“When Children Want to Bear Testimony,” Ensign, Dec. 2002, 29
A few years ago, during the general session of a stake conference at which I was presiding, my testimony was strengthened by the expressions of a young boy. I invited Brian Cox, a priest preparing for a mission, to come forward and bear a brief testimony. To my surprise, a very young boy, also named Brian Cox, began making his way to the pulpit. When he arrived, I explained to him that the invitation had been meant for an older boy with the same name. I then gave him the option of returning to his seat. However, he quickly assured me that he wanted to bear his testimony!
He proceeded to the pulpit with my approval, stretched tall so he could see over it, and shared his sincere feelings about the restored gospel. He declared that Joseph Smith had been called of God and that the Church today is led by a prophet. He expressed his appreciation for Jesus Christ, for his blessings, and for a loving family. Young Brian spoke spontaneously from his heart, with conviction, and without rehearsal or memorization. Hearts were touched and testimonies strengthened because this young boy was prepared to bear his testimony at a moment’s notice.
Contrast this with the child who goes to the microphone less prepared with his own feelings and convictions who must be prompted on what to say, or who is primarily looking for the approval of others.
Young children desiring to bear testimony in public can be taught to respond to the Spirit and share heartfelt expressions. Such teaching is done most effectively in the home by loving parents who adhere to principles related to testimony bearing.
The testimonies we bear to one another become a spiritual lifeline, helping us as we encounter the difficulties and challenges of life. Our testimonies, the core of our moral strength, develop, grow, and flourish, in large part, because the Holy Ghost has confirmed to us the truthfulness of the testimonies borne by others. It is especially important to extend this lifeline to our children.
Home activities such as scripture study, prayer, family home evening, and wholesome family activities provide us, as parents, with the opportunities to teach and help our children feel the Holy Spirit. As they learn to recognize the Spirit and receive a personal witness of truth from the Holy Ghost, they will be blessed with “a feeling of calm, unwavering certainty” regarding eternal truths.1 This certainty becomes their lifeline of strength and power.
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has outlined three things we can do to increase the likelihood the Holy Ghost will bear witness of sacred truth to our children: “First, we can teach some sacred truth. Then, we can testify that we know what we have taught is true. And then we must act so that those who hear our testimony see that our actions conform with what we said was true. The Holy Ghost will then confirm to them the truth of what we said and that we knew it to be true. That is how a legacy of testimony is created, preserved, and transmitted in a family.”2
Loving, sincere parents with strong testimonies of their own are better equipped than anyone else to influence their children’s testimonies. Our instructions and examples are like those given by flight attendants to passengers on commercial flights. Demonstrating the use of oxygen masks that automatically drop from the ceiling during emergency situations, flight attendants instruct parents to first put on their own masks, then assist their young children. We must be consistently seeking, developing, and bearing strong testimonies of our own in order to extend this spiritual lifeline to our children.
Learning how to appropriately express heartfelt feelings is a prelude to inspirational testimony bearing. And what better place to learn and practice this than within our families? When parents establish a pattern of sharing their innermost feelings in the home, children will gain confidence that their expressions will be accepted and respected. Our homes will then become spiritual fortresses.
The sharing of spiritual feelings can become an integral part of family communication as daily experiences unfold and gospel principles are discussed. The scriptures provide many examples of parents expressing their testimonies to their children. For example, Lehi spoke to his family “according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Ne. 4:12). His wife, Sariah, also revealed her innermost feelings to her family when her sons returned safely from Jerusalem (see 1 Ne. 5:8). She showed great humility and took the opportunity to testify to her family.
The Prophet Joseph Smith enjoyed a home where feelings could be expressed without fear. He recorded that when the angel Moroni told him to tell his father of the visions he had received: “I obeyed; I returned to my father in the field, and rehearsed the whole matter to him. He replied to me that it was of God, and told me to go and do as commanded by the messenger” (JS—H 1:50). It is significant that Joseph Sr. told his son that he believed the manifestation was of God. Father Joseph was expressing his feeling and testimony that the vision was divine. Therefore, his instruction to his son to obey the angel carried particular spiritual power.
As we share expressions of our innermost feelings with our children, we can include various elements of what we know to be true, thus providing the Holy Ghost with an opportunity to manifest the truthfulness of what we say. Elder Eyring has said, “Because God always honors covenants, I can make a promise to those who in faith keep the covenant to create experiences of giving love and bearing testimony with their families. They will reap a harvest of hearts touched, faith in Jesus Christ exercised unto repentance, and the desire and the power to keep covenants strengthened.”3
Often our daily activities and challenges give parents opportunities to bear testimony in informal conversations with family members. Some examples are:
“I know Heavenly Father loves you and is mindful of what you are feeling.”
