I still remember when Elder David A. Bednar gave his talk on the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It was later quoted and focused on by Carol J. Rasmus.

Here is a direct quote from Bednar’s address:

I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning [the] enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.

The belief that through our own “sheer grit, willpower, and discipline” we can manage just about anything seems to be widespread these days. This simply is not true…

Before I continue my own commentary on this topic, let me place before you a couple parable-like metaphors.

  • A three-year-old young girl wants to play basketball, but the 10-foot-tall hoop is simply beyond her capacity. So, she grits and practices and throws, but no matter what she does, after weeks of total devotion, all she manages to do is to hit the rim—once. And not with the proper technique needed to grow up and become an accomplished player. Her father offers to alter the hoop, to lower it, to a realistic height for her to develop the proper skills and techniques. But, offended by the offer of assistance (since she thinks she can do everything for herself), the four-year-old rejects it and decides she simply won’t try to play basketball anymore. It’s too hard, and the years it will take to “grow up” seem too far away.
  • A middle-aged man, an inventor, has always been brilliant beyond his years. But, no matter what he invents, he can’t seem to get it from invention to market. He gets several offers for help on the business side from what appears to him to be fairly qualified people, but he simply doesn’t have faith in their ability to understand him or his inventions the way he does. He’s worried his inventions will lose integrity if he lets anyone else assist him. He also doesn’t want to share any of the glory of the invention simply to get it to market. So, refusing assistance, he remains unable to move forward and find success.

Stop for a moment. What do you think the commonality is (the shared ideal/belief) between the three-year-old girl and the middle-aged inventor that prevents them from accomplishing something they desire?

Enabling Power

The word enable means:

To make (someone or something) able to do or be something: to make (something) possible, practical…: to cause (a feature or capability) to be active or available for use: to make able; give power, means, competence, or ability to; to authorize…

God has taught us through the scriptures that the atonement of Jesus Christ gives us grace. That grace cleanses our sin—when we repent—and ENABLES us to learn and grow from our experience. The cleansing is ENABLED when we sincerely repent. That grace AUTHORIZES/ENABLES us to be physically resurrected at some future day. But, above and beyond these very accepted aspects of the atonement of Jesus Christ; that grace ENABLES us to practice being godly on a severely adjusted hoop, so that over time we learn the proper godly principles, doctrines, and skills in the proper way. Grace ENABLES us to become godly by giving us assistance for our mortal handicaps.

Lowering the hoop for the three-year-old ENABLES her to practice her skills correctly. The hoop can be raised, little-by-little, as she grows in capability and skill. At some point, she won’t need the adjustments. But by lowering it initially, she can practice correctly.

Taking on a partner with a different kind of brilliance does not lessen an inventor’s invention. It ENABLES him to accomplish his design by leaning on the knowledge and help of another who has the skills he does not. Does it make the invention belong to both? Yes. But without help it would have only ever been an idea. Trusting in another makes it possible for hopes to become reality, just as trusting in God makes our ideals possible, even if we have to give Him most of the credit.

God ENABLES us Physically and Spiritually

Several years back, when I was teaching early morning seminary, I began to have severe nerve pain in my back right heel. The nerve pain was right next to my Achilles tendon, and because of that, I immediately thought I had strained or even injured that vital muscle. It has always been a fear of mine to injure my Achilles. So, when this nerve began acting up, I immediately began all the necessary home treatment. I took ibruprofen. I iced it. I rested it. I stayed off of it. I tried to walk carefully and stretch it when possible. But, after a few weeks, so petrified I was going to rip the muscle, I borrowed crutches. The crutches ENABLED me to continue to get around. It ENABLED me to teach seminary (when I just as easily could have let another sub for me).

It was so difficult to trust in those crutches. I was so angry that all my diligent treatment hadn’t saved me from needing so much help. I was in despair that I couldn’t help my parents or my family as I normally did. I was completely “benched” from most of my life, but those crutches ENABLED me to accomplish, minimally, the mission the Lord had for me at the time.

It took a priesthood blessing, another ENABLING gift, to learn that God would heal me. It took a visit to a foot doctor (something I’d spurned up until that point), another ENABLING gift, to learn that my muscles were fine, that it was a nerve that was the problem. It took anti-inflammatory medicine and orthotics—two more ENABLING gifts—to rehabilitate that nerve and get it to quiet down.

Ultimately, it is the atonement of Jesus Christ that will completely ENABLE a full healing in our souls: emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. But, until that day comes, God has provided ENABLING help: friends and family, psychologists, medical methods and apparatuses, and repentance, priesthood power, blessings, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to ENABLE us to learn and grow and become like Him (and to serve Him).

If it’s a lowered basketball hoop, a business partner, a walker or wheelchair, a translator, a piece of workout equipment, a friend, a medication, or one (or many) of several other things; ALL of it is part of God’s ENABLING power made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. There is no aspect of this life that He hasn’t designed to ENABLE us to become like Him. We should never give up because our own grit and hard work isn’t sufficient. It is because of the ENABLING power of the atonement of Jesus Christ that any of our efforts gain any power or validity.

