Today I gave my first ever talk in Church!  I got the topic, faith, almost a month ago now, and I’ve been preparing ever since.  It was exciting to get up there and share my thoughts on faith with everyone.  And in honor of Easter, I ‘ll share it here:

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

Developing and growing your faith in life often occurs in the midst of great trials.  One of my favorite scriptures on faith is from Ether 12:6:

“faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”

This really resonates with me and my own experience with faith and trials.  First of all it defines faith as things “hoped for and not seen”.  Faith is when we believe despite a lack of tangible or concrete reasons to do so.  The second part of this scripture talks about the “trial of your faith” which tells us not to question due to the lack of evidence because we won’t have that evidence until after that trial.  During trials we have the opportunity to exercise our faith or act in faith.  Our faith then grows.  And as our faith grows we receive witness confirming our faith through the power of the Holy Ghost.

But how do you start to develop faith when it isn’t strong in your life or even when it seems to be totally absent?  Most of my life I considered myself to be a person of little faith.  Though I was raised as a Reform Jew and was Bat Mitzvahed, Confirmed, and even assistant taught Sunday school at my temple in high school, I didn’t really believe in a higher power.  And a belief in Christ wasn’t even on my radar.  As a child I never felt I was loved unconditionally, so the idea that something I couldn’t even see could love me unconditionally was beyond my understanding.

But I saw the way that my Christian friends felt connected to God.  I saw that the connection they felt was a deep and profound source of joy, comfort, and surety in their lives.  I longed to have that in my own life.  The question was where find it.  Up to that point, Judaism had never given me that sense of a personal connection with our Heavenly Father.  I wanted more than anything in my life to feel close to Him and to know Him as my Father in Heaven who loved me unconditionally.  So I began searching for the religion that would bring me to Him.

I began to research and check out other religions.  But the fundamental problem I kept encountering was that I just plain didn’t believe in God.  However, I realized that my life would be so much happier if I could just believe.  I wanted to feel connected to something larger and feel unconditionally loved.  I realized that if I could just believe in God, my life would be better for having this faith in it.  Logically I figured (and I tend to be a very logically minded person), that if I could just make that leap of faith and believe it wouldn’t even matter if God really existed because the act of believing in Him would bring me so much intrinsic happiness.

So one day I made a choice.  I chose go forward from that moment in my life as if God existed.  I figured I had nothing to loose.  So I made that great leap, and I was rewarded.  I didn’t have the context to understand it at the time, but that act of faith of choosing to believe was soon rewarded with increasing genuine certainty that God existed.

Upon reflection it was much with me as it is described in Alma 32:27:

“exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”

It goes on to say that finding faith is like planting a seed inside of you, and if you do not resist it and allow it to grow inside of you…

“will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.”  Alma 32:28-43

So I made this choice to believe in God and let Him into my life, and the seeds of faith were planted inside me and began to grow.

In the meantime, I was going through probably the most significant trial of my life to date.  When I was 18, I started getting sick.  It started with strange but fairly mild symptoms like fevers and joint pain that the doctors couldn’t explain.  But as the years progressed, so did the symptoms.  By my mid 20s, I was spending sometimes months at a time in the hospital.  And the diagnoses started to pile up.  I didn’t have just one illness.  I had five of them.  All of them were autoimmune diseases.  Autoimmune diseases are a type of illness where your immune system starts thinking your own body is a foreign invader and begins to attack your own tissue.  There is no known cure and the only medications for it have serious and sometimes life threatening side effects.

It was a very difficult time, going through the years of not knowing what was wrong.  I lost a lot of friends who just didn’t know how to be there for me through my illness, so it was a very lonely time.  And at the time I didn’t have my faith to lean on.  I had no knowledge of Heavenly Father and his love and plan for me.  So it was very lonely in that way as well.  I did, however, have an an unidentifiable feeling that I would get through it and that somehow everything would be okay.  At the time I didn’t know how to label it other than faith in myself.  Now I know that sense of peace with the situation came from my Heavenly Father, but at the time I didn’t even know what it meant to have faith in someone other than myself.  And I certainly hadn’t a inkling that my illness would be the thing that lead me to this Church and the Gospel.  That through my own infirmity my prayers would be answered.

There came a point where I could no longer completely care for myself due to my illness.  My joint pain was so severe that I needed to use a wheelchair full time, and I no longer could preform basic tasks by myself like dressing or making meals.  My mom who I live with couldn’t do this every moment for me, so I ended up hiring a caregiver to help.  The second caregiver I hired is the one who first introduced me to the Gospel.  At the time I knew very little about what it meant to be LDS, but we would talk a lot about it.  She shared her faith with me and her testimony almost every day.  I was fascinated.  I shared with her my religious background and it led to some amazing conversations.  I also shared my own quest to find a way to have a close relationship with Heavenly Father.

She encouraged me to start to pray.  I had never really done so before.  At least not in my own words with my own personal hope and dreams, wants and desires and needs.  At first it felt so strange.  So unnatural.  But it soon became more and more comfortable.  And also a comfort.  But I still sensed that something was missing.  And I deep down I think I knew what it was.  So I did an experiment.  I started adding the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” to the end of all my prayers.  The difference that made was subtle but profound.  So I planted that next seed of faith inside myself.  But I didn’t really believe in Christ at that point.  It was just something that I was trying on.  But that is how it started for me.

The Second Coming

The Second Coming

There’s one conversation that I had with my caregiver that stands out in my mind.    I said out loud that “I wonder what kind of miracle I would have to experience to make me go from not believing in Christ to believing in Him.”  At that point I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to experience that kind of miracle in my life.  Fortunately I was wrong.

If I recall correctly, it was only a few days later that my caregiver convinced me to attend Church with her and getting a blessing for healing afterwards.  When I entered the Chapel I had this sense of peace that I had rarely experienced before.  But it wasn’t until I got the blessing that things really shifted for me.  From the moment the missionaries put their hands on my head I was overwhelmed with such an intense sense of Heavenly Father’s presence that I nearly couldn’t bare it.  It was so intense that I thought I was going to pass out.  I felt God for the first time in my life.  And I knew that He lived and that He loved me.  More than that I knew that this experience occurred where it did for a reason.  I was suddenly sure that it wouldn’t have happened anywhere less than His true Church.  And that church must be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a reason.  I knew that Jesus was the Christ.  Heavenly Father had heard my words spoken a few days prior and granted me that miracle that would allow me to believe in Christ as the Son of God and my Savior.

But the miracle of that blessing didn’t end there.  I was surprised a few days later to notice that I was suddenly in much less pain especially in my joints.  And so I started walking again for the first time in over a year.  I walked “by faith , not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

That week I also started taking the missionary lessons and I was baptized about 6 weeks later.

It reminds me of D&C 63:9-10

“10 Yea, signs come by faith , not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
9 But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.”

I’d like to conclude with this quote from Richard G. Scott from October 2010 General Conference:

“Thus, every time you try your faith—that is, act in worthiness on an impression—you will receive the confirming evidence of the Spirit. As you walk to the boundary of your understanding into the twilight of uncertainty, exercising faith, you will be led to find solutions you would not obtain otherwise. With even your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you, when it will yield the greatest advantage. Be thankful that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes. That causes your faith to increase and your character to grow.”  (The Transforming Power of Faith and Character)

I’d like to bare my testimony that it is through trials that we are able to develop our faith in Heavenly Father and Christ.  As we act in faith we will be rewarded with increasing faith.  I have a testimony that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and loves us all unconditionally.  And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.