I’d Like to Bear My Testimony…

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.37.15 AMI don’t enjoy bearing my testimony. Well, I don’t enjoy bearing my testimony in front of a congregation. I can write bout my feelings until the proverbial cows come home, but standing up and proclaiming what I believe in front of 200 people I only marginally know? Thanks, I’ll keep my seat.

Based on what I’ve heard over the years, many (a lot? most?) Mormons aren’t super-fans of Fast & Testimony meeting. In my head, I think of it as Open Mic Day, and my son with autism asks me every Sunday “Is this THAT Sunday??” hoping against hope it’s not. Sometimes we just stay home. I mean, I get it- I know why we do it, and I think the nexus of the idea is probably a good one- we need to clarify what we believe, and standing before your community and speaking up is a good exercise in personal faith and in finding- or at least asking for- that clarity. It’s hard to stand up and say what you believe- or rather, it is if you are actually speaking from your heart.

In a twist of irony, my very first Mormon meeting, by sheer happenstance way back in 2002, was a Fast & Testimony meeting. I had been church shopping, and I thought the pretty building looked interesting. Turns out I couldn’t go into the pretty building (Hello, Spokane Temple!) but there was another building right across the parking lot, just as big, but lower and brown and plain, where the doors were open. The meeting was partly over, and there was a small girl at the podium, with the microphone drawn down in a tight arc, clutching it in her small hand, as she talked about Jesus.

I sat down.

My baby wasn’t walking yet, and I held his squirmy body in my lap, while I tried to keep him from kicking the folding metal chairs where we sat in the back of the chapel- or in the front of a very large basketball court, depending on which direction you looked. It’s all normal to me now, but at the time… I’m not sure Mormons realize how crazy-special-weird this particular ritual can be to outside eyes. Here I was in this large, strange building (been in a lot of churches, never sat in a basketball court before) and there wasn’t a homily or a preacher… after the child stepped down, an older man stood and approached the front. He was followed by others, some children, some mothers holding babies, some needing assistance up the steps, some tears, some with evident joy. I was transfixed. It was so…odd. But it was also oddly beautiful.

When I got home, my (first) husband asked me how it was. He knew I was church-shopping and he was fully supportive- from his position on the couch. “It was… weird. I think I’ll go back.” Insert fourteen complicated, rich, difficult, trying, beautiful, heartbreaking years, and most weeks I still say that, “It was weird. I think I’ll go back.”

Of course, now I am thoroughly Mormon. I’m my own version of what that means, but I kind of think that’s true of all of us- and it’s one of the things I love about us. We work it out for ourselves, and with our communities—we’re actually commanded to—and figure out what it means to be Mormons. And so, we share our expressions of our faith one Sunday a month. It might be a miracle in and of itself that my introduction to Mormonism was a F&T meeting, and I stayed. I don’t know what was in the water that day, given what I’ve at times heard since, but it was exactly what I needed.

This last Sunday was one of those Sundays where my scars were scraped, and I found myself clutching my seat. Sometimes the platitudes bead up and roll off my back, and sometimes they soak into my skin and sting and bite. Usually, like childbirth, I breathe through it, knowing everyone is birthing different facets of themselves, and perhaps someone actually needs to hear about gallstones or lost keys or the imaginary ideal family—even if that person is only the speaker. They matter.

Then it happened.

A person was speaking about The Family, and veered off into divorce, and spent some time making broad, sweeping generalizations, of which you can, in all likelihood, fill in the blanks.

My head started to swim. Oh no. Nope. I have zero plans on standing up. I am not doing this. I do not have a testimony about this, and this isn’t about me.

But you do have a testimony.

My chest started to get hot, and the wobbliness crept down my legs. My stomach started to ache, and my hands tremble. Dammit, I don’t want to!

But you do have a testimony, and it matters.

My heart hurts.

I think we call it a burning in the breast.

Ok, fine.

The speaker finished, and without hesitation, I nudged my (second) husband’s knee and he rose so I could step into the aisle. There is that surreal slightly-out-of-body sensation when you absolutely do not want to do something, and you are clearly, absolutely, doing it. My shoes are black and white, their ribbon laces are tied. I am walking to the front, to voluntarily speak to 200 people about my heart. My hands are shaking until I set them gently on the heavy-grained wood of the podium. Like falling to the ground after ring-around-the rosy, everything is joltingly, perfectly still.

“I’d like to bear my testimony of the Atonement…”

 

Comments

  1. ashmae says:

    beautiful piece, tracy. I’m glad you got up. You’re right, there is something so strange and humbling and human about the way we all stand up to say things that mean so much to each of us.

  2. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. We’re so much stronger and better when everyone has a voice. Thanks for getting up!

  4. Well-said. Thank you!

  5. CS Eric says:

    This post moved me because I imagine the rest of your testimony to be much like one I heard in a talk in my ward a couple of weeks ago. I was the other speaker, and we were asked to talk about the conference talk that meant the most to us. The speaker before me also chose to focus on Elder Uchtdorf’s talk, and both of us talked about the rebuilding of Dresden as a type of the healing the Atonement can give. As far as I was concerned, we could have closed the meeting after her talk, as she talked about finding the Church, drifting away and coming back, and holding on after her divorce. I found some of the strength in her that I find in you. Thank you for sharing your strength.

  6. Thanks, CS Eric. Yeah, you’d be right about what followed. But it wasn’t necessary to say it here.

    Thank you, Ashmae, Hope, Aaron and John.

