One of the most remarkable events in the history of the world happened on the road to Damascus. You know well the story of Saul, a young man who had “made havock of the church, entering into every house … [committing the Saints] to prison.”1 Saul was so hostile that many members of the early Church fled Jerusalem in the hope of escaping his anger.
Saul pursued them. But as he “came near Damascus … suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
I know the Lord has always had a plan for me.
I have been born and raised in Utah, and with that, all of my family is LDS (or is inactive). When my parents were married, both were inactive, and stayed that way. My parents bought their first house together right across the street from an LDS church house. As my brother and I grew older, my parents attempted to reactivate our family, a futile attempt with mine and my brothers protesting. After our baptisms at the age of 8, they gave up, and so did we. Every once in a while I would feel drawn towards the Church, but I would quickly give up and sink back into inactivity–until my father passed away when I was 11. After that, my family knew it was time to come back.
During this time, I suffered from depression, anxiety, you name it. Because of certain circumstances, I did not receive any kind of help, and suffered alone. Walking through a world full of darkness while my heart was under such intense pain caused me to be filled with intense hatred. I hated God. I never doubted He was there, but I felt He had sent me here to punish me. To give me as much torment as He could, and watch me collapse under the pressure. That was my first problem. My second problem was that I didn’t know Jesus Christ. Sure, I’d heard of Him. The times I spent in Primary as a child I’d seen pictures and heard stories. I knew He’d bled on the cross. But I didn’t understand what any of it had to do with me. My third problem, which was partially a result of the first two, was that I was angry with the Church. Having been bullied in school by LDS kids, and in part being angry because I was jealous that they all seemed happy and I wasn’t, I had a grudge against other members.
This was my road to Damascus.
Like Saul, I was bitter and angry. While I didn’t go around talking poorly about the Church and the gospel, it was in my heart. I was going down a dark path, and going quickly. But, like most of us, I didn’t have an immediate Saul-like experience.
There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting on the road to Damascus. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples. They hope to receive the priesthood but hesitate to live worthy of that privilege. They desire to enter the temple but delay the final act of faith to qualify. They remain waiting for the Christ to be given to them like a magnificent Carl Bloch painting—to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.
Many of us feel we cannot believe unless the Spirit hits us like a bolt of lightning. Well, you’re going to be waiting an awfully long time, because the Spirit is a still, small voice. If we want to find peace, we have to take the first step.
The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly.
I was about 13 years old. I had been investigating the doctrines of the Baptist church (after a long struggle with myself, I realized I needed Jesus). As I was speaking to a few Baptists, they asked me what my current denomination was. I said that I had been LDS. Like a fire had been lit, they instantly started throwing at me all of this anti-Mormon “doctrine”. They were telling me what they thought Latter-Day Saints believed. And they were wrong. And somehow, in my little experience with the Church, I’d learned enough to know that. **As a little disclaimer, I absolutely hate being told what I believe, especially when people are wrong about it** So I proceeded to correct them. As I taught them what we truly believe, the Spirit touched my heart in such a tender, gentle way that I hadn’t felt in…probably my whole life. I knew it was time to come back.
Fast forward about a year. I was sitting in my cousin’s chapel watching the Young Women’s broadcast of General Conference. I had been absolutely fighting to gain a testimony at this point, but I still had some unhealed scars. As a tender mercy of the Lord, President Uchtdorf said these words in his talk, “Your Happily Ever After“:
There are those among you who, although young, have already suffered a full measure of grief and sorrow. My heart is filled with compassion and love for you. How dear you are to the Church. How beloved you are of your Heavenly Father. Though it may seem that you are alone, angels attend you. Though you may feel that no one can understand the depth of your despair, our Savior, Jesus Christ, understands. He suffered more than we can possibly imagine, and He did it for us; He did it for you. You are not alone.
And there it was. My three problems were solved. #1: I am a beloved daughter of a loving, merciful Heavenly Father. #2: Jesus Christ suffered for my sins. Not only my sins, but every pain, emotionally and physically, that I had ever felt and ever will feel. And He did it for me. #3: I am dear to the Church. I am not alone.
Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.
Reflecting on my life, even the darkest times, I then realized that God had never left me alone to suffer. He had a plan for me. He was taking a lump of coal, and over time, heat, and intense pressure, turning it into a diamond. Now, I’m not saying I’m a diamond. I’m working on it, like we all are. But Jesus Christ was able to take the ugliest parts of my heart, and turn it into light.
This was also the moment that I decided to serve the Lord as a missionary. I knew that I could no longer deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, the truthfulness of the restored gospel, and the peace that can be felt from being a member of the LDS Church.
As previously mentioned, serving a mission has been a little bit of a debate for me in recent months.
…Some of the most powerful promptings we receive are not only for our own benefit but also for the benefit of others.
Even though I’ve been struggling with the decision to still go, I am committing. I know that even though it is a choice for sisters to go, it was never a choice for me. Someone needs my testimony, and if I can’t serve a mission to help myself, I am going to do it to help them. So I want to be sure that I am ready.
Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? -Acts 9:6
What tender mercies have you seen on YOUR road to Damascus?
**All quotations, unless otherwise stated, are taken from President Uchtdorfs talk, “Waiting on the Road to Damascus“.