Episode 89: Latter-day Saint researcher on how cultivating thankfulness, indebtedness to God increases overall happiness

Church News podcast features Jenae Nelson, a research fellow at Baylor University and a research affiliate at Harvard University, sharing research she conducted as a BYU doctoral student.
Jenae Nelson is pictured with her family. Credit: Provided by Jenae Nelson
Jenae Nelson received her doctorate from Brigham Young University and is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Baylor University and a research affiliate at Harvard University. Credit: Provided by Jenae Nelson

An iconic Christian hymn encourages listeners who may be “tempest-tossed” or otherwise burdened to “Count Your Blessings.”

Jenae Nelson, who has conducted research on indebtedness with Brigham Young University professors Dr. Sam Hardy and Dr. Dianne Tice, bolsters this claim. In a yearlong study, Nelson found that recognizing what God has done, and feeling an indebtedness toward Him, doesn’t create feelings of obligation, but rather leads to increased overall happiness, well-being and even prosocial behavior. Nelson received her doctorate from Brigham Young University and is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Baylor University and a research affiliate at Harvard University.

She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss her research and share how cultivating gratitude and indebtedness can improve a person’s life and deepen his or her connection to God.

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Jenae Nelson: After researching and finding that indebtedness to God was actually related to religious conversion, more happiness, more psychological well being, I thought, “Maybe we really are onto something.” King Benjamin had something wonderful and the interesting thing was when we started that, I started off by reading Mosiah 2 and asking them about indebtedness and before, they kind of were a little bit put off by the word, but when I would rephrase it and say things like, “Do you feel like you owe God for your life? Do you feel like you could never repay Him for everything that He has done for you?” They would, “Yes. Oh, yes. I feel that way. Yes, absolutely.” So, we found that they endorsed this idea of indebtedness, even if they didn’t love the word.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An iconic Christian hymn encourages listeners that when you are tempest tossed or otherwise burdened, to “count your many blessings” and you will be surprised by what the Lord has done for you. While this advice may seem contrary to logic, gratitude research has time and time again shown that cultivating thankfulness will make you happier, healthier and more resilient. For Jenae Nelson, her recent study conducted with BYU professors Dr. Sam Hardy and Dr. Diane Tice bolsters this claim. In a year-long study, they found that recognizing what God has done for you and feeling an indebtedness towards Him doesn’t create feelings of obligation, but rather leads to increased overall happiness, well-being and even prosocial behavior. Jenae, who received her doctorate from Brigham Young University, is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Baylor University and a research affiliate at Harvard University. She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss this study and share how cultivating gratitude can improve your life and deepen your connection to God. Jenae welcome to the Church News podcast.


Jenae Nelson: Thank you.

Sarah Jane Weaver: It’s so nice to have you with us today. Let’s just start and have you talk about your study on indebtedness.

Jenae Nelson: Yeah, before I get going on the findings that you already summarized really well, I want to talk about the genesis of that research, because I think it helps to contextualize what we’re going to talk about today. I started off my graduate school at Brigham Young University and had to come up with a research topic, and my mentor Sam Hardy studies religious conversion and disaffiliation. So, I knew I needed to get a topic related to religious conversion and I had been praying and thinking and pondering about a good topic and I felt inspired one day to read in Luke chapter seven, about the woman who expresses her love and devotion to the Savior by wiping His feet with her hair and her tears and as I read that story, I thought, “This is a woman who is converted and is grateful.” There’s something different about this encounter.

And then, the Savior goes on to give a parable of debt and that because she had been forgiven much, she loved much and I thought to myself, with this analogy of debt, this reminds me a lot of King Benjamin’s sermon on being indebted and that’s in Mosiah 2, where he talks about being eternally indebted to the Lord, that no matter what you do, you can’t ever get ahead of the Lord. He’s always blessing us and during this particular sermon that King Benjamin gives, this doctrine of indebtedness becomes kind of a precursor to this great conversion that happens in the story and I thought, “Wow, what if understanding your indebtedness to God, what if this gratitude is a precursor to conversion and/or a marker of your conversion?”