Learn to See

For many of us, it’s hard to admit that our own efforts aren’t enough. It’s hard to admit that not only do we make mistakes but that our best efforts need an extra push. But, learning that all that we do requires grace can lead us in two different directions. Either we can throw up our hands and decide that we don’t have to make any effort at all—which is, counterproductive. Because that means all that godly power has very little to enable and so we make very little progress. OR, we can realize that all that we have ever accomplished has been with help and that we can accomplish even more the more we trust in and rely on God—and His many ENABLING gifts and blessings. That’s when the enabling power gains momentum in our lives and we make real progress.

We sort of have to alter the way we see ourselves. We have to learn to see that we’ve had a “lowered hoop” since day 1; and that realizing that in addition to that lowered hoop we need to add on metaphorical knee pads, tape up a few ankles, and get a lighter basketball shouldn’t daunt us, but allow us to press forward faster, better than we did before. Accepting the gifts of the ENABLING power of the atonement in our lives, accepting that we need them, seeing ourselves in the proper light, allows us to progress faster, not slower. The more we trust in and accept God’s grace (in whatever forms it manifests itself), the faster we learn, grow, progress, and become the person that God designs for us to become.

I spurned those crutches. I spurned having to ice and put my foot up nearly all day every day. I hated not being able to do what I wanted to do. But those little things ENABLED me to press on until I was willing to get real help. Then, even that real help didn’t make me independent (which is what I was going for). It gave me power, it ENABLED me, to understand my weakness and learn to use other ENABLING gifts to walk again and serve the Lord and function in my life. It made me more dependent on God, not less.

I still have to make special adjustments to my shoes to keep that nerve from acting up. I am now limited to the kinds of shoes I can wear. And, I have to spend a lot more on the shoes I can wear because my feet require a lot of ENABLING help. But, the knowledge I have gained has ENABLED me to learn how to continue to progress in my life. It has ENABLED me to keep walking (even it if it is with a little help). It has helped me to recognize other nerve problems that have surfaced. The entire experience with that nerve has ENABLED me in other ways.

Life has taught me that grit and willpower are powerful because of the enabling power of God’s grace, NOT that I can get by without grace because of my grit and willpower. At this Christmas season, I hope each of us will see ourselves as we really are: being with all sorts of handicaps already depending on many ENABLING gifts and blessings. I hope we will see that Christ came to ENABLE us, to save us from depending solely on ourselves. He came so that our efforts have both meaning and power, because of His grace.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

BT

While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

I might add:

  1. Pray less passively. Ask for ways to act, listen, feel, hear, and do; instead of praying with passive, generalized statements, like, “Please help me to…” or “Watch over me when…” An active statement in prayer might be, “Please show me how to ensure this journey is a safe one for our family,” or, “As I visit with my friend, please make bring things to my remembrance that I can share to help comfort him/her.” (Check out this address Ask In Faith by David Bednar as he teaches how to prayer with active prayer language, and this helps immensely in being led by the Holy Ghost)

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely and meaningfully (Ask In Faith), 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.

The Monster

I didn’t know there was a monster

Hiding inside of me

I didn’t know it was lurking there

Waiting to be set free

I didn’t realize that there was so much

Ugliness in my heart

I didn’t think I was angry at all

That rage played any part

Yet I have reacted and yelled and spat

A vicious diatribe

My face has gone red and stiff and cold

I’ve sunken to the dark side

I’ve drowned in hurt, self-deceit, and hot pride

All for justification

I have sunk far below civility

All for guilt allocation

Yet the monster never left me alive

My spirit always dead

It ate and devoured my peace and my joy

Puking up what I had said

Then it hid deep down within my heart

Awaiting another meal

It knows that eventually I’ll feed it

A dish of repress-ed zeal

 

It was yesterday that I caught this Thing

Feeding on my life

Holding tight and tearing into my soul

Bleeding and breeding strife

I was shocked and pained to find it inside

An actual part of me

I was embarrassed, ashamed, terrified

At all that I did see

I wanted control, and I wanted out

Of burdens, need, and stress

And I had been willing to get them all

By feeding that angry Mess

I wanted to avoid pain and some hurts

Annoyances and noise

Quite willing to obtain perceived com-fort

By sacrificing joys

 

Though I know there’s a monster inside me

I can’t seem to set it free

I keep trying to cage and kill it

This evil part of me

I’ve tried to stab it and wrestle it down

It’s a slippery fiend

It keeps yelling that it’s a piece of me

That it can-not be weaned

So last night I came before the dear Lord

Begging for His healing

Offering up my anger and my rage

To His al-tar of sealing

For only He can sacrifice this piece

Of my broken mess of soul

If I give it to Him with all my heart

That is indeed His goal

 

It’s His now…         I have given it away

The monster is now done

And I can now live my life in sure peace that…

My angry monster is gone

What Does Your Angry Monster Look Like

I wrote this poem not long ago. It was therapy. You see, I never thought I was an angry person. I’m not, really. I hate contention, heated debate, unkindness, and hurt. I’ve always avoided arguments and fights. Recoiled from them. I’m always the first to self-evaluate and apologize for my part. I can’t stand the suspense of things not being resolved between me and those I love.

