“Book of Mormon Principles: A Change of Heart,” Ensign, June 2004, 18
Because of the Fall, each of us is separated from the presence of God (see Hel. 14:16). Without God’s influence in our lives, we are, by nature, disposed to do evil. We find ourselves an enemy to our own Creator (see Mosiah 3:19), in a state that is contrary to His nature and to our own happiness. To escape this condition, it is necessary for each of us to undergo the process of conversion. We must come to know the love of Jesus Christ and the reality of His Atonement, receive a remission of our sins, and experience a change of heart.
While some may initially experience conversion as a single, life-changing event, all of us will find that changing our hearts is a lifelong process. Thus we see the significance of the great question that Alma asked the members of the Church in Zarahemla: “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
Do we feel to sing the song of redeeming love? Do we still feel the joy and the love and the desire to do good and to be good that we felt when we first experienced a change in heart? Do we feel clean and redeemed? If we still have these feelings, how do we retain them? If we do not now have these feelings, how can we once again experience them in our lives?
As a young teenager I came to know for myself in a wonderful way that God lives and that He loves me. I was blessed with a powerful witness of these truths. From the time that I received this knowledge and witness, my life took on a different meaning and purpose. I had a great desire to serve God. I began to pray that I could become a Methodist minister so that I might serve Him in a more meaningful way. Much good came into my life and my outlook brightened. At the same time, an intense struggle began within me to find and walk the path that He would have me walk.
Even though I grew up in a community that consisted predominantly of wonderful Latter-day Saints, and even though I attended Primary regularly and other Church meetings from time to time, I resisted the truths and the doctrine of the restored Church. However, as a skeptical 15-year-old boy, I found myself visiting Nauvoo, Carthage, and Palmyra in company with my LDS friends en route to the National Boy Scout Jamboree. In the process of visiting these sacred places, I came to know, in the same powerful way I had learned God lives, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the fulness of the gospel had been restored to the earth through him.
Even though I knew then that God lives and that His church and priesthood had been restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, it was not until I was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost that I really began to notice a change of heart. I began to experience, in a greater way, changes in my life, my attitude, and even in my disposition.
I know that I am a substantially different person than I would have been if I had not gone through this process. I hardly dare to think of what or who I might have become without that change of heart.
And what about now? Am I the person I need to be in order to enter into Father’s presence and inherit all that He has? Have I become the manner of man that He is? I realize that there is much left to do and that I must yet become a better person.
“And if men come unto me,” the Savior said, “I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
I know I must make a great effort to continue to come unto Him. Through humility, desire, prayerful supplication, studying, pondering, and likening the scriptures unto myself, I come to know, over and over, of His goodness, long-suffering, mercy, and wisdom, and of my own nothingness before Him. I realize that I fall short of who I could become. In these moments of realization, I feel the conviction of guilt and the shame that comes with knowing I could be better. I am compelled to call on Him for mercy and forgiveness and guidance.
I had an experience to illustrate this process while serving as a stake president. I had a very busy schedule one particular day that included some important meetings and interviews in the evening that I knew required the Lord’s Spirit and guidance. However, early in the day, my plans for preparation fell apart as I had to go to several places of business to have something fixed or clarified that was totally unrelated to my plans for the day. The distraction was frustrating, and, in my opinion, entirely unnecessary. Why couldn’t people do their jobs properly and live up to their commitments? Why couldn’t they do things right the first time?
As I went from business to business, my impatience began to grow until it nearly consumed me. I was angry and frustrated and in a state of high anxiety, all of which was of my own doing. I do not know whether or not those with whom I had interacted knew of my state of mind, but I certainly had negative feelings toward them. Things got worse, and I had to go back for repeat visits to some of the businesses to get things straightened out. Before I was finished, I fully felt the tribulation of being in the world.
The Savior said, “In me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). But by my own doing, I had put the Savior and all good things far, far away. There seemed to be no way to access Him or that promised peace. I was lost and helpless.
I began to call upon Heavenly Father. I pled for His Spirit to be with me. After all, He knew of my assignments for the evening, and He knew of my desire to perform my duties “in the meekness of [His] Spirit” (D&C 19:23). Still I felt no relief. I was devastated. I needed His Spirit to guide me. I was hungry for the peace and calm and assurance that come from being in His presence. As the time approached to go to the stake center and to do the things that my calling required, I was pleading for His grace and mercy and forgiveness. Nothing changed. I was suffering even to the extent of feeling an almost physical pain. I continued to plead and pressed forward toward my meetings, not knowing what else to do. As I entered the stake center, I paused and heard a voice in my heart and in my mind: “President, you ask me for grace and mercy. You could have been gracious.”
Oh, how ashamed I was. I viewed myself in my “own carnal state” (Mosiah 4:2), and I knew I could have and should have done better. I pled for forgiveness and made resolution to be better and to bless the lives of those whom I had recently treated so contemptuously. I cannot express the joy I felt when the Spirit of the Lord finally came upon me and I received peace of conscience.
My feelings changed for all of those with whom I had interacted. I saw them as wonderful people only trying to do their jobs and to please me the best they could. I saw them differently and felt differently because my heart had been softened and changed. Subsequent days bore out this change of heart. I made several trips into those same businesses to make amends and to bless and to lift their lives. I came to love those whom I had once held contemptible.
To always retain a remission of our sins, we must come unto Christ as He invites. We must keep ourselves clean to the best of our ability and be obedient to the commandments and to the promptings we receive. We must always remember Him and keep Him in our remembrance as we covenant to do during the sacrament. If we have made temple covenants, we must live up to them. We must accept the Savior’s invitation: “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23.)
Read together the scriptures mentioned in this article. Discuss how each verse relates to experiencing our own change of heart.
Invite family members to describe Elder Mead’s lifelong process of experiencing a change of heart. Discuss how his experiences are similar to or different from those of family members. Bear testimony of the Savior’s grace and mercy.