Where Little is Given

Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Belief, Gospel, history | 11 comments

Holy Spirit Stained GlassZina D. H. Young was the third General Relief Society President and was known for having the gift of tongues. She wrote about her experiences with that gift,

Soon after this [her baptism], the gift of tongues rested upon me with overwhelming force. I was somewhat alarmed at this strange manifestation, and so checked its utterance. What was my alarm, however, to discover that upon this action upon my part, the gift left me entirely, and I felt that I had offended that Holy Spirit by whose influence I had been so richly blessed.

I suffered a great deal in my feelings over this matter, and one day while mother and I were spinning together, I took courage and told her of the gift I had once possessed, and how, by checking it I had lost it entirely.

Mother appreciated my feelings and told me to make it a matter of earnest prayer, that the gift might once more be given to me.

I walked down to a little spring in one of the meadows, and as I walked along I mused on my blessing and how I had turned away the Spirit of God. when I reached the spring, I knelt down and offered up a prayer to God and told Him if He could forgive my transgression, and give me back the lost gift, I would promise never to check it again, no matter where or when I felt its promptings.

I have kept this vow, but it has been a heavy cross at times, for I know that this gift is the least of all gifts, and it is oftentimes misunderstood and even treated lightly by those who should know better. Yet it is a gift of God, and should not be despised by him who receives it, but magnified to its extent, even as the lowest grade of the priesthood is the least of all, and yet it needs be magnified as earnestly as are the higher and greater offices. (Young Woman’s Journal Vol. 4, April 1893)

Since I first read this story about six years ago, I’ve thought about it and what it tells us about gifts of the Spirit many times. Here, Zina receives a gift of the Spirit after her baptism, but “checked” it. The gift left her and she realized that she should not have limited her gift and asks for it again and continues to use the gift throughout her life. It’s almost like the Parable of the Talents: Zina was given a “talent” and hid it like the servant who was afraid. But unlike that servant, she realizes its worth and it’s given back to her. I’ve also thought about what she didn’t do: she didn’t ask for the gift in the first place, and it doesn’t sound like she did anything in particular to “grow” this gift. It was simply given to her. If I wanted to have the same gift of tongues, would prayer and study give it to me?

It has caused me to rethink how I look at all gifts of the Spirit. Moroni lists many gifts including, faith, healing, prophesy, to see ministering angels, tongues, and more. In Doctrine and Covenants 46:13, we are told that even having a testimony of Christ is a gift of the Spirit.

And this is where I find Mormonism gives us conflicting messages.  On one hand, Alma says that faith can grow from a simple desire to have faith and it can grow to a knowledge. On the other hand, faith and knowledge and a testimony of Christ are gifts of the Spirit and, “all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every (wo)man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:11-12).

Unfortunately, I don’t have answers, but I do have questions.

My patriarchal blessing lists some gifts that I’ve been given. When I was 16 and receiving the blessing, I thought some of them were laughable and not “real” gifts, though I’ve since recognized their importance. And there are some gifts that I felt I had when I got my blessing, but I don’t really feel at the moment. Is it as simple as asking for them back, like Zina did here?

And is it possible that there are people who simply, by nature of never having been given the gift, cannot have faith or a testimony of Christ? Are there people, no matter how hard they try to build a testimony through prayer or scripture reading or service or obedience or whatever routes their Sunday School lessons suggest, will not be able to simply because not everyone is given that gift? Can we be ok with saying, “Some people have different gifts and it’s ok if a knowledge of Christ isn’t one of them?”

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11 Comments

  1. It seems to me that believing that some people are given the gift of faith and testimony of Christ and some are not is akin to believing that some people are elected for salvation and others are not, no matter what they do in this life. Both notions leave me cold. Surely, God counts our actions more than our testimonies–or lack thereof.

    • For me instead of, “Well, I have this gift of the Spirit and others don’t,” I see it more like, “We’re all different and that’s ok and I shouldn’t expect others’ to think or believe the same way I do.” But it does seem frustrating that some would receive some gifts and seem to have “more.” The master in the parable of the talents isn’t fair in his talent-granting and seems especially unfair in how he treats the one who has only one talent. So I don’t know… maybe we should throw that model out altogether?

