Beloved Mormon Apostle President Boyd K. Packer passed away this past weekend at age 90. He’ll be missed by many, including me. I appreciated his quick wit and straightforwardness. Here was a man who, even while stuck in a chair and barely grumbling his way through his later General Conference addresses, still spoke his piece and fought until the end.
When Elder L. Tom Perry passed away in May, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I was grateful for his life and regularly enjoyed his remarks in General Conference, but I also struggled to think of one particular talk or moment that summarized Elder Perry for me, as well as my relationship to and feelings for him. In short, I don’t have much Elder Perry stuff that I fall back on. (There’s some, though, like his great counsel on Sabbath observance.)
Not so with President Packer. Though he’s famous for countless bits of counsel, there are two that come to mind that have actually shaped my spiritual and temporal trajectory, nuggets of wisdom that make a difference to me now and will guide me as I raise my own family and lead my own flock in whatever calling I might have. I’d like to share a few of those briefly with you, the dear reader.
“The Candle of the Lord”
This is a landmark sermon, originally given to mission presidents in 1982. It was later republished in the Ensign.
In it, then-Elder Packer uses various anecdotes to illustrate ways these inbound mission presidents can tend to their respective flocks of missionaries, but he speaks to them “as though your missionaries, your elders and sister, were here in your place, and to present thoughts more fitted to them, the beginners, the inexperienced, than to you.” And in so doing, he speaks to me.
The overarching purpose of Elder Packer’s counsel is about ways we learn of things spiritual and how to explain that to others. His famed “What Does Salt Taste Like?” segment is perhaps one of my favorite ways of conveying how one “knows” the things of the spirit without providing scientific evidence.
In a lengthy back and forth with an avowed atheist, Elder Packer ask the individual to explain the taste of salt. The atheist goes on to explain that salt is not sour or sweet, to which Elder Packer replies, “You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.”
Eventually, the atheist admits he cannot explain something as fundamentally basic as the flavor of salt.
And so it is with the spirit – we know how it feels and how it testifies of truths, yet it cannot be explained away casually.
But it is later in his discourse that some oft-repeated counsel sticks with me:
It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”
Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” is as the scripture says, indeed “is the candle of the Lord.”
I remember hearing this when I was early in my mission, and I thought it sounded nonsensical. I was supposed to just up and testify of all that “I know” stuff without having the witness I felt I needed to already have? Such a challenge sounded incredibly outlandish to me.
Pride cometh before the fall, and I learned many lessons as a missionary on pride (as I still do to this day) and getting over my own hubris to put prophetic counsel to the test.
As it turns out, bearing testimony does bear fruit, however “simple” that testimony may be. It’s not about standing up like Paul on Mars Hill. It’s about expressing what we believe, hope, and know. Ideally, those hopes and beliefs grow into knowledge over time. And I have found time and time again that my spiritual witness of gospel truths has grown as I publicly bear testimony of those things that I know, believe, and seek.
“Where’s Your Pond?”
This story is so anecdotal I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find a hard record of it, but I did. Thank you, Internet.
One thing I’ve learned in the years since my mission is that General Authorities recycle counsel. A lot. And that’s not a bad thing. Who wouldn’t fall back on tried-and-true illustrations and explanations of gospel truths? I would. I have. And Elder W. Craig Zwick did it on my mission and was still doing it ten years later.
Elder Zwick visited us somewhere in the Spain Barcelona mission in 2002 or 2003 and gave us all sorts of solid counsel. He shared with us a story from Elder Packer that he clearly still uses to this day. When visiting then-Elder Packer prior to his own call as a General Authority, Elder Zwick explained that:
The visit was to alleviate a threat that was being posed by a flooding stream on President Packer’s property. After the problem had been resolved, President Packer invited Brother Zwick to come with him to a pond on the property. It was the spot, President Packer said, where he came to study, ponder and have the Spirit teach him regarding his leadership role.
“And then, in the quietness of the moment, he looked me straight in the eye, and he said, ‘Craig, where’s your pond?’?”
Elder Zwick mused, “He was really saying, ‘Do you have a quiet place where you can go [to commune with the Spirit]? If you don’t, create it.’?”
The quote above is from a 2013 training but it’s effectively the exact same thing I heard ten years prior.
This struck me as a young missionary. It struck me hard. Where was my pond? Did I have one then? Had I had one before my mission? Would I have one after my mission? Do I have one today?
I ponder this counsel. It’s so simple yet so effective. We all need ponds. We cannot hope to maximize our spiritual reception without some sort of pond. And that pond can be anything, from Elder Packer’s bucolic watering hole, to our very own literal closets – wherever we can find a place to commune with the Lord.
Undoubtedly, I have failed to create a pond at various stages of life. I’ve been too wrapped up in, let’s say, potential development of the pond into beautiful luxury condos to focus on what good that’s there. Does that metaphor work? Let’s say it does.
Elder Packer shared a bevy of insight and admonition during his mortal ministry. I’m sure you have your own Elder Packer favorites, and I’d love to hear about them below. For me, his counsel on the bearing of testimonies and finding my own pond continues to resonate with me to this day, as I trudge along, attempting to be better disciple, husband, father, and human.
My great takeaway with both of these examples is that it’s all relative to who we are and where we are in our journey of discipleship. Don’t avoid bearing testimony because you feel inadequate. Get up there and speak for ten seconds about what you believe. It doesn’t have to be a complex, loquacious story. Satan is the one who wants you to doubt the worth in sharing your testimony.
Likewise, your pond can be anything, relative to your circumstances. On my mission, the best I could do in one area was a semi-secluded hilltop in a gypsy ghetto. Today, sometimes it’s the parking lot of a Popeyes.
Find your pond. Share your faith.