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Statue of Limitations

By Brooke Benton

When I was a freshman at BYU, and straight out of being raised “in the mission field” of vast California, I was leaving a religion class and chanced upon this scene:

There was a boy, in the JSB, off a corridor in a small little courtyard area that contained a statue of Joseph Smith. From a way off, I could see this boy looking intently at the statue and just as I passed, he stepped up and hugged it.

My first thought:

“Oh my gosh, get me out of crazy town!”

And then a few days later, this:

“I wonder what would compel a person to hug a statue of Joseph Smith?”

True, you would have to be the statue-hugging type. But aside from that, you would have to be someone with a deep love and gratitude for Joseph Smith—a love and gratitude that I somehow lacked.

As I read the Book of Mormon, I never doubted its truthfulness. But the Joseph Smith history was always such a fantastical aspect of it that I mostly just ignored it or asked people to please not tell me any “interesting” tidbits they found in their own study of his life—lest I grow squeamish.

And I wasn’t alone. It seemed I could find forum anywhere to freak out about polygamy or weird Joseph Smith trivia.

One contingent urged me to read Rough Stone Rolling; another contingent advised against it.

And one thought plagued me: had I been a contemporary to Joseph Smith, would I have believed him and followed? Or would I have thought he was the Mayor of crazy town?

There were a few years in there spent sort of ignoring it; sort of just having faith in it—if I believed The Book of Mormon was true after all, it would make sense that I thought the Joseph Smith part was true. So I just sort of became calm about it—and faithful to that calm. If ever a question came up in my heart, I took it to my God in prayer and not to the lunch table of my girlfriends because the nit-picky, back-and-forth stuff sometimes clouds the religion for me. Why over-analyze the little things when in a quiet heart the Spirit will testify what’s true?

And in my quiet heart this is true:

That it can be okay to not understand all things, that the inexplicable and the why can be there too, cozy companions with the precepts that offer me no trouble. I know Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God, and though it’s come for me in baby steps, it has still come. And my gratitude for him has reached massive depths as I need and need and NEED the Gospel in my life more every day.

So, in short: love Joseph Smith. Still would not hug his statue.

How did you gain your testimony of Joseph Smith? Or, if you’ve had hang-ups in the past about certain aspects of the Gospel, how did you overcome them?

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

24 thoughts on “Statue of Limitations”

  1. This is almost exactly what I would say is my experience with the whole "Joseph as prophet VS man" issue. But when my husband was taking the discussions early in our marriage, he read "No man knows my history", much to my anxiety, though it ended up being a good thing. He read some of the worst things he could about Joseph, and STILL came to the conclusion that the church could be true! It took him a year to choose baptism, but now his testimony has become a rock and an example for ME.

    For me, I still want to understand as many of the mysteries of the kingdom as I can NOW, but I have to constantly allow for the reminders that there is SO much more to know that we can NOT know in this life and that there will be time to learn and understand it all later. I am perfectly content with the stuff that doesn't make sense right now and my efforts at a faithful testimony focus on making room for anything I read or hear as long as I can find peace with the information, not necessarily understanding.

    Joseph Smith is definitely the weaker area of my testimony, but I still believe he was a prophet. For a long time I was more comfortable reading the New Testament than the Book of Mormon, but I'm working on strengthening my weak spots. Great post!

  2. I had a similar experience – in that, I did have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon before I really had an appreciation or testimony of Joseph Smith. At that point, my testimony of Joseph Smith was a logical one – I knew the Book of Mormon was true; therefore, Joseph Smith was a prophet.

    Over time, though, I started to develop a feeling of love for the Prophet. A very good friend served at the Nauvoo Temple (visitor's center) on her mission. Her testimony of Joseph Smith broke every barrier I had prior to that. She often bore testimony of the Prophet, and in the middle of it all – I took a trip to Palmyra. The Spirit whispered (very quietly, but also surely) to my soul that He was a prophet. It was nothing shocking, I was just finally ready to understand that he was a prophet. I became grateful for His sacrifice, work, and love; and grateful that he was courageous enough to ask a simple question.

    Thanks for sharing this post. It is always nice to know that there are others who are intensely grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith – even if they may not go around hugging his statue. 😉

  3. Love the title of this post!! And the image of the boy hugging the statue — *so* BYU!!

    I'm going to think on these things and come back later.

  4. I think everyone has different aspects of their own faith built up at different times and in different ways. My own testimony has rested upon Joseph Smith from a very young age. When I was 8 I prayed before I was baptized and received an answer for my 8 year old mind, and the answer included Joseph Smith. That isn't to say their haven't been questions and challenges that have deepened my understanding of the gospel, and the role Joseph Smith plays in it, but for me–that part came early.

