Learning Faith
March 1985

“Learning Faith,” Ensign, Mar. 1985, 24

Learning Faith

A convert discovers that testimony involves the heart as well as the mind

Ah—the glorious experience of learning truth when you thought there was none! For me, it was like coming home to warm cookies and milk after wandering cold and hungry in the fog. Over and over I said to the missionaries, “Yes, that seems right. Yes, I would have thought it would be that way.” The elders seemed to be revealing the secrets of my own heart.

While I was enthralled with the principles, however, the elders were pushing for practices. They kept posing the same irritating question: “Sister Sorensen, how do you feel about baptism?” The truth was I did not feel at all about baptism. Nor did I see why accepting concepts meant submitting to customs. I merely wanted answers, I told myself, not a new life-style.

In reality, I was afraid of change and commitment. I actually did want to do the right thing, but the fear within was more than I could overcome. The elders, unimpressed with my rationalizations, persisted in bringing up the subject of baptism.

One night, in an agony of indecision, I broke into tears and surrendered. “Father,” I pleaded, “what shall I do? If what I’ve learned is true, let me know so I’ll have the courage to be baptized.” Almost as soon as I uttered this prayer, the Spirit seemed to enter at the top of my head and descend through my entire body, filling me with joy, peace, and confidence in what I had been taught.

After my baptism, I continued my quest to uncover the hidden pieces of the puzzle of life. I bought scriptures and Church books and snuggled into them at every opportunity. The “ah-hah” thrill of it all was delightful, and my desire to know more was unquenchable. When I stood to bear my testimony for the first time, I said something like this: “I know the gospel is true. It is so reasonable and logical. The principles seem right and natural, and they answer questions I have had all my life.” Intellectually, I was firmly convinced of the truth of the doctrines; emotionally, I was void.

Looking back, I realize the pitfalls of my intellectual testimony. So fascinated was I with hearing and talking about the word that I had neglected much of the doing. Seeking out those of similar mind, I discounted those who quietly lived the gospel precepts but seemed uninterested in discussing them. I saw the Church more as a classroom experience and was quite indifferent to much of the lab work—visiting teaching, picking prunes at the welfare farm, and attending the temple. In my delight with discovering truth and meaning, I wanted to linger in that stage—and linger, and linger.

But as my knowledge continued to outpace my ability to live the laws of God, I began to despair. I felt that I was intelligent enough to understand the gospel, but not good enough to live it. I saw myself as inferior to some of those who seemed to understand less than I did, yet seemed to live better lives.

Then I met Elaine. She was a warm, friendly woman with a vibrant testimony. I was impressed that she had read and reread the scriptures, and we enjoyed discussing the writings of Alma, Nephi, and Joseph Smith. But Elaine had one quality I found suspect: she prayed every chance she got. She prayed over such simple matters as a Primary lesson, a problem with a child, her lost car keys. “When I kneel down,” she told me once, “I think of myself at God’s knee, with Him looking down at me as a loving Father would.”

“Oh, Elaine,” I wanted to say, “you have oversimplified a great network of theological principles into a one-to-one relationship with God. The great God in heaven can’t be bothered with your petty problems; he has other things to worry about.”

Yet I couldn’t deny that Elaine’s prayers were answered. God really was interested. “Why is she so special?” I grumbled. “Heavenly Father must love her more to give her such individual treatment.”

In time I realized that, if God was no respecter of persons, there could be only one explanation for the phenomenon I saw in Elaine’s life: Elaine was paying a price that I was not. While I was satisfied merely to know that God existed, she leaned on him for guidance and help. While I excluded him from my everyday life, she invited him daily to be part of hers. While I viewed him as the great author of principles and creator of the universe, she knew him also as her own Father. In short, while I was giving all my mind to him, she was also giving her heart.

I knew that I needed to begin a new phase of the conversion process. In the first phase, I had discovered principles of truth; now I hoped to find the Man of truth. But I found it difficult to pray with my heart. Accustomed as I was to a veneer of sophistication, I felt downright silly. “Who am I to approach God?” I wondered. Could he possibly be interested in my problem with patience? Would he help me overcome a temper that sliced through relationships with my husband and children? Would he want to hear that I needed help in teaching the four-year-olds in Primary? I was in no life-or-death situation. I merely wanted to be his daughter—like Elaine.

Then the words of Moses hushed my questions. “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them.” (Num. 11:29.)