“Even though money is limited, I know that if we keep paying our tithing the Lord will bless us to be able to obtain the things we need.”
“Today in sacrament meeting I felt the Spirit confirming the truth of the counsel given by our bishop.”
“I have had similar trials and was lifted as I turned to our Savior for help.”
Candid statements of love and testimony not only teach but can become the basis for more formal testimony bearing by parents and children. For example, after his experience in the Sacred Grove, Joseph Smith went home fatigued. He recorded that his mother was concerned and inquired what the matter was. Joseph replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” He then said to his mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true” (JS—H 1:20).4 Young Joseph’s response to his mother’s honest concern set the stage for Joseph to share his experience with his whole family and eventually the world.
This interaction between mother and son reveals several significant lessons: (1) Mother Smith was available when Joseph wanted to talk; (2) she knew Joseph well, so she sensed that something was wrong; (3) she listened even after Joseph seemed to shrug off her concern; and (4) the sharing of feelings was possible because of the closeness and trust in their relationship, as evidenced by Joseph’s candid response to his mother that the church she was attending was not the true Church.
Questions such as the one asked by Mother Smith can evoke expressions of insight, deep feelings, and testimony. The Savior’s question to His disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” elicited from Simon Peter one of the most powerful testimonies in all scripture: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:13, 16). This question required His disciples to ponder their feelings and put them into words.
Asking sincere questions of family members can provide similar opportunities for meaningful expressions within our homes. Some questions we might ask are:
Would you like to tell me what you are feeling now?
How do you know when Heavenly Father has answered your prayers?
What did you feel in your heart as we discussed this principle?
What do you think the Savior would do?
As family members ponder and express their thoughts and feelings about such questions, the Holy Ghost will bear witness of truth, and testimonies will be strengthened.
Parents are responsible to teach their young children how to bear their testimonies in public settings such as youth conferences, seminary, Primary, or fast and testimony meetings. The principles that govern appropriate testimony bearing should be learned and applied at home, thus preparing children to share their heartfelt thoughts with others. Public testimony bearing is most often a natural extension of the testimony bearing experiences family members have at home.
In fast and testimony meetings, our Church leaders invite us to “bear brief, heartfelt testimonies and to relate faith-promoting experiences.”5 When guided by the Holy Ghost, we will refrain from sharing lengthy narratives, unloading personal challenges, giving preachments, making repetitious statements, or saying and doing anything that detracts from the Spirit.
Allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt family members to bear testimony, rather than directly or indirectly pressuring them to do so, contributes to the likelihood that each will have a positive experience and also preserves the spirit of the meeting.
Young children should be encouraged to bear testimony in sacrament meeting only when they feel the Holy Ghost prompts them to do so, and when they can do so on their own. By not directing their expressions, we are conveying the important principle that testimonies are not a recitation of words but an opportunity to express sincere feelings related to the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recently, I listened as a very young girl bore her testimony in fast and testimony meeting. I was particularly touched when she expressed appreciation for Joseph Smith in “restoring our Church.” Even at a young age this daughter of God felt a part of the body of Saints. The words she used to express her feelings were her own. I felt her sincerity and humility as she spoke by the Spirit.
I testify that we can extend a lifeline of testimony to our children when we provide a home environment inviting to the Spirit. We can teach and testify as prompted by the Holy Ghost, allowing the Spirit to develop within their souls a core of strength that will carry them through the challenges of life. They will then come to know and feel joy as they, in turn, bear their testimonies and extend that lifeline to others.
“Parents and teachers should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it. It may be best to have younger children learn to share their testimonies at such times as family home evening or when giving talks in Primary until they are old enough to do so in a fast and testimony meeting.”
From First Presidency letter, 2 May 2002.
More on this topic: See Shirley M. Call, “Helping Children Learn to Give Talks,”Ensign, Mar. 1999, 44; Susan L. Warner, “Bear Record of Him,”Ensign, Nov. 1998, 66; Emerson R. West, “This I Know,” Ensign, Dec. 1993, 26; LeGrand R. Curtis, “Happiness Is Homemade,”Ensign, Nov. 1990, 12.