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In Our Ward: Teachings for Our Times: Acquiring and Recognizing Spiritual Guidance

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 28, 2010

I teach Relief Society four or five times a year. These are my notes for today’s lesson. We’ll never get through all of this because the sisters in our ward are very willing to share their thoughts and experiences, but I find it’s better for me as a teacher to have more discussion in mind than can possibly fill the time, rather than running unexpectedly short.

October Conference, 2009:

Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance”
Boyd K. Packer, “Prayer and Promptings”
Vicki F. Matsumori, “Helping Others Recognize the Whisperings of the Spirit”

Attention Activity

Sisters, I’d like to begin by asking you to close your eyes for a minute while I ask you three questions. Just answer them to yourselves.

1. There are windows on each side of our Relief Society room. How many windows are on each side?

2. We sang hymn no. ____, [title] as our opening hymn. What was the third line of the third verse?

3. Sister H— is sitting next to Sister A— in the front of the room, and her purse is on the floor by her chair. How many pencils does Sister H— have inside her purse?

Okay, open your eyes. Let’s start with the third question first, which I’m not sure any of us, even Sister H— , can answer for certain. Assuming there were some real need to know how many pencils she has in her purse, what would be the best way for us to learn that? (Ask, or investigate)

If you missed either of the other questions, about the windows and the hymn, why do you think you had trouble? (Never really paid attention, they’re so familiar that you no longer notice them, there isn’t any particular need to memorize the order of song verses, etc.)

Sisters, the reasons why we can’t answer all questions about the physical world around us may be some of the same reasons why we struggle to get the spiritual guidance we are entitled to as women who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. The conference talks that we have been assigned to discuss today address that issue.

Discussion

Elder Scott asks three questions that I’d like to use to frame our discussion. The first is,

** Richard G. Scott: “What can you do to enhance your capacity to be led to correct decisions in your life?”

Elder Scott: “I am convinced that there is no simple formula or technique that would immediately allow you to master the ability to be guided by the voice of the Spirit. Our Father expects you to learn how to obtain that divine help by exercising faith in Him and His Holy Son, Jesus Christ. Were you to receive inspired guidance just for the asking, you would become weak and ever more dependent on Them. They know that essential personal growth will come as you struggle to learn how to be led by the Spirit.”

We are accustomed to being taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” (Matt. 7:7) as if the answers to our questions can all be found as easily as asking Linda to count the pencils in her purse. Elder Scott seems to be saying, though, that it isn’t always quite that easy, or quite that instantaneous. What is your experience like? Have there been times when you have received immediate spiritual guidance simply by asking? Have there been times when a quick prayer hasn’t been enough to produce the guidance you would like?

What has been the difference between the times when wisdom or comfort or warning has come simply for the asking, and the times when you have struggled and, perhaps for a long time, have not understood what you needed to know?

Elder Scott says that these periods of struggle are necessary for personal growth. Do you agree with that? Have you seen such struggles result in personal growth in your life, or in the life of someone close to you?

So, then, if pleading and struggle and searching are sometimes necessary to receive the spiritual guidance we need, what can we do to, as Elder Scott put it, “enhance [our] capacity to be led” by the Spirit?

The second question Elder Scott asks is,

** Richard G. Scott: “What are the principles upon which spiritual communication depend?”

I would suggest that the first principle for that communication is outlined by President Packer’s opening words:

President Packer: “No Father would send His children off to a distant, dangerous land for a lifetime of testing where Lucifer was known to roam free without first providing them with a personal power of protection. He would also supply them with means to communicate with Him from Father to child and from child to Father. Every child of our Father sent to earth is provided with the Spirit of Christ, or the Light of Christ. We are, none of us, left here alone without hope of guidance and redemption.”

Have there been times in your life where, despite the assurance of President Packer’s words, you have felt alone? How were you able to find you way back to an awareness that you were not alone?

