The new semester of grad school starts today (working on my degree in social work) and it’s gotten me thinking about past semesters and classes I’ve had. One of them that really sticks out was my sophomore English class at university because I had a really interesting experience at the end.
For the entire class, we had only one homework assignment: to write a massive twenty (yes TWENTY) page paper. The class was split up into about four parts where we’d go over separate parts of writing a scientific research paper. The idea was to end with one giant constructed paper that used all the elements of a research one. Not really a big deal in itself, but there was so much content that it required that it took a very long time — the whole semester, obviously.
I was working on my paper on the last day before I could submit it. I had already done weeks worth of revisions and updates, and I was adding the final content, reviewing my paper, and getting it ready to submit. I have OCD (as in, actually diagnosed and medicated) so I obsess a lot over details, and finishing this up was taking a lot of time. I wanted to do it right and get a good grade. The professor gave us the option to turn our paper in earlier in the class to just get feedback and review from it. It was optional, but for some reason I decided not to do it. Instead, I was stuck with submitting my paper one time. If it missed even any of the critical elements, it was given an F and you’d fail the entire class and would have to retake it.
The night I was working on it was a Monday evening. At my church, every Monday night, is designated to do what we call “Family Home Evening” (aka FHE) where basically everyone gets together and does a little spiritual lesson and just has fun as a family. I didn’t have a family of my own, but I was part of a specific congregation just for single adults, and we’d have our own family home evening events every Monday night, just as a regular family would. They’re never anything too elaborate or complex, most of the time just meet up and hang out. No big deal. Not a lot of social pressure. We would have a spiritual moment or two where we’d read scriptures together or something similar. So generally a good idea all around and as a single adult, it doesn’t hurt to meet other singles of the same faith as well.
There was an FHE event the night I was working on my paper. Sometimes I would go, sometimes I wouldn’t. I generally liked the idea but I wasn’t too social so going often wasn’t usually a thing. I knew it was important though and that God would want me to attend, if for nothing else to get that spiritual lesson to help me through the week. The problem was, this time, I had a legitimate reason for not going — working on a massive paper that needed to be finished and submitted. I felt safe enough in that reasoning, after all there are divine exceptions to some rules when personal need overrides our normal congregational schedule, so I wasn’t thinking much about it. This is where the fun begins.
So I’m working on my paper, and I feel a very clear impression from the Holy Ghost, which in my case manifests itself as a feeling with specific instructions, or a thought that is attended with a specific phrase almost. Impressions from God are different from any other voice I hear in my head or body, and it takes time to develop recognizing it as from God, same as it would any other skill. This time the message was “Go to FHE.” Thus begins the five stages of me ignoring the Holy Ghost.
The first time I get the impression, my immediate answer is, “No.” No negotiation there, I need to get this done.
A few minutes go by, and I get the same impression again — “Go to FHE.” I’m still pretty stubborn, and so my response back to God was “I thought I told you no.” and I go back to writing my paper.
Another minute or two goes by, and I get the *exact* same impression as the first two times. “Go to FHE.” By this time, my response was essentially “Please leave me alone.” My obedience skills at this point could use some honing, but whatever, it made sense at the time.
I’m determined to get this thing done, and as I’m working on it, the time that FHE begins is approaching closer and closer. They generally meet for at least an hour so even if I did want to go, I had time. But I wasn’t going to go, remember?
After another set of a few minutes going by, I get the same impression a fourth time now. My response was “UGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” I knew by now it was very clear that God wanted me to go to this singles activity, but I couldn’t see how I could do that and still finish and submit this paper that was due tonight. It just wasn’t possible.
Once again, almost like clockwork, as I continue working on my paper one more time I get the impression that I should go to the activity. This being the fifth time, I being annoyed (but I imagine now God was more annoyed with me), I finally threw my hands up in the air, and my response was basically “FINE, I’LL GO. But there better be something cool there, like chocolate cake .. or my future wife.” So I stopped working on my paper, and left to go to the activity.