  2. Can you, for the sake of this discussion, define “testimony”? Does it have to include “knowledge” in order for it to be a testimony?

    I ask because the Doctrine and Covenants 46 list of diverse gifts includes knowledge of Christ as a gift as well as the equally divine gift of believing on the words of those who “know” and states, as it starts the list, that some people have one gift and some another that all may be edified together.

    I think that we as a people focus so much on Alma 32 and Moroni 10:5 and the latter’s references to “knowing the truth” that we tend, erroneously, to dismiss as less than ideal any statement of testimony that doesn’t include the words “know” and “true” and we fail to note that verse 6 of Moroni 10 defines “truth” as “whatsoever is good”. Erroneously thinking that in order to be enough, our search for understanding must result in a sure knowledge can lead those of us who have, instead of the gift of knowing, the gift of thinking about, reviewing and determining the goodness of one thing or another and deciding to act according to that determination (ie. the gift of believing) to feel like we have fallen short of what is required in order to bear witness or to have “arrived”. And that’s not the case.

    The gifts listed in Doctrine and Covenants 46 are not a hierarchical list but rather a list of equally divine and necessary gifts that are needed in the body of Christ for all the variety of work that the body needs to in order do His work. Not knowing, but instead having simply determined that a thing is good and acting accordingly, is a gift that I’ve seen effectuate some wonderful things and some terrific outreach and understanding when it’s recipient puts it to work.

    So, yes, I believe and think it’s fine that not every person has the gift of knowing. That’s part of the plan of diversity of gifts.

    • I don’t think a testimony requires knowledge. I’ve always seen it in the Alma 32 light and included “desire to believe” in the definition of testimony to me, which is why I included “faith” in this. I know Alma says it’ll lead to knowledge, but I don’t think it always does.

      When I finished writing this post, it occurred to me that it seems we do expect people to have a certain level of testimony to get a temple recommend, but if “faith” is a gift of the Spirit and not given to everyone- aren’t we excluding people from the temple (or expecting them to lie) over things they might not have any control of? I guess I’m threadjacking my own post- just something I’ve been thinking about.

    • MB,
      I like your idea that knowledge and discernment of what is good are both important gifts of the spirit, and that they shouldn’t be ranked hierarchically.

  3. Very good questions. As someone who constantly struggles to have faith, I’ve found some solace in the idea that faith is a spiritual gift that not everyone gets a lot of.

    • Me too, Emily U.

  4. This is so insightful Tophat, that I am still thinking about it and its application to me. I think it is so easy for me to see the gifts given to others- those who are talented in sewing, art, math, patience (I do not have the gift of being patient and have been reminded of that in several blessings), even the gift of being forgiving. What’s more- if I think that I have a gift– say a gift of singing (I don’t)- then- does it become pride, and thus, removed? Or does it remain a gift, even if truthfully, I would be one of the tone-deaf performers laughed about in American Idol out-takes?

    I dunno. But I am left wondering about gifts- and my perception of gifts. You have inspired me to read my patriarchal blessing. In that alone, you have shared your gift of being inspiring to others. Thank you.

  5. These are great questions, Top Hat. I don’t have many answers, but I love reading others’ thoughts on this.

  6. Tophat, Yes, what great questions. I’ll be honest that I have never understood the gift of tongues so I find the example striking. I also frequently question my own gifts. My patriarchal blessing says I have the gift of revelation – and included dreams – as one of the forms. I have to admit that this spooks me a little bit sometimes. Because while I have had dreams which you could consider revealing, most of the dreams I have are just weird and a product of a tired mind. I rather like relying on rational thought instead and making lists of gifts I understand. Overall, I like the idea that we can recognize our own gifts, talents, and abilities while also recognizing our own weakness.

  7. Awesome post, TopHat.

    In the past few years, I’ve wondered if doubt qualifies as a spiritual gift. I feel like my doubt has made me a more earnest seeker. It is what causes me to study the scriptures so deeply, to think about Mormonism (including aspects of culture, theology, and doctrine) pretty much most of the day every day, and to work so hard in my chosen spiritual path (I think I work hard here, but not efficiently or effectively). If I had the gift of faith, I’d be lazy, and I think it might be totally awesome.

    I love your story of Zina. Thank you for sharing it.

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