But, in the past year and a half this unruly, hateful creature came out of me. It was called righteous indignation. It was called justification. It was a monster of many names.

I suffered under attacks from this monster far more frequently than I’d like to admit. And each and every time it came out, I fed it. It was very persuasive, you see. And then, as soon as it left I felt as if I was on the verge of emotional death. It sucked everything out of me.

So, for quite a while I thought I understood the monster and thought I could handle it on my own. So, I put a little chain around that anger monster and pretended I could master it. And yet, it kept snapping the chain and getting free. Impatience and unkindness were seeping out of me from every direction. I was like a simmering pot of unhappiness and condemnation. I couldn’t seem to get control.

Finally, after months of trying, I collapsed on my knees one night and asked God where this monster had come from. “This is not me!” I cried. “I’ve never been like this, ever. Please help me figure this out.”

In that moment, a few clear memories from my childhood came up to the surface of my own little internal pensieve (thanks to Dumbledore for making this a part of my life). I saw my younger self running around with a smaller, younger version of this very same anger monster. Most importantly, God showed me the triggers that let the monster out: helplessness, frustration, tiredness, and a tendency to react rather than act. I saw my supposedly righteous anger and justified reactions from a place outside myself. They didn’t look the same at all. I looked ridiculous.

It was in that moment that I suddenly began to understand that as far as mortals are concerned (in my opinion), there is no such thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger is a fallacy. I don’t believe it exists—inasmuch as we refer to the action we take* when disappointed, hurt, frustrated, offended, or injured (whether on purpose or not). There is no such thing as justification for letting out our anger monsters. There is no time when it is okay to scream and yell to get a point across. There is no time when it is okay to hit or strike another person in an attempt to make them listen or do what we want them to do. There is no time when impatience, unkindness, insults, emotional digs, or vengeance is okay.

I believe God is capable of righteous anger (i.e. acting righteously in perfect love with perfect justification for His actions). But, as you read the scriptures, it seems God’s references to anger, jealousy, and wrath are much more of a rhetorical device (wording used to persuade, achieve a certain purpose, or to emphasize something). They imply how He feels about our wickedness or lack of repentance. But, you’ll notice He never calls anyone worthless except those who purposely offend little children (Matthew 18:5-6), and then I might have to agree with Him there. He doesn’t insult or jibe to purposefully retaliate or hurt us. His anger is always represented by a spiritual ultimatum. He does use appropriate terms such as fool, hypocrite, deceiver, and liar. But these terms when in use by God are not used lightly. They always accurate describe the actions of those He is addressing. They are not meant to insult but to teach and call to repentance. Again, He can do it right, I don’t think we can.

Even when God is speaking of curses that will come upon us if we don’t repent (spiritual ultimatum), I can hardly imagining Him yelling and screaming them with a red face, glaring eyes, and clenched fists and gnashed teeth. That is how Satan looks. Not God.

When I imagine God reprimanding me I imagine only sad looks of love mingled with disappointment. And those are sufficiently powerful to make me want to improve. I imagine Him delivering His “rhetorical devices” with sadness and looks of pleading for me to repent, to trust Him, and so forth. If I imagine a firm voice, it is firm and loving. It is firm and pleading. It is forthright and honest. (Kind of like Dumbledore or Gandalf…always measured, understanding, seeing the bigger picture, etc. although obviously these are mortal, fictional examples and very rare in actual humankind even on good days.)

There is a scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19 that is often read in a way that is wrong (in my opinion). People always read it with the idea of this angry God in their minds instead of a God (Jesus in particular) who has already suffered for their sins and is pleading with them to not waste it. It’s a firm, loving, pleading voice (to me, anyway). Not an angry one.

So, I invite you to imagine a God who has given everything for you, and you are running around wasting it. A God who loves you infinitely. A God whose love you can’t escape. Imagine Him now pleading with you, perhaps firmly, perhaps with tears in His eyes. Perhaps both. Imagine Him saying the following to you with gravity and sincere intent:

Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

Now, there are some powerful words in here that have sufficient rhetorical device: smite, rod, wrath, anger, sufferings, sore, exquisite.

Now, notice some other words: tremble, bleed, suffer, bitter, shrink

Have you ever smitten someone with words? Have you ever used your hand or another device as a rod to beat someone? Have you ever exercised your wrath upon someone physically or with words? Have you ever purposefully tried to make someone suffer? Have you ever been sore emotionally or physically after berating someone for their flaws? Have you ever caused someone to tremble, bleed, suffer, or shrink from you? Have your pains ever been exquisitely terrible when you have come down from your anger and you have realized what you’ve done?

