Guest Post: The Youngest Testimonies

by Tanya Spackman

It is time for me to take upon my role as a childless person instructing parents how to raise their kids. Hopefully my subsequent lynching will be quick and painless. However, this must be done. If it helps, I generally avoid telling parents how to raise their children. Not too long ago I had to teach a Relief Society lesson with a “how to be a better parent” theme, and it was incredibly painful to prepare (happily, it turned out well with a lot class participation from, you know, parents).

One of my greatest pet peeves is when little kids go up to the podium during fast and testimony meeting to say their “testimony” with mom or dad whispering the words to say in their little ears. This drives me nuts. If you are one of these people, please stop.

Aside from seeming like brainwashing, it seems pointless. The child has fun doing what the grown-ups or his or her friends are doing. The child gets attention and hugs. But what is she learning about a testimony? She is reciting words that are meaningless to her and meaningless–because of repetition, if for no other reason–to the congregation. Thus she learns that a “testimony” is saying what mom and dad like to hear and getting attention.

So what is a parent to do when the wee one wants to go up to the podium? At that point (well, after church or the next night), if not earlier, a family home evening lesson on testimonies might be appropriate. You can teach what a testimony really is (as is seen in wards everywhere, older kids and adults can benefit from this as well). You can ask questions to find out what they believe and where their testimony currently is, and then you can teach them how to share it. Then, with the family as the audience, they can practice sharing their sincere testimony. Once they have learned what a testimony is, what their testimony is, and how to share it in front of people, they are then ready to get up in front of the congregation.

Trust me, your ward will love you for it.

Tanya Spackman is single and lives in Dugway, Utah. She served a mission in Chicago, and graduated from BYU in 1998 with a degree in molecular biology. She currently works for a contractor as a technical writer and editor at Dugway Proving Ground. She was recently called as a Mia Maids advisor, and is totally excited to have that calling.

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81 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Youngest Testimonies

  1. Tanya,

    I think you make a good point, but in the end I have to disagree. Many kids do get taught in family home evening and other places what a testimony is, and I know that they actually have their own “testimony.” When a child whispers in your ear that he/she wants to go up and share his testimony, it seems wrong to discourage that. The only problem is that a young child who expressed desire to get up and share a testimony may be too scared or nervous to go up by him/herself (though not always). So the parent may accompany him up to the stand.

    Once up there, the child may actually forget what he/she was going to say, despite having previously had a family home evening lesson or other teaching moment on the subject, after seeing all the people in the audience. After all, young children are very little compared to that huge congregation. She may look pleadingly at the parent for help. The parent, finely tuned to the needs of his own offspring from years of being very near the child, will have already perceived this need and will be standing right up next to the child. The parent will then prompt the child by whispering what the parent knows the child has already said- what the parent understands to be the child’s “testimony” after years of watching the child pray, sing primary songs, and pipe up in family home evenings.

    More than “having fun”, “getting attention,” or just “saying what mom and dad like to hear,” such a child actually often sincerely desires to share his/her budding feelings about the gospel, but falters when faced with the enormity of the audience. I know, for I was one of those children, and I remember. I am thankful that my parents assisted me by whispering in my ear and reminding me what I knew to be true, so that I could overcome my fear and share it with the congregation.

    My son has not yet asked if he can go up and share his testimony. When he does, I intend to accompany him if he wants me to, and to step up and help him by whispering in his ear the sweet testimony which he has shared with me through his faithful acts of prayer, kindness, and in the innocent words of a child at the dinner table and in family home evenings. If my doing so is offensive and drives people in the congregation nuts, then my apologies in advance. That is not the intention.

  2. (by the way- some of the best lessons on parenting I have had in various church meetings have been from the childless, provided I was willing to listen. So keep it up, Tanya!)

  3. Perhaps you are unaware of it, but there was a letter from the First Presidency which requests that young children who cannot give their testimonies unassisted should not bear their testimonies in testimony meeting. Time should be provided in Primary for them to do so as part of a talk (not a Primary testimony meeting).

    Of course, one bishop told a relative of mine, when my relative brought it to his attention: “I’m not going to be the one who tells parents that their children can’t bear their testimonies in testimony meeting.”

    Way to go, bishop. That’s showing your courage, all right.

  4. Soyde,

    What if you think your child can, and you go up to the stand to give moral support, and then the child looks pleadingly at you for help? Do you think that the First Presidency really wants me to yank my child away from the microphone at that pleading moment?

    Maybe so. And if they asked me to, I would. But having read the letter, I am not sure that this is required.

  5. Jordan, I am sure that if you looked hard enough, you could find an exception to almost any letter the First Presidency sends out.

    But personally, if they can’t go up to the stand on their own, then they probably ought to do what the First Presidency suggests.

  6. Agreed, Soyde.

    I just hope that if a parent does happen to end up “helping” a child, that rather than being driven “nuts” by that occurrence and thinking “this parent is not heeding the counsel of the prophet,” that we can extend the parent the benefit of the doubt and assume that the parent honestly thought the child could do it on her own.

    It’s what I always hope people would do for me.

  7. Jordan, I agree with your point that kids may get scared once they are up there and forget what they wanted to say, but if they need their parents to go up with them in the first place and are at that great a risk for the fear to wipe their minds, they are probably too young to be sharing their testimonies during that meeting. Yes, they may ask to go up, but then – if you know they can’t do it on their own – couldn’t you explain that they can practice at FHE or Primary (if your ward does that) and then when they are ready they can do it? Instant gratification doesn’t seem necessary.

    I realize you don’t want to discourage them from sharing their testimony at all (though I question whether the rote thing all the kids say word for word is really a testimony, which is why I included teaching them about a testimony), but it seems like it can be handled so they are excited for it when they are old enough rather than just a “No” totally turning them off.

    Soyde, I was unaware of that letter. In my experience, not many wards have put that policy in place. And Jordan, yanking the microphone away is obviously not a good idea, but announcing the policy with a bit of explanation at the beginning of the meeting wouldn’t hurt.

