I was baptized 10 years ago. During these 10 years, my journey has not been easy. But being baptized has made it easier. The gospel, the Church, and my membership in the Church have truly enriched my life.
What follows is a bit of a memoir, a bit of a confession, and a bit of a celebration of the eight most important things I’ve learned in my 10 years as a Latter-day Saint convert.
1. Don’t base your self-worth on whether or not you live up to the “good-Mormon” image.
I used to be a really, really good Mormon. I felt very confident in my standing with God, but also very confident in how others saw me. I’ve always known that I wasn’t the stereotypical “perfect Mormon,” but I thought that my uniqueness actually contributed to the validity of my testimony.
That feeling began to change after I returned home early from my mission and lost out on a few opportunities to work for the Church. I had to return home and move in with my parents, where I took the better part of a year to figure out what my next steps were going to be. I was friendless, jobless, and unknown in my ward. And I felt robbed of my self-imposed “good Mormon” label. I felt like I was no longer a five-star Mormon. I felt more like a three-star Mormon—not bad, but not good, and certainly not special.
So where are we supposed to get our self-worth from? I know that we have infinite worth simply because we are children of God, but it takes time to develop a testimony of that principle. I also know that basing how we feel about ourselves on the perceptions of others, instead of the perception of God, is the wrong way to understand our own worth.
2. God cares about the condition of our hearts.
It is hard to be mortal and easy to feel far from God. There have been times when I felt like He was so displeased with me that He actually didn’t like me.
Thankfully, the good news is that I was blessed with a bishop who turned around that way of thinking with one simple phrase: “The Lord cares about your heart.” Good works are an absolutely essential part of a Christ-centered life, but we can’t expect them to get us into heaven when we neglect to also rely on the grace and mercy of Jesus. To gain access to His Atonement, we must sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit. No matter how good we are, we still need to humbly seek reconciliation with God with all our hearts. And no matter what state our hearts are in, He still cares deeply about every single one.
3. The scriptures are a powerful way to develop spiritual strength and autonomy.
I love the scriptures. They have been the backbone of my testimony and my enthusiasm for the gospel.
My parents bought me my first set of scriptures a few weeks after my baptism. They had my name printed on them, and they were mine, inside and out. They represent a period of my life when I was learning the most profound truths, and I was learning them straight from the source—from the word of God.
There is a lot I don’t understand about the Holy Ghost, but one thing I know is that when I read the scriptures, He talks. He helps me see the world for how it really is. He shows me patterns that enable me to liken the scriptures to my real life. When I explain my beliefs to someone, I can rely on the word of God, the Holy Ghost, and my own personal experiences. I only have to look to the source.
4. We should not credit ourselves for others’ spiritual progression—even if we do help them along the path.
One day on my mission, I was sitting with my trainer when she said something like, “You know, nothing we do really matters.” I thought, “Hold up. You are not seriously saying that we are walking around this frigid prairie just so that nothing we can do really matters.” (It was winter in Kansas.)
She elaborated, “We spend so much time planning how to teach. But really, has anyone ever said, ‘I joined the LDS Church because my missionaries could recite scriptures really well’? People are converted because they are ready to be converted. We just happen to be around when it’s their time to find the truth.”
I think that we sometimes see other people come unto Christ and chalk it up to our hard work. God uses us to love and lead each other, but our spiritual path is a very personal one that is walked by only two: the individual and the Savior. When someone makes spiritual progress, it’s because of the goodness of God and the faith of that person—not because of the cleverness or devoutness of another.
On the flip side, maybe we can take comfort in understanding that when those whom we have stewardship over do not flourish in the gospel, it is not because we have failed. If we have loved and we have tried, we have succeeded, and God will be aware of that. No effort is ever wasted in trying to help a soul come closer to our Heavenly Father.
5. Your friends really matter.
I have friends from many walks of life who have many different habits. If they are honest with me and I enjoy being around them, our friendship is not a problem. That being said, I know that the people we spend time with automatically “pull” us to be more like them.
I recently received a text from a friend that said, “Would you want to go to the temple sometime this week? I’m in town, and it’s my goal to go to all the ones nearby when I’m here.” I had been meaning to make it to the temple for a while, but I probably wouldn’t have gone that week if it weren’t for her invitation.
When you have good friends who are active in the Church and sincere in their desire to follow Christ, doing the right thing becomes the path of least resistance. I have learned this for myself by making mistakes and being prideful in my perceived spiritual infallibility. The truth is simple: you will become like the people you surround yourself with.
6. It is worth it to make it to church every single Sunday.
In these 10 years, I have only missed church a handful of times. I’ve shown up happy only about two-thirds of the time. The other third of the time, I didn’t feel like going for a variety of reasons, but I usually have managed to get myself to church.
I can’t say that I always leave church feeling spiritually full, but I have never once felt that going to church was a waste of my time. Sunday worship has honestly been the thing that has kept my head above water when I have felt like I was drowning. Sometimes I have those, “Oh this is why I needed to come to church today” experiences. Even if that doesn’t happen every week, those experiences make the rest of the times worth it.
7. The members of the Church are not as perfect as you think they are.
I have the bad habit of picking families or individuals in the Church and labeling them as the “perfect ones.” But when I get to know these “perfect” families, I see that they actually are normal. Maybe their “perfect” son struggles with addiction. Maybe the wife struggles to get out of bed in the morning. And maybe if you show up unannounced, there will be laundry on the sofa and last night’s dishes still in the sink.
Yes, there are people who are almost always happy, there are people who almost always have a clean and organized house, and there are families where almost every member is devoted to the gospel. But everyone has their struggles, and by giving these families any kind of a label, we lessen who they really are as people. Instead of getting to know them, we tell ourselves that we already know who they are and what they’re about— and we move on. And that’s not what the Savior would have us do.
8. The members of the Church are actually a lot better than you think they are.
This is a lesson I find myself relearning all the time. I am constantly surprised at the amount of love, resilience, and wisdom that exists in my fellow Church members. I could write you a list, pages long, with the names of people who have surprised me with their ability to bless me. Mormons are amazingly good people. I believe that there is no other organization where people are so willing to sacrifice for others. Always assume the best of people, and you will almost always be right.