Living by the Spirit


A mother tells how she has learned—and helped her children learn—to stay close to the Holy Ghost.

“Receive the Holy Ghost.” From the time I heard these words as a newly baptized child, I have truly yearned to have the Holy Ghost as a constant guide and teacher. When I became a mother and assumed the additional challenges of guiding my children, I felt even more intensely the need for spiritual direction.

Most of us do yearn to be in tune with the will of the Lord. We do desire to discern more clearly the promptings of the Holy Ghost. But how? I’ve found that repentance and obedience are the essential refining processes: Repentance helps me understand and overcome weaknesses that drive away the Spirit. Obedience helps me appreciate and maintain the things that build spirituality.

I’ve learned that I have to pay a price for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It requires sacrificing faults, weaknesses, and personality problems, and being willing to submit to the enticings of the Spirit. As I’ve done those things, my desire to draw near to the Lord has grown, and he has drawn near to me. (See D&C 88:63.)

I’ve learned, too, that Heavenly Father wants to draw near to us—and that he provides many opportunities for us to develop our spiritual sensitivities.

One Easter season, our family had tickets to attend a Church presentation on the mission of the Savior. As we were preparing to leave for it, I felt I really should be doing something else. That confused me. How could I possibly spend my time any better? But as we drove to the play, I felt an even stronger impression that I needed to be doing something else that evening. So I left my husband and children at the play, telling them that I’d be back to get them afterward. I was still a little confused as I drove away, but when I asked myself where the Spirit would have me go, it was clear that I ought to visit Sister Erekson.

President Erekson had been my mission president in Australia years before, and we had stayed close. Now he was quite ill in the hospital; we had visited him there earlier that afternoon. By this time of evening, Sister Erekson would be home alone after a long, discouraging day at the hospital.

Having decided what to do, I drove straight to their home. Sister Erekson looked tired, and her cheeks were stained with tears. “You really should have gone to the play with your family,” she said, taking me in her arms. “But I’m glad you’re here.”

I suggested that she lie down, and we visited as I sat on the foot of her bed. In an effort to distract her and bring happy thoughts to her mind, I asked how she had met her husband. “I’ve known him since I was eleven years old,” she said. I listened as she told me of their long-ago courtship, engagement, and marriage. I marveled as she told me of her fifty-four years of marriage and of her six sons and seventy-six descendants. Feeling her love and devotion to her family was like sitting by an open fire.

I thought I had come to comfort her. But as I listened, I found that I was also being comforted and blessed.

I’ve learned that it’s not always easy or convenient to follow spiritual promptings. When my husband and I decided to build a new house a few years ago, we figured we could manage the finances by selling our old home. Unfortunately, just at the critical time, interest rates zoomed and the housing market tumbled. Many people wanted our home but couldn’t afford the high interest rates. We did everything we could to sell it—we listed it, tried selling it on our own, advertised, had open houses, and fasted and prayed. But for two long years, we were burdened with two house payments we couldn’t afford.

Then our twin daughters won a literary contest at school. The prize—a trip to Washington, D.C.—coincided with a convention my husband planned to attend there. Knowing I needed a rest and a change, my husband surprised me with a ticket to accompany them. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

But my excitement was marred by a persistent thought that I really ought to stay home. I resisted the idea, feeling that I should be grateful for my husband’s thoughtfulness and generosity. But I finally phoned my husband to explain my feelings. He was disappointed, but supported my decision to stay.

The day after they left, I received a phone call from my neighbor at our old home. I needed to come immediately, she said, because someone was interested in seeing the home. When I arrived, I found that it was a family we had known years earlier. They had moved away from our city and now were moving back.

Since they were going to be in town for only three days, they had prayed that morning that they would be directed to find the right home for them. And they loved ours! I fought back tears when one of their teenage daughters, who had been a friend of our girls in elementary school, walked to the kitchen counter and said, “Oh, Mom, I remember this place. I used to eat peach cobbler right here!”

It took a while to work out all the details of the sale of the home. But one of the happiest moments I can remember was waiting for my husband’s call that Friday night and imagining the relief and joy he would feel when I told him the results of my spiritual promptings to stay home.

As we enjoy such experiences, my husband and I record them in our journals and discuss them with our children. In this way, we not only preserve these experiences for ourselves, but we also teach our children that the Spirit can come into in their personal lives. And as it does, we encourage them to record their experiences in their own journals.

