Young Joseph Smith was eager as he entered a wooded area not far from his home. The early spring air was even cooler among the trees but Joseph didn’t seem to notice. After much turmoil he had made a decision. He knew what he should do. He’d “lack wisdom, … ask of God, … and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5.) He was going to pray and ask God which church to join.
The thought urged him on and he was anxious to get to the special place he had planned out in his mind.
When he reached the spot he paused to listen and look about. He wanted to be alone when he talked to his Father in heaven. The rising sun washed over the tree tops and filtered down to brighten small patches of ground strewn with leaves. Spring had been singing all around a few minutes before, but in this particular part of the woods everything was suddenly hushed and still, even the birdsongs. So it was on that early spring morning in 1820 that fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith knelt in the woods to pray.
He had barely begun his prayer when a darkness, thick and oppressive, gathered round him. He caught his breath. Fear flooded through him as he desperately struggled to continue his prayer. Then along with the darkness, something evil seemed to seize and bind him with such power that he could not speak. Joseph bent his head lower than himself and wrapped his arms tightly around his quivering body. He thought he was doomed to destruction.
Exerting all his strength to throw off the evil that threatened him, Joseph tried again to pray. He called upon his Heavenly Father, pleading for help.
Suddenly, it began to grow light and just as suddenly the evil power departed. Looking up, Joseph saw a wondrously bright light, more brilliant even than the sun. Squinting in the brightness he cupped his hands over his forehead to shade his eyes. The pillar of light gradually descended out of heaven, gilding everything it touched. At first, Joseph thought it would surely burn the branches of the trees, but it didn’t. Then, as the light rested upon him, its warmth filled him with a feeling of unspeakable joy.
Looking up, Joseph saw two Beings, standing above him in the pillar of light. He knew they must be Heavenly Beings.
One of them called Joseph by name, pointed to the other, and said, “This is my beloved Son, Hear Him!”
With a deep sense of amazement, Joseph realized that Heavenly Father was actually standing there before him with His Son Jesus Christ by His side. Joseph was so overwhelmed he could not speak. Their radiance and majesty filled him with such reverence and awe that words would not come.
As he looked at the scene before him he was astonished to see that men on earth had been created in Heavenly Father’s image. God was not a force like electricity or magnetism as many of the preachers had said. He spoke to Joseph as a man would speak. And Joseph knew that God cares about His children on earth, for here He was, in all His glory, in answer to a prayer for help.
In his mind Joseph formed the question he would ask, “Which of all the sects (churches) is right, and which should I join?”
Joseph’s question burst forth. It was Jesus who answered. He told the boy to join no church because they were all wrong. He also told him many other things. How long Joseph talked with the Savior he did not know, so unaware was he of the time passing. But when the pillar of light began to diminish, the Heavenly Beings were gone.
Then Joseph realized he was lying on his back, looking up into heaven. He had no strength, so for some moments he lay there, savoring the peaceful joy he hoped would never leave him. Joseph looked at the tangled web of branches overhead and at the leaves, shiny bright in the sun. Still caught up in the breathlessness of his experience, Joseph, too, felt aglow. He wasn’t sure he understood all that had happened to him that morning. But he knew he would forever treasure the events in his heart, and he would never be the same again.
Finally Joseph stood up and started across the field. His experience in the woods had been so overwhelming that he still felt physically weak. But his spirits were soaring as high as the flock of passenger pigeons that suddenly moved across the sky above him. There must have been thousands in the flapping, fluttering cloud of birds. It was their spring migration. They were back, searching for acorns and beechnuts and new green buds. This was the time in early spring that his mother called the “six-weeks’ want,” when creatures were hungry for nourishment. Even members of his own family had been out looking for greens for the cooking pot. All the dried vegetables and apples had been eaten, and there was little growing as yet.
The pigeons, hungry for food, flew overhead and settled into the treetops behind Joseph. A deep desire, just like a hunger, had taken him into the woods, too, early that morning. However, his hunger had been for truth.
But never had he dreamed, and much less expected, that an answer to prayer would come to him as it did.
There, standing before him in that brilliant pillar of light, were Heavenly Father and Jesus, and he had talked with Them.
He could hardly believe it had happened to him, a fourteen-year-old farm boy! He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, filling himself again with the wonder of it. A feeling of love and peace welled up inside him as he pictured again in his mind the two Heavenly Beings he had seen that morning. Joseph marveled at the thought that not even the deep love he had for his parents could match the love he felt for his Father in heaven and Jesus or Their love for him. It flooded through him until he thought he would burst.
Reaching the house, Joseph went in and leaned against the big, open fireplace.
“Son, what’s the matter?” his mother asked, taking him by the arm and turning him toward her. “Are you ill?”
“I’m well enough, Mother …” He hesitated. How do you begin to tell someone, even your mother about an experience like the one I had this morning in the woods? he wondered. How can words even begin to describe the glory of Heavenly Father and the Savior, the truths about which I was told, and the love and joy that fill my heart to overflowing?
So he simply said, “I have been told that none of the religions are true.”