Relief Society Lesson 9: The Precious Gift of Testimony
I would begin this Relief Society lesson by asking a few of the sisters to read these three different stories that Gordon B. Hinckley shared about developing his testimony:
“The earliest instance of which I have recollection of spiritual feelings,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley, “was when I was about five years of age, a very small boy. I was crying from the pain of an earache. … My mother prepared a bag of table salt and put it on the stove to warm. My father softly put his hands upon my head and gave me a blessing, rebuking the pain and the illness by authority of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. He then took me tenderly in his arms and placed the bag of warm salt at my ear. The pain subsided and left. I fell asleep in my father’s secure embrace. As I was falling asleep, the words of his administration floated through my mind. That is the earliest remembrance I have of the exercise of the authority of the priesthood in the name of the Lord.” GBH Manual
“Later in my youth, my brother and I slept in an unheated bedroom in the winter. … Before falling into a warm bed, we knelt to say our prayers. There were expressions of simple gratitude. … I recall jumping into my bed after I had said amen, pulling the covers up around my neck, and thinking of what I had just done in speaking to my Father in Heaven in the name of His Son. I did not have great knowledge of the gospel. But there was some kind of lingering peace and security in communing with the heavens in and through the Lord Jesus. …” GBH Manual
“That testimony grew in my heart as a missionary when I read the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, which further bore witness of Him. That knowledge became the foundation of my life, standing on the footings of the answered prayers of my childhood. Since then my faith has grown much further. I have become His Apostle, appointed to do His will and teach His word. I have become His witness to the world.” GBH Manual
Ask the class to use some words to describe the main elements that were involved in Gordon B. Hinckely’s development of spiritual sensitivity. Some examples might be love, comfort, healing, gratitude, peace, security, expanding knowledge.
What is a testimony? Is it a static thing that, once developed, we possess eternally? Is it a sure knowledge? Is it a complete knowledge? Or is it a process of expansion and movement toward God?
As you move through a discussion of what a testimony is, these thoughts from the manual and other quotes can help in guiding the conversation:
A Testimony is developed through spiritual senses:
The Lord described it when He spoke to Nicodemus and said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” John 3:8
A testimony requires work and struggle to continually develop:
“Seek for a testimony, as you would, my dear sisters, for a diamond concealed. If someone told you by digging long enough in a certain spot you would find a diamond of unmeasured wealth, do you think you would begrudge time or strength or means spent to obtain that treasure? Then I will tell you that if you will dig in the depths of your own heart you will find with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, the pearl of great price, the testimony of the truth of this work.” Zina Diantha Huntington Young, Relief Society President Young Woman’s Journal, April 1892, p. 319
A Testimony helps us to understand personal callings:
“It is a mysterious and wonderful thing, a gift from God to man. It overrides wealth or poverty when one is called to serve. This testimony which is carried in the hearts of our people motivates to an impelling duty.” GBH Manual
A testimony is available to anyone, no matter their position or status:
“It is found in young and old. It is found in the seminary student, in the missionary, in the bishop and the stake president, in the mission president, in the Relief Society sister, in every General Authority. It is heard from those who hold no office other than membership. It is of the very essence of this work.” GBH Manual
Testimony is what moves all of us on a journey toward God and greater purpose:
“It is what is moving the work of the Lord forward across the world. It impels to action. It demands that we do what we are asked to do. It brings with it the assurance that life is purposeful, that some things are of far greater importance than others, that we are on an eternal journey, that we are answerable unto God. …” GBH Manual
What is the diamond that Zina Young talked about, and where does its value lie?
These quotes help us to understand that a testimony is a process or a journey of upward movement, rather than forward movement. We move through the development of testimony toward our greater selves and toward God. A testimony is not a sure knowledge, but a continual expansion of ourselves as we focus on things that lead us upward, and worry less about the things like wealth and material goods that lead us forward. The value of a testimony is spiritual, not material
Sometimes as we expand our spiritual capacity, we naturally expand our capacity for forward movement in our lives too, as in this story related by Gordon B. Hinckley:
“[David Castañeda], his wife, Tomasa, and their children lived on a dry little run-down ranch near Torreón [in Mexico]. They owned 30 chickens, 2 pigs, and 1 thin horse. The chickens provided a few eggs to sustain them and the means whereby to earn an occasional peso. They walked in poverty. Then the missionaries called on them. Sister Castañeda said, “The elders took the blinders from our eyes and brought light into our lives. We knew nothing of Jesus Christ. We knew nothing of God until they came.”
