Using Agency and Revelation to Make Life Decisions
Throughout my life, I have always been able to rely on the promise that God would hear and answer my prayers. Over and over again, I experienced the reassuring feeling of peace that the decisions I was making in my life were in line with the plan God had in mind for me. I knew what it felt like to receive an answer to my prayers, and I felt complete confidence in my decisions as a result.
All of that changed two and a half years ago.
In 2015, I was halfway through graduate school and had just begun the recruiting process for the next year’s summer internship—the internship that would determine my job. After an unexpectedly positive interview process, I ended up with multiple offers from firms in different cities. Recognizing the impact of the decision on the trajectory of my life, I took my dilemma to the Lord and employed the familiar model found in D&C 9:8-9 to “study it out in [my] mind” and then to ask God if it was right, knowing that if it was right, I would feel that comforting burning in my bosom, make my decision, and confidently move on to the next stage of life.
However, unlike previous experiences, that burning never came. Every time I came close to making a decision, I felt nothing but confusion and silence. No matter what I did, I could not seem to find the path that felt “right.” Over time, I even started to wonder if I was no longer worthy to receive answers from God. Finally, at the eleventh hour, I made the best decision I could and accepted one of the offers, even though I still did not feel any closer to a sense of peace about my decision.
A few months later, I was home in Salt Lake City for Christmas and visiting a local singles ward with one of my friends. As we sat together during the sacrament, I had a very clear thought enter my mind that I needed to come back to Utah. I panicked. At first I couldn’t tell if the thought was a prompting or a moment of homesickness, but I knew from my years of experience what promptings felt like, and I knew this was not homesickness. However, since this new development only seemed to bring further confusion and anxiety (and a bit of anger at the delayed timing), I simply ignored the prompting and went back to school.
Four months later, I was attending a conference in another city and again had the very clear thought that I needed to come back to Utah. With my internship only one month away, I really began to panic. I knew what it would mean for me professionally, as well as for my school, if I backed out of my internship now and went back to Salt Lake City with no prospects and nothing but a feeling.
When I returned from the conference, I asked my home teacher for a priesthood blessing, in which I was told that I had not received an answer to my prayers originally because the Lord was happy with any choice I made. I was also told that, in time, I would understand what this prompting meant and how I should act on it. Although this answer didn’t necessarily resolve my dilemma, it at least allayed my fears that I had missed an important revelation and consequentially messed up my life plan.
Looking back on it, perhaps this is the lesson the Lord wanted me to learn all along. As President Nelson said in his April 2018 general conference address, “To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you.”
Similarly, I am also learning that often times it doesn’t really matter what choice we make. The Lord wants us to be a prayerful people, not a paralyzed people. He needs us to learn how to think for ourselves if we are to truly counsel with Him in all our doings (Alma 37:37). God therefore won’t punish us or take away promised opportunities if we are sincerely trying to do what is right, just as a father will not punish a child who is sincerely trying to understand his counsel.
This same lesson is also poignantly addressed in the Book of Mormon story of the brother of Jared. When the brother of Jared asked for help to light the ships, rather than answering, the Lord stepped back and said “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23). The brother of Jared probably could have come back with almost any solution (other than fire) and the Lord would have accepted it. The point of the experience was not for the brother of Jared to learn how to make clear stones—the point was for him to make a decision. Only then had the brother of Jared exercised the kind of faith that enabled him to see the Lord and the visions that followed.
In my case, two and a half years later, I’m still trying to figure out what the Lord meant about my returning to Utah. But I think it’s important that He waited to tell me until after I had made my decision. For some reason, God knew that I would need the time and the opportunity to figure this out for myself, and that this process would be a crucial test of faith that would help me grow in ways I could not yet understand. Contrary to my lifelong view, I think God sometimes sits back and stays quiet, even on the big decisions, because He knows we are ready for the growth.
As President Nelson said in general conference, “I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that ‘if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.’”
Even though I still have a long way to go in my journey, I know that the Lord has not abandoned me in my endeavor, but is instead giving me an incredible opportunity to exercise the faith I have developed over the years. Most importantly, in spite of the challenge, I know He is still there, holding my hand just as before, but waiting for me to make the next move.
Christine Beck lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a podcast fanatic and loves hiking, puzzles, and exploring the New England area with her friends and family.