And so I thought, “This is an interesting idea, but I have to test this I have to find a way to actually find evidence for this.” And I like to think about this quote often from a researcher that studies religious and spiritual life and how that relates to depression and well-being. And she says that her research, the science that she does, is just another witness of what she already knows to be true. And so, I kind of went on this journey with that attitude that I was going to find another witness to something that I already found true, but I needed to go about in a way that was rigorous and that was in line with the the schooling and education that I was receiving as a doctoral student. So, I started this year long study with BYU students, because they’re highly religious and so this was a perfect sample to study because these students are really active in their faith and they’re high on all these different types of religious activities that we’re interested in.

Read more: BYU research suggests how to have a deeper, richer gratitude this Thanksgiving

And so, we put a survey out and over the course of a year, we got over 1,200 students to answer this survey and during this survey, we actually took the very top of our participants that were the highest on our measures of religiosity and we wanted to talk to them and see what made them different and maybe ask them if indebtedness had something to do with their conversion and why they were so devoted. And the interesting thing was when we started that, I started off by reading Mosiah 2 and asking them about indebtedness and it was interesting, because before I would read that scripture and I would talk to them about indebtedness, they kind of were a little bit put off by the word and that’s a common reaction when you hear the word “indebtedness.” It can be kind of off putting, like, “Oh, I don’t know. We’re supposed to avoid that, aren’t we?”

But, when I would rephrase it and say things like, “Do you feel like you owe God for your life? Do you feel like you could never repay Him for everything that He has done for you?” They would, “Yes. Oh, yes. I feel that way. Yes, absolutely. That’s a big part of why I love Him so much and why I’m so willing to serve Him and devote my life to Him. It’s why I served a mission.” So we found that they endorsed this idea of indebtedness, even if they didn’t love the word, but it’s because I found through my research, that indebtedness is quite countercultural. That might be reason, and I think that through my research we have found this to be true, why we struggle with gratitude so much is because we struggle with this willingness to be indebted.

And so, after researching these religious exemplars and BYU students and finding that indebtedness to God was actually related to religious conversion, more happiness, more psychological well-being and more prosocial behavior, which means giving back in their community and doing good works, I thought, “Maybe we really are onto something.” King Benjamin had something wonderful that we don’t talk about very much in the Church, but it’s in our doctrine. It’s in the Book of Mormon and one of the highlights of my career, so far, has been able to publish this quote from the Book of Mormon in academic journals and to share this with researchers across the nation in academic settings. That’s been a delight for me to share this truth that we have, but also to have that second witness from our empirical findings, which has been wonderful.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m fascinated by this, because you’re right. I view debt as a detriment. I view it as limiting my choices, as me not having the freedom to do what I need to do, because I’m indebted to somebody else.

Jenae Nelson: Yes.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And so, when you put that in a spiritual context, it actually applies, because we all make choices because of our conversion to God, because we care about our Heavenly Father and the Savior. And so, I want to have you jump off on something that you said and talk to us about how recognizing what God has done for you actually makes you happier.

Jenae Nelson: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of mechanisms for this. For one, acknowledging your indebtedness to God cultivates gratitude. They come together. They come hand in hand. It’s really hard to separate them and feelings of gratitude, obviously, make you feel good. They make you happy. So, gratitude does inspire prosocial behavior, but indebtedness, what we found in our research, is actually the mechanism, the underlying mechanism, that is doing that. So, when you feel gratitude, and indebtedness, that’s what propels you to do good works, to pay it forward and to do more service for other people to kind of demonstrate and express that gratitude. It’s the indebtedness piece that motivates you to do that. So, that’s how indebtedness can increase your happiness, is that it is getting you to come outside of yourself and to focus more on God’s goodness versus your works and what you’ve done, but then it automatically motivates and inspires you to pay it forward in meaningful ways.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, this so fascinating. We just taped a podcast with President Camille Johnson, who will begin service as the Church’s Relief Society general president on August 1, and that podcast will be released in a few weeks, but in there, she talked about changing what is inside of you. As your heart changes, the natural thing to do is to look outward.

