How I Know:

The Burning Came Later

by H. Allan Lawrence

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    I envied Gary as he spoke of that burning within, wishing I could feel the same way. When I finally made the effort and received my own witness it was different, but just as valid.

    It wasn’t so much that I doubted. It was just that I didn’t know.

    There I was, 17 years old and an “active” member of the Church all my life. Baptized at eight. Ordained a deacon at twelve. Now in my fourth year of seminary. And I still couldn’t say “I know.”

    For my good buddy Gary, it seemed so easy. We often sat side by side at the sacrament table. Almost every fast Sunday I would sense him squirming beside me. And almost without fail he would rise to his feet before fast and testimony meeting ended to bear his testimony. His voice quavered, his eyes would fill with tears, and I could feel him shaking beside me as he told how wonderful it was to feel the Holy Ghost.

    I envied Gary at the same time I felt uncomfortable. His tears made me a little embarrassed for him. Still, I wished that I could feel what he was feeling. I guess I just didn’t want it badly enough then. So I continued to drift comfortably.

    Then came that final year of seminary. Subject: The Book of Mormon. Focus: Moroni, chapter 10, verses 4 and 5. Our challenge was to read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover and to pray for a witness that it is true. In other words, to apply Moroni’s promise.

    At first I didn’t make much of an effort. But as the school year wore on, I began to read the Book of Mormon every night, the last thing before I went to bed. And after reading, I would kneel beside my bed and ask for a witness that the book—and the Church—are true.

    And still nothing happened.

    Constantly in the back of my mind was Gary’s fervent, tearful testimony, his shaky voice. Also, there was the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8, where the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, “I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you.”

    So night after night I knelt on that small braided rug beside my bed, said a pleading prayer, and climbed into bed to wait for that burning witness. Until, one night, I stopped in the middle of my prayer and asked myself, “Do I know if it’s true yet?”

    And then it happened. There was no pillar of light. No voice. Not even the burning sensation that I had been looking for. Instead, a simple realization came into my mind.

    I knew that I knew. And that was it. Calm and peaceful and seemingly unspectacular, it was all I needed at the time. I knew that I knew.

    Since that time, I have become more aware of the Lord’s words to Oliver Cowdery in the sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon 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, italics added).

    Many times would follow when I felt that burning in my bosom. Or when I felt the joyful swelling in my heart that Alma describes (see Alma 32:28). But for the time being, that quiet realization was all I needed, all I had to remember. The Lord had spoken peace to my mind.

    Photography by Steve Bunderson