All over the world, Latter-day Saints and others decide to be more diligent about reading their scriptures. They also redouble their efforts in praying, attending church, and going to the temple. But rarely, when we hear such lists, do people include pondering.
Maybe it’s because pondering feels like we aren’t doing anything. It may look as if we’re just pressing life’s pause button. But, in reality, pondering is not passive. It’s active. When we are fully immersed in deep thought our mind is racing, not tuning out.
It’s said that writing is the only profession where you are working even when you’re looking out a window. I remember staring off in concentration as a child, and my mother, who had been calling my name and was now a bit frustrated, saying, “Where are you?” I think I was in Chapter Six.
Fully immersing ourselves in a spiritual quest is even better. It requires the same focus and the same uninterrupted time. When we meditate upon a truth—or even a possible solution to a problem—we can clear the channel to receive revelation.
David O. McKay said, “I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation; a principle of devotion… Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”
Pondering is essential. We cannot hope to hear answers to our prayers if we dash off quickly right after them. Or hop into bed and fall asleep. The insights we’d love to have elude us because we switch gears and dive into something else after scripture study. I am as guilty of this as anyone, my list of to-do’s looming in the air and pulling me away.
And the adversary is pleased with our busy-ness. If we can’t hear promptings from the Holy Ghost, if we close off the channel of inspiration from our Heavenly Father, Satan has achieved one of his own goals—to basically silence the heavens. Though God wants us to hear answers, warnings, comfort, and inspiration, we have shut the door by turning to other matters.
So how can we make pondering inclusive in our study and in our day? Here are some techniques I’ve used successfully:
Get rid of noise. Quiet is essential. Turn off the music while you’re driving, turn off video screens and TV when you’re home. Not forever. Just when you want to connect to your Father in Heaven, to open that conduit, and get the other half of what is supposed to be a two-way conversation. We know prayer is not just reciting, or asking for what we want—it’s supposed to be interactive. And when we fill all our air space with other people’s ideas, or with constant sounds from other sources, we block inspiration from heaven and our own thoughts. James E Faust told us to “filter out the static generated by Satan.”
I once asked a classroom of high school students when the last time was that they had an original thought. Total silence. For a long time. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? You should be having these every day!” But when your hours are crammed full of talking, texting, earphone music, homework, and the mundane tasks of the day, you don’t think big thoughts. You don’t wonder about the great questions of life. You don’t taste creativity. You don’t have bursts of inspiration or fresh ideas.
Take a walk. There’s something about the pace, the change of scenery, the fresh air, maybe even a kinetic component to the motion of walking. All I know is that I agree with Raymond Inman, who said, “If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” Sometimes you’ll have a “Eureka” moment, and sometimes you’ll simply gain a deeper—or wider—understanding of something that’s been puzzling you.
Take notes. Always have a way to capture the thoughts that suddenly occur to you while meditating. Keep a notepad on your nightstand for thoughts that come in the night. You might even write down flashes of truth that came to you in prayer.
Control Your Thoughts. Many think this is impossible, but it’s not. It’s just difficult. With practice we can drive unhealthy thoughts away so that there’s room for messages from the Holy Ghost. Don’t give in to resentments, judgmental thoughts, selfish ideas, or sinful ones. Anything that can block inspiration is put there by Satan, and you have the power to cast it aside.
Do Family History. Often, when praying and then pondering about how to find records, we experience miracles and “coincidences” that open doors. Thousands of such stories fill our culture—online, in magazines, in conversations, in talks we hear at church. And, by helping others beyond the veil, we can enlist their help.
Concentrate during Sacrament Meeting. I was recently pondering the many spiritual experiences I’ve had during this meeting, and was surprised at how many times I got distinct answers to my prayers, or glimpses of truth and understanding, just by having my mind ready at this singular meeting. Pray for the ability to really tune in, listen to the speakers and ponder what they’re saying. This meeting also gives us a weekly opportunity to deeply concentrate on the Sacrament itself, and on the Savior’s amazing atonement. I know it’s difficult if you have wiggly children, but don’t give up.
Christ said, “Ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds.” (3 Nephi 17:3) We can teach our children to do this as well. We can also take meditation classes and learn techniques that we can then share with our families.
How can we keep doing it? That’s the easy part, because pondering yields answers and wisdom. Once we realize how powerful it is, how individual and customized those answers are, we want that again. We simply have to watch for Satan’s distractions and roadblocks, and not allow him to deprive us of the amazing gifts that result from pondering. President Thomas S. Monson once said, “I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives.” Wow—who wouldn’t want every one of those blessings?
Perhaps best of all, we will feel God’s love for us. President Henry B. Eyring said, “As you ponder the scriptures and begin to do what you covenanted with God to do, I can promise you that you will feel more love for God and more of His love for you.”
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is not just for Christmas. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.