    About a decade ago (during my mission), I was in one ward that set aside the first 10 minutes of the meeting for kids to bear their testimonies, and then after that it was adults only (I think youth fit into the adults category), and they discouraged the whispering parent. I thought that was a good idea.

  8. Oops, one more thing. Jordon, you said you plan to whisper in his ear the testimony he had previously shared with you. Though I still think he should wait till he can do it on his own before getting up in that particular venue, that doesn’t bother me as much.

    When mom or dad whisper, “I know the Church is true. I love my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters. InthenameofJesusChristamen,” I cringe. When they then are old enough to get up on their own, they repeat the same phrase. There doesn’t seem to be a testimony there. There was no instruction. It is just the thing to do and say.

    By you helping him say what really is his testimony, it seems you are teaching him rather than humoring him. I admit, that doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

    Though maybe not yet in that meeting.

  9. For me, it has been a spiritual experience to watch parents remind children of their budding testimonies during testimony meeting.

    When watching a young father lovingly help his child bear a testimony, I get the mental image of my Heavenly Father also putting words that I know to be true into my heart and mind. This mental picture re-affirms my belief that God whispers to us, his imperfect and weak children, just as that young father whispers to his. I leave feeling edified and uplifted by such experiences.

    Besides, the little kids who get up there are just so darn cute! I get a smile on my face just thinking about it.

    I really do think that the majority of children bearing their testimony actually believe what they are saying, despite the “roteness” of it. The roteness comes as a response to fear, I think, more than anything else. I would rather listen to ten rote and sincere testimonies by children than to one of the grown-up debacles that occasionally happen, although even those can be edifying.

    When I hear a “rote” testimony, I assume that the parents have taught about testimony in the home- otherwise the child would not be up there in the first place.

    By the way, how much of testimony meeting is actually taken up by the sorts of testimonies by children which Tanya discusses? Even in a ward with lots of children, it’s got to be less than a quarter of the total time used up by this.

  10. Yes, Jordan, if only the First Presidency had the understanding you have of the subject, then all would be fine.

  11. In regards to the amount of time…

    In my current ward, I’m not sure how much time it is (I’m fairly new in the ward), but I would guess a quarter to a third of the time. In my previous ward, it was easily half of the time or more. It seemed like it was nothing but kids with an adult interspersed here and there.

  12. Soyde,

    Comment 10 probably sounded more sarcastic than you meant it, but I want to be clear that I am not disagreeing with the First Presidency, and I certainly hope I am not implying that I have some sort of sounder understanding of the subject than the First Presidency does. The wisdom and understanding of the First Presidency far exceed my own, which is why I won’t encourage my son or daughters to go up and let me whisper their testimonies to them. But if they ask, and I think they are ready but follow them up so that I can share my testimony afterwards, then their courage fails, I do not intend to leave them in the lurch. I don’t think the First Presidency requires that of me.

    I will certainly abide by what the First Presidency has asked us to do, as best I can. I don’t think the fact that I am spiritually touched by these instances that seem to drive other people “nuts” is in any way opposed to counsel from the First Presidency.

  13. Wow- Tanya! That’s a lot more than in my ward. We usually get a couple of children, but not more, and usually no whispering in the ear.

    How many of the kids testimonies are actually whispered to them? I’m just trying to see how big the “problem” here really is.

  14. No, I didn’t mean to be sarcastic…it was said tongue in cheek. But I think I can see why that bishop was intimidated…lol!

  15. Hopefully I would not intimidate a Bishop. If a Bishop asked me from the pulpit or even as I approached the pulpit with a child to not let the child speak, I would obey.

  16. Jordan, not too many are whispered – around three kids each Fast Sunday. Of course, I think that’s three too many…

  17. I have read the 1st Presidency letter, agree with it, and agree with Tanya. However, a couple months ago I was bearing my testimony and my son ran up to me. (He is almost 4) I picked him up and continued my testimony. As I began to walk away he began to cry etc. In all honesty it did not hit me that he wanted to bear his testimony until I was on the stairs coming down from the pulpit area. At that point turning around and going back, right as someone else was beginning, was not really an option. But still, I didn’t even give a thought to taking him back. Of course, he threw a tantrum and I had to take him immediately out into the foyer. He eventually calmed down but by then we were heading to primary and we never discussed the issue. I agree with the 1st Presidency and also realize that I missed out on a real teaching opportunity. Oh well, maybe in the Millennium I’ll get this parenting thing down.

  18. I’m trying a new thing: I’m reminding myself that I am a grey-haired woman and to remember to post according to the dignity my advanced age should require.

    In that vein, I think a wise older woman would smile serenely and say: we should follow the counsel of our leaders.

    But how much damage can be done by allowing a child his 10 seconds at the pulpit? Kids have a finely honed sense of justice. They’ve been watching other kids for years and suddenly the rules change? Could leave them with a bad taste in their mouth and make them decide they will not bear their testimony ever.

    Then again, I don’t think much growth is accomplished with the rote testimony, either. Except that our kids are more experienced public speakers.

    I don’t know, we grownups have a pretty rough time bearing pure testimony, I’m not sure we should expect it from our kids.

  19. I’m the Primary President in my ward and this discussion makes me think that I should teach a lesson in Sharing Time because we rarely have children bear their testimonies in Sacrament Meeting, and they rarely include a testimony in their talks during Primary.

    Having said that, the few testimonies by children in Sacrament meeting have been pre-written and read over the pulpit. All four children were about ten and you could tell that they had really thought about it beforehand and it alleviated the whispering parent. However, it was a little bit “not quite right” because you really shouldn’t read a testimony. But they’re kids, for heaven’s sake, and I, like the rest of us, need to cut them some slack.

  20. But how much damage can be done by allowing a child his 10 seconds at the pulpit?

    But we aren’t talking about one child. Sure, for each parent it is their one child at that moment, but for everyone else, it is interminable repeats of, “I know the Church is true. I love my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters. InthenameofJesusChristamen.” Yeah, the kids on their own say that, but the problem is only exacerbated by parents giving kids those exact same words. I guess I just don’t see the meeting as needing to focus on the needs of the 3-year-olds.

