When I was in Young Women, my leaders did something I loved: they allowed us to, on Fast Sunday, have ten minutes at the end of the lesson to bear our testimonies.
For those of us who were a little too apprehensive or shy to get up in front of the entire congregation during fast and testimony meeting, this was a gift. After all, bearing your testimony in front of your friends is far less intimidating than in front of the entire ward, full of people — i.e., boys!! — who make you nervous.
But I still remember the full-on panic I felt when, during those ten minutes, a young woman sat down after bearing her testimony and then no one got up. Automatically, I’d begin squirming in my seat. The silence felt unbearable! On more than one occasion, one of us hopped up and said something to the effect of, “Well, that was awkward, so I decided to bear my testimony.”
Seldom do words move the soul such as these.
But even still, as adults, we often fall into the same trap: we find testimony meeting silence uncomfortable — awkward, even — instead of recognizing it as a wonderful opportunity to ponder and reflect.
That’s why if I hear one more person say something during testimony meeting like “That silence lasted way too long!” or, as I have experienced, someone chastises the ward members for not bearing their testimonies, I just may scream.
The Value of Silence
Just yesterday, I was sitting in my ward’s fast and testimony when it happened: silence set in.
But instead of reacting as my 14-year-old self would have, I embraced the silence. I didn’t feel compelled to get up and share my testimony, so I simply sat and reflected on spiritual matters. (I feel like the term “spiritual matters” makes me sound like I’m writing this in 1843, but whatever.) In fact, during that silence, I actually experienced a much-needed moment of personal revelation that I otherwise may not have had. The value of that silence was, to me, extremely significant.
Then, after a couple of minutes, a young woman who was visiting our ward walked up to the podium. I’m sure she was well-intentioned, but she remarked that the silence had gone on for too long, so she’d decided to get up. She probably felt like she was doing our ward a service by ending what she perceived to be an awkward moment, but it actually just made me kind of sad. Rather than using that silence as an opportunity to reflect on the gospel, she had probably spent it feeling stressed about whether someone was going to get up or not!
The thing that she didn’t realize, and what I failed to recognize for many years, is that silence during fast and testimony meeting isn’t wasted time. On the flip side, when we fail to use those moments to quietly reflect on our own testimonies, instead focusing on how annoyed we are that no one is bearing theirs, perhaps our time is being wasted — by ourselves.
When no one gets up for a few minutes to bear their testimony, it doesn’t mean that the ward is full of cowards or sinners. Perhaps it means that someone needs those moments of quiet reflection to have a spiritual experience or recognize an answer to a question, etc.
Silence is valuable because it means that people are thinking and that the Spirit can easily be heard — so don’t be scared of it!
Treasure the Quiet
Last year, Deseret.com published an article about five things to remember when sharing a testimony in church. Point number three reads:
“Sometimes congregations experience silence where nobody is sharing a testimony. Some see this as wasted time, but it is not. When things are quiet, it allows time for reflection. Don’t be in a hurry to fill the space with words unless you feel compelled to do so. Silence isn’t a bad thing” (emphasis added).
When you feel prompted to bear your testimony, you absolutely should. Heavenly Father knows everyone in your congregation and He knows if someone needs to hear something you have to say. Plus, as Boyd K. Packer once said, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!”
But if you do not feel the Spirit nudging you to share your testimony during fast and testimony meeting, don’t, as the Deseret article explains, “hurry to fill the space” just because of silence.
Instead, learn to treasure the quiet in a world that is growing noisier and noisier.
A 1998 Church News article said:
“[W]hen we are still and quiet, we put ourselves in a position to receive answers to our prayers, inspiration in our lives and peace to our souls. We are more receptive to the things of the Spirit, thereby enabling us to grow closer to the Lord.”
From my own life — and even just from my experience yesterday! — I know that it’s often in moments of quiet that we receive instruction from the Lord, edification, and confirmation from the Spirit of the gospel’s truthfulness.
In another article from the 90’s — this time from the Ensign — a woman explained:
“I realized that I have usually received inspiration or the answer to a prayer when I was in a quiet place and a quiet mood. Inspiration has come while I have been doing dishes, showering, rocking a baby, preparing lessons, participating in family home evening, doing my personal study. These are all quiet times. It became clear to me that we must nurture quiet, peaceful intervals . . . where the Spirit of the Lord can be encouraged and enjoyed.”
Although this woman was talking specifically about encouraging moments of quiet reflection in the home, the principle applies to other areas of our life as well, especially fast and testimony meetings. As we take advantage of quiet moments and view them as opportunities to strengthen our connection to the Savior rather than fleeting moments of awkwardness that should be squashed at all costs, we can experience a sense of peace and harmony that is often absent in our chaotic lives.
So please, don’t let a silence during fast and testimony make you uneasy, because if you let it, it can be one of the best moments of your week.