I used to be quite ashamed of myself when I got to the end of a light-filled Sabbath day and, in reflecting on the day, could not remember any of the specific impressions that had made the day remarkable.
At times I have sought to remediate my thoughtlessness by taking copious notes at church meetings – especially as I listened to General Conference. But, as the pages piled up, they became more like landfill than soul-fill.
So I started some years ago making notes of especially powerful impressions on 3 x 5 index cards. I would not record everything, just those impressions that were clear through the haze. Maybe the impression would be rejoicing in singing the words of a worshipful hymn. Maybe it was a sudden understanding of a long-mysterious passage. Maybe it was an unexpected feeling of serene peace. When my soul heard heaven, I took notes.
I would carry several weeks’ worth of heavenly messages in my pocket. After I had carried a card for a few weeks, I would retire it to a drawer.
Making the record of inspirations was a way of thanking Heaven. It testified that those messages were valued.
Making Sense of the Notes
But they didn’t change my life very much. In spiritually dry spells I might pull out a card and ruminate on previous gladness and goodness. But I didn’t have a system for using them to guide my life and decisions. They were more like endless shelves filled with spiritual knickknacks – decorative dust-gatherers. What would the Lord have me do to better use His gifts to me?
I began to wonder if I should do more than just record inspirations. Maybe I should study the pattern of messages in order to discover God’s directions for me. Maybe the inspirations are very specific, timely and helpful guides which, when combined with other recent impressions, can guide me on the path toward Home.
As I thought about it, I was convinced that God is not randomly throwing handfuls of candy from the Heavens. I think He very carefully sends precisely the message that is needed to help us make the next step in our journeys. As we study the messages, we can get step-by-step instructions for our journeys that are more reliable than those from Map Quest.
Our Own Liahonas
When Alma advises his son, Helaman, to follow the word of Christ, I suspect he had in mind something more personal and specific than the brass plates. I think he wanted his son to tune in to the constant flow of heavenly directives.
For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land (Alma 37:44).
The next verse seems to suggest that Lehi and the family did not merely get a map of the territory but regular directions to help them stay on course.
And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise (Alma 37:45).
We might be tempted to think that this removes all our initiative. Apparently Alma anticipated the same concern from his son:
O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever (Alma 37:46).
God makes the way easy by providing specific directions. We, like the early Nephites, can be afflicted with hunger and thirst – especially the spiritual variety – if we fail to heed the counsel of our personal Liahonas.
Clearing Our Minds
I cannot count how many times I have heard the counsel to sit and clear my mind in prayer. But I am more of a doer than a reflector. So sitting in quiet prayer for extended periods is hard for me. Actually it is impossible. I will either start designing a woodshed or thinking about a local sale on cordless drills. I am impatient in part because I love new learning and constant doing (just like my dear Mama). God can most easily have a good conversation with me when I am too exhausted to be pursuing a project.
A few nights ago Nancy and I worked on our various projects and then watched a DVD. We went to bed about 11 p.m. But I was still hungry. But not chocolate hungry. Hungry for heavenly fellowship. It was kind of like when a good friend started to tell you something and you got cut off. Later you find yourself hungry for the rest of the conversation, more of the story.
So I got up, went to the kitchen table, and started to page through a magazine. Sometimes I read until I am tired enough to sleep. But reading a home magazine was not going to finish a conversation begun earlier. So I pushed the magazine aside and pulled out the little leather notebook that I began to fill with inspirations a few months ago, my first book of truth logging. I thought I would try to put the heavenly hints together to know what Father wants me to do next.
God pointed me to a scripture that I have studied to try to figure out how to sleep better (“when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord” Alma 37:37) and pulled me to the verse just before about crying unto God for support. My soul locked onto one phrase: “Cry unto God for all thy support.”
Pondering the Highlighted Words
Rather than merely record the luminescence of those words, I chose to dwell on them – ponder them. I think He highlights words, phrases, and ideas because they are important – and important right now for one specific child. So I wrote the phrase in my journal and, in a deliberately disorganized fashion, I scribbled a list of projects – personal, professional, and familial – on which I felt a keen need of heavenly support.
In the course of listing eight areas, I got a surprise. I realized that some weeks ago I had expressed to Father my disappointment at not having some opportunities to do some works that are in my heart to do. I realized with a shock that in the last few weeks since that hint to Father, I have enjoyed a host of unexpected opportunities.
I realized that God has not wandered off to some hobby or side job. He is as attentive as an infinite and eternal Parent with only one single child to save and bless. Wow. He is an incomparable Father and Guide!
I think the question for any and all of us is not whether He is blessing us (That is all He does! And He is a very capable Man!), the question is whether we notice! And whether we will use His directions rather than leave them littering the landscape.
So, as I listed the projects that I feel drawn toward, I also recorded specific requests for help. I felt like a son sitting peacefully with a helpful and wise Father. It was a joyous hour. I went to bed tired but happy. (Unfortunately I didn’t sleep much better than usual but it mattered so much less because of the conversation with Heaven.)
Finding Our Own Ways to Hear the Voice
I have a friend who says that I make this entire spiritual seeking look easy. I disagree. I am stubborn, independent, easily bored, and generally restless. But God accommodates me. He regularly surprises me! Instead of demanding that I stop being a silly human, He waits patiently and invites quietly. When I am willing to meet Him, He is there waiting at the kitchen table. And when I wander off on my silly side trips, He relaxes and waits lovingly.
In other words, I don’t have to be a genius. I don’t have to have my soul in perfect submission. I just have to love Him (which He has taught me to do) and trust Him (which He continues to teach me). He will patiently send messages to guide my life.
I don’t have to be a spiritual giant like Joseph Smith or the prophet Samuel. I can be like Saul of Tarsus who was pursuing misguided objectives with all his heart. And Jesus will wait for me on the road to Damascus. I can be like the disciples walking to Emmaus who missed their Lord but didn’t recognize Him as He walked with them. But He will still walk with me until I am ready to open my eyes. Amazing! I cannot believe His goodness!!!
Of course there is no advantage to being spiritually coy. If I try to be more attentive, ponder messages for patterns and meanings, and pause to record experiences instead of breezing past my encounters with God, then I will learn more fully and more quickly.
This doesn’t happen because of our great spiritual power. All of us are spiritual toddlers. God is sending all of us messages and experiences customized for just where we are on the path. Our job is to be attentive and appreciative. As Barbara Keil astutely observed: “If we are shuffling along the road to Emmaus with our eyes down wondering where He is, then we are less likely to see Him than if we are looking for His presence at every turn with eyes eager to see.”
His message – unfathomable as it is – is that He wants to save stubborn, distracted, impatient, selfish, quibbling Wally. I can’t believe it! It may be weeks or months between such rich conversations as we had at the table, but He does not become impatient and stomp off. He waits. And He invites. I am eternally grateful.
Heavenly Father gladly does exactly the same thing for every single one of His children. For each of us He waits at the table, in the living room, or in the backyard. He waits. He is prepared to give us the directions to guide our lives.
And that is the good news for all of us! Maybe, as the Lord suggested in the Doctrine and Covenants, many of us are walking in darkness at noon-day (D&C 95:6). He is flooding our lives with light, but we must open our eyes. As we do, we will rejoice. And He will lead us lovingly back toward Home.