    Also, I’m not really sure that those 3- and 4-year-olds really will have a bad taste in their mouth because they can’t go up and stand in front of everyone unless it is handled really poorly.

    I guess I’m ultimately bemoaning that the adults are perpetuating the problem of testimony meeting not actually containing many testimonies. True, adults sometimes don’t do well at bearing an actual testimony, but if they actually started teaching the concept to kids, in a generation or two (maybe less if adults caught on), testimony meetings wouldn’t be rote words from the kids and weird stories from the adults.

  21. Tanya, I think childless people often have some critical distance that is helpful to hear and I completely understand your complaint, but
    I agree with Jordan.

    I have a six-year old daughter who had an experience at school that really touched her. She told me that she felt the Holy Ghost and was so excited to have recognized it. A few days later we sat in Fast and Testimony meeting and she whispered she would like to share her experience and testimony. It caught me way off guard as she had never asked before; however, not surprisingly, she wanted me to walk up there with her. Also not surprisingly, once we did get up there she totally froze. So I whispered the words she had used in telling me. I’m sure many people dismissed it as my words, but they truly were her thoughts and testimony and it was a sweet experience for both of us. Should I have denied her because she wasn’t brave enough to face our enormous congregation on her own? Perhaps the First Presidency’s memo is the answer, but I had no knowledge of it’s existence at that point and still don’t know exactly what it says. I will have to find it and read it and figure out what I should have done, but for now I’m glad I sinned in ignorance.

  22. I still think that when a child gets up to bear a rote and/or whispered-in-the-ear testimony, or when an adult gets up to tell a “weird story”, that I will try to learn something from it rather than getting annoyed that another parent had the audacity to waste my time by whispering another testimony in the ear.

  23. Syde writes:

    Of course, one bishop told a relative of mine, when my relative brought it to his attention: “I’m not going to be the one who tells parents that their children can’t bear their testimonies in testimony meeting.”

    Way to go, bishop. That’s showing your courage, all right.

    But thankfully we can all rest a little easier now, knowing that at least one member has the courage to criticize the bishop for how he’s doing his job. If only there were more members out there who had the courage to tell bishops how to do their jobs.

  24. My two cents: this and other blogs have helped me realize just how insignificant some of the major issues I’ve had with the church and church culture are. When you see your issue in writing, and then read the comments, you realize that, what really is the big deal about little kids taking up a few minutes in fast and testimony meeting? We all know why they are up there, and what they are doing, and some of us are annoyed that they are wasting our time, but, I’d rather just smile knowingly and read a song or two in the hymn book if I’m not interested in listening to some three year old breathe heavily into the microphone for 30 seconds with a wide eyed stare into the congregation.

    I think Tanya makes an excellent point that testimonies should be learned and earned, and not recited, but that’s a different matter all together.

    Just wanted to share how much happier I’ve been since I stopped being so uptight. Try it! It works! πŸ™‚

  25. Not audacity, Jordan. I simply assume they never gave it much thought. Hence my original post :-). And yes, it is true, I really don’t learn much from the rote words. Do you?

  26. Tess, you are right – in the grand scheme of things (or even in a limited scheme of things), this is pretty insignificant. But if what we have now can be better, should we just say nothing and go with the flow? I’m not under any illusions that this post is really going to change my F&TM experience, especially since I really doubt anyone in my ward reads this blog. But maybe it makes a few others think. This discussion so far has helped clarify some of my own thoughts, so if no one else benefitted in some way from it, I have.

    As far as the point that “testimonies should be learned and earned, and not recited, but that’s a different matter all together,” it isn’t a different matter. The whispered testimonies are a symptom of the lack of understanding of what a testimony is that is being perpetuated by some of those parents, even if well-meaning.

    (Note: The “some” in referring to those parents is because I see now that some whispered testimonies could be sincere. But I really, really have my doubts about the whispered ones where the parents feed the kids the rote version.)

    Oh, and despite how this discussion is going, I am way more mellow in real life than is good for me. Seriously, I’m trying to beat down some of the apathy in my life and get some feeling πŸ™‚

  27. Tanya,

    Not from the words themselves, but from the act of delivering them. And, as I said, the children are dang cute! I love hearing little three/four year old voices try to say “Joseph Smith.” It can be a welcome break sometimes.

    Still, I can see your point, and hope that we can just always remember to give parents in that situation the benefit of the doubt.

  28. I’ve been sufficiently disappointed and taken back by the recent abundance of comments around here seeming to endorse Bishop-correction by the general membership (see #3 here; see also here) that I’ve just posted on the topic over at T & S. My post is available here.

  29. “This discussion so far has helped clarify some of my own thoughts, so if no one else benefitted in some way from it, I have.”

    Tanya, thanks. I think this is a huge benefit of blogging. I love reading the blogs because they give me much needed perspective. I also think you’re right about making sure that we recognize insincerity in others (and in ourselves) when it comes to testimonies and how important they are (THE most important!) I know I struggled with making the transition to actually having my OWN testimony and not just following the crowd or reciting what my parents told me. So, maybe having little kids up there is probably not such a great thing.

    I used to get so uptight about all the little things people used to do at church to bug me (yes, I interpreted it as intentional – sort of). But now I do sort of just go with the flow (unless there is huge problem), and I’m definitely dreading Sundays a lot less and enjoying my meetings a lot more…

  30. Tanya, I completely agree! And please forgive me my bluntness, but this is a huge pet-peeve of mine. I am a mother, yet it has always annoyed me–even when I was a child–to hear the same rote testimony from children in the ward. After my child is baptised and becomes an official member of the church, and can show that he/she has something to testify of, then I will support him/her going up to the stand (unaided).

    I think that too many times, we don’t take fast and testimony meeting seriously enough. It seems ridiculous that talks are given encouraging adults to give true testimony rather than thank-ti-mony or travelogue and yet children get up and give something that may be cute, may get a laugh, but has never caused the Spirit to burn within me.

