I was chatting with a coworker at work last week who was pretty nervous about giving a talk in church. The topic was pure testimony. This particular coworker is a fairly new convert to the Church. She has also just recently been through the temple. She said she wanted to give her pure testimony in the talk, which was short and simple and didn't really sound like the phrases and things she often heard in church. She was nervous that she would be judged, looked down upon, and subtly criticized for "not doing it right", or "not saying the right things" in her talk. Since everyone's testimony she's heard at church seemed very similar, she felt like her's would be seen as too different. I told her that difference would likely be a very good thing for any who were listening. New converts bring a great fresh feeling to testimony meetings.
Since becoming a member she commented that there has been a great deal of pressure from a few sources to say certain phrases, and use certain vocabulary words in order to fit into her new LDS religion and lifestyle. Her testimony seemed to now need to fit a pre-determined mold with specific elements in order to be correct. She felt comfortable enough to share that there was a difference between how she felt she was expected to speak and talk and how she felt prompted by the Spirit to speak. The testimony being the main example. This was creating an internal uneasiness and a lot of anxiety.
She told me about a time soon after being baptized when she was asked to give her testimony but did not especially feel prompted to do so at that time. This was awkward and very uncomfortable for her. She said she didn't want to be judged for saying how she really felt, but didn't know how to say it due to the social pressure to share her testimony. I couldn't blame her. When a testimony is something you feel pressured to give, rather than the Spirit directing it, it can be difficult. It can become empty words without the Spirit's confirming presence.
This all got me thinking about the nature of the Spirit, vs social pressures and traditions that develop within any organization. You can't control the Spirit, and you can't monopolize it, and you can't set up your agenda and then force it to comply. Speaking by the Spirit may require much more flexibility than a predominant social culture typically embraces. The scriptures allow for it, and modern teachings support it, but there still seems to be a great deal of sameness in modern LDS speech. Least that is just one observation.
In the church there are lots of traditions. There are habituated ways of speaking, and common phrases that become so common we may feel a hesitancy to do anything else. It can easily become so repetitious that it becomes vain. I felt for this new convert and her dilemma with speaking and sharing her testimony. She had an answer to prayer which brought her into the church, and upon entering the church has found some traditions and cultural views which didn't necessarily agree with with what brought her to the church in the first place.
We both concluded that the social pressures, or church culture should never overtake what we feel the Holy Ghost prompting us to say and do, no matter how different from tradition we may appear. Fitting into a social mold wasn't what being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ was about. It's about something so much better. It's about recognizing truth, accepting ordinances, and joining with a body of believers who are striving to live the truth and become better.
I think by the end of the conversation we both had a better outlook on things. Every place has it's traditions and social culture. Some things matter, while other things really don't matter at all. What really matters is how we live, how we treat each other, and what we do with the Gospel. The truth is what matters. How, or if we respond to the Holy Spirit matters. What we think of Christ matters. Pure testimony comes from and through the Spirit. It's sincere, it edifies and can be felt when it's prompted to be given. Simply repeating an expected outline of phrases and words to fit in, or to fit the time frame of the printed program just isn't the same. That too can be felt.