My daughter is preparing for baptism. One of the things I encouraged her to do was to go up in front of the ward and bear testimony. She is seven years old, and very concerned about what other people think of her. Though she used to bear testimony regularly as a small child, she hasn't for some time after developing excruciating shyness in front of an audience.
I told her that bearing her testimony in Church on Fast Sunday might be a good thing to do before making the covenant to stand as God's witness. She agreed to do it, but her fears soon overtook her.
"But I don't know what to say," she said.
"You say what you believe in. What the gospel of Jesus Christ means to you."
"I'm going to be nervous."
"Most people are nervous, sweetheart. If you want me to, I'll go up with you."
She nodded, but still looked doubtful. "That would be good, mommy."
"I will stand up with you and hold your hand, if you like."
"Will you whisper what to say?"
"No, honey. This is your testimony, and you should say what you believe. I know you're nervous, but when you are baptized, you are promising Heavenly Father that you will share the gospel, and teach people how you feel about Christ. Getting up in front of everyone will make you very nervous at first, but it gets easier every time you do it. Just like practicing the monkey bars or your cartwheels."
"Okay, mommy." And she did. For the first time alone, she got up in front of everyone. After the stair step was arranged and the podium lowered, she leaned towards the microphone and froze. Darting a nervous look back at me, she caught my encouraging smile and tried again. Nothing. I stood up next to her and put my hand on her back, whispering to her, "say what you believe about Jesus."
Again, she leaned towards the microphone. "I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that this Church is true."
She darted another nervous look up at me and whispered, "I don't know what else to say."
"That is enough, honey. Just say 'In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.'"
Nervously, she did so, and fled, leaving me to follow up her testimony with my own. The problem was, I didn't know what to say. I had been concentrating so much on her efforts, I hadn't thought much about mine. I started to speak, telling the congregation that she had come up in preparation for her baptism, despite how nervous it made her to speak in front of people. I told them how proud I was of her. And then I stood there in a brief moment of silence, reaching for the Spirit to fill my mouth with whatever words I needed to speak. This is, of course, only an approximation. I don't really remember everything I said. I know it was much more choppy and unpolished.
"Like my daughter, I believe in this Church. There are so many choices in this world, and not just choices between good and evil, but choices between good and good. With every choice we make, there is a price. Sometimes that is a price we pay ourselves, but sometimes it is a price that other people pay.
"Look around you. Every single heart in this room has a burden of pain. If not their own pain, than the pain of those they love.
"When we came here to this earth, we agreed to suffer at the hands of our brothers and sisters. We knew that not only would our choices sometimes cause suffering, but that we would have to bear the burden of the choices of others.
"But we were given a Savior, someone who not only mediates between us and God, but between us and each other. We so often talk about turning to Him when we sin, so we can repent and approach God with clean hands and heart. But we often forget that His atonement covers the sins of others, as well.
"When we pay the price of another's choice, it is not to that person that we must go to be healed. It is to Christ. That is the only source of healing, the only way we can be saved. Saved not only from our mistakes and sins, but from our grief and pain.
"There are so many voices out there which demand restitution. There is so much antagonism, people looking for reasons to be offended. But the Gospel of Christ is forgiveness, not only for ourselves, but for our enemies.
"Lately, I've imagined going to the Celestial Kingdom and finding some of those who have hurt me so deeply, who have given me great burdens of pain. And while I can't say that I would be excited to see them at first, the more I think about it, the more joy I feel at that possibility. Whatever in them caused them to hurt me would be healed. And while I have not completely repented, and am not yet completely healed myself, I rejoice in the thought that even those who deliberately harm others can repent and be made whole, a part of God. Divine.
"That is what this Church is for. Because when we have felt pain, we are better able to minister to others who hurt. We are not here just to hear the same points of doctrine again and again. We are here to minister, to heal and be healed. That is the gospel of Christ to me.
"I believe that this Church is true, not because it is perfect, or even has perfect doctrines, but because my Savior is at the helm. This is His work. And in when all is pronounced finished, we will be perfected together.
"I testify to this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."
I feel so blessed to have said these things. I was taught by them as much as anyone. I had no idea that these things waited inside my heart, ready to be said. It wasn't until I heard them that I knew how deeply I believe them. This church isn't about rites of passage, rituals or programs. All of those are mere window dressing. It isn't even about doctrines or policies, doing things exactly perfectly, or even exactly the way Christ wants. The point is not factual perfection, it is symbiotic perfection. If we are not perfected as a Church, we cannot become perfect.
This is why things such as historical sticking points, or women and the priesthood mean so little to me, despite the pain they occasionally cause me. There is nothing on this earth that keeps us from doing the real work of the Lord. Ordinances and covenants exist to teach us that. My seven-year-old daughter was not only a missionary because she overcame her fear, just a little, to stand up in front of people and speak. She was a missionary because she inspired me to do the same. Because of her, I felt the Spirit at Church, which is no small feat of late.
Perfection is not precision. It is much messier than that. Perfection is love, opening our hearts and channeling the healing power of the Atonement through our voice and hands. There is no power more humbling, nor more accessible to all who take upon themselves the Savior's name.
And this I say in His name, Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.Image is from lds.org.