    From another perspective, in our ward we very often have investigators in Sacrament meeting and we have had a few adult baptisms in the last year. I was talking with a newly baptised sister, who at first felt that it was odd that parents were coaxing their children to give a standard belief statement in front of everyone. How does it look from an outsiders perspective?

    Given proper parental teaching, I don’t think a child is going to be spiritually warped if you explain the importance of testimony meeting and the serious feelings you need to bear a testimony. If I were at a baptism with my toddler, I wouldn’t let him jump in the water, too.

  31. Audrey,

    If I feel the spirit when a child gives a “rote” testimony, does that matter? Or does all that matters is that you don’t?

  32. By the way, just to be clear here…

    Are we railing against rote testimonies by children here, are are we railing against the whispered-in-the-ear sort?

    If we are railing against rote testimonies, how in the world do we judge whether the testimony was subjectively rote to the child sharing it, despite the child’s having used what we would consider “standard” words? If the testimony is not subjectively rote (in other words, if the child is sincere, despite using standard terms in a standard syntactic frame), then how is that not edifying?

    To be honest- I have rarely seen the whispered-in-the-ear sort of testimony, but when I do, it invokes some powerful spiritual imagery for me which really uplifts my Spirit (as described in #9). Would you deny me such a profound spiritual feast on testimony day?

  33. A few Sundays back, I heard the Bishop testify that “I know God lives” and “I know this church is true.” Are there more rote, overly used, and even trite phrases in the Church? Yet somehow, I was touched, and I will be just as touched when those “rote” words come out of the mouth of babes. Perhaps even more so!

    Does the fact that I am touched matter in anyone’s analysis? I would be willing to suffer a temporary annoyance to allow something to touch another- would you offer me the same?

  34. Yes, I suppose allowing one crying child to bear their testimony could start something, again.

    Something said gave me an idea, though, maybe the primary could have a testimony meeting, just for the kids. Like in sharing time.

  35. One more thing- (I’m writing here in between other projects, so I can only do issue-by-issue):

    I think that too many times, we don’t take fast and testimony meeting seriously enough.

    I agree with this, but is the fact that I am spiritually touched by even the rote or whispered testimonies of children a sign that I do not take testimony meeting seriously enough? I hope I do. I show up fasting, I try to keep my kids quiet and listen intently to what is said- trying to feel the testimony along with the speaker, rather than just hear the words. So if I am seriously touched by something which another considers trivial and finds offensive that it was a part of testimony meeting, does that mean my worship is not serious- that I am not taking it “seriously enough”?

  36. Jordan, re #34, though those phrases are indeed common ones, I would not consider them rote. Rote is the one (and I say “one” because I don’t really see much variation, regardless of the geographical region, at least in the U.S.) the kids say. You know, the same sentences in the same order, maybe removing “sisters” if they only have brothers (though sometimes the kids forget to amend that when there are a line of them one after another).

    If each person bearing their testimony said some variation of “I know this Church is true,” it would not make it rote. If each person got up and said that exact sentence in combination with sentences identical to what everyone else said, then that would be rote, only repeating what they’d heard. “Rote” is memorization by repetition.

  37. annegb (#35), I have heard of wards that do that, but I have not been in one (or at least was unaware of it). It is a good idea.

  38. Now, now, Audrey. I meant to put that all in one post, but just pressed “post” before I thought of it… I am not trying to come across as hyper or disjointed.

    However, why is it that your annoyance trumps my spiritual satisfaction in this area?

    As far as I can tell, Tanya, I have never heard the exact same testimony with the exact same words used in the exact same order from any two kids anywhere. It makes a funny joke to say that, but I don’t think it is true.

    Look- I am probably coming across more seriously than I am meaning to sound. I just get moved by kids testimonies (sometimes even to tears) so it seems strange to me that, since in the large scheme of things children’s rote or whispered-to testimonies do not really cause a huge burden, the small annoyance of some would cause them to rail against something that is so spiritually uplifting to many others and advocate for fully forbidding it.

    How sad and empty testimony meeting would be without the beautiful voices of our precious little ones! Would you be willing to be annoyed for five minutes on Fast Sunday for my sake?

  39. Jordan, perhaps part of our disagreement comes from very different experiences. I used as my example of a rote testimony, “I know the Church is true. I love my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters. InthenameofJesusChristamen.” That was not chosen randomly, nor as an attempt to be funny. I hear that “testimony” word for word every F&TM, and not only from the kids up there by themselves, but the parents who whisper that to their kids, whisper that exact thing. Can you see why hearing that multiple times in one meeting may seem pointlessly annoying, especially when parents perpetuate it? There is no spirit there.

    If your ward is indeed as blessed as it sounds to have sincere testimonies by children, then you are indeed blessed. Nothing need change in your ward. It is not children’s testimonies I object to – I’ve known some incredibly spiritually-aware young children. It is “I know the Church is true. I love my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters. InthenameofJesusChristamen,” spoken word for word (again, this is not to be funny or chosen randomly) because mom and dad whispered it in their ear or because their friends said the same thing before then and they’ve heard the same thing for years to which I object.

  40. I don’t really disagree with you in any major way, except to say that I would truly miss children’s testimonies of all sorts if they were banned, because I consider them immensely spiritual.

    Regarding the “sameness”: I’ll bet if you were to actually record every word out of the childrens’ mouths, that it would not be word-for-word the same as what you just typed, and that there would be variation in vocabulary and syntax across each child’s testimony, even in your ward. It is pretty much impossible for several children of that age to get up and say the exact same words in the exact same syntax and even with the exact same intonation, stress, and syllabic patterning (as indicated by your “InthenameofJesusChristamen.”). However, I have heard children’s testimonies parodied in comedy (and it was funny!) in just the manner you are describing. Which is why I thought that your “sameness” stemmed from parody and not reality, because I am pretty certain that sameness to the degree you assert is very difficult for even adults to achieve, much less probable then in little children.

