Learn for Myself

In response to: How I #HearHim: Elder David A. Bednar

I recently recorded a song which I would like to share with you today.

I hear that faith comes easily to some people. I am not one of those people. It was hard for me.

Growing up in a believing family got me off to a good start. We had family scripture study every day in my home. The Apostle Paul could have just as truthfully written to me as he did to Timothy: “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). I was also taught to pray, attend church meetings, serve others, and to know the difference between right and wrong. As Joseph Smith said, “I was born … of goodly parents who spared no pains to instruct me in the Christian religion” (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith).

But starting off in the right direction wasn’t enough for him, and it wasn’t enough for me. Two hundred years ago this spring, Joseph Smith struggled with some of the same questions which bothered me when I was a teenager. He believed what he was taught in his home, but he still didn’t know enough to satisfy his deepest concerns.

“Mother, I Have Learned for Myself” by Sherry Meidell, oil on board 10″x10″. Used by permission. http://www.sherrymeidell.com

Both us of turned to the scriptures for answers. Joseph Smith found his in the General Epistle of James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). However obvious this advice may seem to us today, the option of approaching God directly to request wisdom was not emphasized in the religious teachings of his day. He later wrote, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (Joseph Smith–History 1:12).

Joseph’s questions were answered in a remarkable way in the spring of 1820, in an event which we call the First Vision. “I saw a pillar of light,” he wrote, “exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. […] When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith–History 1:16-17)

My answers came in less dramatic fashion than Joseph’s did. The big breakthrough happened for me when I read Alma chapter 32 in the Book of Mormon, which encouraged me to try the experiment of planting the word of God like a seed in my heart. When the seed sprouted and bore fruit in my life, I knew that it was a good seed.

The song I shared above is about this process of desiring to believe, planting the seed, and nurturing your faith as it grows from belief to knowledge. It was written from the perspective of me as a teenager, but I also see myself as the parent in the song, aspiring to have a positive influence on my children. My initial inspiration for this song was Elder David A. Bednar’s talk in the April 2019 General Conference, and I think it also answers his recent challenge to describe how I #HearHim.

Here are the lyrics, annotated with the scripture references from which I borrowed phrasing or concepts:

Learn for Myself

(words and music by Alan Sanderson)

My parents are good (1 Nephi 1:1)
They have faith in God, and they do what they should
I want to follow their example
And the things they say
Keep me safe and show me the right way
But how do they know these things are true?

They tell me,
If I want to know, more than just believe
I have to learn for myself

My parents love me
They put food on my plate and a roof above me
I’m so grateful for what they do
And I believe what they say
Because I see them do what’s right every day
Their words are sinking into my soul (Enos 1:3)

And I want to know, more than just believe
I want to see
I want to hear
I want to know it in my heart (1 Nephi 10:17)
I want to learn for myself

And I can feel it when I pray — I know he answers me
And I can hear his voice when I read his word (Doctrine & Covenants 18:34-36)
And when I serve my fellow men (Matthew 25:40, Mosiah 2:17)
When I walk away from sin
And when I turn my heart to him
I can see him (John 14:7, Doctrine and Covenants 88:48)

And now I know, more than just believe
I have seen
I have heard
And I know it in my heart
I have learned for myself (Joseph Smith–History 1:20)

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.

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