Gotta love when you can throw ultrarunning into church!
I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also know as the LDS church, or Mormons. It was finally my turn after living here a year to speak in sacrament meeting. The talk I gave is below. I'm sure it's not APA edit standard ;)
My husband Jeremy and I have 4 great kids ages 4, 8, 10, 12. I have my hands in many things including doula work and teaching water aerobics. I recently graduated from nursing school and hope to begin work as an RN this fall. By hobby and a little by trade also, I run. A lot. I grew up a triathlete for many years and then began ultrarunning about 4 years ago after my husband co-founded Altra Footwear. Ultrarunning is anything longer than a marathon, typically 31-100 miles, usually on trail in the mountains. My most recent race was my 5th 100 mile race on the Western States trail in California.
The first questions I typically get are “100 miles?! all at once??", “do you do it alone?”, and “how?” Also a lot of bewildered looks wondering why. All I can say for why is because I can. I love to be out in the mountains and see such beautiful things, I love to race, and I love the more relaxed pace run in a 100 miles. They are a big journey though, full of ups and downs physically and mentally, literally and figuratively, before ultimately crossing the finish line.
I bring this hobby up because I have a lot of time to think while I’m running, and I find a correlation to my talk assignment of Building a Testimony.
Do I do it all at once? Yes. I run and hike 100 miles all at once. There might be quick breaks at aid stations, but I don’t stop for long. It typically takes around 24 hours. I do run it alone, not as a relay like in Ragnar. I may have a pacer join me during the last 30-40 miles. The weight of the work is all on me though, but there are people along the way like my crew and pacers and volunteers that support me. As for how, well, it’s one step at a time, you just keep moving.
A testimony, or those things we know to be true through the power of the Holy Ghost, helps us to stay close to the Lord and keep His commandments. The Relief Society presidency in the February 1991 Ensign said “our testimonies should help us sink our spiritual roots deep so [that we cannot be moved and] can grow to new heights”
We begin a testimony of something, first by belief. Alma in the Book of Mormon counsels ‘even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you’.
I studied several talks while preparing mine, and found the same 3 basic answers on how to build a testimony over and over again from prophets and apostles. They are simple answers of prayer, scripture study, and service.
Joseph Smith knew that if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God. In the April 1999 New Era, President Hinckley said It is unlikely you will hear voices from Heaven, but there will come a Heaven sent assurance, peaceful and certain. I was counseled in seminary (9-12th grade religion class) growing up to not simply jump up quickly from prayer to carry on with my day or climb into bed, but to pause during and particularly after my prayers to listen for and feel answers and guidance from the Holy Ghost. Prayer is the most simple of these 3 actions to build a testimony. Something we can do anywhere, anytime to seek knowledge and confirmation from the Lord.
2nd, Scripture Study
President Hinkley counseled despite demands on your time and your studies [speaking to the youth], read the word of the Lord. I promise there will come into your heart an understanding and a warmth that will be pleasing.
President Uchdorf in the October 2014 conference talk titled Receiving a Testimony said to search the word of God…not with an intent to doubt or criticize but with a sincere desire to discover truth. Consider, ponder, fearlessly strive to believe.
Along with the same 3 principles of pray, read and serve being counseled again and again, so too was reading from the Book of Mormon specifically. Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the Seventy said Searching #greatandspaciousbuilding for knowledge will not lead you to truth, it’s not posted there. Only the Savior has the words of eternal life. He continues, If you are struggling, confused or spiritually lost, I urge you to do the one thing I know will get you back on track. Begin again to prayerfully study the Book of Mormon and live it’s teaching every day…I testify of the profound power in the Book of Mormon that will change your life and strengthen your resolve to follow Christ.
I would also like to add music, specifically hymns to studying in an effort to strengthen our testimony. There can be powerful spirit surrounding music, and reading, listening to, or singing from the hymn book or even children’s song book can be a great way to remind ourselves of the truths of the gospel and hopefully feel a spiritual confirmation of them.
3rd, Service or Action
A testimony is not just words we speak to others, it is shown in how we live. Mathew 7:16 said “ye shall know them by their fruits”. How we live our lives, the little things we do because we know them to be right, testify to others, and can be beacons to us individually of our own testimonies. Our service to others is serving Him and also invites the spirit to be with us, the spirit that teaches and strengthens us.
Quoting Elder Pearson again, Obedience builds faith in Christ. Faith is a principle of action and power. Consistently following the Savior’s example produces spiritual power and capacity.
