I've come to see that becoming converted to the gospel of Christ is like meditation. Thankfully, both are practices and a process of time and not a one time event.
Recently, I was at a church camp for young women, and I led small groups of girls through a meditation and visualization session. As I talked with some of the adult leaders about meditation, I got the response that I typically get from people who don't regularly meditate, or who are new to meditation:
"I'm so bad at meditating! My mind wanders all over the place. I can't seem to get my mind quiet."
When I heart these things, I'm always happy to tell them that they are completely normal. Our minds do wander. Meditation isn't about having a blank mind without thoughts, and there's most definitely no "good" or "bad" when it comes to meditating.
When we meditate, our minds wander. This is normal. The point of meditation is to find something to focus on, most often the breath, and then return our focus to that thing as the mind naturally wanders off. The act of regular meditation trains our minds to stay focused.
When the mind wanders, which it is normally going to do, we just let go of the thought and bring our our attention back to our breath. And we just do this process over and over again.
As we continue in meditation practice, it becomes easier and easier to maintain our focus on our breath and not be distracted by the thoughts and feelings that arise.
Meditation, therefore, is a process, moment by moment, of training ourselves to maintain our attention on one thing. As we continually practice, this becomes easier and easier. And any time spent in meditation is a "good" thing, even if we feel like we've been totally distracted the whole time.
Meditation as an analogy for gospel conversion
I think that the process of meditation is really like the process of conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. How?
Conversion is something that is a process that takes us time, and we constantly need to train ourselves. We need to train ourselves to constantly bring our thoughts back to something that keeps us centered. And that something is our Savior.
Let's start with these verses from Luke 22:31-33:
"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death." (KJV)
At this time, it was The Last Supper, right before Christ was betrayed by Judas. Christ knew that Peter wasn't converted. (Coincidentally, I think that's why Jesus addressed him as Simon, and not Peter.)
Peter felt very strongly that he would never desert the Lord, and yet he denied that he knew Jesus three times that night, just as Jesus said he would.
What is required to be converted?
Verse 32 tells us that it is that our "faith fail not." For our faith to fail not means we need to train ourselves to constantly be thinking about our Savior and about the things that he teaches us. It's a choice of faith instead of, or in spite of, fear.
What is the meaning of "converted"?
According to Strong's Concordance, "converted" (G1994) in this case means "to turn to, causing a person to turn."
What do we turn toward? Our Savior, Jesus Christ. He's like the breath in meditation.
Over and over, as we go about our days, we turn our thoughts to Him. It's a process, and like meditation, it becomes easier the more we practice.
Conversion is the process of training ourselves to have faith, over and over again, as a daily choice. More so as a moment by moment choice. As our thoughts require training, and we can train them via our breath, so conversion is the act of training ourselves moment by moment to choose God, to choose faith.
We don't wander, but we stay turned one way, which is facing God.
This brought to my mind the scriptures in Mosiah 2:5-6. The people are coming to the temple to listen to King Benjamin as he gives his final talk to them. This is verse 6:
"And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple..." (Mosiah 2:6)
This is what I think of when we're converted. We are turned toward the temple, toward Jesus Christ, toward the gospel, and those things that lead us along the covenant path to deepen our relationship with Him.
And as we deepen our relationship, we do what the Lord said to Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." According to the Concordance again, to strengthen (G4741) means to make stable, or to turn resolutely.
When we are converted, we can strengthen others
So as we become converted, we become stable and focused on our Savior and then we help others to do the same. This is how we can know that we are converted, by the actions that we take. We do things that help others come on to Christ and that strengthen them in their faith.
This is a process, and it's a moment by moment choice as we go about our day. What we are going to choose? It requires focused effort to train our thoughts. In his April 2017 talk, President Nelson said:
"Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought."
And I fully agree with him. There are there are many other people who have also said something similar. Most people don't want to think because it takes a lot of effort to train yourself to think in a certain way. But the process of conversion is again bringing ourselves back turning to Christ and thinking of him.
Conversion means we are unchangeable
Why do we need to become stable and not movable? When we're fully converted, like Christ said to Peter, his faith fails not. But we don't live in a world like that.
We live in a world that has the law of polarity that has the law of rhythm where things are going through cycles and things are constantly changing and moving. As I thought about this, I realized it's because we are here to to learn to become like our Heavenly Father and our Savior, and they are defined as being unchangeable. They are unwavering.
Christ and Heavenly Father were the same yesterday. They're the same today and they are the same tomorrow. And so we are here to learn to become stable, and to be the same throughout all the vicissitudes of life and all the things that might distract us away from the gospel.
How do we know were converted? Well, again, we can look at Peter. What happened with Peter? In Acts 3, he healed a man who was lame since birth. This man was over 40 years of age, so it was pretty obvious that it was a miraculous healing when all of a sudden he was able to walk.
Peter stated that this healing was done not through his own power, but through the man's faith, and through Jesus Christ, not through Peter.
In Acts 4, Peter was taken and held in prison for the night by the high priests because of this healing, and they threatened him to stop talking about Jesus and about these things. They didn't have anything legally against him, but they knew that he was a threat. The next day, appearing before the high priests, Peter was filled with the Holy Ghost and he testified boldly of Jesus Christ. When they threatened him to speak no more of Christ, he flatly refused to do so.
We can see that Peter had made this transition to being converted because he was bold, he was filled with the Holy Ghost, and he knew that the power within him came from Christ and not from him.
Is conversion different from repentance?
What is the difference between conversion and repentance? Because conversion is "to turn to". So what is repent? Well, the Greek version of repentance in the Concordance (G3340) means "to think differently, or to change one's mind". So repentance and conversion go together. In fact, in Acts 3:19, Peter says,
"Repent you therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out..." (KJV)
And many other versions translate it this way:
"Repent, then, and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped away,.." (BSV)
When we repent, we choose to think differently, and then we are converted when we take those thoughts and turn those thoughts toward our Savior. So repentance is a choice to think differently. And then we're converted as we turn toward our Savior in our thoughts, as we think of things that are that are good, that are praiseworthy, that are lifting others up, anything that is of charity and love and kindness is turning our thoughts toward Jesus Christ.
Conversion brings peace
I can testify that yes, this is really difficult work, controlling our thoughts. But at the same time, I can also testify that the rewards and the blessings of doing this work far exceed the effort required, because it will bring peace into your life. It brings happiness into your life. It brings joy into your life. It brings acceptance of yourself and acceptance of others and more ease as you go through your days.
I know that our Savior loves us I know that he knows us individually and he knows what we need to be converted to him. And I also know that as we continue to progress on our covenant path, and become more and more converted, we have more of His power in our lives, and we are able to help others.