The slate of speakers for sacrament meeting that Sunday consisted of four formerly inactive members (one teenager and three adults) who had recently started coming back to church. Jake*, periodically wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand, recounted with a touch of awe the experience of receiving the priesthood as a sixteen-year-old. Tom, a self-effacing jokester, described the difficulties of finding a place as a divorced, middle-aged man. Mandy openly talked about her children’s battles with drugs and her own bouts of depression and doubt.
Mike, who seemed more than a bit shell-shocked to be standing at a pulpit, recounted the first time he had truly felt the Spirit. It was in the North Visitors’ Center at Temple Square, standing in front of the Christus statue. “I felt this presence,” he said. “I could tell it hadn’t come from inside me or my head. It scared me so bad I had to get out of there.”
I have never heard such an honest depiction of a spiritual encounter.
A few weeks ago I was having a discussion with my son. I don’t remember now what sparked the talk, but I remember asking him to pray for the Spirit. “I don’t want to,” he said. “I’ve only felt the Holy Ghost once, and I didn’t like it. That was two years ago, and I haven’t felt it since.”
As happens so often as a parent, I was left speechless. No lesson, no talk had prepared me for how to respond. We are always told to teach our children how to pray, how to seek the Spirit. Inherent in that counsel is the idea that the child will want to seek the Spirit, and when/if they feel it, it will be a positive experience. But a manifestation of the stark reality that God truly exists, that religion is not a psychological crutch or handy social phenomenon, can be overwhelming.
I’ve thought of Mike many times since that sacrament meeting, how his path wound over some pretty tough territory, how he sits awkwardly in the back and leaves quickly, but how he keeps coming and remembers the power he felt before an image of the Son of God.
I pray that my son will be willing to keep coming, and I pray that God will be gentle with him.
*names have been changed