Imagine now that Christ suffered these things. It was Him you smote with words. It was Him you beat with a rod. It was Him you had wrath against physically or verbally. It was Him you purposefully insulted or made suffer. It was Him you berated. It was Him you made to shrink. (Matthew 25:40) It was because of His atonement that you felt terrible when you exhausted your anger. His mercy allowed you to feel the horror of what you had done. That horror is merciful because it encourages you to repent.

Does He not have a right to use rhetorical device to persuade you to stop being angry? Does He not have the right to plead with you firmly to please repent, to stop feeding your anger monster? Does He not have the right to remind you that if you don’t seek His help to rid yourself of this monster that you will suffer that which you have handed out…that He has already suffered?

God has to remind us of what will happen if we don’t repent so He can be just and merciful. If He didn’t tell us how horrific it would be, that would be eternally unfair. We need true information to use our moral agency completely. Thus, God is capable of using rhetorical device in an attempt to help us repent. He can do it righteously. You and I cannot. Our motives, no matter how justified we think they are, are selfish and satanic.

Satanic is a powerful word. Let me elaborate.

This is Moses 1:18-22. Moses has just talked with God face-to-face. After God leaves him and Moses recovers a little bit, Satan comes tempting (which is often Satan’s pattern, coming after we’ve had spiritual highs and feel invincible).

And again Moses said: I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan.

And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.

And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.

And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.

And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not.

Notice what Satan does:

  • cried with a loud voice (yelled) twice
  • ranted upon the earth (threw himself down? punched something?)
  • made demands
  • created fear and embodied the bitterness of hell in his visage (scary!)
  • trembled or moved in a way that shook the earth (stomped his feet? beat on things?)
  • weeped (manipulatively), wailed, gnashed his teeth

There is nowhere in scripture where we ever witness Jesus Christ doing any of these things—the things we tend to justify in reaction to others. There is one instance in the New Testament where Christ overturns a few tables in the temple because people are defiling it. He also casts many people out, but I can hardly imagine Him accosting them bodily and throwing them out. Can you? I also do not believe He screamed and yelled and went red in the face. I don’t believe He stomped, punched things, ranted, raved, or gnashed His teeth. It is my opinion that He spoke with a direct and firm voice, even an incredulous one, teaching them saying, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer? But ye have made it den of thieves.”

Portrait of screaming angry man on black background

Many people might say, “But he/she hurt me on purpose?” and will claim justification for the injury they have received on purpose. So, to that I ask, “Do we say that Satan was justified in yelling at Moses and threatening him all because Moses hurt his feelings and wouldn’t do what he wanted on purpose?” Certainly not. Satan reacted in enmity and hatred toward Moses because Moses would not do what he wanted. He threw a fit to scare Moses into worshipping him.

Do we ever throw a fit to get others to listen to us? Do we ever rant and rave and overkill our point to silence another? Do we create an environment of bitterness and fear to manipulate others into doing what we think is right? If we do these and other related things to elicit a certain reaction in others it is because we believe in compulsion. We are acting a certain way in order to get others to act a certain way. It’s a circle of reaction; of allowing ourselves to be acted upon by others.

We cannot claim our reactions are ever justified.* Why? Because we were created as beings to act and not to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). If sin is compulsory (meaning others can make us sin), then we have no power to become godly. We are trapped in a hellish state. But, sin is not compulsory. No matter how strong the threat, injury, frustration, or persuasion, we can always choose to act how we wish. We always have the power to choose the right. That is the very power of agency. It gives the power to change. It is the power that makes it possible for us to become like God.

The Holy Ghost speaks in a still, small voice. God is not in thunder, earthquakes, wind, or storms (1 Kings 19:11-12). He speaks by the Spirit.

Make a Comparison

For those that are able to attend temple endowment sessions, I encourage you to evaluate what you find there about how God expresses His wrath, disappointment, and judgment. Pay strong attention to His responses to Adam and Eve’s transgression and Satan’s willfully rebellious actions.

Evaluate also how Satan reacts when he doesn’t get what he wants. Pay attention to his variability and his reactive nature.

Then, consider whom you resemble more? Ya, that’s a sobering thought.

So, what does your angry monster look like? What situations trigger its need to feed on your soul? Have you identified these triggers? Have you made a plan? Have you come up with a coping mechanism, that you can turn to when these triggers hit?

Most importantly to consider is how you can sever ties with your adoring, self-destructive monster. Anger can be an addiction. Are you addicted? If so, treat it as an addiction. For some people it’s as powerful as pornography, alcohol, and drugs. If you are addicted to your monster, it’s time to humble yourself and get help to sever its hellish ties to your soul. Addiction Recovery Programs now dot the world and the Internet. You need plans, backup plans, and backup-backup plans for coping mechanisms you can adopt to help you vanquish your monster. And, you can do it. You have been created to act and not to be acted upon. You are not a prisoner to reaction. It might be hard. But, God’s grace is sufficient (Ether 12:27).