    With all these threads on speaking in church, I keep arriving at the same conclusion: the best way to improve the quality of our meetings is for each person individually to do their best to make it a quality meeting. If I am speaking, this means preparing well and preparing prayerfully and preparing something interesting. If I am sharing a testimony, this means sharing something concise, relevant, and moving. It means disciplining my children to not do something before they are able to do it.

    It does not mean picking out everything that other people do which I find annoying and wish they would stop. I can only change me, not them.

  41. Jordan, I have to say that in my last two family wards, the children took up at least one quarter to half of the testimony meeting.

    Perhaps my opinion has been molded by a 6-year old boy who came into my home ward growing up when I was about 18-yrs old. He was not a member, but started coming with a friend, the next year his mother started accompanying him to church. One Sunday he got up and spoke of an incident where his mother had felt the spirit and saved him from a charging horse, and how he had felt the spirit, too. Everyone in the audience was silent and fully focused on this young boy actually bearing a testimony of the feeling the spirit. From that time on he would get up every few months (always unaided) and give a clear 3-5 minute testimony of an event in his life where he had felt the Spirit or learned the truth of some gospel principle.

    I have only seen perhaps two or three other children who have spoken in this way, outside of the “rote” mold. When I hear these testimonies, I am touched and awed. I consider myself a very spiritual person, and while I appreciate the desire of children to do what is right I just don’t get much from the “rote” and/or whispered testimonies.

  42. Kaimi said:

    But thankfully we can all rest a little easier now, knowing that at least one member has the courage to criticize the bishop for how he’s doing his job. If only there were more members out there who had the courage to tell bishops how to do their jobs.

    I’m not advocating criticism of the bishop, and I don’t know the precise circumstances regarding Soyde’s relative, but I find it puzzling that you seem far more upset about a ward member defending the First Presidency to a bishop than you are about a bishop ignoring the First Presidency so he can be the nice guy to his ward.

  43. Wow- Audrey. That sounds like it was a very moving experience.

    I also, like you, appreciate such direct testimonies. But then I also have to remember that not all children are so spiritually mature as that special little boy you mention, bless his little heart. Would that we could all teach our children to do the same and that every child would actually apply the teaching.

    But since they don’t, I’ll still take rote childrens’ voices over no childrens’ voices.

  44. I’ll take that bet (except I realize you were speaking figuratively and not literally since I’m sure we’ve all taken Pres. Hinckley’s counsel to heart) and will take notes next Fast Sunday. This isn’t exactly a new observation and I’m not particularly young, so I’m confident that my perceptions about this are correct. I realize by that time this thread will long be over, but it sounds kind of fun (in other words, I realize the results likely matter to no one but me).

  45. Jonathan,

    Well, I’m not upset about either event; it takes more than that to get me upset. But I do wonder about eagerness to correct Priesthood leaders.

    As for my more extended reasoning on why criticism might be inappropriate, see my longer post at T & S.

    p.s. I can’t believe that I’m commenting at M*, the self-professed faithful-and-uplifting blog, and I seem to be a minority of one in thinking that members should be less eager to correct their Priesthood leaders.

  46. First, a good talk in conference last october by Elder Ballard (I believe) concerning testimonies and testiony meetings is a good one to review. Is saying “I love my mom and dad” a testimony? Not in my book. I think that many “testimonies” by child and adult should be more appropriatly named “thanktimony”.
    There is a difference in a meeting that has actual testimonies than those that don’t. I lived in a student ward where no children ever got up to give their testimony (there were none or too young). Every F&TM was one that nobody ever wanted to stop. Not becuase there were no kids, but becuase everybody who got up shared *their* TESTIMONY and the spirit was there. I have seen it on other occasions, but usually not as strong, and surprisingly enough, kids are not prompted in those meetings.

    If your kids can’t do it alone, don’t let them. Sure, I might shed a tear at a child who shares a real testimony. However, I have never been moved when they have been prompted by their parent, even if they supposedly have their own testimony.

    HL #18 – Let the kid cry if they want to get up in front of everybody. As parents we shouldn’t let them do whatever. It’s not like our kids should never cry or tantrum. A greater teaching moment comes in the foyer as you teach them about a testimony, not by speaking in their ear in a meeting devoted to testimonies when they probably don’t even remember a word they said when they sit down.

  47. Is saying “I love my mom and dad” a testimony? Not in my book. I think that many “testimonies” by child and adult should be more appropriatly named “thanktimony”.

    I agree with this Brother Miller- we can each individually try harder to share meaningful testimony. But if someone does slip through our fingers and give a “thanktimony”, why not try to get something out of it instead of sitting there getting all annoyed because that person didn’t listen to Elder Ballard and share the most meaningful testimony? I mean, if you don’t do the “thanktimony” yourself, isn’t that all that matters? You have changed all you have power to change- yourself. Just be a good example of the “right” kind of testimony and be charitable to those not on the same testimonial footing as you.

  48. Is it not also charitable to correct things that need to be corrected? To do nothing seems to be as great an error.

    HOWEVER, I realize such correction would need to come from those in authority (which fits into Kaimi’s side topic). Since I have no kids (so I can’t instruct my family) and am not a bishop (thank goodness – so I can’t instruct my ward), it is true that I can only improve myself, as you’ve pointed out. At F&TM I will certainly never stand and say, “You know, y’all are doing it wrong. Knock it off.” (Or even a more polite, socially acceptable version of that.) Nor would I ever approach the parent who just whispered in their child’s ear. But I do not believe it is outside the realm of propriety to discuss it in a venue such as this. If we never discuss it, will it ever even have a chance of getting better?

  49. Jordan –

    If in sacrament meeting we are not edified together, then what? If I am prepared and ready for a meeting, but then not edified, it does matter. That would mean something on the other side didn’t get the job done (read D&C 50 for more info on this). I am not usually annoyed if kids get up with their parents, but it leaves me spiritually unfed, and that is one of the purposes of church.