In prayer, I invited Heavenly Father to be a part of my life. And in time, as I learned to share more openly the concerns of my heart, he drew near. When I prayed for help with a Primary lesson, I received insights I had never had before. When I prayed for help with my temper, my anger left. When I prayed to overcome my inclination to criticize my husband, I forgot the reason for my criticism. Over and over, tiny miracles occurred; over and over, I marveled that God would care!

In this second phase of my conversion, I discovered that God not only exists, he lives! Through his tender care, I could now stand and testify: “Yes, the gospel is true, but even more important, He is true—and real and loving and personal and powerful. Our Father has not merely given us the truth and organization of the Church. He will give of himself, if we but ask.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 218.) I had not understood this statement before. Now I felt the truth of it. I could say with John, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19.) As my trust in him grew, I had come to love him, even to rejoice in him.

I also learned that I did not have to be good in and of myself; I only had to know where to go for help. Like Nephi, I learned that only the Lord could be the “rock of my salvation.” Only he could bestow on me the power to walk away from temptation. And only he could help make a sour disposition sweet again through his Spirit.

I recall a Monday evening when my husband wanted to postpone family home evening until he finished watching a championship football game. Feeling tired and irritable, I had wanted to gather the family together immediately after dinner. In word I agreed, but in spirit I rebelled. After the game he found me in the laundry room. “O.K.,” he said. “Let’s have home evening.”

“No,” I responded. “You go ahead. I’m going to finish folding these clothes.” He tried to persuade me, but my heart was tight and bitter.

After he left, I wrestled with my emotions. “He was wrong to make us wait while he watched that game. And he’s in the stake presidency!” But my conscience argued, “What difference does it make? Put it aside. The children will wonder where you are. Just go.”

I couldn’t do it. I knew that the children would see through my pretense, would sense my spirit of contention. I needed strength beyond my own to overcome my antagonism, so I sought help through prayer. A few minutes later, my heart was cleansed. I joined the family without resentment. As it happened, the children were quiet and receptive, and we enjoyed one of our most spiritual evenings together.

Through experiences like this, I have learned to lean not only on the principles of the gospel, but also on the Author of those principles. C. S. Lewis spoke of the two-fold nature of faith:

“Faith may mean (a) A settled intellectual assent. In that sense faith (or ‘belief’) in God hardly differs from faith in the uniformity of Nature or in the consciousness of other people. This is what, I think, has sometimes been called … ‘rational’ or ‘intellectual’ or ‘carnal’ faith. It may also mean (b) A trust, or confidence, in the God whose existence is thus assented to. This involves an attitude of the will. It is more like our confidence in a friend.” (A Mind Awake, p. 137.)

For me, there could have been no step (b) without step (a), no confidence without intellectual assent. In other words, I could not trust God without first agreeing on the idea of his existence. The danger for me surfaced when my enthusiasm to know exceeded my eagerness to do.

Of course, zeal without knowledge can be equally dangerous. Knowledge and obedience must go hand in hand. We must have balance in our lives—know when to study and when to implement what we have learned. Certainly I have not abandoned my quest to hear the word; indeed, I relish every opportunity to hear and discuss the ideas of C. S. Lewis, Henry Drummond, and Parley P. Pratt. But I find that most of my time is spent in establishing a house of order, a house of violin lessons, a house of prayer, a house of gatherings, a house of homework and chores.

Yet I still feel motivated to pursue college degrees. While caring for ten children, I have been able to earn a bachelor of science degree and am currently working toward a higher degree. Why? Simply because I love learning and fear ignorance. But while my happiness has been sparked by my studies, it has soared to the sky in my career as wife and mother. I have found that the lab work is far more challenging and rewarding than the lecture. After all, our task is not merely to accumulate tidbits of facts for some ultimate final exam, but to gather traits that will qualify us to receive a fulness from the Father.

It is not enough to know that Joseph Smith followed the Father’s guidance; we, too, must follow whatever direction we may receive. It is not enough to be able to recount the story of Enos’ conversion; we, too, must be similarly converted. The scriptures teach us how the Father has related to his children in the past; more important, they teach us how he will relate to us if we are worthy and if we seek him.

The quest to know and to do will never be over for me. The process of conversion has brought greater joy to me and my family than I believed possible. The Savior made clear the link between receiving his word and receiving his joy when he said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (John 15:11.)

  • Mollie H. Sorensen, mother of ten, teaches the Gospel Essentials class in the Napa First Ward, Napa California Stake.

Illustrated by Ondre Pettingill