This year (2020) I was invited to share my thoughts in Sunstone's "Why I Stay" plenary session for their co...
It’s pretty common for friends and family to send me memes about cheese. In college, I used to walk through Pike Place Market just so I could stop at the imported cheese shops and get samples. It’s an understatement to say that I love cheese. In fact, I recently was discussing the nature of prophecy with Caleb and couldn’t help but relate it to cheese making. Yet, I think the metaphor works better when I talk about my own testimony. Some people’s testimonies are forged in a refiners fire. Mine was formed by curdling milk in a goat’s stomach. Here’s what I mean.
Cheese making has a few basic steps. First, it must be curdled. Acid or bacteria is introduced into the milk that causes the proteins to clump. The leftover (whey) is separated out. The acid used is often found in the stomach of goats, sheep, or cows. When it’s not from an animal it’s vinegar or some other very sour liquid or bacteria.
Next, it’s pressed shaped and molded. Sometimes it’s heated, sometimes its stretched. Other times additional ingredients are added or it’s washed with different solutions. Depending on the forces that act on it, it’s texture, consistency, flavor, and appearance change.
Finally, it’s aged. Sometimes days. Sometimes years.
So for the purposes of this analogy milk is the word of God. It’s pure. The proteins are all evenly suspended. It’s nature’s perfect food for infants. Then we get ahold of it and try to understand. But the process is messy; even disgusting when you think about it. We add our own frailty to the milk. We can’t help it. We are fallen and prone to weakness. Quickly we see a change starting to happen. Clumps are forming. Sometimes we stop here and that’s okay. (Cottage cheese is awesome!) Other times we separate the whey and throw it out, forgetting that it’s still filled with nutritious proteins and can be repurposed or used later (ricotta cheese is made with whey). Then life happens to our soft little clumps of testimony. We are pressured by trials, we are put in the line of fire, we become immersed in the salty parts of life, and we age.
These factors change our testimony into a variety of different flavors but they still started from the same place. God worked through and with us to create something that lasts longer than milk alone. Together with our Heavenly Father, we make something unique, but it wouldn’t have happened without a little bit of “contamination”. Just like cheese, doesn’t happen to milk one day, Testimonies don’t just happen one day. Both testimonies and cheese are a process.
And this is true for all of us. You can see the hallmarks of this when you read about our prophets. Moses, Abraham, Joseph Smith, Thomas S. Monson, they lived lives and created testimonies based on their own weaknesses and experiences. Their own uniqueness formed their own testimony. This is a good thing! President Monson’s story of failing to heed a prompting made him a man who devoted his life to personally ministering to the sick and the needy. Joseph Smith’s feelings of confusion and need for repentance led him to the Sacred Grove.
We are called to find the nourishment in the word of God. When we do this we are going to invariably see it through our own limited understanding. We will gather bits and pieces like curds and through continually working with God through study, prayer, and trusting him our testimonies will evolve into our own creation that will be delicious to us in the same way Alma described when he compared the word to a seed.
“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”
My testimony is an artisan vintage white cheddar. It has a bold flavor, hard texture and had to be aged a long time and bathed in a salt brine. It won’t look, taste, or smell, like yours. It’s nothing like the milk God gave me at the beginning but it’s mine and I love it. God does great things with imperfect people.
P.s I’m not the only one who thinks so. Just ask Job.