She had two years of schooling, her husband none. The elders taught them, and they were eventually baptized. … They gradually built a prosperous business in which the father and his five sons worked. With simple faith they paid their tithing. They put their trust in the Lord. They lived the gospel. They served wherever called to do so. Four of their sons and three of their daughters filled missions. … They have been taunted by their critics. Their answer is a testimony of the power of the Lord in their lives.
Some 200 of their family and friends have joined the Church due to their influence. Over 30 sons and daughters of family and friends have served missions. They donated the land on which a chapel now stands.
The children, now grown to maturity, and the parents take turns going to Mexico City each month, there to work in the temple. They stand as a living testimony of the great power of this work of the Lord to lift and change people. They are typical of thousands upon thousands throughout the world who experience the miracle of Mormonism as a testimony of the divinity of the work comes into their lives.” GBH Manual
Sometimes we can move forward in our lives and have great success, yet still have a sense of lacking a spiritual wholeness as in this story related by Gordon B. Hinckley:
“Some years ago a brilliant and highly educated young woman spoke in Berchtesgaden, Germany, to a conference of military personnel who were members of the Church. I was there and heard her. She was a major in the army, a medical doctor, a highly respected specialist in her field. She said:
“More than anything else in the world I wanted to serve God. But try as I might I could not find him. The miracle of it all is that he found me. One Saturday afternoon in September 1969 I was at home in Berkeley, California, and heard my doorbell ring. There were two young men there, dressed in suits, with white shirts and ties. Their hair was neatly combed. I was so impressed with them that I said: ‘I don’t know what you’re selling, but I’ll buy it.’ One of the young men said: ‘We aren’t selling anything. We’re missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we would like to talk with you.’ I invited them to come in, and they spoke about their faith.
“This was the beginning of my testimony. I am thankful beyond words for the privilege and honor of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The joy and peace this glad gospel has brought to my heart is heaven on earth. My testimony of this work is the most precious thing in my life, a gift from my Heavenly Father, for which I will be eternally thankful.” GBH Manual
The development of testimony is a personal spiritual journey that involves different elements at different times of our lives. Sometimes it involves a sense of love or comfort, sometimes an expansion of knowledge, sometimes a feeling of peace or security or gratitude. As we bring these elements that we mentioned at the beginning of the lesson into our lives, we expand our capacity to be close to God, to understand spiritual things, and to be our true selves with an understanding of our personal calling in life.
“Each of us has a vital role, even a sacred mission to perform as a daughter in Zion. It is a new day, the dawning of a new era. It is our time, and it is our destiny to rejoice as we fill the earth with greater kindness and gentleness, greater love and compassion, greater sympathy and empathy than has ever been known before. It is time to give ourselves to the Master and allow Him to lead us into fruitful fields where we can enrich a world filled with darkness and misery. Each of us, no matter who we are, no matter where we serve, must arise and make the most of every opportunity that comes. We must follow the counsel given by the Lord and His servants and make our homes houses of prayer and havens of security and safety. We can and must deepen our faith by increasing our obedience and sacrifice. In this individual process a miracle will take place. The Relief Society will begin to stretch and reach out to the millions in need. It will continue to become an organization that brings relief and rejoicing. This will happen one sister at a time. We will unite in our righteousness and truly partake of the fruit of the tree of life together. The fruits of our labors can heal the world and, sisters, in the process they can heal us too.” (Mary Ellen Smoot, Rejoice, Daughters in Zion, Ensign, Nov. 1999)
Invite the sisters to share personal experiences of spiritual expansion and/or ways in which developing their testimonies has helped them to understand their personal callings and to share themselves with the world as the young doctor and the Castaneda family did in the stories above. Consider ending with this quote by Elane S. Jack about the opportunities that come through the development of spiritual sensitivity and expansion as we develop our testimonies.
“There are great blessings and opportunities available—personal blessings that come through unshakable faith and opportunities that come through giving Christian service. I have confidence that our Latter-day Saint sisters will continue in their enthusiasm to promote righteousness, both in themselves and in others. Women internationally can share faith, values, experiences, and ideas. I have respect for the diversity among women and acknowledge the strengths, abilities, and talents they possess. We can relate to all women through the Spirit.” Elaine S. Jack, Relief Society President “Faith, Hope, and Charity: Inspiration from the Lives of General relief Society Presidents.” 2008