I suppose most of us would agree, at least in our heads, even if it doesn’t always feel this way in our hearts, that breaks in that two-way communication between Father and child, and child and Father, are because of some shortcoming in ourselves, not a shortcoming in God. What are some reasons that may be within our own ability to overcome, that may interfere with receiving guidance from the Lord?

(Sin and other causes may be suggested and accepted; try to draw out, though, that where there does not appear to be any obvious cause, our failure to receive guidance is most likely due to a failure to recognize the promptings of the Spirit.)

Why do we fail to recognize the promptings of the Spirit? (Along with other offered answers, try to relate back to the attention activity by noting that perhaps we just don’t always pay attention, or perhaps the presence of the Holy Ghost is such a steady background presence in our lives that we take it for granted.)

President Packer says,

That sweet, quiet voice of inspiration comes more as a feeling than it does as a sound. Pure intelligence can be spoken into the mind. The Holy Ghost communicates with our spirits through the mind more than through the physical senses. This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings through promptings and impressions. We may feel the words of spiritual communication more than hear them and see with spiritual rather than with mortal eyes.

Sister Matsumori gives us a whole catalog of ways to recognize spiritual promptings:

The scriptures and the prophets teach what this constant companionship feels like. The Lord tells us, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” Enos stated, “While I was … struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind.” Joseph Smith said, “When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas.” President Henry B. Eyring described the influence of the Holy Ghost as “peace, hope, and joy.” He added, “Almost always I have also felt a sensation of light.”

Without necessarily telling us what you were praying for or how the issue was resolved – we’re running short of time – can you share ways you have recognized the Spirit speaking to you? How did you know it was the Spirit, and not simply your own strong desires? Is there ever a physical manifestation that goes along with the mental ones?

One such physical manifestation is reported by Sister Matsumori:

A Sunbeam teacher wrapped each of her class members one by one in a blanket to teach them how the Spirit feels like the comfort and security of that covering. A visiting mother also heard the lesson.

Many months later the mother thanked the teacher. She told how she had been less active when she accompanied her young daughter to Primary. Several weeks after the lesson, the mother suffered a miscarriage. She was overcome with grief when suddenly she felt a great warmth and peace. It felt like someone had covered her with a warm blanket. She recognized the reassurance of the Spirit and knew that Heavenly Father was aware of her and that He loved her.

A third question asked by Elder Scott is,

** Richard G. Scott: “What are the potential barriers to such communication that you need to avoid?”

How would you answer his question?

(In addition to what will probably be the first answer – sin – draw out less obvious answers, like health issues, or busyness of life, or physical surroundings that are not conducive to quiet reflection. Ask for suggestions on how those problems can be addressed to allow us to receive and recognize the workings of the Spirit.)

Sister Matsumori:

There are places where it is easier to feel the Spirit. Testimony meetings and general conference are some of those places. Certainly temples are another. The challenge for each of us is
in providing an environment where the Spirit can be felt daily in our homes and weekly at church.

One reason we are encouraged to pray and read the scriptures every single day is that both of these activities invite the Spirit into our homes and into the lives of our family members.

Because the Spirit is often described as a still, small voice, it is also important to have a time of quiet in our lives as well. The Lord has counseled us to “be still, and know that I am God.” If we provide a still and quiet time each day when we are not bombarded by television, computer, video games, or personal electronic devices, we allow that still, small voice an opportunity to provide personal revelation and to whisper sweet guidance, reassurance, and comfort to us.

Similarly, we can provide an environment at church that allows the Spirit to give divine confirmation to what is being taught.

Conclusion

To sum up, then, the Lord has provided a way for all his children to be led by his Spirit if we will only allow Him to speak to us. As members of the Church who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost and are entitled to the steady presence of the Spirit, we each need to learn to recognize the promptings of the Spirit, and learn to follow them. That takes effort on our part – we have to ask for what we need, we have to notice the answers, we need NOT to take the Spirit for granted.

