Vertically Connected Blog
I used to teach Institute in a large metropolitan area that had a strong group of young single LDS adults. They were a bright, fun, and amazing group of individuals. Many were college graduates between the ages of about 24 and 30 who had moved there for work opportunities, and about 70% of them were female.
Often I would ask, “So, what brought you out here?”
Some would say it was because of a job.
Others would admit it was because they knew there was a lot of single LDS people in that area.
More often than not, however, when I would ask that question, this is what I would get from the girls: “I don’t know. I just had a feeling to come here.” As I would look into their faces, there would be almost a twinkle in their eyes. And I came to learn what that twinkle usually meant: “I think I’m going to find my husband here.”
I would then watch an interesting thing happen throughout the semester: many of these amazing sisters would begin to struggle. They became frustrated or depressed. They would pull away from the ward, sometimes even stop coming to Institute.
As I would reach out to them to see what I could do to help, they would share something like this: “Two years ago, God told me to come here so I could get married. It obviously hasn’t happened. In fact, I hardly even date. I’m totally confused. I’m not sure if I was even supposed to come here.”
Because this happened often enough, I became familiar with walking them through this series of questions:
“What were the impressions you received when you first felt to come here. What was your experience like?”
Their stories and experiences would usually differ, but somewhere in their sharing they would say something like this: “Well, I don’t know. I just felt I needed to move here.”
Or “After I received a priesthood blessing, I felt really good about coming here.”
I would then ask, “In the midst of those feelings and impressions, did the Lord specifically tell you that the reason He was sending you here was that you were going to get married?”
After sitting and thinking for a moment, many would realize, “No, I don’t think so.”
“So, where could that have come from?” I would ask.
“Well . . . I’m not sure,” they might say. “I don’t really know.” And some would even ask, “Could I have added that myself?”
As we would continue to talk through it, many would indeed realize they had somehow added that reason themselves.
In all honesty, I couldn’t blame them. Finding someone to share their lives with is a righteous desire. The marriage covenant is something they had been taught to look forward to, rejoice in, and actively seek. Yet, what I think often happened is that they had mixed up the revelation to move to that area with some impatience, misunderstanding, maybe some loneliness or insecurity, and all of those hopes, dreams, and righteous desires.
The result? They thought they knew the reason they felt impressed to move there. However, many of them would discover it wasn’t necessarily God’s reason for them to move there.
Without meaning to, they did this:
Their experience is an example of one way we might hinder or interfere with revelation in our lives. It involves “giving reason” to it, and it simply means we add our own meaning or interpretation to the promptings or answers that God gives us.
And I’ve found that the danger in interpreting revelation is that it can distort the direction we’ve already received or take that revelation in a completely different direction than it was meant to go.
A recently returned senior missionary once shared an experience with me that I believe explains this a little more. While serving with his wife on their mission, Brother Langford would sometimes have the opportunity to give the missionaries priesthood blessings.
One time, he was giving an elder a blessing right before he was to return home. As he was in the middle of the blessing, he could see in his mind a wonderful young woman with blond hair and felt there was something important about her. In fact, he was pretty sure it was the young man’s future wife.
When he concluded the blessing, however, Brother Langford felt to simply tell the young man to go home and prepare himself diligently for the next step in his life. Many months later, this senior missionary was surprised one day to see the young woman from the vision on the young man’s social media account.
However, he discovered it was the young man’s sister.
It was then that he realized he had assumed he knew who the young woman was and had misinterpreted what her presence in the vision had meant. This faithful brother had no intention of interpreting that revelation. Fortunately, he chose not to say anything specific to the elder at the time, but what an eye-opening experience it was for him.
Have you ever done something like this?
Have you felt a prompting and immediately started trying to figure out what it meant?
Were you instructed to do something and instantly wanted to figure out why the Lord gave that instruction?
Sometimes blessings come and we immediately think we know why the Lord blessed us. Or we receive a calling and assume we know the reason that we specifically were called to it.
I’m not completely sure all the reasons we do this, but I think one could possibly be that we think we are supposed to.
Indeed, I have found that many of us believe that part of our responsibility in receiving divine revelation is to know – or at least make an effort to figure out – the “why” behind that divine insight or direction.
However, Elder Dallin H. Oaks once shared a powerful statement that gives insight not only into why we are not necessarily expected to interpret revelation but also maybe why we shouldn’t.
“If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, ‘Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,’ you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We [mortals] can put reasons to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we're on our own.
Even though Elder Oaks was referring specifically to the priesthood ban in these remarks, he is teaching a valuable principle here that I believe can be applied to experiences we have with personal revelation: when we give a reason — or in other words, our limited, mortal opinion — for a revelation given to us by God, we can possibly take that revelation in a direction it wasn’t meant to go.
