How Can You Know?


He kept using those words, “I know.” I wanted to set him straight. How could anyone know without seeing?

I really don’t know why I signed up for seminary in 11th grade. Ninth grade was easy enough to explain. My best friend, Mary, begged me. Her mother insisted that she attend, and Mary vowed she’d die of boredom if I didn’t go with her. We’d been practically inseparable from the time we were two, so I believed it was my duty to go with her.

Tenth grade was a little more difficult to explain. I registered for seminary with Mary—again because she had to. But her mom remarried before the school year started, and Mary moved to Nevada. That year, although I didn’t drop the seminary class, most of the time I didn’t attend. I wasn’t interested in what the seminary teacher had to offer, and I was lonely without Mary.

By default, I registered for seminary again when I was a junior, mostly because there were no other classes I wanted. So I went and sat in the back of the room, nestled by myself in the corner. Brother Hardy often tried to involve me in the discussions and scripture reading. Sometimes I participated, but most of the time I declined during our study of the Book of Mormon.

Every day Brother Hardy closed his lesson by bearing testimony to the truthfulness of the gospel. He seemed sincere enough in his beliefs, but each day I grew increasingly irritated at his word choice. He always said “I know.” But he couldn’t, I thought. He was wrong. He could feel, he could think, he could believe. But he could not know.

After class one day I decided to set him straight. He turned and smiled at me, and his eyes smiled too. “Sister Atwood, what can I help you with?” he asked.

“It’s about your word choice,” I said.

“Oh?”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d say ‘I believe’ rather than ‘I know.’ You can’t know what you can’t see.” I turned to walk away, certain he’d choose his words more carefully from then on.

“Sister Atwood, wait!” he called out after me.

I stopped and looked at his gentle green eyes. Something about him drew me in, something in his gaze. “What?” I asked.

“Sister,” he said softly, “do you want to know?”

I shook my head in disbelief. “But no one can know what they can’t see.” I didn’t want to tell him I didn’t believe there was a God; I didn’t want to let him know how hopeless and bleak the world looked to me. “No one can know,” I mumbled again, and the conviction of that belief left me lost, lonely, and small.

Brother Hardy reached for a book on his table. “Have you ever read the Book of Mormon, Colleen?”

“No.”

“Do you have one at home?”

“No. I have a Bible. But I don’t read it anymore.”

“Here.” He held the book out to me. “This is yours. You keep it. Every night before you go to bed, kneel down and pray to your Heavenly Father. He’ll hear you. Even if you haven’t prayed to Him for a very long time. Ask Him to help you understand what is in this book. Remember, always pray before you read. Read it just like you would those good books I see you with. Read it as if the people in this book are speaking directly to you. Will you do that?”

I shrugged my shoulders and took the book from him. I didn’t want to take his book. But he was so kind I didn’t want to tell him no.

The next day Brother Hardy bore his testimony. And he said “I know” again. He didn’t understand after all. He watched me as I walked out the door that day. I could feel his eyes fixed on me even while he talked to the other students. I didn’t look back.

At home that night I picked up the book. I knew he’d ask me if I was reading it. I didn’t want to lie to him, so I thought about dropping the class as I set the book back on my nightstand.

For the next several days, I went to seminary, dreading the day he’d pull me aside. Although he always greeted me warmly, he never asked me if I’d been reading the book. I began to relax and decided to stay in the class. I even took my turn reading scriptures now and again. The days passed, and, as always, Brother Hardy bore his testimony. He looked me squarely in the eyes each time he said “I know.” Always the look was gentle, almost pleading.

One night, with nothing else to do, I picked up the Book of Mormon and turned the pages. I started reading Joseph Smith’s testimony. Then I remembered Brother Hardy’s instruction to pray first. So I crawled out of bed and knelt on the floor. “Help me to understand,” I asked simply. I finished Joseph’s testimony and the testimonies of the Three Witnesses. Night after night, I stayed with my plan. Pray then read. Let those in the Book of Mormon speak to me.

Soon the voices were real, and it seemed that Nephi was pleading with me because of the hardness of my heart. My appetite for the book became insatiable, and I read into the wee hours.

In 3 Nephi when Jesus Christ visited the American continent, I felt I was there with them, that I could see and feel the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. I cried. When the Nephites fell away and all but Moroni were slain, I wept again.

Then I read the promise found in Moroni 10:3–5 [Moro. 10:3–5]. I put the bookmark in the book, closed it, climbed out of bed and knelt down to pray once again. “Heavenly Father,” I asked simply, “if it’s true, please help me to know and understand.” I closed my prayer and climbed back into bed, my eyes so full of tears that they blurred my vision.

I finished reading the Book of Mormon, then lay awake at the wonder of it. I knew—without seeing or touching—that the Book of Mormon was true. For the first time I knew Heavenly Father and Jesus were real. I knew Joseph Smith had seen God. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, with my spiritual eyes, I too saw Him.

The next day I sat on the front row in seminary. When Brother Hardy finished his lesson by saying “I know,” I said “amen.” He stopped me after class. “It’s been a while, Colleen. How are you coming with the reading?” he asked.

“Oh, I finished it,” I said.

“Good!” He clapped his hands together. “Good! And?”

I looked at the ceiling and shook my head. “And I know,” I choked. “I know.”

In the years since, I have often thought of Brother Hardy. I have wanted him to know that I married a returned missionary in the temple and that I have two fine sons who also will serve the Lord in the mission field. I have wanted Brother Hardy to know how his pebble rippled.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer