as if I had found the formula. Things began to change. The next morning I felt the strong impression that my answers were in the temple. I discussed it with my husband, and we made preparations to attend the Provo Temple that weekend.

Immediately after making these plans I became ill, but on Friday morning the indomitable English blood that flows in my veins refused to let me admit defeat. Sustained by aspirin and faith, and armed with a handkerchief to protect the innocent, I prepared for departure. My physical state was not the only obstacle. There were emergency phone calls, relatives visiting from out of state, and other complications. The final blow came, however, when we stopped in the south part of town and backed our station wagon into a three-foot irrigation ditch. We called a wrecker—they didn’t know when they could get there. Most of the day was gone and we had begun to wonder if we would ever get to the temple when a large vehicle with a four-wheel drive appeared and pulled us out of the ditch. Miracle of miracles, we were on our way! We arrived in time for two sessions that evening.

Then came the rewards of our persistence. As we waited in the back of the chapel for the session to begin, I reached over and picked up a Book of Mormon. It fell open to page 141, and I read:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.)

I had read this passage many times and certainly did agree, but I thought little more about it at the time. After the first session, we immediately went back to the chapel, and again I picked up a Book of Mormon while waiting, and again it fell open to page 141. Again my eyes were drawn to the same passage: Was it coincidence? I wondered. It finally registered with me that perhaps the Lord was trying to give me a message, and after pondering the scripture through the second session, I knew the Lord wished me to be more patient and more willing to submit to those things that he saw fit to inflict upon me—including not having my prayers answered according to my desires. Still I was not satisfied that I had learned all I needed from that scripture.

That night in the motel I couldn’t sleep; the night seemed endless. I pondered Mosiah 3:19, but no more answers came. It was not until a year later that I realized the truth: the scripture dealt with repentance, the subject I needed most but was least equipped to deal with in my condition. My spirit, however, was being prepared in ways that my mind did not recognize. That session next morning was going to change my thinking, my attitudes, my prayers, and my life. It provided all the answers I was seeking and much more.

As I tried to listen to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit,” as King Benjamin admonished, I felt strongly impressed to concentrate on the temple ceremony to try to understand it more fully. Suddenly, about midway through, I felt I was experiencing what the Prophet Joseph Smith describes as “pure intelligence” flowing into my mind and heart. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151.) I began to fathom the beauty and necessity of the temple ceremony in a manner that far exceeded my natural ability. The Holy Ghost bore witness to me that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God and that through living the principles and participating in the ordinances of the gospel, we could live with the Father and partake of all that he had—and only by living up to our commitments with exactness and honor was it possible to put off this “natural man” and have a close, two-way communication with our Savior. I began to fathom the necessity of the atonement in a way I had not understood before. Without the Savior’s help, I literally could not rid myself of my mistakes and continue to progress. That was what King Benjamin was telling his people 2,000 years earlier. The fact that that truth really was eternal suddenly seemed like a new idea.

The Spirit bore witness to me that I needed to repent of disobedience. I felt deeply remorseful that I had not fully understood or lived the law of obedience more faithfully. I had tried to determine, to pick and choose in my own mind, what was really important and what the Lord probably wasn’t too serious about. I now realized that I had cut myself off from many great blessings because I hadn’t been exact or honorable enough in my commitments to the Lord. I had taken his words too lightly.

This recognition of my own weakness was devastating. I was overwhelmed by remorse and consumed by the desire to be obedient. The Spirit had ripped through my protective armor and I saw myself as I really was for perhaps the first time in my life. I understood that so-called “little sins” are just as deadly as the more spectacular sins—they would take over my soul just as surely, though perhaps not as quickly. And mingled with my shame, sorrow, and fear was an exultant, rejoicing gratitude to the Lord that he cared enough to make these things known before it was too late.

I resolved now that I would be as totally obedient as I could to my husband and to my ecclesiastical officers in the Church, as well as to the sacred scriptures. For a willful spirit, this was a great resolve, but I had had a witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus was the Christ, and I felt bound to conform my life to his teachings and desires for me. This was my greatest desire.

As I began more fully to understand the Lord’s great plan for us, those questions I had been asking seemed inconsequential. I was so grateful to the Lord that he had not answered my prayers any sooner and that he had not answered them according to my specifications, for I could see now that it would have been a curse, not a blessing, for him to have accepted my pleading. Five years of turmoil was swallowed up in joy at my new understanding. I then felt the great love he had for me as one of his children and felt that he knew me as an individual. I also felt that his love was the same for every individual on earth. I felt that I had been watched over throughout my entire life and that all that had occurred in the past and all that would occur in the future, whether pleasant or painful, could be for my ultimate good—if I accepted it in faith. I then felt a great rushing warmth through my entire body and a peace, joy, and contentment unlike anything I had before experienced. Uncontrollable tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. I felt the Savior’s love for me spill over into love for all others—of which I had heard others express but had never understood before. My head no longer ached. My body was no longer feverish. I had been healed, both physically and spiritually.

It was as I left the temple that I realized the difference between testimony and conversion. My testimony of the reality of God and his son Jesus Christ had been reaffirmed, and my commitment—because of new conversion—had been strengthened.

That experience was so glorious I wanted the whole world to feel this great joy. And it has literally transformed my life. Here are some of the differences I still marvel at:

1. I gained an insatiable desire to read and study the scriptures. So many times in the past I had started First Nephi and bogged down after a few chapters. Now I find it difficult to pull myself away to do routine chores. Suddenly the scriptures have become luminous with meaning, lifting my spirit with transcendent glimpses of glory, and yet they remain as practical as common-sense advice from a good neighbor. Nephi said that if we feast on the words of Christ—and have the Holy Ghost—they will tell us all things we should do. (2 Ne. 32:3, 5.) After my experience everyday problems were much simpler to handle. I was experiencing faith turning into knowledge.

2. I became bold about preaching the gospel and bearing my testimony, much to my own astonishment. I found myself bearing my testimony to an intimidatingly erudite child psychiatrist whose credentials not only included an M.D. but also a doctorate in philosophy and a master’s in English. To top it all, he was a former Jesuit priest. He is now seeing the missionaries.

3. As my life took on heightened meaning, so it took on greater interest. I began to think more logically; I became interested in many subjects and topics I had ignored before, for it seemed that all knowledge was beginning to fit into one big pattern for me.

4. Perhaps the best change of all was the peace I felt inside. Circumstances around me hadn’t changed greatly. The problems and frustrations were still there but I could accept them calmly, seeing greater purpose and feeling the help of the Lord.

I have been humbled by this experience. I have wondered many times why it came to me. I know I am stronger, but I also know that any strength I have comes from the Lord. I am not a transformed person. I am still seeking and falling short, but the real change has occurred in my heart: I truly want what the Lord wants for me. And I have a special feeling of warmth for the Book of Mormon. It not only opened my eyes but helps me daily. It has become one of my greatest friends.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Craig Poppleton

Claudia T. Goates, a homemaker and mother of seven children, serves as fellowship chairman in the Arlington Hills Ward, Salt Lake Emigration Stake.