Do we allow unanswered questions fell our tree of testimony or grow it? Just how much are we willing to risk or obsess on a question when weighty matters are at stake? Deciding what matters is one of the first steps to leaving Babylon and becoming a Zion person.
About twenty years ago, I had a gospel question that vexed me. Despite my best efforts, I could not make sense of it. After pondering, praying and fasting, I still suffered with the question. The experience taught me that in the delay there are blessings, if we will allow them. The first blessing that I experienced was the question’s forcing me to a point where I had to decide once and for all if the question really mattered. Was the root system of my testimony so flimsy that this issue could topple my tree of belief? After a little deliberation, I decided that my roots of testimony ran deeper than that, and I concluded that I would not let the issue matter. It could wait. What I didn’t understand at the time was that by setting aside my demand for an answer I opened the door for the answer to come.
The purpose of delay
The Lord never asks us to travel a road without some prior preparation. Faith builds upon faith as the Holy Ghosts spoon-feeds us one precept at a time. Questions are often planted by the Spirit as invitations to learn the next concept. A quick survey of the scriptures reveals the Lord’s use of questions to prod righteous people to stretch and to learn. But we can stop the process and fell our tree of testimony by becoming frustrated with the process or getting stuck on a challenging question. When the answer is not immediately forthcoming that does not mean that a satisfactory answer does not exist. Perhaps the Lord’s delay serves as a test of faith or a motivator to search the scriptures and prophets for answers to this and other questions. Often, in the process of seeking an answer we stumble upon a potpourri of truth.
The priesthood matters
Every person’s journey to answers is unique. Here are a few of the markers along the course that I traveled to gain my answer. When I was eleven, I was stricken with Nephritis, a complication of Strep Throat. My kidneys began to shut down and I was at risk of developing heart damage. A health blessing healed me. Twenty-eight years later, when my son suffered kidney failure, I was able to donate a kidney to him. It had never happened that a person who had contracted Nephritis had donated a kidney. Our situation was so rare that it was written up in medical journals. But the part the author of the article left out was the part about the priesthood blessing that I had received from my bishop so that I could donate. He promised that my kidneys would be healed from the effects of Nephritis and I could give my son a kidney. Even the doctors could not attribute the rarity of this situation to anything than that of divine intervention.
I have an abiding testimony of the restored priesthood. My wife and I have ten children-three boys have hemophilia, a severe bleeding disorder. Additionally, we have dealt with kidney failure, Crohn’s Disease, potentially paralyzing broken neck and back, Hepatitis, and West Nile Virus. We have seen several miracle babies come to our children who were clinically incapable of having children. One doctor compared the miracle to parting the Red Sea. We have seen homes and jobs appear when all seemed lost. The priesthood matters.
Years ago, one Halloween night I received a call from a friend. Our boys had been playing on his roof, and my son, Gavon, had stepped off and landed on his head. When I arrived, Gavon was unconscious and bleeding from both ears. The medics rushed him to the hospital. When I stepped into his room, I was not prepared for what I was about to see. Gavon’s face was badly swollen; blood continued to seep from his ears-a sign of concussion; his right collarbone had a large bump as though something was trying to protrude through the skin. I was told that his clavicle was broken badly. The doctors also suspected a broken neck or back.
My friend and I gave Gavon a priesthood blessing then the boy was wheeled away to Radiology. Perhaps an hour later, a doctor approached me with a handful of x-rays. His speech was very clinical. He pointed out bones, growth plates and the obvious concussion.
“Has the bleeding from the ears stopped?” I interrupted him. “Is there any brain damage?”
“The bleeding has stopped and there is no damage,” the doctor said.
“What about breaks? His back? His neck?”
“Not even his collar bone?” I asked astonishedly.
“Nothing. He will probably have a headache for a few days.”
Gavon woke up 24 hours later with the predicted headache, not remembering anything expect standing on the edge of the dark roof. His bruising was gone within a few days and he was back playing carefully with his friends.
Over the course of nearly 37 years of marriage, our family has existed from one priesthood blessing to the next. The priesthood matters.
I doubt that there was ever a more unprepared missionary than I. Having come from a family that was disintegrating, I found myself confused about the Church, especially its doctrines concerning priesthood and eternal marriage. Somewhere in my adolescence I decided that a mission was not for me. I wasn’t trying to be rebellious; I had actually convinced myself that the Lord didn’t want me to go. We can convince ourselves of almost anything of we try hard enough. We can even convince ourselves that important things don’t matter.
Nevertheless, as my 19th birthday approached, the idea of a mission seemed to press relentlessly upon my mind. Finally, I decided to pray and get Heavenly Father’s word once and for all that He didn’t me to serve a mission. As ridiculous as it sounds now, I was actually asking to be officially excused. So I prayed. When the answer didn’t come I prayed some more. And this went on for a month.
One day when I was walking around campus, minding my own business, a sudden flood of light entered my body. I was so astonished that I looked down at my feet, which seemed to be standing above the ground. I felt within me an actual call from God to serve a mission. What was even more remarkable was all the confusion, doubt and fear left me in an instant, and they were replaced by excitement and enthusiasm. Now I wanted to go! I met with the bishop that weekend, and within four weeks I received a call to Argentina. I have always been amazed that the Lord rescued and redeemed such a confused young man as was I and set me on a course that has blessed my life ever since. Redemption matters.