    Also, whether a young testimony or an old one, a testimony is a testimony and brings the spirit the same.

    Last, charity never faileth. You’re right. Therefore, I go to sacrament, take what is handed to me, give what I can, and enjoy my day. If it can be better, then more power to all of us involved. It is in the following of the prophets, however, that we come to understand the importance of their word and the knowledge of if and when to go against it. Try it. See if a meeting that doesn’t have children bearing their prompted testimonies is better than the others. I can say that it is.

  50. I didn’t know about the letter that is referred to here, but since it appears to be a reality, I think perhaps the bishopric could just consistently, for several months, read the letter at the start of testimony meeting and get the word out. People will fall into line, I think.

    Again, correcting, in my opinion, largely depends on attitude and motive. If we’re sincerely just informing our leaders, that’s one thing, but if we’re attempting to control or if we do so with a spirit of contention, that is different. I know, I have done it and it has never worked out to anybody’s benefit. Learn, guys, from my stupid mistakes.

    Another thing that bothers me, threadjack???–is the emphasis on “know.” I am quite okay with believe. We’ve discussed this before, here, I think, but forcing a kid to say “I know” if they don’t could make for trouble later when they become teenagers, know everything, and fight against everything their parents taught them.

  51. True, Tanya. And a venue like this is also the appropriate place to challenge what others say. That’s why I like blogs- because we can raise issues and have them challenged by people who enjoy making arguments against whatever happens to be the favored topic of the day at Millennial Star. πŸ™‚

    Since you’re in the “hot seat” today, I will take you on, but don’t take me too seriously, since tomorrow if someone posted the exact opposite sentiments as you have I may take them on too. It provides a little distraction from my current close examination of a patent dealing with methods and compositions for the dry powder formulation of interferons.

    Thanks for the welcome break. This is why I love Millennial Star.

  52. Jordan, it is heartening to know that sometimes others argue just for the sake of it, too. I was feeling like a dweeb.

  53. Generally kids with testimonies whispered in their ears is something I’m willing to endure. Actually I think its really cute. I suppose if there are a lot of children in a ward, this could get out of control and would need to be curtailed. But once or twice during a testimony meeting, its a nice thing to see and hear.

  54. I have never whispered testimonies in my daughter’s ears (right Tanya?), but the most annoying ones are the ones where they repeat “I love” and list about 15 relatives and never get around to anyone like Jesus or any church leaders. But there are a couple of young kids in our ward that amaze me when they bear their testimonies and I’m sure they will be a couple of the youngest church general authorities in about 20 years. I might say, though, that the most annoying “testimonies” are the travelogs that go on for 15 or 20 minutes while they tell everyone how much fun they had on the last vacation cruise or whatever. Maybe it’s just jealousy, but they really annoy me.

  55. . I can’t believe that I’m commenting at M*, the self-professed faithful-and-uplifting blog

    Bwahahahah… give in to the light side…

  56. Children in sacrament meeting should be seen, not heard. Period.

    (With the exception once a year at the Primary presentation.)

    To paraphrase Paul, let them tell their family at home, or their primary class.

  57. Tanya, this has become such an interesting thread. Thanks for bring up a subject that has drawn out so many different insights. I am a mother and grandmother, and I have moved around a lot, so I’ve attended testimony meetings in many wards and branches. Sometimes wards or stakes (or even larger areas) seem to develop their own “culture” about some things. Thus, what is common practice in one place can be entirely unknown somewhere else. I have been in meetings in many parts of the world where adults and older children bore spiritual and inspiring testimonies, and younger children did not participate. In other places, the adults hardly stood a chance to get up, because nearly the entire meeting was children, and most of what they said seemed to be either rote “thankimonies,” or repeating whispered instructions.
    As you pointed out, Tanya, little children are often delighted to “perform,” and they sometimes (NOT ALWAYS!!) go up to the podium because they like the attention they get, more than because they were spiritually prompted to share their testimony. This will be especially true in wards where this has become the custom. Several commenters have pointed out appropriate ways to teach our young children about testimonies, and also appropriate behavior in meetings. Wonderful ideas, which I hope my children are reading!
    annegb (#35) and Tanya (#38), the Primary Handbook says “Testimony meetings are not held in Primary. However, children who give talks may bear testimony as they desire.” (p.239). Primary leaders and teachers are encouraged to frequently bear testimony to the principles they are teaching, and their example helps teach children what a testimony is, and how to express it in Fast and Testimony Meeting when they are older.
    I agree that little children are very cute! And certainly one can feel the Spirit just because they are innocent, and trying to do what they think is right. But if the First Presidency sends out a letter, it is probably because they believe something needs to be clarified, and in some cases corrected, for our own good—even if we don’t always understand why. Often, I have found that looking at the issue from other angles (as we can in this thread), helps me to see what may have prompted their counsel.

  58. Let’s not forget Christ’s declaration that “of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

  59. The oracle at Delphi was famous for giving answers to questions which were open to different interpretations. Perhaps the most famous was when King Croesus asked whether he should invade Persia, and the oracle answered: “If you invade Perisa, you will destroy a great emipire.” Thinking this meant he should go ahead, he invaded and was soundly defeated, and his kingdom destroyed. Upon remonstrating with the oracle, he was told: “The empire you destroyed was your own.”

    This comes to mind because when you actually read what the First Presidency said, each poster on this thread will feel that his or her position has been vindicated!

    “Parents and teacher should help children learn what a testimony is and when it is appropriate for them to express it. It may be best to have younger children learn to share their testimonies at such times as family home evening or when giving talks in Primary until they are old enough to do so in a fast and testimony meeting.

    We encourage bishoprics to teach these important principles to priesthood and auxiliary leaders and to all ward members.”

    I think the First Presidency is encouraging us to be wise about what children do in a fast and testimony meeting. Earlier in the letter, the concern expressed was about some who wished to bear their testimonies were not able to do so.

  60. Arturo, I would imagine it would depend on how you help her. Also, since you are instructing her on how to pray in your home, that is the perfect place (i.e., like instructing kids on testimonies in the home).

