“I’m afraid to go in there.” “It’s too deep — I don’t want to take a step in that water.” “I’m too tired … and don’t believe I can take another step.”
These, and other remarks like them, are honest feelings we have all had at one time or another. Because we are scared, tired, without enough trust, or afraid of the unknown, we prefer to remain stationary, or to turn away and move in another direction. We do it regarding new activities, as we work to conquer fears that have plagued us, or as we face another time of affliction or adversity, with the uncertainties and concerns that come with it.
Wanting to be faithful, we desire to be obedient and to keep moving in the right direction. But sometimes, we do not know how.
Direction — this is the focus of today’s article. The dictionary has many definitions for this word. They vary from “Management, supervision, or guidance of an action” and “The instruction or series of instructions for doing or finding something” to “A line leading to a place or point,” “A course of development toward a goal,” and “The course along which a person moves.”
All of these definitions are pertinent to our individual path here in mortality, in terms of spiritual growth and progress. When we are too tired, to afraid, or too uncertain of where we ‘are’, the choice is sometimes to do nothing — to freeze — instead of take the next step in our progressive journey. From those definitions listed above, let’s examine how each may help us in moving forward:
• Management or guidance of an action
When I think of guidance, I think of the Holy Ghost. President Howard W. Hunter taught us that, “Perhaps no promise in life is more reassuring than that promise of divine assistance and spiritual guidance in times of need. It is a gift freely given from heaven, a gift that we need from our earliest youth through the very latest days of our lives.” ( Ensign , November 1988, p. 59.)
We can take the next step by stopping to listen for the Spirit’s promptings. His truthful whisperings will drown out the cues that come from other sources.
• Instructions or series of instructions for doing or finding something
Sometimes little inspirations will go through our being. If we are not careful, or do not attach enough importance to that instruction, we may forget it, and the blessings that would be ours will be lost. Elder J. Golden Kimball, in classic forthright fashion, gave us good instruction on this matter when he said, “I want to advise this people, if the Lord ever does give you an inspiration, for heaven’s sake write it down and remember it.” ( Conference Report , April 1927, p.53.)
• The line leading to a place or point
When I read this definition, the picture of the iron rod came to mind. Is there a better line leading to the place we wish to return than the iron rod? In 1 Nephi, Lehi’s dream includes this iron rod (see verse 19), which extended along the bank of the river that led to the tree of life. We remember that Lehi, a prophet of God, learned — and taught — that by clinging to the rod we could eventually “come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.” (verse 24)
The lesson is as applicable today as it was hundreds of years before the birth of the Savior: cling to the iron rod — the word of God — and our steps will surely take us in the correct direction. We just need to take the steps.
• A course of development toward a goal
To set a correct course for ourselves and gain confidence to take steps forward, we need to develop habits that will guide our feet in the right direction.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton ( Ensign , November 1986, p. 13-14), provided beautiful encouragement for the continuing development of good habits:
Who among us hasn’t felt the chains of bad habits? These habits may have impeded our progress, may have made us forget who we are, may have destroyed our self-image, may have put our family life in jeopardy, and may be hindered our ability to serve our fellowmen and our God. So many of us tend to say, “This is the way I am. I can’t change. I can’t throw off the chains of habit.”
Lehi warned his sons to “shake off the chains” (2 Nephi 1:23) because he knew that chains restrict our mobility, growth, and happiness. They cause us to become confused and less able to be guided my God’s Spirit.
Our determination must be to take the next step. Whatever habits are holding us back, we can do little or nothing of ourselves. But the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement allow us to shake off chains of habits small or large, and take the next step in our personal development course toward the goal of returning to God’s presence.
• The course along which a person moves
President Brigham Young explained that, “The whole mortal existence of man is neither more nor less than a preparatory state given to finite beings, a space wherein they may improve themselves for a higher state of being.” ( Journal of Discourses , 1:334.)
With a more clear understanding of the whole purpose of the mortal course, perhaps we may more carefully plan out our strategy. We might take more thought for each action before we commence doing it. We may grow in understanding that the whole journey is about our taking steps. How we take them, where they take us, is up to us.
Fears, worry, lack of confidence, anger, illness — these and many other personal weaknesses will cause a dip in our journey now and again. But if we must go through deep waters, enter into an area of life that is scary to us, or continue on — regardless of our weariness — we can take courage and find solace.
The gospel provides ways of focusing in order to most effectively move forward. We just need to take the first step.