Toward the end of my freshman year of college, debate season was over and my roommate moved home. There was a brief period where I was alone.
At the national tournament in Wichita, Kansas, I had encountered a young man competing for a school in Texas who asked me what I believed about salvation. I hadn't really thought much about the question in those terms, but I drew out the Plan of Salvation the way I had been taught it in primary. After I did so, he told me, "it's up to you if you want to believe that, but it's not a biblical concept." His statement really bothered me. I realized I didn't know the Bible well enough to know whether the concept was biblical or not.
On the way home from that tournament, I talked to Jay Lane, a good friend and mentor on our team. He was a returned missionary and very knowledgeable about the scriptures. He guided me through a number of passages and gave me some ideas for others to read.
When I got back to my college, I began reading the scriptures earnestly in a way I never had before. I was devouring them like a man who was starving. It reminds me of Jesus' statement in The Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). That very well described my experience.
I was reading the scriptures approximately eight hours a day and being inspired by them and filled with joy. I had numerous spiritual experiences as I did this. My period of intense focus on the scriptures lasted about six weeks. By the end of it, I had read and marked up the entire standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My little spark of faith had been fanned and fueled into a raging bonfire. And my life would never be the same. That spring, I submitted mission papers and ended up serving a two-year mission in Queensland, Australia.
It has since occurred to me that 6 weeks is 42 days. I don't know exactly how many days I spent spiritually feasting on the word of God, but it was in the neighborhood of 40 days and 40 nights.
When God brought the flood to cleanse the Earth, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4, 12). Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights as he received His law (Exodus 24:18, 34:1–28). Elijah walked forty days and forty nights fasting to reach Mount Horeb. He fasted for forty days before beginning his public ministry. (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before being tempted (Matthew 4:2). Jesus ministered to his disciples 40 days and 40 nights between his resurrection and ascension into Heaven (Acts 1:3.)
The number forty is mentioned 157 times in the Bible. It symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation. Beyond that, I think it represents something transformational. In each of the aforementioned experiences, the state of the world or the state of people's hearts was changed.
Many of you have gone through painful transitions and some are going through them right now. These trials have the capacity to transform you into a new person if you consecrate them to Christ. Many of you are seeking a new identity, having seen yourself as part of a couple for many years. Some of you are alone, as I was for that brief time at the end of my freshman year of college. Some of you carry incredible burdens and demands on your time as single parents. This time of transition is crucial to the person you will become for the rest of your life.
I encourage you to look at your calendar and choose 40 days and 40 nights and consecrate them to God. Intentionally make them different from any other time. That may look different for different people depending on their circumstances. For some, that consecration may be a significantly increased focus on getting to know your children deeply. For others, it may involve prayer, singing hymns, or reading scriptures at a designated time every day and journaling about the experience. I know you have jobs and kids and financial obligations. Most of us cannot simply disappear into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights in our time. But whether you know it or not, many of you are in the wilderness now. It isn't a place of solitude. It is a place of trial.
So take 40 days and 40 nights and consecrate it to God. It will deepen your understanding of the trials you are experiencing. Tell Heavenly Father, "I'm in the wilderness. I'm in a place I don't want to be. But use me in this place however you wish." At a minimum, I hope this 40-day consecration will involve some amount of intentional feasting on the word of God through prayer and in the scriptures.