[testimony]



13 Comments »

  1. Brilliant attention activity, Ardis – may I use it in a future lesson please?

    Comment by Alison — February 28, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

  2. That’s why I post these, Alison!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 28, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

  3. Thank you.

    Comment by Amy — March 1, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

  4. This (personal revelation) is becoming one of my favorite topics. Thanks for sharing these notes.

    I’ve been reading some series on other sites recently on depression. Did anyone talk about the challenge of mental illness in the process of trying to receive revelation? I’ve been pondering this irony from my own life lately..that sometimes mental illness can get in the way of recognizing the Spirit.

    But I’m in a place of clarity right now and one of the things that is amazing me is that my struggles with depression and other things like chronic illness — those things for which I have ached and yearned for a solution — have actually ended up opening up the blessing of having my testimony of personal revelation intensified and expanded. The revelation to which I refer has been more of an unfolding, sometimes over years and years… (even decades!) where layers have (sometimes very!) slowly been removed from my perspective, where people have come into my life (finally, after a lot of struggle) who have been instrumental in helping me start to see and hear and understand answers and recognize God’s hand and tender mercies. Where opportunities or challenges have come that have spurred some of the most intense asking…, etc. Decades of priesthood blessings have started to come together. I don’t like getting older physically, but whoa — seeing decades of struggle weave together and having answers distill and hints of solutions start to unfold. Wow.

    I am learning that one of the things that has opened up revelation has been simply the act of not giving up. That sounds so grim sometimes, but really, it’s not nothing to endure. Sometimes answers have come simply by doing my best to stay on the path, with whatever measure of faith I have had.

    Anyway, that’s been on my mind a lot as of late.

    Comment by m&m — March 2, 2010 @ 2:49 am

  5. I think that a lot of times what one person sees as a stumbling block or something that gets in the way of the spirit, for another person.

    I think that I am nearing the end, of an I tense period of being at home (and in bed for most of it) with some very painful physical problems. During that time I have had almost a month where I could not read text from books (it was just too blurry) but I would read backlit text. That started me reading the scriptures online, and clicking on the links to footnotes and resources. I had the time, so following all of the references put together to create a correlated set of scriptures, was a pleasant way to take my mind off of the pain.

    During those reading sessions (I read the Book of Mormon and almost all the links in about 40 days.) one thing kept coming to me. While it wasn’t said as often as, “And it came to pass,” the admonition to Remember is ubiquitous. I certainly have had the admonition to remember something in blessings, but in this reading it came to me that it is much easier for Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost to help us remember, than it is to teach us something new.

    If I have read the material for a test, asking for divine help to remember the things I have studied is reasonable. I have done the work to learn the material, and now I need to simply remember the answers. If I have not studied the materials, then there is not much of Them to work with. I think this is true for almost any gospel principle.

    I find it relatively easy to distinguish promptings from my own thoughts, but that comes from years of following promptings, even if I don’t understand why the Lord needs it done right now. A friend asked me on time how I could be sure that something was a prompting when I didn’t have any idea of what the outcome would be. Simply saying that I know it is because it is like any other prompting I get is not very helpful if you aren’t me. I told her that if she followed the promptings that she thought were promptings, that she would see the rewards from doing that.

    She still wasn’t convinced. She wanted to know how long she would have to wait to see results. I told her that I was pretty sure most of the results we won’t be sure of in this life, but on a day when I was questioning my eternal worth, I got a gift returned that had been sent out severals years before.

    I often get the prompting to send someone cards. Sometimes I know the person, sometimes they are only a name in the ward or stake directory, or a name I run into while doing something else. I try to follow those promptings as they come, so that I don’t forget and lose out on an opportunity to serve. Since I seem to be one of the few people I know who finds hand writing and “snail mailing” to be soothing, I think that I am more likely to get these promptings than someone with terrible handwriting, or who has never owned stamps. I have a constant supply of store bought and handmade cards and a variety of stamps at any time.

    So, on a random day sometime in 2005, I had a prompting to send a card to a woman whose name was in the ward list, but who I hadn’t met. I was calling the Webelos parents to make sure all the boys had hiking boots, when her name and address caught my attention and I had the “you need to send this person a card” prompting. I did the last phone call, pulled out the box of cards, and chose one that seemed “right.” I then said a prayer to know what to write, and started writing. When I was done I addressed the envelope, put a sticker on it and put it in the mail the next day. I didn’t think about it after it was in the mail box.

