The Agony of Inspiration

MCQ - May 3, 2010

Rusty’s post about rating his companions made me think again about my own mission companions and missionary experiences.  I went back and re-read the journal I kept during my mission and was astounded at how little I actually mentioned my companions.  Mostly, the journal entries are about the experiences I was having with tracting, teaching, meeting and interacting with Church members and investigators and people in general in my assigned areas.  My companions are treated mostly as interchangeable.  Some are not mentioned at all. 

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but as I read through my journal entries something else jumped out at me as a bit of a recurring theme:  the struggle for inspiration, and the real frustration of sometimes not getting it.

It seems we were taught to seek and expected to receive inspiration from God concerning everything from the most mundane (What area should we tract today?) to the most mission-critical (How and when should we ask this person to be baptized?).  Sometimes we got it.  My journal is replete with instances of real divine help, received pecisely when it was needed.  Most memorable and sacred to me is the time, near the very beginning of my mission, that I received direct communication from the Lord concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  My unending gratitude for those experiences can never be overstated.  And yet… 

And yet there are so many of the other kind as well.  Times where we sought for help or guidance or confirmation and it just didn’t come.  I always wondered and agonized about why.  Were we not worthy?  Asking the wrong question?  Asking about the wrong subject?  Hadn’t put in the necessary study and work?  All of the above?  Surely it was my companion’s fault!  Often it was terribly frustrating not to get an answer.  Didn’t the Lord know we were on a short timeline here?  I can almost picture myself tapping my watch and gazing heavenward with a puzzled expression.

The hardest times were in the mission office.  We had to get transfers done and called out by a certain time each month.  Hundreds of missionaries were waiting on us, not knowing whether to pack or where they might be going.  A dozen or so new missionaries were arriving in the mission and almost the same number had just left and yet the juggling and switching and discussing and weighing seemed endless.  We always prayed for guidance at the beginning of this process and we always prayed at the end to see if what we had decided was acceptable.  We generally were exhausted and stressed and we (or at least I) generally got little in the way of divine intervention to help us. 

At the time, I usually felt that, if we didn’t get any answer then we should just go with our best guess.  After all, if God didn’t want to get involved when we needed his help, well then, he knew how to contact us and knew we had a job to get done and if we screwed it up it was his fault.  I mean, we did our best and we did ask!  What more could we do, right?

Now I’m not so sure.  Now I think that maybe the process of seeking for divine guidance is more important than the answer we get.  Now I think that maybe the deadlines we impose on ourselves and God are arbitrary and meaningless.  Now I think that if people have to wait an hour or a day or a week longer in order to be sure you are doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way, then maybe they should wait.  And maybe so should we.  Now I see my youthful frustration and impatience as being (maybe) my biggest impediment to receiving the Lord’s help.  Now I think maybe (just maybe) I was a spoiled brat.

8 Comments »

  1. In my experience, God gives you the bare minimum that you need, and no more.

    Comment by Susan M — May 3, 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  2. Great post. I agree — viewing God as a so-called “cosmic bell hop” is bound to lead to frustration. Thanks for this reminder.

    Comment by Hunter — May 4, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  3. Good subject, MCQ. It makes me think of the scripture, “It is not meet that I should command in all things…” I think Father encourages “best guesses” as often as possible. It certainly feels that way in bishopric meeting, when callings need to be filled and courses of action determined. Of course we pray all the time for guidance to make the right decisions, as we should, but maybe those prayers are answered by our being able to draw on our own spiritual insights and intelligence. Taking from what Hunter said, Father is not the Magic 8-Ball.

    Comment by David T. — May 5, 2010 @ 10:48 am

  4. Right, David, but your bishopric meetings are a good example of what I was talking about. Is it ok to just proceed with your best guesses as long as you aren’t being told “no” or should you wait for an affirmative “yes?” When and for how long is it appropriate to wait on the Lord? I suspect it depends a lot on the decision you are trying to make, but for the really important decisions, do you stop and wait? For how long?

    Comment by MCQ — May 5, 2010 @ 11:52 am

  5. In terms of bishopric meetings, I agree, it depends on the gravity of the issue. Not to downplay anyone’s role, but determining who goes on the Activities Committee shoots through a much faster process than who’s to be assigned YW president. How long is enough? Somehow we know when the discussion reaches a sweet spot and we “feel impressed” about a name. Sometimes the bishop gets his own post-discussion epiphany about another name and we’re back at it again. Sometimes I think we don’t all agree on that name, but we acquiesce. In the end, I suspect your conclusion is correct: Sometimes there is no one right answer or person or path, and after we feel like we’ve covered the subject long enough, we go with the most sensible choice and just move on. Sometimes demonstration of duty and faith is enough, and the Church– and our path to happiness– moves forward. And if Father wants to touch the rudder once in a while Himself, we’ll know.

    Comment by David — May 5, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

  6. I play in a community symphony orchestra. Occasionally while rehearsing a particularly nuanced piece (e.g. something by Richard Strauss or Debussy) our director says things like “Look at [some excerpt of the piece] for a couple of minutes, and just write in what I would probably ask you to do.” Then we replay those measures and it comes out just right.

    The better we know the Lord, the more able we are to do things in the way He would have them done, and his explicit direction isn’t necessary.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — May 8, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

  7. Two thoughts leap to mind:

    1. I had a stake president who waited upon the Lord. Until he got an answer. Every time. And sometimes decisions (big ones, little ones) were delayed. But he did not move without confirmation. I admired his patience.

    2. Elder Rasband’s description of working with President Eyring on missionary callings suggests that some learn to get answers faster (or more clearly) than others. And the process of learning is good.

    Comment by Paul — May 11, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  8. Excellent thoughts, Paul. I admire that Stake President too, and that’s the kind of patience I think we should have, but rarely do. I think that’s how we learn to become more perfect instruments in God’s hands: by showing him that we will wait on him no matter what. If we really want his guidance and input, that’s the way to get it, I think.

    Comment by MCQ — May 12, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

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