My angry monster, I’m proud to say, is quite anemic these days. I go long stretches where I think it is gone forever. Sometimes, I’m not proud to say, it shows up in my house and it takes a serious amount of willpower to pick it up, drag it kicking and screaming to my door, and push it out through the narrow opening. But, I am glad to say that when it does make unplanned visits I am getting better at recognizing it, taking a deep breath, and slamming the door in its face. I’m getting better and better at apologizing when I’ve had a close call. I’m getting better.

I’m not perfect.

Thank goodness for grace.

*A Quick Note About Justifiable Feelings*

So, I’ve written this whole blog about how there is no such thing as righteous anger—as an action. But, there is such thing as righteous anger—as a feeling. Feelings are justifiable. You will get hurt by people. You will get offended. You will be horrified and angry at people who do horrible things. You will be overwhelmed by the effects of sin on yourself and others. The feeling—justifiable. Angry actions based on this justifiable feeling—not justifiable.

It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not ok to act angry. It’s okay to feel hurt and to respectively let others know they have injured us. It is not okay to take out our hurt and anger on others even if they have hurt us.

It’s okay to feel tired and past your limit. It’s not okay to then pat yourself on the back and justify unkind or impatient words and actions toward others because you felt angry or tired. We certainly can claim that we have acted because of our feelings. But just because we have justifiable feelings doesn’t mean that reactions are justifiable. They are not.

God is Justice. Vengeance and mercy are His to deal out and repay. Not ours. Why? Because He has claimed them for Himself. And that is because only He can do it right. Only He can do it justly. Only He can do it mercifully. Only He can do it with perfect love. Righteous anger and condemnation are His to own. Not ours. Our job is to learn to manage our justifiable feelings in a Christ-like way.

Forgiveness and Apologies

Apologies are the best place to douse the anger monster. They are the best place for us to acknowledge and own our actions and commit to being better. The better we become at understanding our triggers and owning them, the better we will get at apologies, and the better we will get at destroying our monsters. The more we take the time to realize what is triggering our actions the more power we gain to control them.

For example: “I know that I was a bit short and unkind earlier. I shouldn’t have accused you of not caring. I just had a rough day and have secretly felt hurt by something you said yesterday that I should have talked to you about, rather than harboring. But neither of those things made it okay to treat you that way. I’m sorry. I will try to be better.”

Also, forgiveness will injure and destroy nearly every anger monster alive. Even those who purposefully hurt us truly, to some extent, do not understand the full weight of what they do. Christ set the example with this statement prior to being crucified, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). At some point we have to choose to not let others have power over us because of their actions. We must learn to act in the way that we desire independent of others actions. We must capitalize on the Power to Become.

Learn to Admit and Own Your Faults

For some people, it makes them angry to admit fault. It hurts them internally to realize they are wrong. So, they use blame on, and anger at, other things to protect themselves from the hurt of learning the truth about themselves. The sad thing is that they suffer the consequences of acting in anger. Which, are far more damaging and hurtful things than if they would simply learn to admit fault.

If you can’t admit fault, you will be angry all the time. If nothing is ever your fault you have rendered yourself powerless to change. You are, in effect, damned (stopped in progress). If you always have a nice way of pinning all of your shortcomings and sins on others (claiming compulsion and that you “had no choice”), then you are of all people most pitiful. Learn the serenity prayer.

Make a Plan

The most important thing to do, once you have caught and captured your anger monster, is to make a plan on how to keep it caged, and if possible, to destroy it. Anger monsters are not buddies. They exist only to destroy you. Part with them willingly and happily. “And if thy [anger monster] offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that [thy anger monster] should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29).

If you have used anger as a coping mechanism, then in order to “pluck it out and cast it from thee” you are going to have to make a plan to replace it with something else. Only you can determine, with God’s aid and sincere prayer, how you are going to replace it and with what. You also will need to make a plan on how you will apologize and repent should your anger monster bang down the cage door and go running loose. Make a plan.

Conclusion

I could have listed prayer as a way to eliminate anger, but I guess I felt it was a given. I do know that without going to God in prayer and asking Him where my monster came from and what was triggering it that I may not be where I am today. That prayer I remember vividly and I hope I never forget it. It was immediate and direct personal revelation—which is often rare. Thankfully, I think God was waiting for me to ask and I was more than ready to do whatever it took to destroy the beast.

May you also get to the point where you are ready to destroy your anger monster. That it’s preservation is less important to you than becoming the person you want to become.

BT

Doctrine: God allows us be in some kind of constant mortal need on purpose because our need serves multiple purposes in His plan for us and others. Being grateful in general is not the same thing as being a graceful receiver. To receive UNgracefully is to live a lie.

There are many Christlike traits that we preach about, talk about, and pursue. We try to be truly charitable. We try to be forgiving. We try to serve. We try to not judge unrighteously. And so on. But, in my own life, I have found, and been given the repeated—and currently long-term—opportunity to develop yet another, often overlooked, rarely discussed, and yet infinitely valuable Christlike attribute.

What is that trait? It’s being a graceful receiver.

