I was not born a child of record in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But since a very young age I was fascinated with the meaning of life and the human race’s real purpose on the earth. I was kind of a seeker of the truth. I remember as a young child looking at pictures of archaeological finds, ancient buildings, etc. and wondering about them.
What did these people know that I don’t?
What really went on in those ancient buildings in those sandy places, and what would they reveal about man’s connection with God, the ultimate nature of the universe, existence, and so on?
As an elementary school student I attended a local Protestant church with my mother and felt a sense of the reality of God. I felt the importance of trying to be good and the difficult weight of sin. While I didn’t doubt God’s existence, I wasn’t sure what his existence really meant. Why was I here on earth, in this particular place, at this time? What was I supposed to do or strive for?
My focus on these questions waned while I was in high school, but I never lost my general interest in them, and my desire for answers was rekindled afterward. In fact, seeking answers to such questions became a major preoccupation of mine while in college. I hoped that by taking classes in psychology, anthropology, philosophy, religion, and so on, I would take a step or two closer to the truth about human existence.
There’s a sense in which college did provide insight into these issues—or at least it offered some interesting possibilities to explore. A young person with my preoccupation could hardly avoid being intrigued by the writings of Sigmund Freud, Hermann Hesse, Joseph Campbell, Robert Pirsig, Fritjof Capra, Albert Camus, Carlos Castaneda, and many others. These “gurus” offered unique perspectives and did provide me some impetus forward on my quest. I learned that there were people out there specifically seeking to answer my question; so the task became sorting out these answers and identifying those that came closest to offering a true picture of reality and the purpose of human life.
However, I wasn’t in that much of a hurry. The journey was fascinating and I really did feel that I was making some kind of progress, even if I didn’t know what the destination looked like or precisely how I’d know if I reached it. It really was satisfying, in a sense, to explore what had been so interesting to me my whole life.
After college, I entered graduate school at BYU in psychology. It was a bit unusual for a non-LDS student to be in that program but I felt drawn there due to the encouragement of one of my undergraduate professors in Ohio who had colleagues at BYU and liked the university. It took me a couple of semesters to acclimate to BYU culture, but it went well and people treated me well. Aside from the full-time missionaries there at the time (Elder King and Elder Rebalkin), I was taught the Gospel by fellow students and by some professors who had powerful ways of integrating the gospel into their classes. I was finally baptized on June 22, 1994, a little less than two years after I first arrived on campus. Since that time, I’ve been active in the church.
What invited me to study the gospel was this deep desire to know the truth. There were some days, when I was in college and graduate school (before joining the church), that I couldn’t stand not knowing the meaning of life. It was almost painful to experience this sort of occlusion or opacity that separated me from knowing how my existence fit into the scheme of things. But no amount of exploration through the intellectual landscape answered my questions. However, I did feel that I was getting close any time my searches took me to a doctrine of love and simplicity—that the purpose of life had something to do with purity, divestiture, kindness, and self-forgetting in some sense.
But I didn’t find the full answer until I talked with members of the church. I had become very interested in the life of Jesus Christ before I went to BYU, which in retrospect helped prepare me for the important events to come. I was amazed at this ancient man who was at the center of so much history. And I started to gain a belief in him as the savior at this time, but my progress was blocked by a competing sense of doubt that was somewhat difficult to overcome at first. For me, the events that finally turned me toward Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the restored Gospel were profoundly spiritual. I was interrupted in my searches and ruminations by God in a way that was undeniable. What I’m referring to concerns amazing spiritual experiences that could not be attributed to anything but divine powers. In my experience, there was no way to ignore the messages delivered by the Holy Ghost; they were profound and, for me, authoritative. Probably the most significant inspirations were those I received early in my explorations of the church. They guided me onward to Christ as he has revealed Himself in this dispensation. I cannot deny the direction I was given at that time. And I could not deny that I had finally been given answers to my questions about the meaning and purpose of existence.
Those experiences have continued over the years until the present time. They vary in their focus, but they are delivered unto me, as needed, to guide me in better paths than I would choose for myself, as they have taken me to what I prize most in my life—God, family, and other communal relations. I marvel at how merciful, generous, and patient Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have been with me and my family. They have given me everything good in my life and I see the fruits of the Gospel of Christ, restored to Earth, everywhere.
In many ways, I think the Book of Mormon as a testament of Christ led the way for me. I knew it was an inspired work of true scripture the first time I laid eyes on it and held it in my hands, though I hadn’t read a word of it yet (besides what was on the cover itself). The Holy Spirit whispered to me that this book is holy and true and that some day I would come to know it. This message sank into my soul, though it took me a couple of years for this promise to be fulfilled in my life. The Book of Mormon has given me much spiritual strength and guidance over the twenty years since I joined the church. I am amazed at the breadth of its teachings and the depth of its insights in conjunction with the Bible—especially those pertaining to God’s love and mercy, the importance of human agency, the wages of sin, the atonement of Jesus Christ, the relationship among truth, faith, and knowledge, and so on. I have come to know that this book is true, holy scripture; and that Joseph Smith Jr. was a genuine prophet who did what few people could have done—raised up by the hand of the Lord to suffer massive, persistent persecution in His service. I am continually amazed at what Joseph was able to do, and realize that it was only possible because he was guided, strengthened, and protected by the Lord until he sealed his testimony with his blood. Many persecuted him and the Church during his lifetime, and many have continued to attack the church ever since, but the work of God in this dispensation for the salvation of the human family will continue to move forward.
It is my testimony that the restored church cannot be stopped and that everyone, in one way or another, must seriously face the question: is this work really true? It’s not enough to love the Lord. We must love the Lord Jesus Christ and conduct ourselves in the way He has set forth, with faith in what He has revealed anew in this dispensation, blessed by His priesthood, making covenants that He Himself has delivered to the earth by the hands of prophets. In the end, I can say that God is good. He shows us the way to true happiness and a life well-lived, if we let Him. He also shows us the true way to immortality and eternal life. Everything in the restored gospel centers on Christ and His sacrifice for the human family. This is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Stephen C. Yanchar earned a bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Brigham Young University, all in psychology. Having previously taught at Morningside College, he is currently an associate professor in Brigham Young University’s Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology.
Along with chapters in various books, he has authored or co-authored articles in the Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy, Educational Technology Research and Development, Review of General Psychology, Evaluation & Research in Education, Journal of Geology Teaching, Computer Assisted Language Learning, Educational Researcher, Teaching of Psychology, Journal of Moral Education, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, American Psychologist, Behavior and Philosophy, The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Educational Technology, Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy, Proceedings of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Journal of Clinical Psychology, Journal of Mental Imagery, Contemporary Psychology, Proceedings of the Deseret Language and Linguistic Society, Intercomm, Theory and Psychology, and New Ideas in Psychology. In addition, Dr. Yanchar has served as a guest editor for the latter two journals.
Posted May 2014