    Over two years later I was having a tough month. It was about 13 months before I finally left my first husband, and we had been having screaming fights more than once a week. At the end of one of the fights my ex-husband yelled at me for having bought stamps that day. He said, “I have no idea why you send cards to anyone. No one ever sends one back, and they probably throw them away as soon as they see your name on it. Quit fooling yourself that the Holy Ghost has anything to do with it. If I can’t stand you then certainly Heavenly Father can’t.”

    Every night as I was falling asleep, saying my prayers, I would hear the words of that fight echo in my ears. I started asking Heavenly Father if I was deluded, or if I was useful. For almost two weeks I didn’t really have an answer, I didn’t follow any of the “card promptings.” At RS the Sunday after I started crying myself to sleep, they encouraged everyone to come to the baptism of a former member who was being rebaptised. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but not enough that I could place it. I was desperate to feel the Spirit more, so I got the kids ready and took them with me to the baptism.

    Comment by Julia — August 30, 2012 @ 11:32 am

  6. We got to the baptism, and I got the kids settled down towards the back of the room. I thought that since the name was familiar, when I saw Nancy* that I would immediately recognize her and realize where I knew her from. Instead, I only was able to pick her out as the woman being baptized because she was wearing the white jump suit. It was a nice program, and the Spirit was wonderful. I was glad that I had made the effort to get the kids dressed in church clothes again.

    After the baptism was done, the twin wanted to go play with a friend for a few hours, and then my son found a friend who had puppies at his home, and his mom was okay with him staying until I picked up the girls. It was the first Sunday of Spring Break, so playing with church friends until 9:00 pm seemed reasonable. Just as they were all getting ready to leave my son’s friend hollered, “Sister P******, what time is the picnic on Wednesday?”

    The kids were getting all of their jackets sorted out when Nancy approached me. She said your, Julia P*******, right? I think you sent me a card. I said that I didn’t think so, although I had really enjoyed her baptism. My son said, “probably it was mom she writes lots of cards, even when my dad yells at here!” Thanks son. Nothing like kids for honesty.

    Nancy went and picked up her purse and drew out an envelope. The kids recognized flower stickers that I still had at home, and it was my handwriting on the inscription. She was about to say more, but her brother was getting ready to leave and she went over to give him a hug. She handed me the envelope and card before giving hugs to a few other people. I looked at the card, and recognized it as one from a set of six I had made. I was still confused because I made them a long time ago, and had used the last one over a year before.

    I looked at the envelope and realized that I had sent it thirty two months ago. Why had she kept the card so long? Nancy was still talking to other people, so I opened the card and started to read. I was flabbergasted. I had shared A LOT of personal details about my life, the sexual and rape, my teenage suicidal attempt, and even my struggle with understanding the Atonement. I was barely talking to my husband and mom about those issues, outside of therapy, in 2005. I really couldn’t imagine that I had written this many personal details with someone I didn’t know.

    I was glad that the kids had already taken off. It gave me a few minutes to digest. Why had I shared those struggles with Nancy? Why did Nancy still have the card? Why was it in her purse? I didn’t have many answers, but I was breathing and able to smile when Nancy came to sit next to me.

    She came back and gave me a big hug, and thanked me for coming. She then told me the story of the card, why it was in her purse, and how it had impacted every layer of her life. By ten minutes in, we were both in tears.

    In August of 2005, Nancy had decided that she was done with life. Everything had built layer on layer of heartache, and by then, she had decided that she wanted out. She had planned carefully. Her parakeets were in a new home, the dog was visiting her brother and his partner and Nancy was sure they would keep him. She had taken three weeks of vacation and bought all of the supplies that she needed to end her life. She stopped by the bank and pulled almost all of her money our of her savings account. Her last stop on the Friday night was to pick up her mail.