I got there probably half an hour late, and had missed the spiritual sharing part of it, but we were all hanging out at another church member’s house, and were chilling in the back around their pool. There was only maybe seven other people there. I didn’t know any of them real well, and so I just kind of sat by myself. I had had enough impressions that I should be there, but was more than a little confused now because nothing was happening. There was definitely no chocolate cake, I was sure of that. What was important though at this point was that my heart had been softened. I finally had listened to what the Holy Ghost was instructing me to do, and that made me feel better about everything.
Nothing happened at the get together, and I started heading home after everything had finished. I was still a little confused about what was so special about tonight, and I thought about how even when we obey God without knowing what the purpose is, He has the power to bless us. Sometimes it really is just so that we can learn obedience, which I think was the case here (in fairness, sometimes it really is so you’ll meet someone cool, but that was not the case here).
As I’m driving home, I get another impression from the Holy Ghost again, but it’s very different. And it’s a lot lighter of a feeling now than the ones before. I had gone to the activity, I had calmed down a bit, and most importantly I had obeyed. The message this time was “Turn in your paper the way it is right now.”
Now that piece of instruction really shocked me. The OCD version of me was definitely NOT finished writing this paper, and in my mind I still had a lot of work to do before it would be ready. But since my heart was softened more by tonight, I decided to follow the instruction, spent a minute or two reviewing it to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something, and I submitted my paper online. And that was that. I was really nervous, but by this time I knew better to listen and obey, and so I did.
Because of how many students there were, and because I’m sure the professor was busy, we didn’t get any feedback from our papers being turned in for at least a week. I normally would have been pretty nervous about the thing, but because of what had happened I felt like I prepared at least a good paper that I’d get a passing grade on. So not a lot of high expectations, but I knew I’d be okay.
After a week or so, I did get a message back from my professor. He said he loved my paper, I hit all the important elements, and he suggested that I should look into a career in psychology (the paper was on autism)!
I don’t know where I have the paper anymore, if it’s somewhere on my computer or in my archives online, but that’s not what I remember from that semester. I remember the time that God was trying to tell me through the Holy Ghost through impressions that I needed to obey. And that some blessings don’t come unless we do what we already know we’re supposed to do. I look back on that night with gratitude that God was willing to be so patient with me, even though I was definitely not being patient with Him.
So there’s my five stages of ignoring the Holy Ghost. I hope it helps someone. I’ve had the thought I should post this for a while, and tonight seemed like a good time to get it all written. I sincerely hope it helps someone out there, I think it’s a good skill to develop self-awareness in recognizing if something is from God or not. It’s great to know that I can say that God is aware of our personal problems, and He is always looking out for us. It’s good for me to remember as well that whatever God commands is right, and that having the gift of the Holy Ghost means I can be inspired to make good decisions — even if it means no cake and no future wife. Amen!
(cross-posted at my other blog)
“Dear God, I’m broken.”
I was looking at the Ensign today, and I was noticing how all the people in there looked happy, balanced, and everything, and I thought to myself, “Man, I want to see an article that just says, Dear God, I’m broken.” I txted my friend about that and she said someone should write it. So I guess I’ll give it a try.
I have a hard time with … life. I don’t think I can really get more specific than that, because that pretty much covers it. Just daily living is a real struggle. I could go into more detail about how depressing and sad it is, but I don’t really wanna focus on that.
I was over at a friend’s tonight, and she asked how I was doing. I responded, “Well … you know.” And she said, “Yah, I do know.” She understands what I’m going through, because we have a lot of the same issues. It’s just life.
In those times of struggle and difficulty, where I really don’t feel like I can keep going, I often turn to the Lord, so frustrated and confused and all I can say is, “Dear God.” I often don’t say more than that. Those small prayers, though, are filled with so much emotion and sincerity, that I know he hears them. And that he is concerned for me. At times I often say, “Lord, help me to know what to even pray for, because I’m just lost.” I don’t usually get an answer to that one, but what I do tend to do is just chat with him and let him know what’s going on. In some small way, that I don’t notice, it somehow helps. I don’t magically jump off the floor with a renewed spirit, but I do somehow keep going.