  61. I think that a child should be old enough to go to the stand and bear their testimony by themselves. I also think parents should be encouraged to teach children what it means to have a testimony and why we bear it.

    With my children, they have had completely different approaches to learning to pray. I actually haven’t had to whisper in many ears since one child simply wanted to say her own thing, even before she had real sentences or many intelligible words. Prayers were in her own soft unintelligible mutterings. SHe knew what they meant, I guess.
    My other child, had no words so no amount of whispering couldn’t illicit his repeating what I said (a speech disorder delayed his language and later made language on demand an iffy thing). He still is reluctant to pray at home or anywhere. Here is where I am at a loss as to how to motivate him to pray.
    I pride myself on my children’s primary talks. (I know, bad pride) I help them put together their thoughts and words so most of it comes from them. And try to leave it up to them to give their own presentation so they get the experience and confidence to build on. There is little point in my writing a talk and whispering it and having my child repeat each sentence I wrote.
    My 3 year old daughter, therefore, was no great orator but loved to memorize held up pictures of temples and named them since she had about 20 memorized.
    My son has given 2 talks. When he was four I held up each piece of the nativity scene and he named each one and then placed them on the pulpit! Every adult in the room was so proud of him! When he was five, in our new ward primary, he apparently gave the best primary talk our Primary Secretary had ever heard. He loves planets so I had him talk about Earth and show a picture. And he got to talk about living on Earth with a family and showing a picture of each of us in his family.

  62. When coming to fast & Testimony meeting as an investigator, the whispering parent testimony looks and feels like brainwashing…

    I tend to feel that after someone has been baptized, then it is appropriate for them to bear testimony in sacrament meeting.

    I have yet to really feel the spirit when I hear:

    “I’d like to bear my testimony. I know this church is true. I’m thankful for my mommy/daddy/siblings/teachers/friends (take your pick). InthenameofJesusChristAmen!”

    Sorry, that just doesn’t do anything for me…

    I think testimonies should be borne by those who understand what a testimony really is, and that those who are too young to understand should wait until they are old enough to be able to do so.

  63. Gotta jump in here…

    We have a little boy who has downe’s syndrome in our ward. He gets up in testimony meeting to bear his testimony each month. We cannot understand most of what he says. However, I would never, ever, deny him the opportunity to share what he feels is a testimony. The same way I would not dis-allow a non-english speaking person to do the same.

    Children feel the spirit easier than most adults. Is there any wonder whythey jump up first to bear their testimonies? The first 10 minutes of any testimony I’ve been at is small children bearing theirs. It may sound like rote to some of you, but what they are doing is responding to the feelings of the spirit. It may not even be recognized by them, as such, but it is.

    I believe Elder Ballard’s words on testimony were actually said for the benefit of the adult members of the church. Funny, we need some instruction on how it’s done also.

    Our ward has the no parent testimony help rule, and it is strictly enforced.

  64. My five year old thinks that our family can beat up Satan. He likes to punch bad guys and his sister can kick bad guys. And his Daddy is stronger than bad guys.
    He also has a imaginary friend who has lived in Oregon, Jupiter and Mars. Oh, and my son has really amazing things in his underground imaginary laboratory.

    My seven year old understands that she can feel inside whether a choice is good or bad. But as she approaches baptism and I try to talk to her about her “choice” to be baptized and what it means I try to talk about the First Vision and the BOok of Mormon as specific parts of the gospel that we have and other people don’t have. How knowing that these things are true is part of deciding to get baptized. She doesn’t discuss things like this with me–I can barely get her to tell me what happened at school today. She says she knows its true because her teacher told her about it at primary. Discussion closed. I can’t harrass her.
    Currently she believes everything we tell her and everything her teacher at school tells her….she’s starting to realize she can’t believe everything kids tell her.
    Yes, I believe the spirit communicates things to children. But so do people. Kids also believe in Santa Claus because they have been “brainwashed.”
    Our ward does not have children for 10 minutes, not because our kids don’t feel the spirit, but because it isn’t the current fad on our ward for kids to do that. If kids did all the time, my kids would ask me, “Is it my turn to speak now?” because they’d want a turn too.

  65. Tess said: “this and other blogs have helped me realize just how insignificant some of the major issues I’ve had with the church and church culture are. When you see your issue in writing, and then read the comments, you realize that, what really is the big deal about little kids taking up a few minutes in fast and testimony meeting?”


    Children do what their parents do. Their parents are up there bearing testimonies. They want to do it, too. Let them do it, let them say what they want to say until they really understand what it is they want to say, and please, just get over it, people.

  66. What’s the big deal? Well, what’s the big deal if your child screams during sacrament meeting. Or dumps Cheerios everywhere. Or runs up and down the aisle. Or sings too loudly. Or keeps touching the person in front. Or takes two peices of bread. Or takes 3 whole minutes to sip the tiny cup of water.
    It really isn’t that big of a deal. But, as parents we are trying to teach our children manners, reverence, obedience, and appropriate behavior.
    Some parents think its ok for kids to wander the aisles. Some don’t. Some parents think its ok to eat tons of messy snacks. Some don’t. Some parents think its ok for kids to just hang out in the foyer having fun. Some don’t.

    Some people think it is ok for lots of kids to get up and bear testimonies because there might be some percentage of geniune testimonies or other value in the practice. Some people think that there is more whispering, showing off, brainwashing aspects, or lack of understanding of the purpose for the practice to be worth the time spent….and some of us who read or heard the Letter from the First PResidency feel we should go with what the prophet has asked us to do.

    Most of these discussions are “What’s the big deal?” But it can still be an interesting thing to think about and discuss. Maybe we learn a little whe we see just a little more from someone else’s perspective or experience. At least, I think it is interesting to share my ideas and hear someone else’s thoughts on the subject.

  67. Heather O., shouldn’t we at least try to make testimony meeting a spiritually uplifting place? I’m afraid I just don’t see the need to gratify the immediate desires of the little kids when there really isn’t a point to it. Just so they can do what the grown-ups are doing, when they don’t even understand it? I agree, get over it. Get over the desire to grant every single thing your (general “your”) child wants.