My husband and I were deeply touched when our daughter, Stephanie, shared the following journal entry with us, written when she was in seventh grade. I share it with her permission:

“One day while we were reading our scriptures, we talked about how important it is for each of us to have our own knowledge and testimony—and that we must not put off asking Heavenly Father for this. That night I went to my room and shut the door. I waited until everything was very quiet. Then I knelt down by my bed and prayed. I asked Heavenly Father to please send me an angel to tell me for sure if the gospel was true. He answered that he would, and I was to get in bed and wait for the angel to come. I felt very peaceful and happy, and I waited.

“The house was very still, and I think I had dropped off to sleep. I woke up when I heard a voice. It was Mother. She was kneeling beside my bed praying. She was praying for me. I listened, and when she finished I touched her hair so she would know I was awake. She put her arms around me and held me and her face was wet. She told me I had a Father in Heaven and that he loved me. She said she was glad he had let me come to live in our family. She told me he sent his own Son here to give his life so we could return to live with him if we obeyed his commandments. She told me to always remember that the gospel had been restored, and I must live it so I could go back to my Father.

“We held each other for a while,” Stephanie continued, “and then Mother left. After she left, Father in Heaven said to my mind, ‘I sent you your angel.’”

When she told us that story, my mission as a mother forever became more holy. And my testimony of the importance of prayer was forever strengthened.

As parents, we want to help our children continue having spiritual experiences in their lives. And we’re convinced that family prayer, family scripture study, and family discussions are some of the best ways we can encourage their spiritual development.

We’re on our third time through the Book of Mormon, and this time we’re doing more than reading—we’re trying to learn how to apply what we’re studying. While we’re studying, we encourage questions and discussion. One evening during our study time, it was clear that something was bothering Stephanie, so I encouraged her to tell us what was wrong.

“Just suppose you were in junior high,” she began. “Suppose a girl came up to you and said, ‘Are you a Mormon?’ and you say, ‘Yes.’ Then pretend she says, ‘You Mormons always say you know your church is true. That’s dumb—you can’t know it’s true!’ Now, what would you say?”

The look on her face was pained, yet sincere. She was obviously trying to cover up what must have been a very painful experience. I prayed to know how to help her.

“What a great question!” I said. “Let’s act it out. Which girl would you like to be?”

She quickly said, “I’ll be the ‘you-couldn’t-really-know-it’s-true’ girl, and you be the ‘I-do-too-know-it’s-true’ girl.” Her serious face caused the rest of us to keep our smiles well hidden.

I was scarcely ready for the attack. She played the part well, and I began to realize something of what she had faced from her friend at school and how insecure and inadequate she must have felt when confronted with such strong feelings and blunt questions. I waited until she was through.

“I can see you feel very strongly about this and have given it a lot of thought,” I began. “You have some good questions that deserve some good answers, and I hope I can help.

“Before you can know if anything is true or false,” I said, “you have to know everything you can find out about it. You have to study about it carefully, like you would any subject in school. I have done that; I study alone and also with my family. We read the scriptures together. We also read what the modern prophets have said. We do this every day and discuss it together. We ask questions and then look in the scriptures to find the answers.

“We also pray about it. We ask if these things are true. My testimony,” I continued, “is the feeling that comes into my mind and heart when I pray about the teachings of my church. It is the answer I receive from my prayers. May I share my testimony with you? I do know the church I belong to is true. Yes, I can and do know for sure.”

As I played the part of the LDS girl and bore my testimony to Stephanie, the Spirit came into our home and I was filled with gratitude that our Heavenly Father was mindful of the needs of our family.

Then we switched roles. As the member girl, Stephanie told about her testimony and about her scripture study. When I insisted on more “proof,” she became defensive. “I have other ways of knowing,” she said.

“Like what?” I asked.

“I prayed,” she answered solemnly.

As her mother, I was barely able to continue the role playing at this point. But I managed one last question: “So you prayed. What happened?”

Staring straight into my eyes she said, “None of your business.”

I had expected anything or nothing—but not this! Our role playing was over.

One of the other children said, “Great, Stephanie. You’ll be a wonderful missionary.”

This sarcasm brought tears to Stephanie’s eyes, and she said defensively, “Well, it isn’t any of her business. It was something that girl wouldn’t understand, and I’m not telling you either. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Each of us understood her sensitive feelings. “Stephanie,” I said, “We love you and understand your not wanting to tell anyone anything that might be misunderstood or that is too personal to share. If that experience helped you gain a testimony, you might simply say: ‘My prayers were answered, and I can tell you I know the gospel is true.’”

