Anxiety or Divine Inspiration?

the 3rd revision:

My daughter’s first backpacking trip was when she was four years old. She and her dad hiked in one mile. She carried a couple of stuffed animals in her backpack, while her dad carried the rest of the gear. It was love at first sight for her. Every summer since then the two of them have gone backpacking together. When she was nine years old, she wanted to go out for three nights and four days and cover more miles than she had ever done before and carrying more weight than she had before.

The night before their trip reality set in and I began thinking about my nine year old out in the wilderness beyond the safety of cell phone reception. What if something happened to her? Even worse, what if something happened to her dad and she was left all alone?
As my husband and I talked that night I told him that I had knots in my stomach about their trip. He simply asked, “Do you think it’s your intuition or nerves?” That was a great question. Was it some sort of warning or premonition, or was it my anxiety about the unknown? Was this the Spirit warning me or was it just my fears? Should I listen to it or push through the fears?

It was late September, and we were headed to a rustic cabin tucked away in the Ashley National Forest. As we pulled off the main highway and onto the Forest Service road it started to lightly snow. We were in our minivan with our three young kids and with each mile that took us deeper into the forest and further away from the main road, I grew more and more uneasy. By the time we arrived at the cabin, I could not feel the cool crisp autumn air or see the rich colors that glowed in the aspen leaves from the evening light.

As we started to unload the car my stomach grew more and more tight. What if it snowed a lot during the night? We had no cell reception and had not seen another person since we left the main road 20 miles ago. Everyone seemed to be excited to be there, except for me. Was I overreacting? It was getting late and if we decided to leave the cabin we would have to choose to either spend our limited finical resources on a hotel or drive the four hours back home. Both options were unfavorable. Was this anxiety or was this a divine warning? Anxiety or Intuition? Premonitions or Fears?

It can be hard to tell the difference between feelings that are created by anxiety and fear and feelings that are driven by good judgment and divine inspiration. How do you know if it’s your over-reactive anxiety telling you not to proceed or if it’s wisdom, divine inspiration, and good judgment telling you not to proceed? Is there a way to go about these situations to choose in a more reliable way than eenie meenie miney mo?

Dallin H. Oaks reminds us of the importance of developing reasoning powers and acting upon our best judgment: “We should study things out in our minds using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it; if we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment.”

Developing reasoning powers is a skill that takes time, experience, practice, trial and error, and instruction. Sometimes we want to use the gift of the Holy Ghost as a short cut to wisdom, like using the answer guide in the back of the math book to get the answers to difficult problems. The gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t an answer guide, He’s a guide to the answers. His role isn’t to do the reasoning for us, He is there to help us develop our reasoning powers.

Sometimes our experiences in developing reasoning powers are much like taking a test or a pretest, where we are left to work out the answers the best we can. In these moments we are exposed to the temptation of emotional tantrums, getting angry with God when He doesn’t provide us with the answers we seek.

Over three years ago I filed for divorce, even though I wanted out of the marriage I felt conflicted about moving forward with the divorce. At the time, things were not getting better in the marriage and everything was falling into place with the divorce. Feeling confused about not receiving any answers, some suggested that maybe God was telling me the divorce was right because the divorce was moving forward so smoothly. If things weren’t moving forward smoothly with the divorce would that then mean divorce wasn’t the right thing to do? To me, that logic felt like an insufficient and unreliable way to determine if something was right.

During this time I prayed and fasted and pleaded with God to give me some guidance and to let me know if the decision I was making was the best decision for my situation, but I never got a yes or no, only the reassurance that God was guiding me and was with me. I was angry and confused, this decision was going to have a lasting impact on my life and the lives of my children, surly this situation warranted God’s counsel. I felt like it was not good parenting on His behalf to let me make this decision on my own when the consequences would impact the lives of others. And what about the scripture that encourages those who lack wisdom to ask God? I was willingly admitting that I lacked wisdom and I truly wanted God’s counsel. I had studied it out in my mind, I had talked it over with others, now all I wanted to do was check-in and see if the conclusion I was making was the same answer that God would give me. Was I in alignment with God’s will?

Becoming as God is, requires us to develop our reasoning powers. It takes faith to develop our reasoning powers. It takes courage to move toward a decision without having the divine confirmation that the choice you made is the most right choice in that situation. It is an act of faith to act upon your best judgment without seeing how things will work. There is value in evaluating your choices and seeking to know if you are making the best decision, but becoming terrified of making the wrong decision can cripple your ability to decide. When we put our focus into demanding that God tell us what to do, we neglect our responsibility to exercise and develop our reasoning powers in judging what we think is the best thing to do in our situation.

“These things remain with you to do according to judgment and the directions of the Spirit.” Doctrine and Covenants 62:8

For some, they err on the side of wanting to use the Spirit to guide them and tell them everything they should do, for others, they err on the side of leaning on their judgment while ignoring the possibility that they might be wrong. When making decisions, there is value in pushing ourselves to figure out what we think is the most right choice while being open to receiving guidance from the Spirit.

Dallin H Oaks taught that “A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. (Our Strengths Can Become Our DownfallsBYU Speeches June 7, 1992 and Ensign October 1994)

When I served a mission in Brazil I was determined to learn the Portugues language the best I could. However, I was so afraid and self-conscious about making mistakes that it hindered my progress. The ones who learned the language well were the ones who were able to tolerate the discomfort of making mistakes and learn from those mistakes to make necessary changes to become more proficient in the language. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality, which means that we might make a bad judgment call here and there, we might make the wrong choice, but if we are paralyzed with fear and move forward with a decision until we have a Divine stamp of approval, we limit our ability to develop our reasoning powers.

October 16, 2019

Time on this article: 2 hours

Total time writing on this blog: 140 hours and 15 minutes