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”
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.
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.)
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.
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.