I still remember clearly my first time. I was 18, and sitting alone in my warm dorm room on a cold, sleety, Rexburg morning in the Fall. The hall outside was quiet, and a tranquil ambience enveloped the softly lamplit room, a cozy contrast to the gray, blustery day outside the window.
On my desk in front of me, my Book of Mormon lay open to 3 Nephi, Chapter 17. I remember falling to my knees prior to that study session, and pleading with the Lord to open my eyes and my heart to the truth contained in the Book of Mormon. I remember yearning with all my heart to know that it was the word of God, to have that knowledge confirmed by the Holy Ghost as promised in Moroni 10:3-5. That had been my heart’s desire since that summer before I left Dallas, Texas to attend Ricks College, and the subject of many earnest discussions with my Heavenly Father. And right there, in that dorm room home away from home, God spoke to me.
I had been reading with delight the account of the Savior visiting his people on the American continent, and savoring the tender moments of the passages read over the last few days: the Savior of the world descending in a pillar of light amidst the devastation caused by recent calamities precipitated by his death an ocean and a continent away; the Resurrected Lord tenderly comforting the people by allowing them to physically feel the nail prints in his hands and feet, and to place their hands into the wound on his side; the people weeping at his feet and worshipping him as they realized the price paid by his innocent blood for them; Jesus himself sitting amongst the Nephites and the Lamanites, teaching them from his own glorified mouth.
But that morning, I read Chapter 17. There, the people are very sad because Jesus has just told them he needs to go for the day. Their ears understand, but their hearts long for him to linger and bless them. Jesus has compassion on them and decides to stay. He blesses them. He heals their sick. He asks for their children, and blesses them each one by one. As the people watch with wonder, he says to them “behold your little ones!” The people look and see their beaming, innocent little children being ministered to by angels, literally in communion with the Heavens above, their glorified, resurrected Messiah in their very midst.
I closed my eyes and imagined what it must have been like to be there. Like the words of the prayer spoken in that chapter by the Lord, the feelings that coursed through and thrilled my young soul were incomprehensible.
For the first time, I understood what it meant for the Lord to visit His people on the American continent. I actually felt in a very real way the individual love that the Savior has for each child of God: a love that each person realizes “one by one;” a love that truly transcends geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic booundaries. At that moment, I truly experienced for the first time that desire to sing the song of redeeming love I had read about in Alma. For the first time, I actually recognized the voice of God, manifesting itself to me in an overwhelming bundle of insight infused with joy so tangible I could almost touch it. I wanted to grasp hold of it, and always hold that feeling close. I, like the Book of Mormon people of old who had the blessing of sitting at the Savior’s pierced feet, wanted nothing more at that moment than to have the Savior in my life forever.
It has now been over 15 years since that cold, blustery day in Rexburg, Idaho. During that time, the feelings I had that morning have come and gone, and come and gone again. I have learned how to live to experience that joy more often. In fact, the joy I felt that morning has only become more real and amplified at several special moments in my life: teaching others the truth on my mission; kneeling across the altar of the temple from my beautiful wife and making with her and God sacred covenants for time and all eternity; sitting in a delivery room watching spirit meet new flesh for the first time; blessing my wife, children and family with the priesthood, etc. But that Fall morning was the first time I really remember feeling it, and it came as I was reading the Book of Mormon. I know from that experience, and many others since, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
As we embark on our study of the Book of Mormon this year, I ask myself and anyone reading this the question posed to us by Alma: Those of us who have experienced a change of heart, and have felt to sing the song of Christ’s redeeming love, can we feel so now? I felt it as I was writing this memory with the help of my journal. As we begin once more to unearth the treasure that is the Book of Mormon, to heed once again that voice from the dust, I seem to hear Moroni’s challenge echoing in my ears and in my heart, not THAT challenge, but the one that goes like this:
Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him. Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God.
It is time to once again “begin as in times of old” to reread and re-appreciate the Book of Mormon. As I “begin again” this year, I plan on blogging some of my experiences: a project in Book of Mormon Blogging (“BOMB”). It has been a long time since that holy morning for me in my Ricks College dorm room. But my experiences starting that day and continuing to the present have taught me that God can, does, and will speak to me as I read and study the Book of Mormon. It’s time to begin again.
It’s time to begin again, like my first time.