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Before you read any further just pretend for a moment that every possibility, every dream you’ve ever had, could be yours. What one thing first came to mind?
There are many righteous wishes. There are many beautiful blessings. But come with me for a moment to Chapter 19 of 3rd Nephi in the Book of Mormon. This is such a great, pinnacle moment in that sacred book. Christ has risen from the dead and has appeared to Nephites in the Americas. He has taught them, loved them, has instituted the Sacrament, and has ordained twelve apostles there. Now Jesus has again ascended into heaven, promising to return.
Those twelve—Nephi, Timothy, Jonas, Mathoni, Mathonihah, Kumen, Kumenonhi, Jeremiah, Shemnon, another Jonas, Zedekiah, and Isaiah now pray with the people. What do you think these chosen disciples would pray for? Safety? Health? Longevity? Unity? Obedient children? Cities to be restored? Maybe tasks to do, words to say?
None of those would be bad things to desire. But the twelve chose something even better. In verse 19 we read, “And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.”
Wow. These chosen disciples truly got it, truly understood priorities. They knew the gift of the Holy Ghost was the grandest, most essential blessing they could possibly request. They may have desired many things, but this is what they most desired.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Life is no labyrinth; mortality is no maze if a man possesses the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide him.” This loving, omniscient Spirit can guide us, teach us, comfort us, and protect us. He both enlivens and enlightens our souls. The prophet, Joseph Smith, called his effect “pure intelligence.”
How often do we stop and just bask in the glory of that phenomenal gift? To have the companionship of a member of the Godhead makes “awesome” look like the right word here, and the wrong word everywhere else. Truly this is awe-inspiring. And every baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints receives this priceless gift after being baptized. Wow.
Non-members can access the Holy Ghost as well; this is how anyone gains a testimony in the first place. The Holy Ghost witnesses truth to them.
Depending on the desires of our hearts, the Holy Ghost stays with us, or departs. And we all know how this feels—the joy of his companionship, and then the bleak emptiness when he withdraws. We know it’s wonderful when we have him close by, but how essential is that, exactly?
President Russell M. Nelson has not left us to wonder. Just last year he said, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” We live in a time when we cannot afford to drive away such a vital influence. We are barraged with Satan’s darts and we hear frequent criticisms of the church from detracting voices. The adversary uses the internet, other media, and even our close associates to drag us down and plant seeds of doubt. As the polarization of the world escalates, we begin to feel we are in a shrinking machine.
How can we stand strong against the winds of doubt? Again, I’ll quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who said, “One of the greatest sources of hope is the Comforter, for he can keep us at our lonely posts when it appears that our comrades have been routed or have deserted.” We need the Holy Ghost to survive the blizzard. What fools we would be not to enact his immense power.
We also need to make smart choices, to exercise wisdom we may not even possess. Often the only way to know what to do is to place our trust in the Holy Ghost. As it says in Moroni 10:5: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things.” Not all promptings are dramatic. Sometimes nudges are barely perceptible. But we can pray to be receptive, to have distinct impressions.
Life presents almost constant choices. We can make those choices independently, but we do so at our peril. Let’s say you’re able to afford a wonderful, larger home in a more prestigious neighborhood. Why not do it? And maybe you should. But maybe the Holy Ghost knows that the kid next door will get your daughter involved in drugs. Or that a teacher at that high school will so humiliate your son that he will never pursue the field he was meant to study. You can’t know what’s around the corner. But the Holy Ghost knows. When we pray about a choice we’ve made, he can give us the go-ahead with a warm, even enthusiastic feeling, or a dark, foreboding feeling. When we don’t listen, we live to regret it.
Let’s say your brother-in-law is the family thorn, the guy nobody likes. He wrecks every family gathering and you have a good mind to go and tell him to knock it off. In fact, don’t come on our reunion trip because you’ll spoil if for everybody. Yep, that’s what he deserves to hear. But then you pray about this decision. And suddenly you get a completely different prompting. You get the idea to—whaaat?— invite him to a ballgame? That crass, obnoxious guy? You shake your head. This can’t be right. You pray again. And the next thing you know, you’re calling him and then picking him up! He seems to enjoy the ballgame. Maybe you go out for pizza afterwards. And maybe right there, in the restaurant, he bursts into tears and says it’s the first time anyone in the family has made him feel accepted. You cringe. You know he’s right. He’s been acting out like a child, but you actually see your part in having hurt him so deeply. Suddenly you’re both crying and you discover there’s more to this guy than you thought. And he learns there’s more to you. You’re building a bridge. This is why the Holy Ghost wouldn’t ratify your first idea, the vindictive one. Because God loves us all and wants families to forgive and unite, not punish and divide.
Sometimes it goes the other way. You keep reaching out to a family member who only hurts you and tears you down. You pray about doing another favor for this person, but this time you are urged to back off. Take some time to establish the kind of love for yourself that helps you demand respect, and not be everybody’s doormat. You’re surprised, and a bit scared. Won’t the family member be mad at you? And suddenly you feel strength. You realize, for the first time, that you can’t live life worrying about everyone getting angry with you. Joy rushes in where fear had a stronghold.
Perhaps you want to be a positive influence on a friend whose testimony is in crisis. The trouble is that the friend is having more influence on you, than you are on him. Maybe your own future depends upon putting some distance between you, despite the kindly impulse to help. You won’t know unless you ask God, and then listen to the Spirit. Promptings are not always what we expect, and often surprise us.
Life is filled with moments when we need the Holy Ghost’s guidance. To invite someone to church. To stop in and visit someone whose name popped into your mind. To turn a different way going home. To postpone a trip. To prepare a Sunday School lesson early. To buy an extra loaf of bread. Hundreds of ideas that otherwise never would have occurred to us.
Like the twelve apostles in ancient America, our leaders today know the importance of obtaining and heeding the counsel of the Spirit. President Wilford Woodruff said, “I claim that the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon a man.” How very, very, right they are.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.