She was knee-deep in the wreckage of her divorce. The stresses of single-parenting, financial woes, and loneliness were overwhelming. Dragging herself out of bed on a gloomy morning, she shuffled outside to push her garbage cans to the curb, then turned dejectedly back toward the garage. As she neared the home, a ray of sunlight washed over her, arresting her attention. She basked in the warmth of that unexpected light for several moments–left with the gentle assurance that God was still aware of her. It was such a tiny thing, yet it provided enough hope to keep going for a few more days. This small experience became part of her “personal spiritual archives,” a treasured memory to be recalled when she needed to fortify her faith in moments of struggle and weakness.
Elder Neil L. Andersen has spoken of spiritually defining memories:
“Along with the peaceful direction we receive from the Holy Ghost, from time to time, God powerfully and very personally assures each of us that He knows us and loves us and that He is blessing us specifically and openly. Then, in our moments of difficulty, the Savior brings these experiences back into our mind.” (1)
The following story is one of my treasured spiritual memories:
As a little girl growing up in Indiana, I experienced sweet feelings whenever my parents or Junior Sunday school teachers told stories from the scriptures, and whenever I heard or sang spiritual songs. I looked forward to going to church with my family and enjoyed looking through our illustrated children’s Bible at home. Though I couldn’t exactly define the feelings these activities produced, they were gentle and pleasant.
As a thirteen-year-old, I was privileged to attend a special gathering with hundreds of teenage girls, organized by my stake. We met at a large chapel on a Saturday morning, wearing our best dresses and using our best manners. For two hours we attended workshops presented by excellent speakers whose presentations focused on our divine spiritual origins and the concept that we were known and loved by a very personal God. By the time the gathering concluded I was filled to the brim with light and truth.
I took my time walking home that day, and the spiritual light I had been feeling stayed with me. Once I reached my bedroom, I exchanged my dress for jeans and a casual shirt, but I was not inclined to read, or play the piano, or engage in sports as I generally did on Saturday afternoons. Instead, I made my way out the front door and sat on the porch steps in the sunshine, not wanting anything to chase away the lovely feelings I was experiencing. I don’t remember how long I sat there, but I recall with perfect clarity the way holiness gently enveloped me, as tangible as the warm sunlight on my skin. I basked in the glow of a Divine Presence.
Forty-seven years have come and gone, yet when I close my eyes, I can still feel the spiritual power of those moments on the front porch of my girlhood home. In retrospect, I understand that I entered a new stage of spiritual growth that day as I became, not just a passive spectator of spiritual things, but an active seeker of God’s word, striving to always have His spirit with me.
I have relied on this cherished spiritual memory at times when I have needed to bolster my faith. It is a reminder that God is aware of me, that He has led me before, and He will lead me again.
I am grateful that Alma the younger recorded his life-altering spiritual experience. By making the effort to painstakingly engrave his story on plates of gold, he blessed his posterity and countless other people who have been inspired by his experience. I never tire of reading the account:
“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell… So great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror… And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
As I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:13-14,16-18, emphasis added)
Alma’s moment of illumination came when the Spirit brought to his remembrance the words of his father concerning Jesus Christ. This precipitated the crucial action of crying out to the Savior for mercy and receiving forgiveness. I feel certain that when Alma was imprisoned, starved, and abused for many days in Ammonihah, this was one of the spiritual memories he relied on to strengthen his faith and courage. If we feel that we are lacking in personal moments of illumination, reading the accounts others have shared in the scriptures and in family histories can shore up our faith until we have our own spiritual experiences to lean on.
A few years ago, my local congregation undertook a project to help unify our ward after all the social distancing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Each ward member was invited to write down and submit an experience they felt comfortable sharing wherein they had felt the hand of God in their life.
After this project was first announced, I lay awake at night wondering which experience I could share. I enjoyed the spiritual exercise of sifting through my memories to find evidence of God’s hand in my life. Even after I wrote and turned in a story, I found that the act of recalling spiritual memories was a great blessing. Since that time, when I have difficulty sleeping, I often find peace by searching my “archives” for more moments when I felt God’s love, when pure intelligence flowed into my mind, or when the Spirit spoke peace to me in troubled times.
I was privileged to help gather and proofread the scores of stories that were turned in by ward members, and my own testimony increased as I read their accounts which were compiled and published as a beautiful book bursting with moments of testimony, miracles, and spiritual illumination. With permission, I share one of those stories, written by my friend Liz:
“I was raised in the windswept prairies of southeast Wyoming. It was a common occurrence to experience a late afternoon shower most days during the summer months. The clouds would gather, at first looking tame and billowy, then slowly darkening until they created the cleansing and much needed downpour to quench the dry clay soil.
One particular afternoon the clouds gathered, but it did not rain. As I was not much older than seven, I felt fortunate to be able to sprawl out on the cool grass and rest from the rigors of bike riding. As I gazed at the seemingly tangible clouds in that wide, wonderful Wyoming sky, I felt the most powerful sense of who I was. I was a body, I could feel that, but I was so much more than my physical self. I had an amazing sense of my spirit–even if my words or my young mind couldn’t grasp it. I experienced a sudden sense that I came from somewhere else and that my body was just a part of who I was.
Those spiritual stirrings on my front lawn were the beginning of my testimony and that experience continues to rest in my soul as a special gift. I knew of my divine worth at a young age. I often reflect on that chance to feel God’s love for me in a simple place on a simple day. Some people say that not much grows in southeast Wyoming, even with the consistent burst of an afternoon thunderstorm. But I began to grow my testimony on those Great Plains, and I will always be grateful that God found a young child and spoke in small ways to her heart and mind and anchored her soul in a special place.”
There may be times when it is nearly impossible for us to feel the Spirit even in small ways. People suffering from mental illness or who are going through chemotherapy treatments are sometimes unable to perceive the Spirit as they once did, due to the effects of heavy medications. One man shared that while antidepressants helped alleviate the worst of his crippling depression, they also hindered his ability to feel much of anything, including the Holy Spirit. He had to rely on his spiritual memories–times from earlier years when he had felt the whisperings of the Holy Ghost while praying, reading the scriptures, and singing sacred hymns.
Recently, a friend shared one of his spiritual memories with me and has allowed me to use it here: Brandon (name changed) was exhausted from years of debilitating mental health challenges. Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder were a constant weight on his spirit.
“One night I was working at my computer, and I had this strange sense of alertness come over me. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, but I knew that I needed to stop everything that I was doing and listen. As I listened, I got the impression that I needed to go take a shower, brush my teeth, pray with my wife, and then go to bed.”
Without disclosing the more sacred elements of his experience, Brandon recalled, “As soon as I got in bed and closed my eyes, God gave me a brief dream. It was essentially a promise made to me that I would be healed from all of my mental illness.” Though he wasn’t given a timetable for that healing–whether it would come in this life or the next–he was given the assurance that “Rest will come. Healing will come.” And he was left with a deep sense of gratitude.
Brandon continues, “Just to summarize, I had a prompting, I followed through on that prompting, because of that I had a dream where God gave me a promise, and that promise has gotten me through the trials of the last two years.”
Elder Anderson counsels, “Embrace your sacred memories. Believe them. Write them down. Share them with your family. Trust that they come to you from your Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. Let them bring patience to your doubts and understanding to your difficulties. I promise you that as you willingly acknowledge and carefully treasure the spiritually defining events in your life, more and more will come to you.” (2)
- Elder Neil L. Andersen, Spiritually Defining Memories, April 2020 General Conference.