  7. I which I had that kind of courage, but I’ve been here in our weird space for my whole life, including the crucial formative years, and I fear (!) I let it be groomed out of me. I will defend F&T meeting though, at least in theory. It’s kind of amazing that we do this in one-fourth of our sacrament meetings, given the authoritarian nature of our common culture. One might expect it to have long since been correlated.
    Maybe it has been.
    I think there is great value in allowing open mic; I just think we do it at the wrong meeting. I once found myself at a Quaker funeral, where the, um, moderator turned the floor over to any of the mourners in the circle who felt so moved. Having to focus our thoughts and remarks on our deceased friend made for a wonderful hour, and a most praiseworthy memorial.

    Your description of the surreal walk to the podium is priceless. Also, love the shoes.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Tracy. As a lifelong member, I find myself increasingly uncomfortable in F&T meeting. In our ward it has become a fairly predictable gravitation to the lowest common denominator. Despite numerous efforts by bishoprics to make it more Christ-centered, it defaults to the same handful of quirky characters getting up and oversharing personal information. If these individuals had another group therapy forum in which to share these things it would perhaps allow F&T meetings to get back to what they should be. I suggested handing out vouchers that would both encourage members to use them and limit the number of times they could get up during a given year. So far, no one has taken me up on the idea. Other suggestions for helping a ward break out of this rut???

  9. Get up and speak up, so they don’t dominate.

  10. I’m also curious if anyone has witnessed or shared a testimony in F&T meeting that has included an experience on dealing with a faith crisis or overcoming doubt. I’m sure I’m not alone in that part of my discomfort in these meetings is hearing people express how they “know the church is true” and realizing that they don’t know what they don’t know. I yearn to hear these kind of expressions, yet I know that those of us experiencing doubt are probably the least inclined to speak publicly about it.

  11. Kristine says:

    Tracy, this is great. But I have to confess I”m distracted by the shoes. Are those the actual ones you were wearing?

  12. This is great. As always.

  13. My wife is also a convert to the Church. Similar to your experience, her first sacrament meeting was also a Fast & Testimony meeting. She had a similar reaction to yours, “It was weird. I think I’ll go back.” The rest, as they say, is history.

    Btw, my current wife is also my second wife. Some things are actually better the second time around. Yes? ;-)

  14. Kristine, they’re *very* similar. Mine have black ribbon laces.

    mwolv, I actually talked about having a faith crisis in my testimony. I do often, when appropriate, because I always imagine someone, somewhere, might need to see examples that aren’t perfect, or don’t even try to be perfect.

    Brian, Amen.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Very nice, Tracy. I especially liked your ending.

  16. lankiel says:

    Regarding the faith crisis: I’m in the bishopric so I’m bearing my testimony at least every 3 months, and I wonder how long it will be before someone comments about what I *never* say: I know the Church is True. I trained as a scientist, and am very very careful about saying I know. I believe, I hope, I love, I am strengthened by, etc. But rarely will I say I know.

  17. I never say “I know…” Ever. I hope. I pray. I have faith… but do not know.

  18. “I mean, I get it- I know why we do it.”

    Our secret is out? We do it so the bishopric has one Sunday where they don’t need to invite speakers and pray that they show up! Instead, once a month they pray that no one says anything (terribly) inappropriate.

    Thanks for the post. I am certain your testimony was well-received by many!

  19. And when they inevitably do (say something [terribly] inappropriate), they have go-to people in the audience they text and plead with them to come up next, right Bonjo?

  20. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I’ve been struggling for the past several months. One of our ward members has become a monthly testimony bearer and it’s not just a testimony, but a talk. Every. Month. Thank you Tracy for doing what you did. I also got up once and charged up to be the first one and bore my entire testimony about the mission and atonement of Jesus Christ–purposefully not testifying of any other aspect of my testimony. I think it provided a domino effect where more Christ-centered testimonies followed and it was a more spiritually uplifting testimony meeting for me.

  21. True Blue says:

    Last time I had a TR interview Bishop asked me to bare my testimony, then asked me not to bear that testimony in public, because it might upset the conservative folk. I can share a sanatised one, but wont. I too wonder what about the church others believe is true.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve been in wards where I’ve dreaded testimony meeting due to the resident nutcases. But I quite enjoy it in my current ward. We have a tradition where at the beginning the bishopric member conducting reads excerpts from the letters home of our missionaries out in the field. I love that practice. And my ward (knock on wood) just doesn’t have that stereotypical nut that insists on hogging the podium every month. And due to our diversity (we have lots of latino members), some of the testimonies are borne in Spanish. The whole thing is really great.

  23. I really love it when people do that, Kev- when members speak in whatever language they are most comfortable and fluent. I find it beautiful.

  24. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Tracy. I’m glad to have your voice in the mix. We’d be much the poorer without you.

  25. Thank you for sharing

  26. For me the testimonies “that aren’t perfect, or don’t even try to be perfect” are the ones that most touch my heart. I’m not perfect, my family isn’t perfect, my marriage isn’t perfect. Yet I’ve sat through many a F&T meeting that left me thinking I was the only one in the congregation not on the fast track to being translated. Still, I go back, because every now and then someone bears a heartfelt testimony, and the Spirit burns like a fire that enlightens, comforts, and encourages me to keep trying.

  27. Tracy, outstanding. Testimonies are so raw, so unvarnished. Sometimes a train wreck, sometimes it’s the best thing ever.

  28. bshifflerolsen says:

    Yes. Amen.

    (And as for train wreck testimonies, I think I am prime culprit.)

  29. Fast and Testimony meetings can be horrendous. But the best ones are WAY better than the best talks, so I appreciate the format change.

    Plus, we had a missionary bear his testimony of Yentel on Sunday: wonders never cease.

    (Mission President in residence).

  30. Dodie Wagner says:

    Love it!