Alma chapter 32 uses a horticultural analogy to describe the process of developing faith. The word of God is like a seed that you plant in your heart, explains Alma, and you have to water it diligently and nurture it patiently as it grows. This teaching was an important part of my own conversion story.
Around the time that I was trying Alma’s “experiment upon the word,” I encountered something new in my high school’s computer lab.
“Alan, you’ve gotta come see this,” my friend said.
“What is it?” I asked.
He led me to the library, where a small adjoining room was packed full of beige-colored personal computers on rows of tables. The room was crowded with pimply teenagers all staring at enormous cathode ray tube monitors. It was about ten degrees warmer and noticeably more humid inside the lab, and the smell was a mixture of warm electronics and body odor.
We worked our way through the room and found a machine that was available. My friend navigated through the obtuse interface of Microsoft Windows 3.1 to find the launcher icon for a program which I had never seen before: Netscape Navigator. It was probably version 1.0.
“What does this do?” I asked.
“Just watch,” my friend said. Then he typed “webcrawler.com” in the address bar and pressed Enter. A little animation started on the Netscape logo at the top of the window. “This computer is connected to thousands of other computers around the world,” he explained.
“Hm. That’s cool,” I said. But I still didn’t see how it was useful.
About two dozen computers in that room were all sharing the same dial-up modem connection, so it took several minutes for the WebCrawler page to load. When it did my friend typed the name of our favorite band into the search field, and another few minutes later we were presented with a dozen or so links to fan pages. We clicked on the first result, and found a small treasure trove of lyrics and guitar tablature, all written out in text using a monospace font over the default gray background.
“Oooooo,” I said, finally catching a glimspe of how much this new world of cyberspace could change my life.
“See what I’m talking about?” My friend asked.
Just then the bell rang, and I rushed to copy some tablature into my paper notebook before going to class. Over the next few months I made many trips back to the lab to browse through those fan pages and to print off lyrics and tablatures. Eventually I bought a 3.5 inch floppy disk to save files to. It could hold 1.44 MB of data, which at the time was more than enough space to hold everything the Web had to offer that I was interested in.
Well, almost everything. There wasn’t a lot of music online back then — this was before mp3’s were a thing, and video was even farther in the future — but there were images. It took so long to download them over our school connection that you could only see one or maybe two pictures per lunch period. After waiting 10-15 minutes for each download, most of the images turned out to be visibly pixellated and choked full of jpeg artifacts. We weren’t choosy beggars, though; this technology was light years ahead of the 4-color computer game graphics of the early 1990’s that I was accustomed to, and human visual perception is good enough to see past most of the muddiness in low-res images.
Fast forward about three or four years. My seedling faith had grown to a sapling, and I was ready to consecrate two years of my young life to serve the Lord as a full time missionary. I no longer had just a vague impression that my life was headed in the right general direction; I absolutely knew that I was on the right path, and was confident that the Lord was pleased with my progress.
A day or so before I entered the Missionary Training Center I was eating breakfast at the kitchen table when I noticed something on the side of the cereal box. It was a picture of Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops mascot, and he had a speech bubble that said, “We’re on the web! www.frootloops.com.”
I stared at the box in disbelief. “Why on earth do we need a website for Froot Loops?” I thought. The idea was so absurd that I couldn’t stop laughing. (The sugar rush might have had something to do with that too.) I reached for the scissors and clipped out that part of the box so that I could keep laughing about it.
Two years later I returned home from my mission and found a very different world than the one I had left. Like most middle-class homes, we had a dial-up internet service for our home computer. Everyone had an email address, so I signed up for one too. It seemed like every business was in a mad dash to secure their place in the online world as the dot-com bubble expanded. That old Froot Loops clipping that I had used as a bookmark didn’t seem so funny any more. Eventually I just threw it in the trash.
It has been more than 20 years since then, and I think it would be hard to argue that the internet has become less pervasive, less useful, or less important during that time. Smaller hardware, faster connections, better multimedia encoding, and new Web technologies have made online shopping, news, route-finding, communications, education, entertainment, and social connections an everyday part of life for billions of people around the world.
All of this happened during my lifetime, and I’m really not that old.
Testimonies grow like plants: slowly, as the conditions remain favorable for growth. That little seed I planted in my heart 25 years ago is still growing.
They also develop like technology: cumulatively, iteratively — making the next thing a little better than the one before. Sometimes there are paradigm-shifting breakthroughs, like the invention of the World Wide Web, but most of the time your progress is small and stepwise.
Maybe you feel like your faith is pixellated or blurred with artifacts, like those old pictures I downloaded from the early Web. Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough resolution to print your testimony on a poster for all the world to see. Maybe right now you can’t even see how believing in God might help you.
But don’t give up; give it time. Fill your mind with scriptures and your heart with prayer. Use your faith to the fullest extent of its current resolution. As you keep trying, those pixels will get smaller and those artifacts will smooth out.
Your vision of the future might be as cloudy as mine was on that first day in the computer lab, but someday you will look back with astonishment to see how much your faith and convictions have grown, and how much they have helped you.
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.