Being grateful in general is not the same thing as being a graceful receiver. I have been grateful throughout my life for many things—and still am. But, learning to gracefully receive—when I am in need—has been one of the most difficult traits I’ve been given the opportunity to learn and practice. And, hopefully, as I unfold unto you what I’ve learned about being a graceful receiver, you will see just why it is so critically important to becoming like God.

God Puts Us in a State of Constant Mortal Need On Purpose

We often forget that though Christ was the Son of God, He was given no wealth or consequence in His mortal sojourn. He was born in a stable—a charitable, last resort gift-accommodation from the inn keeper. His first bed was a feeding trough (more often called a manger). He did not have mission sponsors and pre-arranged accommodations for His earthly ministry. Heavenly Father could have set His Son up with everything, but He didn’t—on purpose. So, how did Christ manage to get all that He needed? Charity. By involving others in His needs and receiving gracefully from them.

Certainly Jesus could turn water to wine (St. John 2:9-10), but didn’t He go around turning rocks into bread merely to satisfy His very justifiable hunger (Matthew 4:3-4). He seemed to only multiply food on behalf of others (Mark 8:14-20). With such miraculous power at His fingertips He still visited the homes of His friends (such as Mary, Martha and Lazurus) and also strangers. He accepted dinner invitations from both the wealthy Pharisees and the criminal outcasts on the street. He walked nearly everywhere putting himself within the reach of everyone around Him and in within range of their gifts for His apparent needs, and their charity. We know He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).

Christ also asked His disciples to leave their livelihoods and follow Him to preach without purse or scrip. So, they were all without resources most of the time and often worried about how to eat. So, where did they get it all? Charity.  Christ put Himself and His apostles in a constant position of need—on purpose.

Why does God allows us to be in constant need, on purpose? Why didn’t He provide everything for Christ and His disciples? Why doesn’t He always solve our needs currently?

God allows us to be in need, because our need involves others. It serves an important purpose in His plan of salvation. I might even suggest that our need is as much about others as it is about us.

I remember reading in the Doctrine in Covenants earlier this year and pondering, and being a little frustrated, at God commanding the missionaries in the early church to go on missions “without purse or scrip.” They suffered so much. And, I thought, we don’t do that today. Our missionaries go out taken care of.

Then, I asked, “How might such a command benefit the missionary effort?” Then, my eyes were opened. How many houses would not have been stopped at? How many people would never have met the missionaries? Of their need, the missionaries had to stop and seek charity. Then, those who gave the charity, their hearts were softened toward the missionaries. Then, it opened up the opportunity for those who gave charity to be taught by those who had to gracefully receive.

So often we want to serve others to soften their hearts. That would be easier. And, it helps at times. But by admitting, and owning, our need far more happens.

  1. First, our heart is softened and we learn to own our circumstances and to not be ashamed by them.
  2. And second, our need triggers compassion in others. By others responding to our need they are encouraged to soften their hearts and serve us because of their compassion.
  3. Then, third, their softened hearts prepare them to be more susceptible to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and to be taught the Gospel.

How many people would not have been healed had Christ’s life been one of privilege and finances? If He’d created His own food and bought lodging in every city He entered how many people would not have been taught the truth and blessed by His hands? How many opportunities to share the gospel and to love and bless others do we forgo by hiding our needs (whatever they may be)?

UNgracefully Receiving is to Live a Lie

We, unlike Christ, have hardly any power at all to do anything, and yet we are the first to deny the charity, gifts, service, advice, blessings, and sometimes appropriate praise from others. We rebuke it. We resent it. We run from it. We hide from it. We sometimes devalue that which we receive.

We want to pretend to everyone else that we need nothing, when in reality we need everything. No matter what our blessings or endowments, we all are in need of something—and depend upon God (and others) for all that we do receive.

And, who do we go to when we have needs? We turn to God. We pray for healing. We pray for guidance. We pray for health and strength. We pray to feel peace. We pray for companionship, love, or friendship. We pray to God for everything! Then, God, who allowed us to be in need, and has heard our prayers, sends (or prompts) one of His other children to give us things, to serve us, to offer us things, to teach us things, and the like.

We seem to want our needs fulfilled without having to involve anyone but ourselves and God. We’d gladly accept the blessing of walking if it came from a pillar of light or herbal supplement instead of from visiting a doctor, physical therapy, orthotics, crutches, or a walker. I know, because I’ve had several experiences in my life where injuries and simply genetically bad feet have created circumstances where walking was extremely difficult. Many of those times I wanted healing to come easy and without dependence upon drugs or basic rehabilitation. I wanted to go on normally. And yet, at some point I had to give in, own and admit my need, and pursue a path to healing other than all the ones that I wanted.

Interestingly, I think most of us would gladly accept money from an angel instead of from the bishop through fast offerings. Because the barrier to getting money from the bishop requires that we make the effort to meet with him and then admit to him that we need help, and have possibly been unwise in our finances, or maybe just reveal how poor we are. Often, his help comes only when we are willing to make other changes in our lives or give back in some way. Yes, much, much easier to get the money we need from an angel…

The fight to be a graceful receiver must transcend our desire to maintain a front of needlessness, of having it “all together.” It must transcend our fear of dependence up others and God. It must transcend our perceived idea of dignity. Our perception of self, in most instances, must be sacrificed.

