It’s hard to fathom just how dependent we are on spiritual help to get us through life. John 15:5 says it well: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringing forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” The older I get the more clearly I can see how literal that analogy is.
When I’m disconnected from my Source I’m like a dry, brittle twig. I cannot grow, bloom, or bear fruit without that vital life-giving connecting to the nourishment of the Vine. I can accomplish nothing of spiritual or eternal significance without spiritual help. I look back on my life and realize that every learning experience and every good thing in it has come through the Spirit, often through the scriptures, and often through the words of others who share an inspired perspective on the scriptures.
Let me give you an example that happened just this month. Author and counselor Dr. Gary Taylor, who is currently writing a chapter for his latest book on this very theme, wrote to me, asking for help and feedback. He sent me sample chapters of his book-in-progress. As I read, I marveled. The Lord had sent, through Gary, the very words I needed right now. Here was help! As I read, my understanding was expanded and my heart was changed.
How? In one of the chapters he sent me, Gary offered a new look at a scripture I had not realized was pertinent to me: the one that gives the counsel to “swear not at all” (Matthew 5:34). Since profanity has not been the slightest challenge in my life, I had rather smugly thought I was doing just fine in that area.
As I read Gary’s thought-provoking new material, the Spirit whispered to me that my smugness was totally unfounded, and that I needed to repent and apply that scripture to my life in a whole new way.
Here, in summary, is what I learned from this scripture and from the Spirit: We are, in a sense, swearing, when we make absolute, categorical statements about the truth of something. In Matthew 3:33-37, the Lord warns about forswearing, which means to commit perjury. But then He goes on to tell us that we should avoid making absolute statements — swearing to the truth of something — at all, even in our everyday conversation.
Why should we be so careful about this? Because we can so easily create dissention by making definite statements that indicate we are absolutely sure about something that is only our opinion based on limited perceptions. The fact is the sum total of our perceptions, learning, or understanding could fit on the head of a pin compared to God’s, and only He knows the absolute truth of all things.
What’s Wrong with Thinking We are Right?
Gary begins the chapter with a story: a newly-engaged couple was arguing whether glasses should be placed in the cupboard rim-side up, or rim-side down. They had opposing but equally strong opinions, and soon were exchanging insults such as, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
He points out that “swearing” to the validity of one’s opinion and the wrongness of someone else’s opinion (even about something as inconsequential as how to place glasses in a cupboard) is the very seedbed of dissention and relationship breakdowns. The engaged couple mentioned above soon parted ways.
This new look at an old scripture led me to some serious self-introspection. How often had I strained relationships with some pronouncement clearly indicating that I considered my opinion superior to the other person’s? Or how often have I corrected someone when the correction didn’t really need to be made (like the day I insisted our cat was nine years old, not eight as my husband was saying. Duh. I was “right,” of course, but what does it matter in all of eternity how old a cat is?)
Gary says, “From a practical standpoint, we can avoid swearing by using the magic words, “You might be right,” or “Maybe so.” You don’t have to agree with the other’s point of view, or go along with anything that contradicts your values. But it is necessary to respect the other’s opinion, even when you believe it to be wrong. You may be totally convinced of something, but it helps to acknowledge that even then, you might be wrong.”
Humility and reality dictate the necessity of admitting I might be wrong; I so often am, much to my chagrin. And many times, in conversations that turn into arguments, I find out that simple misunderstandings are the problem, and that both parties are “right.”
For instance, my sister and I got into an argument about whether a certain street went straight through to her daughter’s house. We had both traveled there recently and were very sure of our opinion and utterly astounded that the other person wouldn’t believe us! It turned out that we were both “right,” but my sister was simply mixed up about the name of the street she was certain didn’t go through. (The street she was thinking of didn’t, but the one she named did.)
That same day I read the material that gave me a new perspective about swearing, I opened M. Catherine Thomas’s book Light in the Wilderness, and turned randomly to chapter eight. This chapter, titled “To Enter Zion: Renouncing Enmity” turned out to be a treatise on the root cause of “jarrings and contentions” that gave me even further enlightment and motivation to repent.