Jenae Nelson: That’s wonderful. That reminds me, I want to share this quote. This is from a Danish philosopher, it says, “To overcome selfishness, we need to endorse a particular understanding of life that it is a gift, that life and all that it contains has been given us and we are therefore indebted, and that we receive life in order that we should, in confidence, surrender ourselves to it.” And so, I do think it’s a key component of overcoming selfishness, is understanding that as the saying goes, “You didn’t hit a triple, you were born on third base.” Everything that you have is a gift and that changes the way that you interact with the entire world.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. Well, you know, a few years ago, right when we were at the height of the pandemic, it’s before we had immunizations in November of 2020, President Russell M. Nelson, issues an invitation to the whole world, not just to Latter-day Saints, but to the whole world and he said, “I want you to be grateful.” Now, that felt counterintuitive at a time, but so many of us were like, “Ah, we’ve been in our houses since March,” you know. It felt weird to say, “Okay, how am I going to count my blessings?” Yet, there was something healing and very powerful about that experience for me, as I said, “Okay, how am I going to #GiveThanks. So, tell us what your research at its very basic level has taught you about gratitude.

Jenae Nelson: I think that President Nelson, of course, was incredibly inspired by that campaign and especially where he was turning our hearts to gratitude to God. So, frequently, and this is something that we have found in our research, frequently, people, when they’re doing these kind of gratitude exercises, will write down the things that they’re grateful for and it can kind of get a little silly, sometimes, because you’re just listing all these things, “I’m grateful for ice cream. I’m grateful for running water.” And those are all things that are important to be grateful for and it turns out that writing gratitude lists really do increase your happiness and it can even change the neural structures in your brain.

Read President Nelson’s message on the ‘healing power of gratitude’

However, being grateful to somebody for those things, as an entirely new dimension, that’s in a relational aspect, and that’s the indebtedness component. That’s the part that makes you want to give back, because I use this example sometimes, I can be really grateful for my car that I bought, that I paid for, and be really proud of my hard work that I did to get that car, but then is that gonna motivate me to give anything back? Is that going to motivate me to, what we call living the virtue of gratitude, which means having that value in action? Is that going to inspire anything other than just the feeling of gratitude? Probably not, but if I acknowledge, “Hey, you know what, I’m really grateful to God for my car, because He made it possible for me to get this job and He made it possible for me to earn this money and everything that I have comes from God. I’m so grateful He gave me this, like, that is amazing. That kind of shifts your perspective from “me” and “how good I am” to the goodness of God and that is the relational component, the indebtedness, that motivates you to do good works.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, it’s interesting, because I remember the few weeks after President Nelson’s invitation and he said, “Between now and Thanksgiving,” of that year in 2020, he said, “I want you to flood social media with the hashtag #GiveThanks,” but what we saw were mostly people’s families. They were relationships. They were things that maybe they are indebted for, maybe things they could never have done on their own, you know, for their children, for their parents, for, or something that maybe felt bigger than them.

Jenae Nelson: Absolutely, I noticed that, as well, and we’ve tested this in a recent study that is actually, currently going on, where we asked people to either write a gratitude list about some things they were grateful for, or to write a thank you letter to God for the things that they have in their life and that it was interesting to find that the people that were in the condition where they just wrote the things they were grateful for, they did not show as much prosocial giving and they also did not show as much, of what we call, empathic response. In other words, they didn’t feel as much compassion, or as much of that indebtedness in response to having done this exercise, but both conditions felt grateful. So, I want to emphasize that. So, feeling grateful is a good thing, but we want to have that virtue of gratitude. We want to see that in action. We want to be grateful people and being a grateful person is not just feeling that, but it’s like the 10 lepers. I imagine that, like, all of those 10 lepers that were healed we’re grateful. I bet they all felt it, but the one that Jesus said was made whole was the one who turned back and expressed thanks; did something about that gratitude and I imagine he felt some indebtedness and so that’s the difference between feeling grateful and then expressing that gratitude, is that feeling of indebtedness that you have, as well as the gratitude.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that’s really beautiful. Now, I want to talk a little bit about your personal life, because you’re a non traditional student, the mother of four teenagers. You did your graduate studies with four children. So, tell us a little bit about your family, and then tell us how your research has impacted your role as a parent.

Jenae Nelson: So obviously, being a parent, teenagers can be a little bit challenging. It is a very interesting developmental phase, to say, in that teenagers can struggle sometimes with gratitude, and I’m not calling my children out, my children are wonderful, but this is just something that you see, in general with teenagers, and particularly with the rising generation. Gratitude can be difficult and so, finding a way that we could make gratitude have a lasting impact on their life, and not just something that we did at Thanksgiving, where we sit down, and we’re writing these lists, certainly is a wonderful exercise and, like I said, it does impact the feelings of gratitude, but what I wanted for my children, in particular, was for them to learn the virtue of gratitude, like we’ve been talking about – this idea that you don’t just feel grateful, but you have to be a grateful person and that has shifted the way that I interact with my children, the way that I teach them, when we’re talking about scriptures, when we’re talking about our testimonies, we talk about the good things that God has done for us.