  68. I agree with JKS in thinking that this kind of discussion is why many who read and comment on LDS blogs take the time to do so. They are interested in, and want to learn from, the perspectives and experiences of others; and they enjoy sharing personal insights in the hope that they might benefit others. Sometimes the tone of certain comments can seem quite abrasive and confrontational; but as others have pointed out, this particular medium does’t easily lend itself to conveying the finer emotional nuances.
    Surely, when both Heather O. and Tanya wrote “get over it,” they wished to help all of us to reach beyond our petty bickerings ascend to a higher spiritual plane. πŸ™‚

  69. Heather O., shouldn’t we at least try to make testimony meeting a spiritually uplifting place?

    And it is a spiritually uplifting place, at least to me, when children’s voices are present. Does my spirituality/spiritual experience matter? When one person is touched by a child’s testimony, but another just gets driven “nuts” by the same, whose experience should trump? Should I not get a spiritual feast because someone else is annoyed, or should I be treated at the expense of someone else?

    (Of course, I would be willing to sacrifice a spiritual experience or two if it would mean for spirituality in the meeting for someone else, I suppose…)

  70. In my ward, there is a couple with 2 young boys,6 and 4, and they are allowed to run screaming in the hall, and are disrespectful and rude. This mother brings one boy up, whispers the testimony, and this child yells into the microphone and laughs. The other boy runs from his father up to the podium, plays on the steps, and then the mother stands there and tries to get him to come bear his testimony. No one thinks it’s cute, and I notice many people giving each other annoyed looks. Very few people say “amen” when the boys are finished. All of the parents in our ward obey the presidency’s letter, why won’t they? As a schoolteacher, I see way too many parents who indulge their children and think the rules do not apply to them. I also see the results. Kids think it looks fun to get up and talk into the microphone like the “older” members. It doesn’t mean they should be allowed, especially when it has been requested that they don’t. If the presidency thinks it’s important enough to prepare a letter, don’t you think we should respect that? If everyone made their own rules within the church, according to their own wants, where would the church be?

  71. Vickie,

    Clearly not the type of testimony I was talking about. I mean the type where a young person gets up, wanting to share a testimony on his own, and then when he makes it to the stand, despite his best efforts, his words fail him. When he looks pleadingly for help to his parents, they lovingly help.

    This is not the type of indulgence you describe. The parents I envision ARE trying to listen to and obey the counsel of the First Presidency, but their kids are unfortunately less than perfect and courage fails them, despite *thinking* they were able to do it on their own.

    I’m not trying to make any rules around here, honest.

  72. You keep shifting the ground, Jordan. Earlier in this thread you were full of praise for how the “whispered in the ear” testimony made you feel, but now it turns out you didn’t mean that.

    Great rearguard action.

  73. Jordan, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a child (not accompanied by a parent) reach the stand and remain speechless then wait until their parent comes up to rescue them, though I have seen it happen when the parent is standing right there next to them at the ready. If a child can’t do it on their own without a parent as a crutch, they are not ready and/or too young to go up. The time for parental help is at home in FHE or during primary talks where the children have a chance to learn how to bear testimony.

    And, what is wrong with the parent simply escorting their child back to their seat and using it as a learning experience rather than feeding them their lines?

  74. Both are touching. I agree with Audrey about the appropriate place and time for teaching. What if you thought you had taught, but then were proved wrong when the “moment of truth” arrived?

    The point I was trying to make is that I am not trying to carve out exceptions and make my “own rules” within the Church. Also, the example used by Vickie P. was not what I had in mind. Vickie P. seems to assume that I am some “let the children do anything they want” type of parent- which couldn’t be further fromthe truth, because I am pretty darn strict. I don’t send my kids up to bear their testimony because they aren’t ready yet. But if one of them asked to go up, and I thought they were ready to share based on experiences in FHE and other places, I would let them. I would probably follow them up so that I could share my testimony too. If my children at that point, after I thought they were ready because I have taught them in the home and have seen them share their testimony at home, faltered and looked to me for assistance, I might just jump up and help rather than yanking them away from the microphone. That would not be in contravention to any church policy or making my own rule, would it? After all, I would have allowed the children to go because I thought they were ready. Why should I then make a public example out of them by humiliating them in front of the entire ward, as Audrey Stone would? I can only hope that when/if that day comes, the members in the congregation are more charitable to me about my decision than the participants of the bloggernacle.

    In the meantime, I intend to give other parents who help their children the benefit of the doubt instead of internally berating them. If other parents let their kids get up and *horror* whisper a testimony or two into their kids ears, I am not going to publicly flog them in the “bloggernacle” or elsewhere for doing so. It’s not my place. And it’s yours either.

  75. I mean- it’s NOT yours either.

    (you referring to people generally, not to any specific poster who has contributed to this thread…)

  76. Look, I’m making a bigger stink about this here than how I actually feel, so I ought to stop. I guess I was just surprised, initially, to hear how much people hated the idea of “whispered” testimonies. It never occured to me to get annoyed by such things until reading how annoyed others get about it here.

    I had been aware of the letter, which does not forbid whispered testimonies but admonishes parents to make sure that children are prepared to share a testimony before allowing them to do so. I am not advocating any different approach.

    What I have been trying to convey is that if OTHER people either ignorantly (maybe they don’t know about the letter or actually thought the child was ready) or purposefully allow their children to share a testimony before they are ready to do so, why should I allow that to drive the spirit away? I would much rather savor the sweetness of it rather than bristling with annoyance for something I can do absolutely nothing about. Besides- since all my brothers and sisters in the ward undoubtedly have nothing but the best intentions, why not just give them the benefit of the doubt?

    Anyway, that is sort of the main thrust of my thinking regarding this issue, not that we should just wantonly allow our children to destroy our meetings. We destroy our own meetings by allowing this stuff to bother us as much as it apparently does some people.

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