Indeed, we can even be spectacularly wrong.
Elder Richard G. Scott called these the “dead ends” of our own reasoning.[ii]
So, what can and should we do instead?
Well for starters, we can learn something from Joseph, the son of Jacob from the Old Testament, who had some experiences with interpreting dreams.
One of those experiences involved the Pharaoh’s baker and butler. When they each asked him if he would explain the meaning of their strange dreams, he clarified, “Interpretations belong to God” (Genesis 40:8).
Joseph then shared with them his inspired conclusion: one of them would live and the other would be hanged.
Yet, the butler must not have fully understood how that whole thing happened. For two years later, Pharaoh himself was troubled by a dream and he said to Joseph, “I have heard say of thee (obviously from that butler who survived), that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it.”
Joseph corrected Pharaoh by saying, “’It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace’” (41:15-16).
It seems that Joseph understood what his role was. He realized that he didn’t have the knowledge or experience to fully understand what the Lord meant by the dream, nor what His further direction would be because of it. It was an idea that involved God’s higher thoughts and purposes from His eternal perspective. Joseph seemed to know that God is His own interpreter and He chooses if and when He will make His purposes known.[iii]
Years ago, I started noticing a pattern in the experiences of President Thomas S. Monson. Often he would feel impressed to go visit someone without knowing exactly why, or what he was going to say or do once he got there.
He shares one particularly poignant story about receiving a distinct prompting to go visit a good friend in the hospital who had recently lost the use of his legs from illness and surgery. He immediately set out for the hospital. When he arrived, the man was not in his room. After searching the hospital, he found him sitting in his wheelchair on the edge of the pool near the deep end.
President Monson shares, “I called to him, and he maneuvered his wheelchair over to greet me. We had an enjoyable visit, and I accompanied him back to his hospital room, where I gave him a blessing. I learned later from my friend that he had been utterly despondent that day and had been contemplating taking his own life. He had prayed for relief but began to feel that his prayers had gone unanswered. He went to the pool with the thought that this would be a way to end his misery — by guiding his wheelchair into the deep end of the pool. I had arrived at a critical moment, in response to what I know was inspiration from on high.”[iv]
It seems the Lord didn’t give President Monson the end with the beginning.
He did not tell him, “Go to the hospital right now because your friend is about to take his life.” He just prompted him to go. And when the Lord prompted him to go, Thomas Monson moved — much like Nephi, who was led by the Spirit, “not knowing beforehand” all the things the Lord would have him do (1 Nephi 4:6).
It seems President Monson also knew, as Joseph of Egypt did, that interpretations belong to God. His life was full of experiences where the Lord’s purposes could be accomplished because he acted on the inspiration and impressions that came to him without knowing all the details and without having to know the reasons behind why he was acting.
God is “pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints” (D&C 121:33). We are striving to be worthy and ready and willing to receive it. And when we have been divinely guided or warned or taught, we have a responsibility.
Yes, often, that responsibility often involves us doing something.
We often must act, follow, or obey.
But we don’t necessarily need to know why we are acting, following, or obeying in that moment. We don’t necessarily need to know where it is taking us or how it is all going to work out just yet. All of those things usually come later and sometimes simply are not what we think they are going to be.
As we learn more about how revelation works and what our role is supposed to be in it in relation to God’s role, we not only become better at it, but more at peace because we become more confident in our obedience to that revelation, regardless of what the specifics look like right now.
In the meantime, we can also learn to be more “still” and remember that He is an Almighty God (Psalms 46:10), and that the most important work to Him in all of eternity is to bless us with the greatest of happiness and purpose and peace – even our eventual immortality and eternal progression (Moses 1:32). He has that journey all figured out. He knows the "whys," the "wheres" and the "hows" of our experiences.
If we will truly trust Him, He can make all of it happen for our good.
[i] "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), p.68-69.
[ii] “Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, November, 1995
[iii] “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” Hymns, 285
[iv] “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign, November 2012
Stephen & Michelle Hunsaker
Stephen teaches at the Logan Institute of Religion for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been teaching for over 26 years.
Michelle is a full-time mom who enjoys reading, writing, teaching, and anything and everything to do with musicals.
They are the parents of ten children and authors of the book : Boxing the Lord In and Other Ways We Hinder Revelation.
Their hope is that each week through the thoughts and ideas they share in this blog, you can become more "vertically connected" in your lives. They seek to see and share "things as they really are" and "as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13) by learning how to build more and more on the sure foundation of the Savior, Jesus Christ and the doctrines and principles of His gospel.