Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
"Every Latter-day Saint has the responsibility to know for himself or herself with a certainty beyond doubt that Jesus is the resurrected, living Son of the living God." Gordon B. Hinckley, Fear Not to Do Good
A parentís testimony, along with the testimonies of a teenagerís leaders, friends and family, can be powerful tools to help a young person stay strong. However, no matter how powerful these testimonies might be, they cannot keep a child in the church for eternity, or help him through the worst of his trials. For this, a child needs his own personal testimony. He needs to know for himself that he belongs to the true church and he needs to know this no matter what happens to the testimonies of those around him.
Although a testimony isnít something we can give to a child neatly wrapped up in a pretty package, there is much we can do. We can share our own testimonies, we can set an example and we can show our children how the gospel has influenced our lives for good. We can create a gospel-centered environment in our homes. But the hard work of gaining a testimony is left to the investigator, and every teenager is an investigator until he gains a testimony of his very own. A teenager must decide for himself that he has found the truth.
While we canít do the hard work, we can work hard to help our teenagers find their testimonies. Following are several suggestions to help a child know for himself that the church is true.
1. Tell him that he needs a testimony. Too often we assume a child should know what needs to be done. All his life, he may have stood up in Testimony Meeting and shared his testimony. He may have believed in his heart what he learned in church and at home. In spite of this, he may not understand that he needs to spend quiet, private time praying for a testimony. What he knows now must never be taken for granted. If it was easy to gain, it was possibly not a testimony that cannot be shaken. In addition, he needs to continue to pray and to renew that testimony all his life.
2. Tell him how to gain a testimony. Teach all your children in Family Home Evening the process of gaining a testimony. Explain the need to study it out in their own minds, learning as much as possible about the gospel. They need to read the scriptures for themselves, praying as they read and then listening for the confirmation of the spirit. Then they need to ponder and then to pray. The answer may not come in a blinding flash and it may not come quickly or easily. A teenager may need to pray repeatedly over days and months, perhaps even fasting.
3. Teach him to recognize the answer when it comes. Children who have been raised with the story of Joseph Smithís first vision may hope for a personal visit from God to get their answer. Even an angel will do! However, it very, very seldom happens that way. Instead, your child needs to learn to recognize the promptings of the spirit. He needs to know that the warm, safe, comforting feeling in his heart is the spirit teaching him what is true. This will come to him during powerful lessons, special spiritual discussions and quiet times of pondering and prayer. As he learns to recognize the spirit during special moments of his life, he will be able to recognize it when he prays for a testimony.
4. Give him opportunities to hear the conversion stories of others. Share with him your own conversion, whether you are a convert or a life-long member. How did you know the gospel was true? What process did you follow? How did your life change because of it? Invite into your home others who have strong testimonies and ask them to share their stories with your family. (Ask them to do this privately and well in advance, to be sure they are comfortable and to give them time to spiritually prepare.) Afterwards, discuss these testimonies with your child and ask him how he felt as he listened to the story and how the story impacted him. Share your own testimony concerning the testimony you have heard.
5. Consider putting your testimony into writing and giving it to your child as a gift. This will be a lifelong treasure that can help him to strengthen his own.
6. Discuss your childís testimony with him when you feel inspired to do so. Ask him if there are questions you can answer, or materials you can provide.
7. Show him that a testimony is not gained only once. It is strengthened and renewed regularly as we strive to live the gospel and to overcome challenges. The quiet daily prayers, scripture study, acts of service and decisions to live the gospel help to nurture our testimony until it is so powerful we will never be willing to risk losing it. This is a lifelong pursuit that is worth every tear, every effort, every shared expression.
8. Our testimony should be our most precious possession, one we would make any sacrifice to preserve. Help your children to treat it as a treasure.