I put my arm around a sister in my ward. I promise her that the Lord will answer her questions and help her with a very large and looming decision she needs to make. She needs to pray and have faith. I know this is true as I say this to her. But I also know that our Father in Heaven does not often answer prayers in any of the ways we usually communicate with the people around us. This makes it difficult to hear what Heavenly Father has to say.
I’ve had a handful of instances where I have had answers to prayers spoken aloud. And even as I’ve heard the words with my ears, I have heard them even louder in my heart. I treasure these experiences because of their rarity. Most of the time I feel like I’m playing the Hot and Cold game where I wander around the room while Heavenly Father says, “you’re getting warmer . . . warmer . . . .”
We have all been incredibly frustrated that the Lord hasn’t simply dropped an answer in our laps. I have wailed a hundred times, “why can’t Heavenly Father just tell me what to do? I would do whatever it was if only He would tell me!”
Here’s the bare bones fact: Aside from extra special and fancy times like Joseph Smith praying in the Sacred Grove, getting answers from God requires practice. It’s like there’s a radio, the old kind with a dial, and we need to figure out how to get to exactly the right station.
I like to think of personal righteousness, prayer and scripture reading as the thing that turns the radio on. You can’t get to the right station if the radio doesn’t have any power. If you’re not doing the bare minimum to feel the Holy Ghost (keeping the commandments, praying regularly and reading scriptures in a meaningful way), you can’t expect to be able to feel an answer even if one were to appear. You may be worn out and tired of your struggles with making choices in your life. You may feel defeated. Too bad. If you actually want an answer you’re going to have to do your part. Don’t get the dumb idea in your head that if God hasn’t answered you yet then he’s not ever going to answer you. That’s Satan talking.
Gotta plug that radio in.
Once you’ve got your radio powered up, you’re going to need to find the right channel. I think there are a few ways to do that but the best one is to pray for guidance, then follow the inspiration you’ve been given.
I asked my mother when I was young how I’d know what was inspiration and what was my imagination. A lot of times when we’re teetering on newborn spiritual legs it’s hard to know the difference. But I applied my mother’s advice and it’s generally steered me in the right direction: if it’s not going to harm anyone or anything, do what your heart tells you. If you’re driving along and you feel like you should change lanes you have two choices: listen to your brain that will immediately start saying, “that’s dumb. Why should I change lanes? Like the Holy Ghost is going to tell me something like that.” Or you can think, “Hmm, maybe it’s an inspiration. Changing lanes isn’t a big deal. I think I’ll do it.”
I believe that each time we’re willing to act on inspiration it shows Heavenly Father that we are willing to listen to Him and to act on what He’s told us. If you pooh-pooh every idea that comes into your head, you’re sending the message that you won’t listen and probably wouldn’t follow inspiration even if it fell in your lap.
When we listen to inspiration, however little and insignificant it might seem, we are inching that radio dial ever closer to the right station. The Lord wants to answer our questions and point us in the right direction. Sometimes we need to wait a while before he gives us the answer we’re looking for. But I know from my personal experience that even when an answer takes forever, our Loving Father in Heaven will tell us, “not quite yet but I haven’t forgotten.”
Just like picking a radio up and screaming at it won’t help us find the station we’re looking for, getting angry and yelling at God won’t help either. Be still. Pray. Have faith that He will give you an answer. Be open to what the answer might be (do you really want to know or are you just hoping the Lord will agree with you?), practice listening to the Lord and practice doing what He asks.
I’m not saying this is going to result in you never making a mistake or wrong choice. Sometimes God leaves the decisions up to us entirely. But if your radio is in tune with our Heavenly Father, you will be able to feel the assurance of knowing that He is standing by your side as you make choices in your life.