We’ve all faced difficult decisions, and wanted help from the Lord. If only someone could just tell us whom to marry, where to move, what job to pursue, right? But the Lord doesn’t just want us to stand there in confusion, begging, “What should I do? What should I do?”
In Doctrine and Covenants 9: 8-9, we’re given the formula. You’ve heard these scriptures over and over: “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong”
This incredible method works. You research, you ponder, you come up with a course of action. You pray to see if it’s right. Then you wait, listen, and see if you feel the warmth of peace and assurance that you’re on the right track, or a cloudy, dark feeling that you’re not.
A great example of this process comes from the Book of Mormon. The brother of Jared needed a source of light in the underwater vessels that were to bring his people across the ocean. He didn’t just pray for the Lord to solve it and somehow light them. He thought about it. He came up with 16 white stones for the Lord to touch and illuminate.
So why doesn’t this method work every time for us? Actually, it can. The method isn’t the problem-we are. Where I think many of us get tangled up is in that first step, the thinking step. We are so determined not to slack off in our duty to investigate, that we derail into angst and worry. We go round and round with an inner, mental debate about the options. We ask others for their opinions. We stew. We think some more. Inertia takes over.
Sometimes we just need to get off that cerebrum carousel and present a plan. Thinking is easier than taking action, but it’s like packing and re-packing the suitcase, instead of actually going on the trip. At some point you have to do what they teach in journalism school about covering a breaking story: Just go with what you’ve got.
Exhaustive research can stall our plans, and can actually become a choice itself: To do nothing and let the winds of fate blow us around. After you have invested a reasonable amount of study, it’s time to see if you’re on the right track.
And this leads us to the other reason why many of us get mired in the thinking step: We want our own ideas to prevail. We aren’t quite ready to learn that our favorite idea is the wrong one. Everyone says they want answers to their prayers, but not everyone is open to the answer, “no.”
A few years ago a dear friend of ours died, and my husband, Bob, was asked to find a home for his Great Dane. He called me and asked if I would pray about whether we could adopt this gigantic dog. I told him no. I didn’t want to pray about it because I didn’t want to hear the answer. “Just bring her over,” I said. And we brought a wonderful, loving pet into our home. Sometimes we simply want to follow our heart and not listen if the Lord has other ideas.
But this becomes reckless when the decisions are critical ones. We need to summon the courage to lay our hopes and dreams on the line and see what God has to say. We must trust that he can see around corners that are blind to us. Last, we have to remember– and have faith– that He really has our best interests at heart, and that a “no” today may lead to a glorious “yes” in the future.
And so it becomes time to shut down the merry-go-round, close the stacks of books we’re poring over, and just listen. We need to open the channels of inspiration and sincerely mean it when we ask God for his help. We have to be willing to take the course of action we’re praying about, even if it’s the difficult one, or the one that requires the most sacrifice or risk.
It’s scary to relinquish control, especially in a church that emphasizes education, intelligence, and “studying things out.” But if we remember that all those things are merely the first step, the groundwork leading to the presentation of a plan, we can keep our momentum and follow through with action.
Our ideas are never better than the Lord’s. But now and again we get the marvelous assurance that they match. And that’s a thrilling moment when we realize we can actually get undeniable answers to our prayers. Sometimes we just have to stop thinking and listen.
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