In the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference, Elder Holland (hereafter “EH”) gave an address with the title “Lord, I Believe.” He sets the stage by recounting the story of the father of an afflicted child, desperate for whatever help might be afforded. The disciples were not able to provide the needed blessing. The father then appealed to Jesus with last-resort desperation:
“If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
EH tells us that the man’s initial conviction, by his own admission, is limited, but he has an urgent, emphatic desire on behalf of his only child. And we are then told that that is good enough for a beginning.
EH astutely notes the plural pronouns the father uses in his plea: “have compassion on us, and help us.” The help needed was not for the child alone, but for the father himself as well. And in response to this new and still partial faith, Jesus heals the boy.
At this point EH states that he is addressing the youth of the Church, but then he clarifies that he is including under that rubric those young in age, young in years of membership or young in faith, which one way or another probably includes most of us.
He then offers a series of observations. Observation No. 1: Hold fast the ground already won. He observes how the father asserts his strength first, and only then acknowledges his limitation. “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”
Observation No. 2: Lead with Your Faith. Do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” In an image that is sure to become a classic, EH tells us “That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak!” He makes clear that he is not asking us to pretend to faith we do not have, but he is asking us to be true to the faith we do have. “Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith.” We should be as candid about our questions as we need to be; life is full of such questions on one subject or another, but don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.
A third observation (introduced by “Furthermore“) is that we need to realize that we have more faith than we may think if we will but pay attention to the fruits we experience from living the Gospel.
Don’t Freak Out! Well, that’s my way of saying it. EH says “don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved.” They do and we will. “In this Church what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember in this telestial world everyone is to walk by faith.”
So, EH observes, we need to be patient with human frailty, both our own and that of others. “Except in the case of his only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with since time began.”
Last Observation: Ask for help. When doubt or difficulty comes, do not be afraid to ask for help. If we seek it as honestly and humbly as that father did, we can get it.
Know v. Believe. EH then tells the story of a 14-year old boy who recently said to him, a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” EH then hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. EH explained that “belief” is a precious word, and an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” Christ himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,” a phrase that sent GBH into the mission field. Our AoF each begin with “We believe…” EH told the boy how proud he was of him for the honesty of his quest.
Then, with the advantage of an additional 60 years since he too was a newly believing 14-year old, he went on to tell some things he knows, and conveyed an Apostolic testimony, finally inviting us, if our faith is ever tested in this or any season, to lean on his.
“Hang on. Hope on. Honestly acknowledge your concerns but first fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”
So in summary:
- Hold fast to the ground already won.
- Lead with your faith.
- Upon reflection, you may realize that you have more faith than you thought.
- Don’t freak out. BREATHE!
- Ask for help.
- If you have to, lean on his faith.
I was particularly pleased to see EH’s allowance and even encouragement for framing one’s testimony in the language of faith (“I believe, I trust, I have faith that”) in contrast with the language of absolute assurance (“I know”), since my own practice has long been the former and not the latter. That may mean that I’m closer to that 14-year old boy than to an EH, but I can live with that.