小さな花を手渡す親子

Consider the Mud

So often we want the gifts and blessings of God to come the way we want them and we want them to support our perception of ourselves. Then, and only then, are we willing to receive with a genuine smile.

However, unless our perception of ourselves is a correct and true one we will find ourselves unable to gracefully receive God’s gifts and blessings (to some extent); whether blatantly through Him or through other people (or means) He sends.

Consider the mud. When Jesus was brought to acknowledge a blind man He went and healed Him in a most interesting way.

…he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him, go, wash in the pool of Siloam. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. (John 9:6-7)

How many of us, if to have our sight cured we had to put mud made from the spittle of someone on our eyes. Would we rather not simply have Christ touch our eyes with His fingers or lay His hands upon our head and pronounce us healed? Or, perhaps send us to a doctor who has one miracle pill that we have to swallow? Wouldn’t it be simpler that way? Why mud (literally and metaphorically)?

Consider Naaman, the leper, who thought it ludicrous to be asked to wash seven times in the muddy river of Jordan. He wanted to be healed by “some great thing,” not by something uncomfortable and seemingly below his dignity or station. He almost did not gracefully receive the healing he so desired because of his incorrect perception of how God could (and should) heal him. (2 Kings 5:13) Note, he had a preconceived idea of how God should bless Him, and then when presented with something that had not even crossed his mind, he resented it and almost nearly rejected it completely; more willing to maintain his dignity than to be healed of an incurable disease.

Doesn’t that sound crazy? We read that story and think, “How could he have nearly been so silly about that?”

Why must we suffer the perceived indignity of having to accept charity, gifts, and blessings from the hands of other people, modern technology, or medicine? Why not some great thing so that we can maintain our perception of ourselves and how we want to appear before others? In other words, why can’t we be allowed to live a lie?

Why Be a Graceful Receiver?

Being a graceful receiver FIRST helps us to see ourselves as we really are. We can’t only be willing to accept help when it suits us or when others are willing to offer their help in a way that protects our perception of ourselves, “our dignity.” SECOND, being a graceful receiver allows us to bless others and help them progress in the Gospel. As we learn to see receiving gracefully as a direct avenue to the power of exalting others, it will no longer be an embarrassment, an indignity, or depressing. It will be exciting. It will be a big eternal light bulb that goes off in our heads and hearts and we will be surprised we didn’t see it sooner.

How to Be a Graceful Receiver

See Ourselves as We Really Are (or at least be willing)

Christ knew who He was. He knew that He didn’t need any of the charity or gifts others would offer or give. And yet, He took no pride or joy in proving or broadcasting His omniscience and powers to others. He lived by the charity He received. One of the reasons He did this was because His receiving that charity, those meals, and those gifts was about others, not Him. He didn’t receive to bolster His own self-perception. He received to help them purify their perception of Him, and themselves.

When we shun kindness, gifts, praise, help, guidance, suggestions, advice, assistance (in all its forms) in order to protect an image of ourselves, it devalues the givers. It creates a feeling of shame or indignity in the giver. It devalues the gifts. It also makes it impossible for the individual rejecting the charity to receive the help they need. It keeps them from helping others through their need. It causes their self-perception to fester and prevents them from becoming more like God. It perpetuates the lie.

Remember Whom You are Actually Rejecting

Rejecting charity (in any form) is to reject…God.

Now, I realize that’s a powerful statement, but scripture backs it up. Matthew 25:40 could be reworded to say:

Inasmuch as ye have rejected a gift from one of the least of these my brethren, ye have rejected a gift from me.

Remember that Receiving is Also a Form of Giving

Christ never rejected gifts because receiving them with grace was about maintaining His true identity as the Son of Man, emulating His father, and advancing the progress of those who served Him. For, we must all learn to give, as well as to receive. Receiving a gift from others is also a form of giving. By allowing them to serve us, we allow them to serve God by the same eternal doctrine taught in Matthew 25:40. By shunning their service we hinder their righteous efforts to serve God.

hand isolated on white

Don’t Draw Undue Attention to the Gift and Don’t Devalue the Gift

Next, Christ accepted the gifts, praise, humble gratitude, and oblations offered to Him without ceremony of any kind. He received all such with humility, appreciation, and love. And, He returned all such gifts with gifts of His own: gifts of forgiveness, gifts of insight, invitations to follow Him, and the bestowal of blessings and miracles.

For us, often, as mentioned above, receiving gracefully is, in and of itself, a gift in return to those (and God) who give us things. But Christ always gave in return. And note, He never tried to duplicate the gift. He always gave back that which He was at liberty, and capable, of giving: forgiveness, insight, invitations, and blessings. He didn’t try to give back a gift with some amount of monetary value just to appease His conscience at having to condescend to receive. He didn’t give back something of lesser value just to say He did return the favor—or to even the score. He gave that which He valued and which was of most worth to those who had served them; He gave them the Gospel.

