As a young teenager, I believed that every decision I made was eligible for divine intervention. I was cultivating my persona as Intellectual Mormon Mystic Saint and my general obsession with how to be a holy girl was channeled in a question and answer format. The model for my coming of age story was equal parts Nephi, Joseph Smith and Joan of Arc. If God had talked to these fourteen year olds, why not me? I just needed a dilemma, then to pray intently, and surely I would receive an answer stunning enough to start a religion or save France. I imagined an adolescence filled with dramatic crossroads and I read the scriptures voraciously for clues on how to ensure that my requests would result in a vision, voice or literal Liahona-type direction.
My favorite scriptures on how to make decisions were addressed to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in the early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. We often quote section 9, verse 8 and 9 which describe thinking through an issue and then asking for spiritual confirmation, receiving either a burning sense of right or a stupor of thought. Many scriptures in the first ten sections also offer comfort and encourage patience in the process. These words appealed deeply to my mix of 1870’s via 1970’s logic. I had to do my homework, then wait for revelation or the “go back and try again” confusion. I had hoped to use these verses to ward off temptations like cigarettes or to tell the bad kids that hung around Mack in Saturday’s Warrior that I would not be joining them in their “Summer of Fair Weather,” but I suppose my owl-eyed intensity scared away most peer pressure. I had to settle for discerning more mundane decisions like whether or not to audition for Show Choir or what to give a talk on in church. But I approached each day to day inquiry with the same fervor.
As I marched into adulthood, this formula led me to more questions than answers. Why, even when I felt right about a decision, was it never easy afterwards? There always seemed to be loss and gain, good choices did not mean happy endings. The older I got, the more complicated it felt to look at all the angles of an issue. How did I know if I had studied enough and what if my studying had left me with a level of fear and anxiety that felt a lot like a stupor of thought? And what if I felt one way about a question and someone else prays about the exact same thing and gets another answer? I was once engaged to a boy who believed that he was told to marry me while I experienced a sledgehammer stupor that practically yelled “run away.” Was one of us wrong? Heartbroken, he moved to a new city and immediately met his future wife, a much better match for him in every way. Both of us felt strong emotions and experienced true spiritual promptings, but the sorting out led us to different conclusions.
I realized as a young woman that I had clung to these scriptures as a roadmap to try and control the events of my life. I was hoping to be “told” where to step, every step of the way, reducing the risk of making mistakes. Over the years I discovered so many other factors at play. I was developing my own voice through accumulated history, relationships, and a growing peacefulness in how the world unfolds miraculously without much effort on our part. I began to think about living with an openness to the spirit and with an openness to experience.
Recently, I had to make a big decision. It could be life changing. People will depend on me and it will require time and energy layered on a job and family. I had to consider more carefully than I have in a long time. I compared the decision process of my youth to how I approach it now. I still study, talk to my friends, read, go on long walks. I still have the expectation that in my quiet moments I will discern rightness. But I have added other strategies. Sometimes I let time pass to see what resolves or becomes clearer. Sometimes I let someone else decide and the confirmation is about trust and support in another’s revelatory understanding. Sometimes I just leap – motivated alternately by scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. In Prince Caspian, Lucy and her siblings are lost and wandering when she sees Aslan down in a valley that seems impossible to access. When no one believes her, Lucy appears to step off a cliff to discover a hidden path down the mountain. Likewise, Indiana walks into an abyss and finds a bridge only visible from the vantage point of this first step. In both cases they take a leap of faith when there was no rational reason to move forward. And in moving, they gain insight for the path ahead.
In the case of my current decision, I am taking a leap. I spent less time trying to work out every detail in my head, less time waiting for a whammy sense of rightness and simply let my desire to do good work and be a part of something I have experienced to deliver good works guide me. I respect the holy girl that was me. I wanted to be not just good, but spectacularly good, and that required determining the absolute right in every possible action before taking a step. I also respect the wiser woman that is me. We teach each other. The girl tells the woman to be still and pay attention to spiritual knowing. The woman tells the girl that with this feeling, and our experience, we can step stone to stone or even off a mountain or into an abyss, and learn as we go.