I cherish my testimony of my Savior and of God.
As a brief background, I was born into a well-educated, large, lower middle class Mormon family and was faithfully raised in the church. As I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, many of my good friends were not LDS and I had ample opportunity to interact with individuals from other faith traditions and backgrounds. As a kid, I definitely remember many occasions of feeling God’s love for me, but I mostly just believed because of my parents and because I felt that was what was expected of me. It wasn’t until I was later into my teenage years and preparing to serve a two-year LDS mission that I starting examining myself and my faith. It was at this time that I was exposed to challenging issues in the church. For a time, I questioned not only the truthfulness of the church, but whether or not there really was a God. This was a very difficult time for me, as I felt that everything I had learned my entire life, even my very identity, might be false. However, during all of this, I continued attending church, reading the scriptures, and saying my personal prayers (more fervently than ever before in my life). I just wanted God, in some way, to make himself known to me and to reassure me that I was loved by him.
At first, things started slowly. I often felt I was praying to no one at all, but with continued study, prayer, and self-reflection, I came to accept that despite the concerns I had with the church and some aspects of its history, culture, and the imperfections of its leadership, I knew that overall the church was a good institution doing good things for millions of people around the world. As I continued to pray earnestly, over time I developed my testimony and belief that my Heavenly Parents are real and that they do love me. At this point, I decided to serve a mission (though I had not yet determined for myself whether or not I believed the church to be “True,” I knew either way I would be serving God through serving others).
My personal testimony continued to develop and grow, until the day came that I entered the Missionary Training Center (MTC). I quickly felt ill-prepared for this experience, as everyone around me seemed to speak with such conviction and in definite terms about their “knowledge” of the truthfulness of the gospel. I simply didn’t have that same conviction and I definitely didn’t see things in the same sort of black-and-white way that was pervasive in the MTC. Moreover, much of what we heard in lessons and talks was a very faith-promoting, yet incomplete/sanitized version of the church, its doctrines, and its history, and I again started to feel the nagging pains of doubt as I struggled to reconcile everything in those early weeks.
On one particular evening, after twelve hours of sitting in a small classroom studying the gospel, teaching methods, and the Korean language, I felt physically, mentally, and spiritually depleted and was at a moment of crisis as my doubts/questions continued to plague me. I pleaded with my Heavenly Father to provide me with at least some answers to my questions and to have my doubt taken away. In that moment I was overwhelmed and felt completely enveloped by my Savior’s love. I had the undeniably clear and distinct answer come to my heart and mind that none of it mattered; that of course the institutional church is imperfect, that of course leaders make mistakes, that of course teachings and interpretations of doctrines change over time (this is all part of learning line-upon-line), and that, just like any institution in the history of mankind, the church has messy aspects of its history (as imperfect people in an imperfect world do their best to know and follow the will of the Lord). Furthermore, I realized that doubt is essential in the development of one’s personal faith, that it is OK to sincerely question, that there are many unknowns, and that a testimony of the gospel is primarily a matter of personal faith and devotion. And without a doubt I knew that I was in the right place, doing what I was supposed to do. This personal conviction and testimony was greatly strengthened while, as a missionary, I shared the gospel of Christ with the Korean people.
Another, more recent, life-changing faith experience involved my service as second counselor in my ward bishopric. When I was visited in my home and extended the call to serve, I was shocked—I felt overwhelmed and inadequate to be able to fulfill the call. After the initial wave of fear and apprehension, I must admit that one of my very first thoughts was something like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I was then a twenty-nine-year-old married father of three young girls (the oldest was four years old) with the fourth on the way. I was a full-time Ph.D. student also working six different teaching jobs at area/online universities to provide for my family. I taught three to four weeknights each week, so I knew that church responsibilities related to the calling would often pull me out of the home the other nights for mutual and other meetings, and my Sundays would be almost completely taken away from my family. In addition, my wife had just recently started her master’s program, which was requiring a larger amount of her time, and I needed to help pick up more of the slack around the house and with watching the kids. There were so many older, established, strong priesthood holders in the ward who, I felt, could fulfill this role well, and I felt like I was already way over-committed and at my breaking point.
Looking back, I think I could have explained my family circumstances and had the stake presidency/bishop reconsider the call (I know they didn’t know even close to the full extent of our work/school/family obligations), but I also knew that this was a call from the Lord, not the stake presidency or the bishop. I turned to my wife (who seemed equally shocked and scared), and she gave me the little nod indicating that she would support me. We exercised our faith and we accepted the call.
In the little over three years of service in the bishopric, striving to faithfully fulfill my calling/stewardship was very challenging and represented a huge amount of sacrifice from both myself and my family (particularly my wife, but also our kids), and of course during that time we all relied heavily on the Lord to help and strengthen us as we, as a family, strived to balance a full load of Ph.D. credits/research, my wife’s master’s program, more than full-time work responsibilities, a rapidly growing young family, increasing community involvement/responsibilities, and dedicating twenty-plus hours a week to my calling.