Sister Thomas makes the important conclusion that becoming a Zion person requires us to seek the Spirit to rise above such things. She also makes it clear that getting stuck in unpleasant patterns of relating robs us of joy. She says, “When we are not clear about spiritual things, we can get trapped in a particular way of thinking because we don’t see our options — we hear about the joy of the Son — where is it? We’re not trying to be bad; we just don’t know a better way.”
I’m grateful that the Spirit so often teaches us better ways.
Only Through the Spirit of Truth Can We Be Sure of Anything
The fact is that only through the help of the Holy Ghost, who is also called “the spirit of truth,” can I really know for certain about anything. And it isn’t always easy to discern the confirmation of the Spirit and not mix it up with my own strong thoughts and opinions.
One thing is sure: in most situations, I simply don’t have a clue. It may be a concern about how to handle a complicated family issue, or maybe something about my writing, or how to overcome a persistent counterproductive behavior. The Spirit is the best source of the needed advice and direction, and learning to discern the voice of the Spirit is one of the most important things I can possibly learn.
How does the Spirit help and teach? The Spirit often speaks by using the scriptures as a conduit, and often as strokes of intelligence or insight as I plunge into a task. Occasionally, but not often, the Spirit communicates directly (usually a still small voice but sometimes a loud bang) in a way unrelated to anything I am doing at the time.
Often the Spirit speaks through the examples or precepts of others. I may get the message of the Spirit delivered directly through the counsel of a family member, friend, or priesthood leader. The Spirit has often taught me as I’ve heard the stories of others who have faced similar situations.
Help Needed from Meridian Readers
Because the Spirit so often and so powerfully speaks through the scriptures and through the stories of others, Brother Taylor is putting out a plea to Meridian readers to share their experiences. He is specifically looking for powerful personal stories of how scripture reading has been a conduit for personal revelation regarding some life issue. The central theme of the book he is writing is that the scriptures provide practical advice on how to handle everyday common problems that we all face — and that they are a conduit for the Spirit. He wants more stories to illustrate those points.
Personal Stories of the Difference Scripture Has Made in Real Life
Here’s an example of a story Gary Taylor is using in his book, to give you an idea of the kind of material he is looking for.
“Not long ago, as a mental health advisor to missionaries in Europe, I was referred to an Elder who was struggling with depression. His depression had progressed to the point that he was unable to get out of his apartment and thoughts of suicide were beginning.
“After talking with this Elder, part of the reason for his depression became obvious. He had certainly experienced more than his share of problems to this point in his life. His mission was also difficult. He had been called to a mission experiencing few baptisms. And he had recently been assigned to a particularly difficult area within that difficult mission.
“I did the best I could to help this Elder adjust his thinking and promised to call in a few days. When I made that second call, it was obvious that the missionary was in a much better place. He sounded positive and had been back to work. I asked what accounted for the change, hoping he would say my wonderful counsel had made all the difference. Instead, he shared a special experience.
“As he was pondering and praying about his problems, he heard a voice — a very distinct and audible voice — tell him to read a particular section and verse in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Be patient in afflictions for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days. D & C 24:8)
“This scripture, and the special circumstance by which he became aware of it, made all the difference for this Elder. He came away from the experience knowing that God was aware of him and would always be there to support him. He was still serving in a difficult mission under difficult circumstances. But his new mindset allowed him to push ahead and serve successfully.”
Our most crucial need is to seek and receive the help of the Spirit. The scriptures are so obviously given to us by a benevolent Father to aid us in our quest to open the conduit to spiritual help and fill our minds with light and truth. I express my undying gratitude to the Lord for both of these sacred gifts: the scriptures which have blessed and lifted my life, and the Spirit, which testifies of truth and bring us joy and peace. Once we have lived in the light of the Spirit, we are truly bereft without it.
Important Note: Brother Taylor invites you to send any special experiences you would like to share to bless the lives of others. These should be stories in which the scriptures have helped you resolve some problem in your life. His website is: www.garygtaylor.com. Use the “contact us” feature on his site.