  5. This is an excellent post- I will bookmark it so that I can remember to share if I ever have a friend learning about the church and struggling with Joseph Smith. Thank you!!

  6. I don't know what happened to me w/Gospel questions. There just doesn't seem to be as many, or as vital. I just trust,(no, i have no idea, how that happened, didn't try) and realize these things that hang me up – really don't affect my faith in the end.

    Instead it is worked out in the actualities of my Daily Life.

  7. Really, it happened for me as a missionary. Telling his story and testifying of the truthfulness of it day in and day out, I felt the spirit witness time and again the truthfulness of the things I was teaching. I hadn't doubted it before, but I realized I hadn't really "known" until then.

    That said, yes, sometimes the sketchier parts of our history can be irksome. I think what I've come to is that since I know I've received a witness of Joseph Smith as a prophet there must be a way to reconcile "the man". And that's just it, the Lord chose a man, not a Savior. I think sometimes we want those whom we revere to be likened to the Savior and his perfection when really we should be likening mortal to mortal. Joseph is no different than his scriptural counterparts who struggled as mere mortals to overcome the flesh in the process of becoming an instrument. In the end, his story offers me hope. He was mortal, at times weak, even misguided. And yet the Lord blessed him with responsibility and opportunities to serve His children. The Lord sanctified his efforts. I think that is a great hope for all of us in our mere mortality. The Lord can mold us and temper us into purer vessels, but it is often through carrying a mantle that the refinement takes place, not before.

    Thanks for such a great post and wonderful candidness.

  8. I have a deep love for the Prophet Joseph and have since a young age. I think this comes in large part from my father, who is a Joseph Smith scholar and his testimony has helped build and strengthen mine. I know of these things for myself, but I had a strong foundation to start with, if you will.
    I agree with Sunny that we are all molded into who we have the potential to become if we let our Father in Heaven work with us as the potter's clay. Joseph Smith was no exception and I think of all the struggles and trials he experienced and wonder if I would have been capable AT ALL of keeping the faith.
    We have to remember that many of the records from his time were not well kept. A lot of things we have now are hearsay. I would venture a guess that we are missing more than we have, as far as information goes. So I think the information we do have isn't always a truly accurate reflection of who Joseph was, or it's just incomplete. And although the image of the young man hugging the statue may seem weird, or silly, perhaps he was a new convert, or someone who had just gained his own testimony of Joseph Smith. I think it's a little bit sweet 🙂

  9. I went to the MTC without (or so I thought) a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Then one of my teachers said something interesting. He said that some of us need to pray and study and truly search to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet. Others have always known. When I heard this a memory popped into my mind. I was at a primary class activity. We were watching a video on the first vision and I remember knowing it had actually happened and that Joseph Smith wasn't "the mayor of Crazy Town." It was in my adolescence when the doubts crept into my mind.

    Since that time I have never doubted and I testified with power on my mission that he was a true prophet and had seen God and Jesus Christ. And at this point of my life, it's hard for me to imagine it NOT happening.

    Thank you for such a great post. I always love to talk about the Prophet Joseph. He's the reason why we have the gospel in our lives.

  10. I've had moments of being uncomfortable with Joseph Smith too. There were a few times I even wished the church weren't true so I wouldn't have to keep trying to get past a few of the things I didn't understand and couldn't find a way to accept without seemingly blind faith. But I know he's a prophet. And when I've brought it to the Lord for confirmation I honestly feel like He gets down, looks me in the face, and smiles at me because He knows that I already know the answer I'm looking for. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, IS a prophet of God. And I think that for me I just need to keep reading about him and studying his life until I love him the way the statue-hugging boy did. What a privilege and a gift to love Joseph so much.

  11. I've always had a great reverence for the prophet Joseph, but as usual for me, I was given a greater testimony through the written word. While reading "The work and the Glory" series I felt a deep love and appreciation for Joseph. I felt connected to him and his purpose-sounds weird, but that's the only way I can describe it. Recently I've been reading "History of the prophet Joseph Smith by his mother", the revised and enhanced edition, it is a treasure and gives me a greater understanding of Joseph the man, and the prophet. I think we also have to understand the time period from whence he came…so different than ours.
    I would be a statue hugger!