    She had dinner started when she sorted her mail. When she saw the envelope with the hand written address and stickers, it was out of place swimming in among the bills and junk mail. She didn’t recognize my name, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to open it and be disappointed because it was just a card from the insurance company or someone asking for money. She decided to wait until after dinner to decide what to do.

    Nancy had made the decision to end her life about two months before she started getting the supplies ready to do it. Through that time she did pray, figuring that she should let him know what she was planning on doing. She wasn’t positive that He was there, but her parents had believed, and talking to Him at least helped her become clear in her own mind about why and how she was going to commit suicide.

    After she had showered and changed into pajamas, she checked all of the supplies that she was planning on using the next day, and then sat down on the couch with the card. She turned it over and over, and then got up the courage to slice through the card with her letter opener. Nancy read the card, tears running down her face. She never did make it to bed that night. The rest of the night she cried, read the card again, found her scriptures to look up the scripture reference on the back of the card.

    That card became her lifeline. It was in her purse when she showed up to her first counseling appointment the next Monday. It was in her hand when she talked to the suicide crisis line on Saturday that set up Monday’s appointment. It was in her quad when she went to the last 15 minutes of Relief Society that Sunday.

    Nancy kept the card with her through the funeral of her parents, her brother’s failed adoption of a son from Romania, and her best friend’s battle with cancer. She wondered about me, and who I was, but it seemed like an unsolvable mystery. By the time she thought to go to the address on the envelope, we had already moved. She checked an old stake directory, but didn’t see us in that either.

    About fourteen months before that, she had decided that she wanted and needed to repent of some past sins. She was ready do whatever she needed to do, so that she could go to the temple. After submitting to the decision of the disciplinary council, Nancy had worked through issues with her bishop and had started to attend church regularly. She was singing in the church choir, and was helping transport the young women from a family who needed help. About six weeks before she was rebaptised, there was a ward boundary realignment.

    For the last four or five months, Nancy had been praying to be able to find me, because she wanted to invite me to come to her baptism. Several family issues, besides the fighting, had come up over the last few months, so I had only been to church twice since the realignment. I was still getting used to the new ward. (We were one of about twenty families that had been moved from one ward to the other.) So, I was praying for guidance and Nancy was praying for me to be there, and we both got what we were asking for.

    Nancy kept saying, “How did you know?” She had thought about me for over two years, and to be honest, as soon as the card was in the mail. I am not sure that I was even the one writing it, since I didn’t remember anything about it until I read the card that night. The scripture reference of the back of the card still spoke to me as loudly as it did to her, and I had my answer as to whether the Lord thought I was worthy to serve Him.

    Back Side of the Card:
    Mathew 25:40

    And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    Comment by Julia — August 30, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

  7. What a touching story, Julia. Thank you for sharing that.

    Comment by Amy T — August 30, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

  8. You are welcome. Telling it took a lot more space than I expected. :-)

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

    Comment by Julia — August 30, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

  9. Have you told this on your blog, Julia? If not, you should, even if you just copy it straight over from what you’ve written here. Wonderful story.

    I’m going to link to it in my sideblog, so that perhaps more people will read it than might find it as a comment on this aging post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 30, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

  10. I did cut and paste it, but I am planning on posting it right before General Conference. I will let you know when it goes up.

    Sorry to be catching old ones, the Topical Guide doesn’t have dates. Since I spend a lot of time laying on my back still, my iPhone and Keepa are keeping me busy.

    (Totally off subject but I tried to do the donation thing, but it wouldn’t take it. It may be an iPhone thing. I will see if Scott can get it to work tomorrow.)

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

    Comment by Julia — August 30, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  11. Julia, thank you for sharing. It says a lot about faith, hope, and patience, things we can all use a bit more of.

    Comment by kevinf — August 30, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

  12. Thank you, Julia.

    Comment by Carol — August 31, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  13. Okay, I had several emails asking me not to wait until General Conference. So, I put it up this afternoon. You can find it at:
    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/08/when-did-i-serve-you-remember.html

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

    Comment by Julia — August 31, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

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