“Be of good cheer”

My circumstances have become interesting in the last few months. I quit my job so that I could finish up my Bachelor’s degree (in Family Studies), so I can do more good. What’s really fascinating though is that the manner of instruction leading up to this decision was undeniably given to me by inspiration through the Holy Ghost.

I’m not one who comments much on specifics of what the Holy Ghost tells me, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Maybe not so much in the instructions itself, but in the pattern He uses with me.

There were certain messages that came to me over the period of weeks. I get one independently of the other, and it’s not until months later where I am about to make a decision, that I can go back and as a reference use those past messages to see that they’ve been guiding me, and preparing me to be able to make the best choice.

Okay, I will go into some specifics. I’m putting these in words the best way I can.

“Don’t spend money excessively.”

That was the first one that I can remember that lead up to the decision for me to go back to school. At the time, I was working at my old job, with a good salary where I frankly didn’t have to worry about expenses for the first time in my life. And this message came to me, and all I could think was, “um … okay?” I wasn’t really going on a spending run, but I was being a bit fast and loose in some things, and so I took the instruction (or advice … I have another great story about me *ignoring* the Holy Ghost I should post on here [update: I posted it here]) as something to take into account.

“Register for school, and sign up for classes, that conflict with your work schedule.”

My friend asked me a few months ago, “So, are you going to go back to school?” I realized that I hadn’t given it much thought. I took the “year off” before, not doing anything for two semesters, and taking an Intro to Criminal Justice class because I thought it would be fun. Not related to my major at all.

So I really had to think about it. Did I want to stay where I was, or go back to school and finish up my degree? I decided I wanted to go back and get my degree. “But how can I schedule things?” I would ask myself. I’d finished most of the freshman and sophomore level classes in Behavioral Sciences already. They were easy to schedule in the past because I could do them either online, or one night a week, or on the weekends. Finishing my degree though would require me to take the junior and senior level classes, which don’t have the same scheduled opportunities as the others. Some of my classes this semester were offered only at one time. And they conflicted with my work schedule. I couldn’t really schedule a class that started at 11:30 in the morning, since I figured work wouldn’t like me taking off during the middle of the day. But, that message from the Holy Ghost came to me clearly. Again, my response was somewhere in the range of “uh … okay,” and I did. I started putting together a schedule.

“You’re not going to be working at your job much longer.”

I feel like I should note again that these instructions come as feelings, more than words. A better description might be that it comes as understanding. I’m saying that so that my translation to words should be considered that — a translation.

This one really surprised me, and my response was again an “um, okay ….” I wanted to go back to school full-time, and I assembled a schedule where all my classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays or online. That made it so I could work part-time if I wanted to. Another pattern that the Lord uses with me is that He gives me lots of time to prepare for something. And everything that I was told to prepare for, or to expect, came true.

I was talking with a friend the other day who does therapy, and asked him if he ever receives inspiration when working with people. His answer was yes. I have the same thing happen to me. He made an interesting point, though. That if we learn to trust God, and we develop the skill of listening to the Holy Ghost, then we come to a point where we expect it to help us. We can make plans that include Him. I really like that.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there’s a special blessing we get, called a patriarchal blessing. I never share any of it from mine simply because it’s highly personalized. I won’t share the words specific to it, but it does make the same promise to me. That I will have opportunities to work with people who are making important decisions in their lives, and that while counseling them, that I’ll receive inspiration from the Lord. And most importantly, that I will recognize that it comes from Him.

I’ve had to work to recognize when a thought, feeling, attitude, idea or sense of understanding is from the Holy Ghost or not. I have to work harder at not ignoring it some times. It’s pretty common for me, when getting instruction or ideas to respond with, “That’s a good idea, I might do that.” Fortunately, for me, Heavenly Father has a perfect level of patience. Even though it takes me a long time to listen and obey sometimes, He knows that I eventually do … and I know that, too (although not as fast as I should).

If there’s “blind faith,” I think that it refers to I don’t see the exact direction we’re going, but I’m going there on faith. There is always a lot of studying things out in my mind before making major life changes such as these — like cutting off my entire source of income. What happens is that faith combines with understanding again. There is inspiration, but there is also cooperation. I do lots of research, I look at my options, and then when I take inspiration and instruction into consideration, the best option simply stands out. And that’s the one I chose.

I’m trying to get out of my lease at my apartment. It’s not a high amount of rent, it’s just that I’m not working right now while going to school, and it’s my biggest expense. I don’t know how I’m going to manage after I’m out of here, but I’m not that worried — I’ve had more difficult life transitions and things have always worked out through some foresight, lots of planning, and miracles. It’s generally not long after the fact, though, that I look back and see the pattern that the Lord had in influencing others. There’s a great phrase used in the scriptures a lot, where the Lord “softens their hearts.” I feel like that when there are times where I’m facing aggressive positions who would normally work towards making things more difficult or impossible for me, that the Lord “softens their hearts,” and I’m able to move forward.

I knew that I had to go talk to my office about getting out of my lease, and I’ve been dreading it for a while. My lease agreement simply says that if I’m looking for a buy-out, to just go talk to the office and to see what options there are. So, today, I woke up, and knew that this was the best day to do it. I was standing in my kitchen, worrying about it, when I remembered two things. The conversation I had with my friend about knowing to expect the Holy Ghost, and a passage from the scriptures where the Lord says to “be of good cheer.” I realized that if I walked in there with anxiety, that it would be hard for me to hear the Holy Ghost. So, I put aside my fears, and put my trust in God instead, and went down and talked to them in the leasing office. In cases like this, it’s never certain which way something is going to go. Nothing happened. No magical miracle. My lease is through December of 2017, and they said they don’t have any buy-out options right now. Okay, that’s fine, no worries. They also said to check back in a few weeks. Cool. I can do that, too. There’s still this lease I’m in, and I haven’t had anything from the Holy Ghost telling me to go read this clause and present this case or what not. I haven’t seen any miracles, but at least I did so far what I’ve been instructed to do, in combination with what I’d planned to do. For now, I’ll just continue to stick to my original set of plans — figure out how to pay for my apartment. Something miraculous might happen. Or it won’t.