  12. I have this recurring thought in fast and testimony meetings. It seems to me often when the men share their testimonies they have strong feelings about Joseph Smith. I first noticed in my husbands testimony. He gets emotional when he brings up the prophet and at some point in his mission he got a strong tetimony of him and his devine calling. Then I started noticing other men with the same sort of testimony. I don't hear much from the women about the prophet Joseph Smith. They seems to focus more on The Book of Mormon.
    I wonder if men need a stronger testimony to go about their work in the priesthood.
    They are called at such a tender age to hold the priesthood and then they begin serving immediately. Do you think men could need a stronger testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith? and could this be why it was a boy hugging the statue?

  13. The summer after my freshman year in college, I listened to the Joseph Smith tapes by Truman Madsen. Those will do it. They ROCK! I've given them as gifts more times than I can count. I also read a book about Emma that summer and read the D&C for the first time. After than, nothing could penetrate my testimony of Joseph. Over the years, when I heard weird things, they didn't bother me at all and then I would learn the truth of the weird thing and it totally made so much more sense.

    The best talk from this last conference about Joseph was given by Tad R. Callister. It is a gem!!! He talks about not focusing on the obscure, strange events, but to look at the whole life. He compares Joseph to Peter. It is absolutely fantastic.

  14. From a young age, I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet. I could feel it every time my parents told or read stories about him. Yes, I still had to read and pray about The Book of Mormom. But when I received my answer that it was true, all I could think of were those stories of Joseph that helped build my testimony as a child. And knowing The Book of Mormon was true confirmed that Joseph Smith is a prophet, plain and simple. I don't worry about all the "strange" things anti's like to bring up. Some aren't even true, and others just show that he was human. Besides, does that stuff even matter?

    Still, the statue hugging is a bit odd…

  15. With a dh who doesn't really believe anymore, this has definitely been an issue for us. Yet, all along, I've wondered why it is that I can hear the same weird things about Joseph Smith as he does, but it still doesn't affect my testimony like it has his. I've pondered on that a lot, wondering what the difference is between my dh and me.

    A couple of weeks ago, the lesson in RS was about Joseph Smith's character, and while I was reading through others' first-hand perceptions and descriptions of the Prophet, I realized that I felt those exact same feelings about some of the great priesthood leaders here in my stake, and in that roundabout way, it reconfirmed to me of Joseph's inspired role as the Prophet.

    I guess what the difference between my dh's testimony and mine boil down to is that I believe even though there are things that I don't understand or "get," I'm fine with waiting until after this life to get it all figured out and sorted out. He's not. If it doesn't make sense now, then it's not true.

  16. This isn't an answer to your questions, but I have a picture of my husband kissing a statue of Joseph Smith. We were dating and went to his birthplace in Vermon and he climbed up on the pedestal to plant one on the statue.

    That picture might start a whole 'nother conversation.

  17. I so appreciate Strollerblader's comments. It is a mystery to me why two people who learn and hear the same information can have such different take-aways. How can one of my friends completely walk away from their (Mormon) religious upbringing and the other stay strong. Why are some okay with the quirkiness of our history and others completely bothered? I think Joseph Smith was odd; I really do. But in my heart of hearts, I know being a member of this church is where I am supposed to be and could not walk away even if I tried. Trust me, I've tried. So what do I do with my knowledge of Joseph Smith? I continue to work through it. I can't ignore it because facts are facts but I try and find where it belongs in my beliefs. Its a journey and a journey I hope will come to an end. And at the end I will be more firmly rooted in my religion. I hope.

  18. I would say I am like the other sisters who felt Joseph was a prophet from an early age. I still remember bearing testimony when I was about four-and I meant it. I only came to doubts when I was at BYU. Go figure. But those doubts were diminished by my firm belief in the Book of Mormon and then my realization of the humanity of Joseph Smith.

    When I read Rough Stone Rolling, I felt that twinge of embarrassment at the prophet's mistakes. But in the context of what he had accomplished in his life through his obedience, I was able to let it go.

    I also have had repeated confirmations while teaching as a missionary and visiting Palmyra.

    What a blessing to have the True Church, the priesthood, the BoM, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price through the efforts of this man called as a prophet.

    Thanks for this honest post.

  19. I think I was lucky that I sort of had no testimony until I was about sixteen. Then I had the most clear revelation I had ever had up to that point that Joseph Smith, while sounding absolutely batty, told the truth about that vision. In that moment I realized that God was in fact actually there and sometimes thought things were important enough to tell us. That was the beginning of my real faith in the Church of Jesus Christ, although I was raised in an LDS home. In Utah, even.

    I've had my questions when I've heard/read the odd things, too, but it's the same way it was when I had a hard time on my mission or have hard times in my marriage. I still have those moments of pure revelation to look back to and know that I need to choose faith again.