When Christ dined with Simon, and a sinner woman came in and washed His feet with her tears and rubbed them with expensive ointment (and Simon was appalled at the woman’s gift because of her status and his own puffed up view of his own status), Christ accepted the meal given by Simon (an internal sinner) and the dramatic offering of the woman and gave back to both of them in different ways. In one parable He offered Simon instruction on His atonement, true love, forgiveness; and to the woman He gave forgiveness from her sins. (Luke 7:37-48)

How often do we give back (whether something of equal monetary value or at least a mere trinket) to ease our conscience at having to condescend to receive something to begin with? To protect our ego? Or to even the score in our heads? How often do we over-extend ourselves to give more than we received so that we didn’t remain in a perceived debt to someone?

If we weren’t focused on our own egos, and false perceptions of self, we might find that we see love in the charity, blessings, advice, guidance, and help that comes from others. We might find that we are inspired on what we can offer in return—not to even the score—but to show our love to them. We might find that devaluing the gift is far worse than being in need to begin with.

Accept Gifts From All

Also, Christ accepted the gifts and charity offered to Him by all. He did not distinguish between the size of the gift or its monetary value. He only took note of the actual desire and intent of the individual behind the gift. He didn’t care if the gift came from a publican, a Pharisee, a leper, or Samaritan woman. He didn’t care if they were rich and cast in of their excess or if they were poor and cast in of their want. He didn’t make a big deal out of accepting gifts from anyone because of their station, sins, or circumstance. All gifts were acceptable to Him.

How often, though, are we loathe to accept charity from someone we don’t like very much or who annoys us? But, we’ll accept it gladly if it comes through a best friend, or anonymously. How often do we give credit to an act of service from someone we are willing to accept it from, only to denounce or totally forget about the act of service from someone we are embarrassed to receive help from—someone we didn’t want to know that we needed help?

Don’t Draw Attention to Yourself, Use Your Need in Order to Bless the Giver

Another thing Christ did in His graceful receiving was He received the offered praise and gifts with love and without drawing too much attention to it, but also not ignoring it. He didn’t self-deprecate. He didn’t devalue Himself to make their effort seem unnecessary, or ridiculous. He didn’t apologize repeatedly for having need of their charity and trying to deflect His own embarrassment at His current needy situation. He asked for charity—humbly—and received it modestly in an attempt to love and serve others in return. He made His need all about them and not all about Him.

To the woman at the well (St. John 4:7-10), He said:

There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

Christ used His need to strike up a Gospel conversation with the woman so that He might teach her! Isn’t that amazing? What could we accomplish in service to others if we saw every opportunity to receive as an opportunity to love and teach them in return?

Think about Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). Christ accepted both Martha’s offerings of food and Mary’s offering of her undivided attention. He appreciated both offerings. He honored both. And also taught both about the importance of the other woman’s gift. In receiving He instructed them.

My Experiences

It’s very hard for me to quantify my life. I don’t know how to explain so much in sufficiently few words to keep this blog at a realistic length and still give you an accurate insight into my life. Suffice it to say, that for the last nine years (and still presently) I have been given the opportunity to practice being a graceful receiver in the ways I have mentioned/highlighted above. I have had to practice seeing myself as I really am (in my needful state) and to not be ashamed, embarrassed, or apologetic about it. To let my ego go and be confident in where God has put me and what burden that requires of many of His children (who happen to be my family). To use the opportunities of my own need to find teaching opportunities with those who serve me.

I’m in a stage of life where I need help and accepting it gracefully is the right thing to do. I haven’t lost my dignity by being where I am. I have gained my dignity by not pretending that I don’t need help or that help makes me ridiculous. It doesn’t make me ridiculous. It makes me honest. It makes me unashamed to own God’s plan for my life and to find confidence in trusting that plan. It makes me truly grateful to those gracefully giving to me, and to God. It gives value to their sacrifices and their efforts. It allows us both to be blessed to increase in godly attributes. It increases our feelings of self-worth and consequence.

Can you imagine what would happen to the relationships in my family and to me if I ridiculously refused their help based on some prideful stimulus to pretend that I don’t need help? Or to accept it with grumbling and embarrassment? How grateful would any of really be if we discriminate in what we will receive and what we will not, or in how our needs are met or how blessings are dispensed? And, how much more might we receive from God, that we’ve asked for, if we learned to receive gracefully?

Just as losing our life to God enables us to gain it eternally (Luke 9:24-25), so losing our perception of dignity and pride to God allows us to gain it eternally—but most importantly in the present—as we learn to gracefully receive. And, as we learn to receive gracefully, we will increase and multiply our power to share the Gospel and help other progress in God’s plan.

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow
hands opening a red gift box with gold ribbon in shadow. Horizontal composition. Top view.

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely, 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.