Despite the sacrifice (or, probably more accurately, because of the sacrifice), the blessings were enormous—far more than I could have ever hoped for or expected. I completed my Ph.D. program (ahead of schedule) and successfully defended my dissertation research a year and a half after receiving the call. Within two months of accepting the call to serve, I landed a great job as a management professor (amidst a terrible economy and rapidly shrinking state education budgets, before I even finished my Ph.D.). I have been blessed to find great success in my academic/professional pursuits, my wife was able to finish her master’s degree and get her dream teaching job as a part-time math professor (now she is working on her own doctorate program and is a full-time math professor), we now have six healthy and happy kids who are the joy of our life, and we have been so blessed in so many ways that I don’t even know how to appropriately express my gratitude to my Heavenly Parents and Savior!
Some might say I would have been completely justified in turning down the calling to serve—that it required too much of us at that particular time—and perhaps I would have been. However, had I turned down the calling, I would have missed out on so many blessings for me and my family. We would have missed out on so much joy that has come from our sacrifice and giving service to others.
While our church service is rarely convenient, I am so grateful for the opportunities we all have to learn and grow through church service and sacrificing of our time and talents. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to serve in the church in many different capacities, from primary (even a short stint as a substitute primary chorister!), to the youth and scouting programs, to Melchizedek priesthood quorum leadership and a ward bishopric, and service in many other ward and stake auxiliary leadership positions. My faith only continues to grow, as I can readily see God actively at work in every aspect of my life. He has blessed me with a wonderful family. He helped me to get through the many difficult years of academic training (while balancing the heavy demands of a growing young family, work, school, community, and church responsibilities). I have had it reconfirmed to me over and over again that my Heavenly Parents do hear my prayers and that they care about helping me succeed in all of my righteous endeavors. Furthermore, I know without a doubt that they are ready and willing to bless and strengthen me in my time of need, as they continue to strengthen me in my weaknesses and increase my capacity.
Now, as an organizational leadership professor, I continue to love learning and am so grateful to be a member of a church that encourages its members to seek truth through diligent study and also by prayer and to get as much education as they can. I highly value the scientific method and I know that not only is systematic questioning and inquiry important to continual personal/societal development/growth, but that continual learning is the essence of intelligence and is divine in origin (see D&C 88:40; D&C 88:78-80; D&C 88:118; D&C 93:36; D&C 130:18-19; 2 Peter 1:5; Articles of Faith 1:13). And, complementary to my academic training and ongoing earnest personal study, I am forever grateful for a gospel and church that provides me with opportunities to live my religion and that encourages me to put my greatest focus on my family and serving in the home, as I actively strive to serve my wife and young children on a daily basis.
I am so grateful for these experiences, which are the ever-expanding foundation upon which my testimony continues to grow. Through these and many other deeply personal spiritual experiences, I have come to know my Savior and I know that my Savior loves me, as I have felt his love repeatedly.
The essence of my testimony is found in some of my favorite scriptures: Acts 9:6; D&C 6:36; D&C 19:23; D&C 121:41-42; D&C 123:17; Philippians 4:13; Matthew 19:26; Proverbs 3:5-6; 1st John 4:4; 2 Nephi 31:20; Moroni 10:32-33; Helaman 3:35; Helaman 5:12. Additionally, I share my testimony with you that our Heavenly Parents love each and every one of us and stand ready to pour out their blessings upon us as we turn to them. I know God will make more of us than we can of ourselves if we just trust in God, turn to our Heavenly Parents in prayer, and rely on the promptings of the Spirit we receive.
In conclusion, to end as I began, I cherish my testimony of my Savior and of God.
Jonathan Hinton Westover (Ph.D., University of Utah; MPA, Brigham Young University) is an Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership and Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business and the Director of Academic Service Learning at Utah Valley University (and previously the Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Ethics). He is also a human capital leadership and performance management consultant and serves on the board of directors of the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). He was recently a Fulbright Scholar (Minsk, Belarus), a POSCO Fellow at the East-West Center (Honolulu, Hawaii; Washington D.C.), a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Teaching and Learning Innovation (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia), and Visiting Scholar at the Wilson Center (Washington, D.C.) and he is a regular visiting faculty member in other international graduate business programs (U.S., U.K., France, Belarus, Poland, and China). He is also a Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism Faculty Fellow, a Center for the Study of Ethics Faculty Fellow, a Global/Intercultural Faculty Fellow, a Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, and a Utah Valley Senior Executive Leadership Fellow. He is passionate about teaching, loves to conduct research, enjoys working with organizations in the community, and loves writing in all styles—from academic, to professional, to op-ed, to other creative writing projects—and he has been published widely in academic journals, books, magazines, and in popular media locally, nationally, and abroad (such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today). He has also been extensively quoted and cited as a management expert in popular press nationally and abroad and enjoys his involvement in various service assignments and activities, both on and off of campus.
Jonathan served an LDS mission in the Korea Seoul West Mission from 1998-2000 and has since served in a variety of capacities in the church, from primary to the youth and scouting programs, to Melchizedek priesthood quorum leadership and ward bishopric, and service in many other ward and stake auxiliary leadership positions. He and his wife of fifteen years, Jacque, have six children.
For more details, see: www.uvu.edu/profpages/jhwestover
Posted August 2017