Lest I paint myself as this all-obedient son of God who walks around with shields of blazing resoluteness, it’s worth telling a great story that I like to call “The Five Stages of Me Ignoring the Holy Ghost.” [update: it’s its own blog post now, you can read it here] This one is very personal as well, but I felt inspired to share it with the congregation one Sunday, and so I’m marking this one as de-classified. Here’s how it goes.

The Five Stages of Me Ignoring the Holy Ghost

One semester, I had my English 2020 class, where there was only one assignment — write an original, twenty-five page paper. The paper had to have certain elements in it as well, which we worked on during the semester, and your grade on the paper was partly a pass-fail system. Either you got every major component in there and passed, or you didn’t, and you flunked the class. So there was a lot of pressure, a lot of work, and I was stressing about it quite a bit.

The day came that it was due, and I was still working on finalizing my draft. It was a Monday, which is when the mid-single adults in my area (31 to 45 years old) would have activities (our version of Family Home Evening). There weren’t a lot of people who would go, and because of that, the activities were somewhat rare. Usually once a month or so. And one of them fell on that night.

The first prompt came, “go to the singles activity.” Stage One response is “mmmmmm, no.”

I go back to working on my paper, focusing on it, tweaking it, cleaning it up, etc. I’m getting panicked because the deadline is close, and I really need to be done.

Same prompt comes again, with the same instruction, “go to the singles activity.” Stage Two response, “I believe I just told you no.”

Fine, whatever, I ignore the prompting, go back to working on my paper. It’s due soon, and I’m anxiously reviewing the assignment instructions so that I make sure I’ve got all my bases covered.

Once again, the same prompt comes, same feeling, same instruction, everything — but also at the same volume. There’s no increasing, impending doom-voice that grows and shakes the earth. Just the same, simple suggestion / instruction. “Go to the singles activity.”

Stage Three of ignoring the Holy Ghost is “I said ‘no’, and here’s all the reasons,” and I start going through them one by one, logically explaining to God and myself why I had to do this. Family Home Evening is great and all, but nothing is going to happen. I’ve been to them before, they’re pretty standard, nothing exciting. I’m not that social anyway, and so most of the time I go, sit on the sides, hang out for thirty minutes, and leave (admittedly, sometimes I submarine it intentionally as well … show up 15 minutes before it’s going to end and then leave 3 minutes later).

I’m going over my paper, and at some point in this night, I’m getting really frustrated. When I review one of my papers and it seems incomplete or just not flowing correctly, my instinct is to just throw it away and start over. I’ve got at least 20 to 23 pages in here at this point. I have the content, but it’s just not working well enough for me.

Once more, God being patient with me, “go to the singles activity.” A Stage Four response is a loud, long grunt of annoyance. “Ugggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” and then again refusing to go.

All of this took place over the course of about two hours, mind you. There’s a good distance of about 30 minutes or so between each actual incident of instruction. Part of that reason is because that the Lord knows me so well, is that he has to start a few hours before the actual activity starts, because He knows that when I do finally oblige, I’ll get there to being around on time. I’ve learned that the Lord has a perfect sense of timing.

Still working on my paper. Still frustrated because it’s almost done, and anxious about turning it in.

The same message comes again after all this time, “go to the singles activity.” Stage Five, the final one, is grudgingly deciding to do it. “Fine!” I basically shout in my response. “I’ll go.” If my table hadn’t had half a dozen piles of carefully organized parts of my paper, I would have done a table flip as well. “There better be something cool that happens tonight, though,” I think to myself, since it’s soooooooo imporant that I go to this stupid thing. “There better be something awesome … like I meet my future wife, or there’s chocolate cake.”

I go the activity. There was zero chocolate cake.

In fact, there was nothing interesting at all that was going on. No fascinating message. The same people were there. I did the same thing as usual — hung out on the sides a little bit, ate some food. I probably chatted with a few people. I did stick around for most of it though because I was curious to see if there was something special cool that was gonna happen.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that the blessing came. Now that the Lord had gotten my heart to a place where I was a little bit more humble, and willing to obey, another message comes from the Holy Ghost. “Turn in your paper as it is right now.”

The idea of doing that surprised me, but I thought about it. And I decided to do it.

When I got back to working on my paper, I put some finishing touches on it, certainly not more than ten minutes, I turn in the paper.

Since this one assignment was tied directly to the overall grade for the class, I wouldn’t find out what my grade was until they were posted with all the other ones at the end of the semester. It would take about two weeks to find out if I passed or not.

I passed the class, and I got an A on my paper. Funnily enough, mine was on autistic spectrum disorder being re-classified in the DSM-V (the reference book used by clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.), and the professor asked me, “Have you ever considered working in behavioral sciences?” Pretty cool stuff.

I love Heavenly Father, and I love how He is so patient with me. I’m grateful that He understands me so well, and that He is so willing to work with me. That developing relationship between Him and I is what comes, for me, to listening to the Holy Ghost. The grades aren’t nearly as important as it is getting me to a point that I’m humble enough to listen and obey. There’s not always miracles, but there is that guarantee that He loves us, and He will help us. “Be of good cheer.” (John 16:33). Amen, brother.

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