  20. I love Joseph Smith. I love that he was chastised by the Lord 24 times in the scriptures! It makes me feel like there's hope for me. And it makes me really glad that millions of people don't have to read about how I screwed up in their holy canons.

    His life makes me really hopeful, and really happy that I don't have to be perfect. He accomplished a lot of things and was an incredible person and he talked to GOD! but he still messed things up sometimes, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

  21. I can completely understand what you said about just kind of figuring that since I believe the Book of Mormon I must believe in Joseph Smith's part in it as well, because that was how I felt for a long time. I am a convert to the church, and have been a member for 11 years now. I would say that at this point, I have a bit of a testimony of Joseph Smith, but not as strong as I one day hope to. I think that part of my hangup is the way everyone talks about him like he was perfect and could do no wrong, and that anything bad ever said about him is a lie perpetrated by his enemies. He was a man, and as such was not perfect, and did not always know what he was doing. I personally think that is a good thing, not something detrimental to his character.

    I was called to be a teacher in Relief Society in a ward in Utah when I lived there five years ago or so, and one lesson was about Joseph Smith. During my lesson, I made mention of the fact that I was glad to learn more about him, because I had never really had a strong testimony about him aside from the fact that I knew he was a prophet of God. You could have heard a pin drop in that Relief Society, and most of the women couldn't even look me in the eye. I felt very ashamed and then embarrassed that I had said it (I often say things when I am teaching that I then think "I wonder if I shouldn't have said that" – not inappropriate things, but things that may make people wonder what is wrong with me.)

    Something that I have a problem with in the church, not so much the Gospel, is the way people talk about the pioneers like they were perfect also. They were persecuted, yes, and run out of towns, but there are also plenty of accounts and things that show that a lot of them were also haughty about having found the true church, and they may not have been so friendly to people outside of the church. This in no way means that they deserved to be abused, but it does show that they were not infallible and helps you understand why maybe people weren't so fond of them all the time.

  22. Reading the Old Testament, from before and after the story of Zipporah, really gave me a picture of God working with fallible humanity.

    Sometimes, though, it seems we are only comfortable if that fallibility is at least a thousand or two years away, rather than just a hundred or two.

  23. I've had a teensy testimony of joseph smith for about 20 years. It was a small feeling during my prayers one night, but I'll take what I get. In the past 5 years I finally got a testimony of the book of mormon, which adds weight to the prophet testimony.

    But here is where I struggle: it's all the stuff we don't talk about concerning our beloved prophet, specifically the polygamy stuff, that form the basis of my husband losing his faith. Which causes me deep sadness.

    And not just his faith in the church, but in God at all.

    Any time we talk about it, he can't believe that knowing the things I know about (which aren't mere heresay or disputable–there are well-documented accounts of the stuff he's referring to), that I would still believe this church is Gods true church (if there is a God).

    It's a huge wedge issue for us, and I can't fathom how to reconcile it. so I just kind of don't bother trying…much to his frustration. He doesn't understand my ignoring "the facts", and yet, I can't discount my experiences and testimony. I don't know how to make them co-exist with each other (really, can the?), so I guess I do just take the "I'm seeing through a glass darkly" stance, and figure it'll all make sense someday.

    For now, I'm just clinging on to what crumbs of belief and faith I have.

  24. Love Segullah… this is my first comment ever…

    My testimony of Joseph Smith came unexpectedly and to me, it seems, a little undeservedly. I was sitting in a sacrament meeting dedicated to the anniversary of the Aaronic Priesthood. I was 20 and had moved to Sydney to work and was away from my family, and for one reason or another, I was feeling really bitter about life, the church and anything else really! The intermediate hymn started. It was 'Joseph Smith's First Prayer' and I thought to myself "not this hymn AGAIN – I'm not even going to sing" (so rebellious huh!!??) Anyway, I sat scowling through 'bees were humming, sweet birds singing…' even 'a shining glorious pillar' was nothing to me – I thought!
    But something compelled me to sing the last verse, "Joseph, this is my beloved" and that was about all I could get out because I was totally filled with this KNOWLEDGE that this really was said by Heavenly Father to Joseph Smith! I couldn't sing then even if I wanted to – for tears… Bitterness washed away into love for all mankind. I had a desire to do good… The fruits of the spirit were overflowing and it felt beautiful. I *knew* it was true.
    Now, married with 5 children, I find myself in a ward where for some reason, most of the time really unfamiliar hymns are sung from week to week – which most of the congregation don't know, and I have this urge to sing the stirring old favourites like Joseph Smith's First Prayer or The Spirit of God… there is great power in a hymn… a hymn brought me my testimony of Joseph Smith.


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