The Book of Mormon Matters
Having officially been called on a mission, I now felt the weight of unpreparedness settled upon me. I had infrequently attended seminary, and I had never read the Book of Mormon. I was horrified that I knew nothing, and within weeks I was supposed to be teaching the Argentine people the gospel of Jesus Christ. Motivated by panic, I began to read the Book of Mormon.
Having always been fascinated by writing, I read the Book of Mormon with a continuous string of questions flowing through my mind. For example, I asked myself if anyone, even the greatest literary genius of all time, could have written such a book-within 60 days! One would have to have had a fabulous knowledge of the Jews and the Law of Moses. One would have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible in order to mesh its teachings with this new volume. One would have to have the skill of assuming the voices and styles of multiple people, and one would have to accurately explain three separate civilizations that existed from the Tower of Babel to 400 A.D. One would have to forward geographic locations and archaeological data that would only be proven correct a hundred or more years later. Then the book would have to hold up to criticism at every level for nearly two hundred years. Finally, the book would be bold enough to carry a one-of-a-kind guarantee that the truth of it could be known by honest seekers by a direct answer from God…and millions would then attest that the guarantee was valid. Who would dare says such things? Who but a prophet could write it? People could criticize it, but who has ever duplicated it?
When I completed the Book of Mormon, I had an intellectual testimony, but I wanted the answer from God. That would be the clincher. If the book was true, he would live up to the promise made at the end. And so I prepared myself and prayed. I prayed for three hours one night! I was determined to not arise until I had my answer. Then it came. In an experience too sacred to relate in detail, a palpable light burst through the ceiling of my room and entered my body. It started at my head and flowed down through me with the feeling of coming in from the cold and drinking a warm fluid. The light burned out every doubt and filled me with a feeling of happiness and peace that I had never experienced. It enveloped me for a very long time, and gradually withdrew when I said I had had enough. Now I knew, and I needed no more proof. Thirty-nine years later, I can still remember the feeling and its impact on me. I absolutely know that the Book of Mormon is true, as is Joseph Smith, the Prophet who translated it. My testimony of the Book of Mormon matters.
Eternal Marriage Matters
I think Heavenly Father is the ultimate romantic. I believe that He loves a love story and He delights in finding individual ways to introduce His sons and daughters. My wife and I had a unique love story. Elder Maxwell was fond of saying there are no coincidences. I met Buffie when I was seventeen and she was fifteen. By chance, my little singing group had been asked to perform between acts for the MIA June Conference in Salt Lake City. That was a big deal for Boise kids. We had never even seen a mall, let alone a big city.
After one performance, a happy, rotund man approached us and said that he wanted to introduce us to “Mr. Music” in Salt Lake. We were all starry-eyed. We imagined fame and fortune were just around the corner. We got into our car and followed this man to a little apartment up above the Capitol building. When we knocked on the door, a little red-headed girl with big dimples opened. That was our introduction, but neither of us thought anything about it until four years later when I had returned from my mission.
Fast-forward to February 3, 1972. One night, I was eating a hamburger in the cafeteria at BYU. Suddenly, I heard a voice call, “Larry Barkdull! Is that you?” I looked over and saw Buffie with a date. I ran over and hugged her. (I didn’t care about that other guy.) We were just two old friends reuniting after years apart. That night I called her and we talked for three hours. The next day we had a date, and the next day, too. On Sunday, we drove to Salt Lake to visit her mother. On the way home, we were talking lightly, minding our own business (I seem to always be minding my own business when inspiration comes.) We had just pulled up to her apartment when a sudden powerful feeling washed over Buffie and she couldn’t catch her breath.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed. “I’m seeing you as though….” She couldn’t describe her feeling. She just stared at me as if in shock. “What does it mean?”
Then the feeling enveloped me. I was suddenly grateful that I wasn’t driving. “It means we are supposed to get married,” I said.
Buffie nodded, took a deep breath, and said, “I know…and I don’t love you yet!”
Well, she got over it and managed to tell me that she loved me a week before we got married. The next day I gave her a ring, and two months later we were sealed for eternity in the Salt Lake Temple.
As unique and challenging as was our courtship, we always look back on Heavenly Father’s “introduction” and remember that our eternal marriage started with a remarkable answer. Together, we have brought into this existence ten marvelous children, and our family has now expanded to thirty-two. Today, when I look into my wife’s eyes and contemplate the goodness of God in giving her to me, I testify that eternal marriage and family matter.
I end as I began. Two decades ago I had a question. I struggled for an answer that for some reason was postponed. I did my due-diligence for a period of time, but finally had to decide whether I was going to let it bother me or build me. I handed it off to God and decided that it didn’t matter. I would focus instead on what I knew to be true: priesthood, redemption, testimony and eternal marriage and family. I would not risk absolutes for questions.
Then one day, twenty years later, as I was minding my own business, the answer came. It was a soft communication, wholly unremarkable. But there it was just the same. Suddenly, everything clicked. I paused for a moment, smiled, and said, “Oh, I never would have thought.” It was nice to finally have my answer, but it really didn’t matter much-not in comparison to what really matters.