Nancy and I have a dear friend. We have had many deep conversations about life and spiritual matters. This friend admits she is a worrier. She has confessed that this tendency to worry sometimes prevents her from moving forward in her life in a productive way.
One day this friend was telling me about a decision she had to make. One course of action seemed to appeal to her as the right one, but she kept talking about all the “what ifs” that plagued her and were holding her back from committing to that course of action. She felt stressed and overwhelmed.
I said to her, “I wish I could understand why you continue to take counsel from the darkness.”
I suggested she ignore the negative feelings and move forward with confidence. “Those worries and fears are not coming from God. They are coming from darkness.”
She objected. “But how many times have I heard someone say during Testimony meeting that they were going to do something and then they felt an impression that they shouldn’t and later they discovered it would have been the wrong choice? How do you know this isn’t one of those situations?”
Valid question. How do we distinguish the impressions and feelings that are coming from God and those that are bombarding us from darkness?
Here is what I told my friend that day. Impressions that cause us to feel tormented, confused, stuck, or miserable are the work of Satan. He delights in burdening and distracting us and blocking us from moving forward towards goodness and blessings. He loves for us to feel hopeless.
In contrast, God does not send us messages that cause us to feel that way. He specializes in sending us messages that uplift, offer insight, reassure, and bring peace.
There are times when He might send us a voice of warning or a course correction, but during those times we can tell it is His voice because the message will always be accompanied by a way forward. He does not issue warnings that mire us in hopelessness. Sometimes He will offer us new ideas and insights. Sometimes there will be fresh clarity. Or perhaps the right path forward will not immediately appear—yet we will feel His love and reassurance surrounding us until it is revealed. But there will always be a path towards hope and light. God is not the author of misery or confusion. He is the radiant Teacher of Goodness.
God has taught clearly how we can recognize His voice.
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you; (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-25)
Brother Dayley has wisely observed that “we know we are learning under the influence of the Holy Ghost if we are being edified. Edification is characterized by a perception of goodness, a noticeable enlarging of the soul, and enlightenment of the mind. Those who desire to learn by faith must continually reject darkness and seek light” (K. Newell Dayley, 1994. “And Also by Faith.” Brigham Young University 1993–94 Devotional and Fireside Speeches. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University.)
This same principle can be applied to how we are feeling about life in general. Or how we are feeling about the church or our ward. Or how we feel about our spouse. Or…. Satan likes to keep us in a state of low-grade unrest. He wants us bothered and fretful enough that we do not break into joy and goodness.
The Lord provides us with a test to check the validity of our feelings.
“Yea, behold, 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” (D&C 8:2).
We can test any impression by its sweet, inviting nature and by its consistency with good sense. Do my impressions align with God’s counsel? Do they lead me to His joy? Instead of allowing ourselves to become mired in irritation, worry, disappointment, or negativity, we should invest our time in discerning God’s will. Where is He leading us? What would He have us do? What lens would He have us use to focus our thoughts?
Discerning God’s will may be challenging in that each of us experiences the Spirit differently. While there are some universal principles, we need to learn how God customizes His tutoring specifically for each of us. We each must become proficient in our own unique language of the Spirit. Here are my suggestions:
- Pay careful attention to any impressions that uplift, edify, inspire. Study them. Keep a record. When God speaks to us, we should take note.
- Remember that gloominess does not come from God; it is evidence that we are not hearing His voice.
- Sometimes God does not answer our questions because the time is not right. We can wait on the Lord. He will answer when the time is right. However, while we are waiting, we can look for evidence of Him offering us a sense of peace.
- Sometimes God does not give an answer to our queries because we already know the answer and must be willing to honor the truth we already have.
- God is not playing a game with us. He is helping us find Him while, at the same time, teaching us to use and refine both our wisdom and our spiritual capacities.
Learning to cherish messages from heaven—even subtle ones—seems like a key to surviving and flourishing in confusing times. It is also a key to feeling encircled in the arms of His love.
Most of us will wrestle with times of anxiety, worry, or darkness during our life. If those feelings are persistent or beyond our ability to manage them, we should consider seeking professional help. If those feelings are based on the awareness that we need to take productive action to better our lives, we should plan a course of action in partnership with the Lord. Otherwise, we should refuse to take counsel from that darkness. Darkness can be an indication that Satan wants to keep us disheartened, demoralized, or distracted to keep us from a rendezvous with God, joy, and growth. Rather than heed the darkness, we should turn to God. His counsel will unfailingly lead us towards hope and light.
If you are interested in applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to finding greater happiness, a better marriage, or more effective parenting, I recommend my new book, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. See Deseret Book or Amazon to purchase a copy for yourself or someone you love.