I have been thinking lately about how hard it is for me to serve others. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say if someone is sad. I don’t know what to do if someone is struggling with something.
Lately, I’ve felt at such a loss that I have just decided that I have other talents.
I’m a thinker. I am a rationalizer. I am efficient and have a great many talents which can bless the lives of others. I’ve given up on ever having a gift for understanding and helping people. But somewhere in the back of my mind, or more likely, my heart, I knew that couldn’t be true. If I am my Father in heaven’s daughter, then somewhere in me must be a talent for loving in all the right ways. But how do I find it, let alone magnify it?
I remember one Sunday a few years ago when Liberty, who was 7 at the time, really wanted, and honestly needed, a new pair of shoes. We were out driving and passed by a shoe store. Liberty begged for us to stop and get shoes. I pulled into the parking lot. We talked about keeping the Sabbath Day holy, and she told me everything she knew about what was appropriate for Sunday and what was not. I asked her if she would pray, and then tell me what she felt was the right thing to do. After she said her prayer, she still didn’t have an answer for me. I waited for quite a while before she finally said, “No, we shouldn’t get shoes today.” There was questioning in her voice, looking for me to tell her the right thing to do, because she still really wanted the shoes. I waited, all the while saying a prayer in my own heart that the Spirit would teach her this lesson, because I knew the Lord could teach her much better in this moment than I could. Then she said it again, “No, we shouldn’t get shoes today.” This time, there was no question in her voice, and there was even a smile on her face. She stopped trying to think it out and get some sort of epiphanous feeling, and she had taken a few steps out into the unknown, trusting in the commandments she had been taught. What she found was that the Spirit of the Lord was there to sustain her and bring her joy in her good choices.
I have since then tried to give my children ample opportunities to make choices for themselves, and to practice feeling the spirit. Sometimes it is a little scary to let them make choices, but in those moments I plead with Father that He will help them, trusting that He loves them and wants them to learn how to feel the Spirit, too. He has never failed us.
And if He will help them because he loves his children, then he will help us, too. But we’ve been doing this for a little while longer, and at some point we might graduate from simple prayers with simple quick answers to more complex situations with longer, more drawn out responses. And as Shiloh and I have seen, sometimes he lets us make decisions on our own, trusting that we have learned to follow the small and quiet promptings.
When Shiloh and I were newlyweds, we prayed together about everything. We didn’t do anything save we had asked the Lord first. We waited until we knew what the Lord wanted us to do before we made life-changing decisions. We were grateful to have the guidance of the Spirit in our lives, and relied on it heavily. After a few years of this, something strange happened to us. We were living in Bakersfield but getting ready to move back to Utah, and we were selling a car. We were trying to decide whether to leave it with a friend here in Bakersfield, or take it up to my family in Sacramento. We prayed, like normal. We waited like normal. We prayed some more. No answer came. Then the time came to make a decision. Neither of us felt we had an answer, and thinking through all the scenarios wasn’t helping, but as we talked it out, we agreed that we both felt just a tiny bit better about the Sacramento option. The more we talked about it and planned for it, the better it felt, and when it came time to move, I got a call. Someone wanted to buy the car. But there was a catch. He lived up near Sacramento and wanted to know if we could bring it up there. It immediately felt like the Lord was saying, “Good job guys, you passed the test, you made a decision without getting a clear answer simply through your desire to do what was right, and you acted on it, and look what happened.” It could not have been a more perfect situation, and now we had the money in hand to start the next semester.
As I remembered these events, and many others, the path to understanding Christ-like charity became clearer to me. The right thing to do is not attained through rationalization and critical analysis of every situation. The right thing to do comes to us as an accumulation of keeping the commandments and being tutored by the Spirit. The right things to do are built into us because we are children of God. We need only learn how to tap into it, and trust it. And then, we will be more like Father, and better prepared for our third estate.
I’m always overthinking things. While the Lord gave me my intelligence for a reason, He certainly didn’t intend for me to analyze and reanalyze every facet of my life.
Nephi teaches me many things when he tells his story of retrieving the plates:
And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?
Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.
Now when I had spoken these words, they were yet wroth, and did still continue to murmur; nevertheless they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem.
And it was by night; and I caused that they should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban.
And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
Nevertheless I went forth… (1 Nephi 4:1–7)
I would not have been the one to just walk back into a hostile city without a plan. Likewise, I am not one to start a conversation with a stranger. I am not one to always give to the beggar on the street. I am not one to help the struggling mother with her child. I am not one to put my arm around someone who obviously needs comfort.
Why? Because I can’t think it through. I can’t analyze the different scenarios and rationalize the best plan of attack which will achieve the maximum amount of good. Because things like that can’t be figured out mathematically. And so I subconsciously dismiss it before I even have a chance to feel it out and make a choice.
But I have NEVER regretted it when I have. And those times are the times that I haven’t thought about it, but I have nevertheless went forth, and was led by the Spirit.
We are children of God. Whether we feel these things come naturally to us or not, they do! We just have to get out of our own way, and let the Spirit of God work in our life.
Why don’t we do more? Because we are thinking too hard.
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;
And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, even so will he clothe you, if ye are not of little faith.
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. (3 Nephi 13:25–34)
Christ is calling us in the same way today. We do not need to know everything before we act. The world today insists that we search and research, determine the standard deviation and p-value of life, before we make a decision, and then we should all be able to agree on the facts. But the way we interpret the world is not the same way that God interprets the world. If we are to not only live with Him again, but be like Him, we must learn to see things the way He does. We must learn to see the principles of the gospel first and foremost, and let our actions follow their lead. We do not need to reduce life to statistics. We need only seek the kingdom of God, and He has promised He will help us take care of the rest. Do you trust Him?
Nephi, many years after his crazy adventure to Laban’s house, says this:
I know in whom I have trusted.
My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them. (2 Nephi 4:19–25)
Wow. The fruits of not knowing what to do but nevertheless going forth. The fruits of trusting God. I want that.
We don’t have to solve the puzzle or beat the game. There is no high score. It isn’t a competition. We just need to live up to our privileges, and help every one of our brothers and sisters live up to theirs.
You are now placed in a situation where you can act according to those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms. If you live up to these principles how great and glorious!—if you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. … If you will be pure, nothing can hinder. (Joseph Smith, Relief Society Minute Book April 28, 1824, p. 38)
Those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms. God has given me sympathy. I can love like He does because He IS love and I am His daughter. All I need to do it stop trying to think my way through everything and learn to trust the Spirit. Simply by having the desire to help I have opened a channel to the Spirit, and the Lord will guide me. Angels cannot be restrained from being my associates.
As we face our days, filled with the unknown, we must nevertheless go forth, not knowing beforehand the things which we should do, but trusting the Lord will guide us and sustain us, as He has promised. You are a child of God. Trust yourself and the voice of your divinity. Then we will see others as our brothers and sister, we will know how to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. We will grow, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until we learn wisdom.