I absolutely love these verses in Isaiah 5 (verses 1 and 2):
I have learned that the Lord always puts lists of actions like this in a particular order for a reason — they are not arbitrarily thrown together. And in these scriptures, I see how to order my life when it feels like it is out of control.
The first thing the lord of the vineyard does, is fence it. For me, this means that my priority is to set boundaries — where I will go, what I will do, and what I will not do.
The second thing is, he removes the rocks, or the things that will impede the vineyard (see also, the parable of the sower). For me, this usually means the things that have caused me to go off course for whatever reason. Not just spiritually. There are so many scriptures that apply both spiritually and practically, and there are so many principles that apply to both areas of life. Sometimes I set my boundaries too large, which is usually the case if I’m overwhelmed. There’s too many stones to move. I must have done something wrong.
I like to think there are three kinds of stones. Those that are small, simple things that we can take care of ourselves, really without much effort or difficulty (reading the scriptures, saying prayers, etc.). Then there are the medium-sized stones that require all our strength, either to maintain where we are, or to push us slightly forward. Finally, there are the boulders, the big rocks that I can’t move by myself, and I have to have the Lord help me to move them out of the way.
Once all that is taken care of, then the vineyard can be started, started with a transplant of the choicest vine (even at the beginning, we need an infusion of power from somewhere beyond ourselves).
Finally, a tower is put up, to watch over the vineyard and see that it is maintained properly (spiritual and practical habits become routine, and not just initiated). Last of all, we can begin to have expectations of reaping the rewards of all the work.
I like this parable because the Lord doesn’t start with the tower, or looking for the grapes, first. The Lord is very practical. He starts simply, and builds from there. There are two steps before the planting of the vineyard, and two steps afterwards. Equally so, when I fall, and fail, and sin, and err, I can’t expect to just climb back on the tower and hope everything’s going to be great again, and just wait for the nice grape juice to just flow my way. I have to start all over. It’s usually because I’ve crossed some boundaries that I need to start all over, so I have to spiritually reset myself and go back to the beginning.
There’s another scripture I like in the Book of Mormon that mirrors this same principle, in Alma 28:1:
The background for this verse is that the people of Ammon were refugees, and had fled to the Nephite country for security.
I think the order of priorities again, is interesting. They don’t start with setting up the church first (filling your life with good, regular things), but instead, get the people established. There’s little chance for spiritual growth if my practical one is completely out of whack. There’s a great church video I saw once, that said, “You can’t draw water from an empty well.” That’s always stuck with me.
At church today, I was looking at the presidents of the Church manual, and I saw this quote from Joseph Smith, that I really liked. “Let us this very day begin anew, and now say, with all our hearts, we will forsake our sins and be righteous.” Now, normally when I would read that, I would be like, “heck yeah! I’m gonna do *all* the good things, *all* the time! Woo hoo!” But reading it as I did today, as I’m going through a rough patch, I read it in a much more sincere, and practical, and simple way. One where the Lord is quietly saying that we are going to start from where I am now. There’s no need to build any towers just yet.
Going along with that, it’s easy I’ve noticed to get excited about wanting to do the right thing. Excitement can have energy at the offset, but the strong emotions fade with time. Maintaining a gospel-driven life is not powered by a momentary elation of dedication, but rather through daily decisions of continually desiring to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances.
So, starting over again, I sat down and flipped open an issue of the Ensign magazine that covers the General Conference talk. I read a bit of it, and went about my way just doing little stuff around my apartment like cleaning it up to just get going back in the right direction.
What happened next is hard for me to explain. I had decided to do the right things again, but I didn’t think about it. That is, I didn’t say to myself, “well, if you do this, the Lord will bless you, and you’ll be happy.” That thought never occurred to me … I just *started* doing it knowing that living the gospel would set things right by themselves. When I thought about that later, I realized that I had a testimony of it, because I had instinctively acted on that knowledge.
Cool stuff. 🙂
Filed under Personal commentary