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Historian Daniel J. Boorstin once said, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance– it is the illusion of knowledge.” This is an excellent description of the complacency that often besets us as members of Christ’s restored church.
When we have “gotten a testimony,” and have felt that witness from the Holy Ghost that the restoration really happened, that Joseph Smith was indeed visited by God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, many of us breathe a sigh of relief. And it is very exciting to have that witness. But, now that we know, there’s a temptation to check off that box and feel we’re done. I have caught myself doing this many a time.
But feeling “done” and having a bit of knowledge puts us on very dangerous footing. Instead of realizing that our path has only just begun and there are countless more discoveries to make, many of us stop in our tracks and turn our attention elsewhere.
Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” I had a teacher demonstrate this once by drawing a small circle on the board, which of course had a small circumference. “If this is all you know,” he said, “and everything outside the circle is what you don’t know, it looks quite small as well.” Then he drew a gigantic circle. “But if this is how much you know, look how vast the circumference is, now. The unknown world is much larger.”
Satan is sly, not stupid. He knows he cannot wrest us from our search for truth, but he can convince many of us to think that if we’ve checked off the “testimony” box, we’re safe. We’ve done all we need to do. He lulls us into complacency and even apathy.
President David O. McKay called spiritual apathy “the peril of this century.” Satan makes us think we know enough, we’ve attained enough testimony, and now we can sit back on our laurels. How many evil men in the Book of Mormon spread this same message, complimenting prideful Nephites, and leading them away into complete apostasy?
Sometimes we cling to that “illusion of knowledge” to rationalize easing up on temple attendance, scripture study, prayer, really all of the “Sunday School answers.” After all, if we already have a testimony, why do we need to keep shining the same shoe?
Complacency is not only dangerous because it keeps us from growing and learning; it’s dangerous because it looks so mild and quiet. How can something so passive—almost restful– be a gigantic threat to our exaltation?
Nope, complacency doesn’t come riding up to your doorstep with gunshots and torches in tow. There are no sirens, no trips to the emergency room, no earthquakes or floods. It’s sneakier than that. Like the “flaxen cords” Nephi spoke of (2 Ne. 26:22), it binds us without our giving it any attention. Until it’s too late. And Satan wins.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Too often we bask in our comfortable complacency, and rationalize that the ravages of war, economic disaster, famine, and earth quake cannot happen here. Those who believe this are either not acquainted with the revelations of the Lord, or they do not believe in them. Those who smugly think these calamities will not happen, that they will somehow be set aside because of the righteousness of the Saints, are deceived and will rue the day they harbored such an illusion.”
It’s the same with falling away from the truth—we think we’re safe, so we let our guard down. It happens slowly, in almost imperceptible increments. We stop striving for even greater closeness with our Father in Heaven. We justify carelessness in keeping the commandments. Soon we cease to feel promptings from the Holy Ghost. Daily diligence becomes monthly diligence, and then no diligence at all.
Real conversion isn’t just sitting back and knowing. It’s active. It’s energetic. It makes you want to share what you know with others. It gives you clear purpose, radiant hope, abiding peace. It changes your motivations and your very heart.
I think of how Nephi pleaded, “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.” (2 Ne. 1:13)
I’m going to list some ways to combat complacency, but these are not because we have to stress ourselves out trying to earn our way into heaven. These are gifts we give ourselves—ways to unlock the inspiration and joy we all want. By moving beyond complacency we actually find greater comfort and peace than ever.
First, let’s double down in our commitment to minister to those in our ward, and in our communities as well. Loving our fellowman with charitable hearts—refusing to hastily judge one another—is following Christ’s counsel. Those who do this with their young children are sowing the seeds of spiritual sensitivity and service that will bless their lives forever. If you immerse yourself in helping others you’ll be less likely to arise in the morning wondering if life is worth living, or if you have value.
We can enlist loved ones to help us stay on track with our scripture study. Part of that can be to utilize the dozens of great online resources that give depth to our Sunday School lessons—and a shout out here to Scot and Maurine Proctor for the phenomenal podcasts they post for exactly this purpose.
We can pray more earnestly, not waiting until the last moments of an exhausting day when we muddle through a prayer, half asleep. We can pray for people by name, and with specific ideas about how we can help them. We can formulate a missionary plan and present it to Heavenly Father, pleading for his help. This makes prayers exciting and dynamic, not perfunctory.
We can devote a set amount of time, every week, to Family History. Again, this is easier than ever with the help of online sites. And kids can become involved as well, searching for ancestors and compiling their stories.
We can stay up-to-date with our repentance. We can concentrate on the Sacrament prayers, deeply evaluating and improving our lives with God’s help. Many families feel harried as they get everyone ready for church. But it shouldn’t ding the bell at the top of the stress meter. It should be the best moment of the week. Set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier if necessary, so you won’t feel panicky and rushed.
Attend the temple. Allow that sacred space to take you away from the cares of the world, and open your eyes to deeper insights and even spiritual moments when you feel how thin the veil can be.
Mend fences. Think of acquaintances and relatives, those tricky relationships that have been easy to set aside because forgiveness takes work. We can decide to move these back-burner issues to the forefront and resolve old misunderstandings and hurts. It’s scary, it’s awkward, it’s easy to procrastinate this. But once we do it, we feel unburdened and light. Even if our overtures are rejected, we know we did the right thing by extending an olive branch. And that brings peace.
Pray about your doubts. Ask for a confirmation that President Nelson really is the prophet. Or that the Book of Mormon is true. Or that God loves you. Or whatever “sticking point” you may be grappling with today. Don’t allow worries to fester when you can receive answers to your prayers.
Be thankful for your testimony. Express gratitude for what you do know and the blessing it gives to your life. It’s your most valuable possession, and it deserves to be treated as such.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.