When Thou Art Converted, Continuing our Search for Happiness by Elder M. Russell Ballard
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
Prior to his betrayal and crucifixion, The Lord said these penetrating words to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen they brethren” (Luke 22:32). In the opening pages of Elder M. Russell Ballard’s new book, he offers a similar exhortation, followed by a probing question. Of the “converted” reader, he asks, “What do we do now?” Are we to be content and satisfied once conversion has taken place? To answer this question and offer guidance, Elder Ballard has compiled a collection of chaptered keys to aid the reader in a continued search for happiness. When Thou Art Converted acts as a follow-up text to his earlier publication, Our Search for Happiness: An Invitation to Understand the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Full-time missionaries have found Our Search for Happiness an effective tool in explaining the church’s basic beliefs and teachings, the perfect gift for an investigator. However, Elder Ballard’s intended audience for this new book is entirely different. When reading the cover, one might assume the book is written mainly for recent converts, but upon further examination, it is obvious he is writing to all who desire to strengthen their conversion.
In the introduction, Elder Ballard highlights the most intense and supreme moment in religious history, the act of the atonement. He recounts the Lord’s interactions with Peter and points out how troubled Peter must have felt when the Savior counseled him to “strengthen his brethren” once he was converted. Wasn’t Peter already converted? “The Savior knew and understood that although Peter’s heart was good and his intentions were noble and devout, there was yet something he lacked”. Following Peter’s denial of the Savior, the apostle went on to fulfill and magnify his calling from the Lord, but it makes one wonder if there isn’t a bit of Peter in all of us. Consequently, Elder Ballard causes the reader to reflect on his or her discipleship, and ask, what is it that I still lack?
The greater part of the book is designed to help readers prayerfully determine what it is in our lives that may need increased attention. He outlines eleven keys that, if developed, will “anchor our souls” to the true gospel. These keys discuss principles such as testimony, knowing our eternal identity, cultivating balance in living, responding to the Spirit, following the prophet, service, priesthood, womanhood, and family. Each chapter is a choice sermon on a topic deserving of further discussion, but Elder Ballard focuses his ideas and moves deliberately through each “key” he has chosen to include.
By using a fine balance of anecdotal experience and unshakable doctrine, Elder Ballard allows us to identify with his own humanity. We can relate to his life experience and even chuckle at him falling asleep during Star Wars with his family, building a “kiva” with his Grandpa Ballard, and being labeled by a young child as “an old fossil” instead of an apostle.
He shares other personal experiences that deeply define the meaning of true conversion. For instance, he writes of a group of men in Bolivia who walked fourteen hours to La Paz to hear him speak, forded two streams that stained their white shirts with a brown dirty line, and rode in the back of a truck two and a half hours to reach the stake center. Dusty, tired and hungry, they were ready to receive instruction from an apostle of the Lord. Such conversion, Elder Ballard says, “humbles us to the core”.
Elder Ballard’s counsel to work things out with God, individually and personally, is the vein of spiritual life that runs through his writing. Whatever we may be lacking, he reminds the reader that God himself will speak to us if we become proficient in hearing Him and brave enough to follow the impressions that come from Him.
In his conclusion, entitled “Pressing Forward”, Elder Ballard uses the example of Enos who prayed first for “his own soul” and then felt inspired to pray for his brethren (Enos 1:4,9). “Once we have found peace and happiness for ourselves.the spirit naturally moves our hearts and thoughts toward others. It begins with those closest to us and extends through miles of distance and generations of time.” Elder Ballard cautions us to avoid contentment in thinking that once we gain a testimony and perform temple ordinances, our search is complete, or that at a certain age we can “retire” from service in the church. He speaks plainly that we are to “endure to the end”, for man’s search for happiness is continuous, and if anything, becomes more rewarding and fulfilling as it is shared with others.
For those who have toted around Our Search for Happiness, ready to hand it out as an explanation of our beliefs, remember, When thou Art Converted is not to be passed on so quickly. For any seasoned member or new convert, it is a strong reminder that there is only One who was perfect. The rest of us have weaknesses that through Christ can become strengths, enabling us to sincerely “strengthen our brethren.”
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.