One of our other daughters, Jennifer, then came to the rescue. She had been lying on the carpet, but now she sat up and said, “I feel like I would like to share an experience with all of you.” Then she told of an experience she had while at camp with her Young Women class. Her sincere account and tender spirit touched all of us. As she finished we all sat very still and waited.

Elizabeth, another daughter, spoke up and told us a beautiful experience she had once when she felt the Spirit in answer to her prayers concerning a talk she was going to give in Church.

When Elizabeth finished, what I had been silently praying for happened. Stephanie began to speak, and her defensiveness and insecurity were gone. “I want to tell you—my family—how I know the gospel is true.” Then she shared with us for the first time her experience of praying for the angel to come. When she finished her account, there was not a sound or a movement in the room for a long while. Our family had been blessed with a spiritual experience we’ll never forget because we had been studying the scriptures together, discussing the gospel as a family, and sharing our thoughts and experiences with each other.

In addition to trying to follow the Savior’s example, learning to follow the still, small voice, and praying and studying together, I’ve learned that there are other things we can do in our family to develop spiritual sensitivity.

For example, keeping loving relationships in the home is essential to enjoying the Spirit. I’ve found it impossible to feel in tune when I’m having a problem with a family member. When contention and conflict are present, the Spirit leaves.

Serving others is another important step—and home is the perfect place to learn to serve and to teach service to children.

Home is also the right place to practice and teach gratitude. When our children were young, we started a family tradition of having “prayers of gratitude.” Once a week we have a family prayer devoted to expressing gratitude for our blessings. As we enumerate the many ways Heavenly Father has blessed us, we recognize the deep love he has for us and we realize how dependent we are upon him. As we acknowledge his blessings, we come to view our lives as miraculous—and our faith increases. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart,” the scriptures say, “and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5–6.)

I’m sure all of us feel inadequate at times. Because of the nature of our earth-life probation, we experience temptations; and as we succumb to them, we are separated from our Heavenly Father and his Spirit. This is known as spiritual death. But Heavenly Father has provided a way for us to overcome spiritual death and return to his presence.

I was reminded of this great blessing one day when I was teaching a Primary lesson on the plan of salvation. A nine-year-old boy in the class was obviously worried about his dad who, at the time, didn’t appear to be very interested in spiritual matters. The boy seemed to be pulled between loyalty for his dad and his own desire to adhere to gospel teachings.

He carefully studied the visual aids lying on the table at the front of the classroom. Pointing to the terrestrial kingdom, he asked, “Sister Rigby, do you think my dad will go there?”

My heart was full, and I couldn’t bear his pain. “No, I don’t think so,” I answered.

He pointed to the telestial kingdom: “Do you think he will have to go there?”

“No,” I said, pointing to the celestial kingdom. He smiled, obviously relieved. But then his expression changed to doubt.

“But how could that be?” he asked.

I returned his question to him, motioning to the other visual aids on the table. “You tell me,” I said.

He studied the wordstrips for a moment—then quickly picked up two of them. One said “Repentance” and the other said “The Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Waving them above his head, he exclaimed, “Oh, yeah! Right on!”

His spontaneous expression of gratitude filled my heart with joy for the life of our Savior and for the hope his mission affords us. And it reconfirmed the testimony in my heart. All of us do have access to repentance and to the atonement of Jesus Christ. And all of us have the capacity to draw near to the Lord and to be blessed by his Spirit.

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “Living by the Spirit,” individually or as a family, you may want to discuss the following questions and ideas.

1. Reflect on specific instances when you have received spiritual promptings. Did you follow them? What were the results?

2. As you ponder spiritual experiences you’ve had, check back to see if you have recorded them in your journal or life history. If so, reread those experiences. If not, you may consider recording them now.

3. What guidelines would you give your family on when to discuss and when not to discuss spiritual experiences? What benefits could come from appropriately sharing spiritual experiences as a family?

4. This article discusses several ways to enhance the Spirit of the Lord in our homes. Discuss them with your family during a gospel study period.

5. The companionship of the Holy Ghost “requires sacrificing faults, weaknesses, and personality problems, and being willing to submit to the enticings of the Spirit.” Consider what sacrifices you are willing to make in your own life to stay close to the Holy Ghost.

[illustrations] Illustrated by G. Allen Garns

Joy Webb Rigby, mother of six, is the Homemaking Leader and Blazer A Primary teacher in the Monument Park Fifteenth Ward in Salt Lake City.