Jenae Nelson is pictured with her family.
Jenae Nelson is pictured with her family. | Credit: Provided by Jenae Nelson

During COVID-19, we actually had a list that we kept of all of the miracles that we experienced during COVID-19 and that was such an amazing exercise for me. It was, like, a step above a gratitude list. It was, “Look at all the good things that God has done” and that part is what activated the indebtedness and really helped us to feel of God’s goodness and it helped us to remember that even though we were going through this really difficult worldwide pandemic, and my son was a senior at the time, missing all kinds of important school activities and he’s a cross country runner and their nationals was canceled. I mean, so many things to be disappointed about, but when we did this exercise and we would review it in our family home evenings, look at all these good things that God has done for us. We were like, “It’s incredible.” He really has been here this whole time and so, but I wonder if I would have done that had I not been a researcher of gratitude and indebtedness. I don’t know that I would’ve. I think I probably would’ve focused on other things and so I’m grateful that that has changed our family dynamic in that way.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I am wishing that we had done this interview, like, 10 years ago. I have two daughters that are university students and one that’s a senior in high school. Every night at dinner, when they were all home, we would go around the table and we’d have them say the best thing that happened that day, the worst thing that happened that day, and those two things gave us a great barometer on how their day had gone.

Jenae Nelson: Yeah

Sarah Jane Weaver: And then we’d say, “And list something that you’re grateful for,” but it became routine. It became almost silly, sometimes it was sincere.

Jenae Nelson: Yeah


Sarah Jane Weaver: But I wish I had known how to help them take it to the next step. Do you have any advice for people who really want to take their gratitude to the level of indebtedness?

Jenae Nelson: Yeah, I just love how President Nelson framed it, that the importance of saying prayers of thanks, and really focusing on the wonderful things that God has done for you and there are things that I think that help to give us constant gratitude and those are universal gifts like the Atonement, the Creation. We have these wonderful blessings available to us that no matter what happens in our life, no matter how many earthly things we acquire, how good our health is, because that stuff comes and goes. So, if your gratitude is tied up into this idea of the stuff that you have, versus the goodness of God, those things that are constant, because God’s goodness is constant and never changes. So, that means our gratitude and indebtedness to Him can also be constant.

So, if we can shift our gratitude from the stuff that we have, to the good things that God does for us, and like I said, there are things that are universal, but there are also lots of little, tiny tender mercies and miracles that He gives us every, single day and we can keep a journal of that and a journal of, this is, you know, similar to President Henry B. Eyring’s idea of keeping a journal of all of the things that God has done for you and the miracles that He’s done for you, I think, is probably some of the best advice that we’ve ever received when it comes to increasing our gratitude and that’s the wonderful thing is, as a scientist, I have to always keep in mind, like I said, the I am just here as, like, this is just a second witness to all of this wonderful truth that we already have available to us through the prophets and apostles. They’re teaching us how to be grateful. They’re teaching us about these principles, but it is really helpful, sometimes, to have these practical applications or have it broken down in these ways, so that we can understand how we can really richen our gratitude practices and make our prayers a little bit more meaningful and deeper. Those things will really help to magnify the virtue of gratitude that we’re experiencing in our life.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I am so pleased that you reminded all of us that President Nelson actually said a prayer when he issued the invitation. That was such a beautiful and powerful thing. He didn’t just say, “Be grateful,” but then he expressed his gratitude to his Heavenly Father and I remember he thanked Him for the planet and he thanked Him for the laws that guide and protect us and for families and others that bring us joy and then he actually said, “We’re grateful for everyone who’s striving to combat this pandemic.” So, even when we were all frustrated, he expressed gratitude for everyone who was working to help us and so, I think that is a beautiful blueprint for what we’re trying to do. He actually called it a fast-acting spiritual prescription.

