Through the difficult challenges in my life, I have learned an important lesson about myself: my initial impulse sometimes has been to back away from personal, private acts of devotion that keep me connected to heaven. And yet I have learned this is the time when, instead of leaning back, I should lean in and do my utmost to continue seeking the Lord’s guidance. I’d like to share some life-altering experiences from my early family life that helped teach me this lesson.
A Prayer of Gratitude for Priesthood Power
Early in our marriage, my wife, Ruth, became ill with cancer. Our lives were shattered. For me, it was a time when it seemed as though the heavens were closed. I didn’t know how to take care of our 14-month-old baby girl, Ashley. I didn’t know how to get her to eat. Sometimes I fed her ice cream and soda. I had a hard time praying, because so many of our dreams were dashed and I was so worried about Ruth.
When Ruth came home from the hospital after her first treatment, she was so weak that she just lay on the bed. We had a pattern of saying evening prayer together. I was a coward and I called on her to pray that night. I’ll never forget the words that she said: “Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for priesthood power that makes it possible that no matter what happens, we can be together forever.”
It felt like the ceiling had cracked. The Spirit filled the room. I went from feeling like the heavens were closed to feeling like they were wide open, filling us with peace, joy, and comfort.
Feeding Ourselves Spiritually
That experience, and many others, taught me about the importance of feeding myself spiritually. When I am struggling or busy, I need to lean in and do my best to engage in personal revelation. Those are the times when I need heaven’s help most in determining my priorities.
I had an experience with this during my medical residency. My internship was overwhelmingly busy and exhausting. One Sunday, I knew that if I hurried home from work, I could go with Ruth and Ashley to church. They left at about 2:00 in the afternoon to go to our ward that met at 2:30. But, instead, I decided to stall on my way home from work. That way, I would just walk home and lie down for a nap. And I did that.
But when I got home and I lay down, I couldn’t sleep. I realized that the testimony and the zeal that had always been part of me weren’t there anymore. I remember getting off the couch, kneeling down, pleading for forgiveness, and pledging that I would change.
The next day, I took a paperback copy of the Book of Mormon to the hospital so I could read in the scriptures every day, no matter what. And some days it was not very much—but every day I read something. I made a list of things I would do, including praying at least twice a day and going to church if my schedule allowed. And then within just a couple of weeks, that zeal and warmth of my testimony were back. I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d continued down that course—if I had fallen asleep and found joy in skipping church. I believe our lives would have been very different.
How I Hear Him on a Daily Basis
In my daily life, I have found that I hear Him best when I have formulated a question. And I hear more clearly if that question is a yes-or-no question and I’m leaning one way more than the other. Often I hear Him most clearly when the answer is no—when it’s “Don’t do that” or “No, that’s not the right direction.”
The answers I receive are always in short, clipped statements, as opposed to something with a long explanation. I rarely, if ever, get a long explanation to any of the things where I hear the Holy Ghost whispering to me. It’s usually just short, clipped, terse—it’s an impression or thought. It’s occasionally a voice, but it is one that is always peaceful, calming, and reassuring.
The other thing that helps me hear Him is when I’m focused on someone else—when I have a question that relates to how I can help someone else. I’ve also learned that you should never suppress a generous thought. Often when a generous thought comes about doing something kind, I have learned to just do it. And it turns out that it was an inspired thought.
A Crucial Lesson for All of Us
When I first heard that the overarching theme of the Church in 2020 would be “Hear Him,” I immediately had the thought that the most crucial thing all of us can learn how to do is to hear our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ speaking to us through the Holy Ghost.
I believe that James 1:5 is more important now than ever. It reads “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
In the age of COVID-19, we are in a unique situation. There is no rule book for navigating these challenging times. Each of us needs to plead for personal revelation and then act on it. And once we have received that revelation, then we will know what to do. The revelation we receive will always be framed and supported by scriptures, by the words of living prophets, and by the direction we receive from our local leaders. But within that context, there is so much variation that God will inspire us as to how we should live our lives.
I believe that personal revelation has never been more crucial for our lives than in 2020. I hope that each of us can have personal revelatory experiences this year that teach us how to hear Him.