From last week's Mormon Monday, an anonymous reader emailed me and asked me a GREAT question.
"I grew up with no religion whatsoever and I was taught to try my best to be a good person and treat all people in a kind matter like I would like to be treated. Due to a lack of religion in my upbringing, I am constantly trying to "find God" and ways to connect to him in my life. From your blog and research I have the understanding that when you pray in the Mormon faith, the spirit will help to reveal the truth. How do you distinguish what God is actually saying and your emotions? For me when I pray I know what I want to occur however I never "feel" anything besides my own emotions. It is incredibly hard for me to feel Gods presence and I often only feel this sense of joy and bliss when I am among the beauty of nature."
First, I have to say, thank you. Whoever you are, thank you for asking this. This particular question is something I used to struggle with because it seemed like my thoughts were always getting in the way of what God was trying to reveal to me. So thank you.
To begin, I feel inclined to share a little something something about the order of prayer. When we pray, we first thank Heavenly Father for everything He has done for us and given us. After thanking Him, we ask Him. We don't ask for a million dollars, or for a raise at work, or any other worldly things. Some things we could ask Him are to be comforted, to receive an answer on what the right thing to do is, or even to help a loved one while they're having a hard time with something. LDS.org mentions that "The sweet power of prayer can be intensified by fasting, on occasion, when appropriate to a particular need." Prayers can be given in silence, too! They can be given anywhere at any time. When someone closes their prayer with "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen," others repeat "Amen" to basically mean, "That is my prayer too."
So onto answering the question.
There are many things to consider when you're thinking about how you receive your answer. Because everybody, uniquely, receives answers in their own ways. First, in order to recognize the Spirit, you must make sure that you're living the kind of life that will allow you to be in tune with the subtle promptings that the Spirit usually gives. Next, put yourself in a situation where the Spirit is. This particular reader mentioned that she feels joy and bliss when among nature. So go among nature, try going to church, put yourself in situations where the Spirit lies. Then, observe what the spirit feels like to you. Like I said before, people feel the spirit in different ways. Some describe the feeling as "burning in the bosom," others talk about it being filled with light, and a lot of the time, people feel joy, happiness and just pure comfort.
I have a particular experience about this I always think of. I had dated a boy for a few years and dedicated my whole life to him. I wanted him to be the one. I wanted to marry him and I truly didn't see anybody else in my future. When I prayed, I felt like I didn't really get an answer. Well, part of it was because I was interested in my answers, not His answers. I was only looking for the ways that He was saying, "Yes! He is the one!" There were so many red flags, but I didn't see them simply because I was too caught up in what I wanted at the time. I made a decision to break up with him, even though it wasn't what I had wanted. I learned in church that I should make a decision and then I would know by the way I felt. Though I was completely heartbroken, I knew it was the right thing. If the decision is right, you'll feel good about it. If the decision is wrong, you'll usually feel dark and heavy about it, and you'll know that your promptings came from a source other than the Lord. When I finally met my husband, I was looking for this big "Voila! This is your soulmate! You need to marry him!" You know, a super powerful amazing sort of feeling. But when I prayed, I felt pure comfort. I knew, just from the comfort Heavenly Father had given me.
I found lots of pretty fabulous information on this particular subject. And I thought I would compile a list of things you must do, things to watch for, and how to know.
-Become more interested in His answers than your own answers. Become more interested in His solutions than yours. We MUST trust in his timing. (Jeremiah 29:11)
-One way to test the source of your inspiration is to follow a little piece of advice given in Moroni 7:12-13:
"Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy to God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually."
-Your hopes and fears are harder to judge, because they involve the emotions, which can imitate spiritual insight. They can be righteous hopes and well-founded fears or they can be selfish and destructive. Try to see them for what they are, and then, take your conclusions to the Lord for confirmation.
-No one can tell you exactly what you will feel when the Spirit is acting on you. Some speak of a burning in the breast, others a calm, peaceful feeling. The sensation has been described in many different ways. (D&C 9:8)
-The Lord doesn't always answer us quickly. Sometimes he responds after years of study and prayer. Sometimes he even lets us solve a problem on our own so that we can grow.
-Once you feel that you've acted on the promptings of the Spirit, don't start doubting because the outcome isn't exactly what you'd hoped for. (John 14:26)
-The more you follow the Spirit, the stronger your ability to discern its guidance will become.
-One of the reasons people don't get answers is because they are not following the answer. Sometimes we are trying to tell the doctor both the diagnosis and the treatment. We need to know His will so we can receive His answers.
Do YOU have any questions about Mormonism? Email me at we(n)serendipity(at)gmail.com and your question could be featured on future Mormon Monday posts!