Jenae Nelson: It is, it is, yes, I actually just I did a big cheer in my living room when I watched that. I was just like, “This is it. This is my research. This is what I’ve been doing for a year,” at that point when it came out and I was just filled with so much joy to hear our prophet tell us that, because I have gained not only this scientific witness of what’s going on with this principle, but also this incredible, deepening spiritual witness of the principle of gratitude and indebtedness.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And it is funny, because it’s still hard for us to get over the fact that we have these, kind of, interesting, negative connotations that follow the term “indebtedness.” How do we change that mindset?

Jenae Nelson: So, I asked this of one of my religious exemplars, as we call them, and I just, if I can, I would like to share what he said, because it’s really profound. First, I asked him, “Some people don’t like the idea of being in debt. It’s something that can be kind of negative, especially interpersonally. If you feel indebted to someone, it can be uncomfortable. So, why is it different with God?” And this is what he said, “I would say it’s different with God and I actually like the word indebtedness, because it emphasizes the principle of humility. From a positive standpoint, we should also acknowledge our commitment to Him, as we’re indebted to Him. That’s a good thing and if I were to serve anybody or be indebted to anybody, I would prefer it be God, because He’s the one I prefer to serve. In his everlasting sacrifice,” he goes on to say, “He has won me over and if anything, He’s won my heart and I think that’s why I feel like I want to serve Him and I know I cannot repay Him, but it is an act of gratitude that I try to and that I give my part in as much as I can.”

Jenae Nelson received her doctorate from Brigham Young University and is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Baylor University and a research affiliate at Harvard University.
Jenae Nelson received her doctorate from Brigham Young University and is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Baylor University and a research affiliate at Harvard University. | Credit: Provided by Jenae Nelson


Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. That actually changes my perspective entirely, because when you think about finances, you think, “Oh, I’m going to get out of debt. I’m going to pay off my debt and then I’m going to be free,” but what we’re saying here is, “Oh, we’re going to always love and share and be grateful for all the gifts in our life.”

Jenae Nelson: Absolutely, there’s no way to pay the Lord back. There’s no way to ever get on top of that, because He’s always blessing us, like King Benjamin said. We’re eternally indebted to Him, but that is a manifestation of His love for us, that He would be willing to have this asymmetrical relationship with us, where He clearly gives way more than we give Him, but he’s okay with that, because He loves us. Like Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, that paradox of man is that compared to God, man is nothing yet we are everything to God. Why else would He do all these things for us other than love?

And that’s what these religious exemplars, these wonderful young adults that I interviewed said. They were like, “It just makes me feel loved,” because like, imagine somebody coming to you and saying, “Oh, I know you’re late on your mortgage, but I’m going to pay it this month and you know what, nevermind, I’m gonna pay the whole thing off.” You would just be like, “Why would you do that? Why would you do that for me? That is such a big deal,” and this is the way that it is with the Lord. Not only did He create us, but then He atoned for us with the infinite Atonement that we could never repay and He’s okay with the fact that we can never repay it. The only thing that He requires is our love and devotion in return, which is a beautiful fact and I do want to say that the people that we, the students that we interviewed, also said that it was a journey for them to get to this level of understanding, that there were times in their life where they did feel like they needed to earn God’s love, or they did need to earn their way into Heaven, or their worthiness, or, or what have you with obedience and I don’t want to downplay obedience, but the shift that happened for them, was understanding that they weren’t earning their salvation and they could really, fully accept this gift as a gift of grace, like you said.


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is a really interesting time in history. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an event sponsored by Brigham Young University, in which some religious leaders from New York City were talking about unity and collaboration and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik actually compared magazines and he went through the history and he started with Life and then he actually said, “After Life, we had a magazine, that was People, and then the next magazine was Us and then the next magazine was Self” and it was this thing from where we start thinking outwardly with everything in life, to where society has moved us to a point where we naturally think about ourselves. You know, kids are growing up in this time when everything is based around what they want on their phones at that moment and so, this is a beautiful idea that we can turn outward. Rabbi Potasnik actually joked. He said, “In the Jewish tradition, you read Hebrew from right to left” and he said, “You can can start with self, and then go to Us, and then go to People, and actually strengthen and build a whole life.