Just like with my running, consistency is key. I cannot show up to run 100 miles having only trained a few times a month here and there. I must exercise my body regularly to keep it strong and growing stronger. Elder Pearson also counseled the importance of continued effort in building our testimonies. He said If we stop doing those things that bring about deepening conversion, we regress spiritually. In a race, if I let myself stop for too long and get comfortable at an aid station particularly at night when it’s dark and cold, I run the risk of staying there. Not finishing the race, talking myself out of continuing. I have been there many times. I have to press forward.
Elder Pearson said there is no 'hanging in there' principle of the gospel, we must constantly be coming unto Christ and be perfected in him. True disciples continue to awaken unto God each day in meaningful personal prayer, earnest scripture study, personal obedience, and selfless service.President Uchdorf adds that Most often gaining a testimony is not a task of a minute, hour or day. It is not once and done. The process of gathering spiritual light is a quest of a lifetime.
So we have our 3 basic answers, pray, study and serve. We should continually seek knowledge, serve those around us, seek to live righteously and keep our covenants, and attend our meetings and the temple to help to build our testimonies. But sometimes life is hard and we struggle, our testimonies may even struggle. I know in regards to a 100 mile race, I certainly struggle. I lose motivation, encouragement, hope, energy. I have to asses where I’m at with my nutrition, hydration, electrolytes. Do I need to turn music on to help keep me moving? I need to work on keeping a positive attitude, and often, I just need to be patient and keep going having faith that in time that I will feel better and come out of this low.
Elder Jeffery R Holland gave an April 2013 conference talk titled Lord I Believe, about the bible story of a man who approached Christ to heal his son. Jesus asked if he believed and he quickly answered Lord I believe, [then I imagine he paused a moment and continued] help thou my unbelief. He did have a testimony, but he knew it wasn’t perfect and he needed Christ to help not only his son, but him also.
Elder Holland said When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. If we want it as humbly and honestly as this father did, we can get it. The scriptures phrase such earnest desires as being of real intent, pursued with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God. I testify that in response to that kind of importuning. God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief.
He also says to Hold to the ground you have already won. Hold fast to what you know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. Be true to the faith you DO have. The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue – it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know. He continues,
I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubts is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. IT IS NOT! Be as candid about your questions as you need to be, life is full of them on one subject or another, but if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working it’s miracle.
Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.
Belief is so important. I believe very much in positive thinking and self talk and mental imagery.
I cannot run 100 miles if I don’t believe I can. I have to exercise my body to prepare it for the difficult journey, but more importantly I have to condition my mind. I have to have confidence that I can do it, that I can endure the hard times and complete the distance. If I approach it casually and just hope for the best, I may not achieve it.
Elder Pearson said Casual obedience and lukewarm commitment weaken faith. We need to be diligent in our efforts and to focus on what we do know, not what we don’t. We can think back to times when our testimony has been strong, when we’ve had great spiritual experiences, and lean on those for a while if needed.
President Uchdorf says If you seek God’s truth, that which now may appear dim, out of focus and distant will Gradually be revealed and clarified and become close to your heart by the light of God’s grace. Glorious spiritual vistas, unimaginable to the human eye, will be revealed to you.
I know from a worldly perspective in these ultramarathons, I have seen amazing vistas, unimaginable to the human eye, and they inspire me, lift me, and are quite often experiences full of the spirit. I have often stopped and cried and praised the Lord in prayer for His beauty and blessing me with the spirit then.
I know the spiritual vistas Elder Uchdorf talked about are so much greater though, and of greater importance. I hope that through sincere thoughtful prayer and pondering, studying of the Book of Mormon, and acting on it’s principles to continually work on building a stronger testimony, that I’ll get to experience those glorious spiritual vistas often.
In closing, then Elder Hinkley in 1966 said If you will read the word of the Lord, if you will serve in His cause, if in prayer you will talk to Him, your doubts will leave and the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is in very deed the Son of God, born in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world resurrected from the grave will come. It is your opportunity so to know and it is your obligation so to find out.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to prepare this talk. It can be hard for me to focus on all the demands of the world I have while also devoting myself to spiritual demands, but spending so much time reading the scriptures and words of the prophets and praying, I have felt the spirit more and my testimony strengthen. We truly do need to surround ourselves with the most important things and the Lord will help us balance and take care of the rest.
I bear testimony that I know Jesus Christ lived and died for us, and that he lives today. I know he and Heavenly Father love all of us and want nothing more than to bless us and for us to return to them. I know all we have to do is open the door and they will be there. I know the plan of salvation is true, that I can be with my family forever. I know Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God and that President Thomas S. Monson is one today. I know the Book of Mormon is true and compliments the Bible. I know that the Holy Ghost has power and presence in my life and I am so thankful for that. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.