Jenae Nelson: Yes, I love that. I think that that’s one of the things that I discovered along this journey of studying gratitude, that there’s almost this self-centered version of gratitude and that’s what’s taken over popular psychology, I guess you could say, in that, you know, you pick up a book about gratitude and it is this idea that you’re just gonna write down all this stuff that you’re grateful for, the things that you’re grateful for, instead of the blessings that come from God, right? Count your blessings, that this shift from the stuff that you have, to what God has done for you, is really profound and when I started my research, my brother actually said, “You know what, I decided I wanted to start an indebtedness journal, where I write down all the things that God has done for me” and I said, “That’s fantastic. I love that idea” and I think that that is what can shift you from, you know, this idea that I can only be grateful if I have these things in my life to be grateful for and that’s, it’s all about you, and the stuff that you have, and what you’ve acquired, or how well you’re doing in life, or your how good your health is, like we’ve mentioned before, but that can change in an instant. That can go away and also, it’s still all about you, but if you can add a relational component to your gratitude and start looking at all the people in your life, it’s not just God, because God often works through people; our parents, our teachers, our religious leaders, all these people in our lives who bless us, and then when you can feel that gratitude and see what they’ve done for you, then that strengthens relationships, because you’re not just looking at yourself and you and the things that you have, but now you’re looking at all the people in your life and you’re experiencing gratitude towards them and so, that just has this downstream effect that can be quite beautiful in your life.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that and I hope that that’s something that all of us can effort to have in our own life; something that that we should strive for. My producer KellieAnn Halvorsen has a favorite family quote and I’m just going to share it with you and have you respond to it. It said, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and beheld service was joy.” Is that something that you have found in your research?

Jenae Nelson: Absolutely, and it’s been wonderful to see that indebtedness doesn’t just make you happy, which is wonderful, but like we talked about, probably the reason why it’s making you happier is because you’re more likely to go forward and serve other people and we saw that. We found that people, these BYU students, and then we repeated this study in a national sample of people who had high levels of indebtedness to God, were giving more money to charity. They were doing more meals in their congregations and helping sick and needy and these sorts of things, than people who had lower levels of indebtedness, but even high levels of gratitude. So, that was interesting to me, that you can have high feelings of gratitude, again, going back to that concept, but if it’s not paired with indebtedness, then that won’t motivate you to go on and to do those good works, or at least not as motivated to do those things and that’s where the true joy really does come, is paying it forward in that way, that you’re, not only are you grateful to God, but now your expression of gratitude to God is, “I want to be a better person and I want to help other people in the way that God has helped me. He’s given me so much. ‘Because I have been given much, I too must give.'”


Sarah Jane Weaver: That really is great to see those prosocial outcomes. It’s also beautiful that as we engage in a journey to be indebted to the Lord, we become more like Him. We learn to exemplify everything that we want to be. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast. We end each episode with the same question. It’s, “What do you know now?” And we give all of our guests the last word. So, I’m going to turn the microphone over to you and have you kind of wrap it up for us and tell us what you know now, after researching and studying indebtedness.

Jenae Nelson: There’s a quote from C.S. Lewis that I like to share: “Faith arises after a man has tried his level best to practice the Christian virtues and found that he fails and seeing that even if he could, he would only be giving back to God what was already God’s own. In other words, he discovers his own bankruptcy. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God. The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that He puts all his trust in Christ, that Christ will make the man more like Himself, the Lord, and in a sense, make good his deficiencies.”

So, when I started this journey of trying to understand adolescent and young adult conversion, I never thought that it would lead to indebtedness to God, and now, I see it everywhere that I go, and before that, I hardly ever even heard the word, but I see it everywhere. I hear it in the testimonies of return missionaries, who talk about the fact that they owe everything to God and that’s why they were willing to give Him two years of service. I hear it in people bearing their testimonies that share how much they owe the Lord for their lives, for the gifts, for the blessings that they have and I see it in myself, now, and I truly am indebted to the Lord for bringing me here, for giving me this idea, for leading me to the scriptures, so that I could find answers and use my scientific tools to answer these questions and share this research to a broader audience.

It has been such a joy and a privilege to study this, but also in the person that it’s made me and my children and the people that I get to share this with. It does mean everything to me that I’ve had this opportunity and everything that the Lord would allow me to do this as a nontraditional student, with teens of my own, and it has been a journey. It’s been very difficult, but truly it has been a joy and knowing what indebtedness means, that we don’t have to shy away from this idea, because it’s countercultural, but that it can actually richen and deepen our religious lives, has brought me a lot of personal joy and I hope that that can bring others joy, as well.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on

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