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Press Forward in Faith: Thoughts On Decision-making

I have had the opportunity and blessing to associate with many young women at the prime of their lives. They are full of excitement for life, excitement for the future, and love for the gospel. I love talking with these young women about what Elder Hales recently referred to as “the decade of decision.”

Recent discussions here at Mormon Momma have caused me to reflect on advice that I like to give these young women. (This may or may not be relevant to our recent discussions. If not, take it as a new thread of thought. And although some of my personal thoughts are written with single young women in mind, I believe the principles can and do apply to us all.)

I know what it’s like to have your whole future ahead of you. It’s exciting, but can also be frightening. The weight of decisions regarding education, career choices, and marriage (among other things) sometimes seems crushing. The challenge can be compounded when it appears that one’s life doesn’t fit into a neatly-packaged schedule. (e.g., Graduate from high school at 18. Go to college. Be swept off feet at at age 20. Know on second date that he is the one. Get married. Have first child at ?) I know what this non-neatly-packaged life is like, many times over. Guess what? Life usually doesn’t fit such a neat package! Part of the purpose of life is to learn how to make decisions and to press forward in faith and look to the Lord as our life unfolds. This unfolding involves all we can do and the Lord’s grace and wisdom.

My own decade of decision involved lots of worrying. Too much worrying. (I still do too much of that!) I worried about my major. I worried about relationships that weren’t quite right, even as they were spirit-filled and wonderful. I worried about my grades. I worried, worried, worried. I did have a lot of fun, too, but oh, how I wish I had worried less!

True confession: I still find myself wondering sometimes if I goofed along the way, especially with regard to relationships. “Maybe I could have married one of those guys and been happy.” But guess what? The relationships didn’t feel right at the time. And guess what? The Lord brought a man into my life, with whom I have felt time and time a heavenly-approved and heaven-guided relationship. Even if I had made a mistake along the way, the Lord has more than provided and continually guided when I reached a crossroads in my life. He never left me alone. I believe things have a way of working out when we trust in Him. Sometimes that requires more faith and patience than we want to exercise, but that’s part of our journey.

When I give advice to young women, I try to encourage them to try not to worry too much. I believe righteous desires go a long, long way. (And I try to remind myself of these things, too.) The key to finding joy in life is to trust in God, to stay close to Him, to learn how to hear and discern His guidance and answers. And to put your shoulder to the wheel and push forward, living life to the fullest! God can’t guide us if we aren’t moving our feet.

I think it’s also important to realize that we may not always do the decision-making thing perfectly. This whole process is part of life. But my experience has been that the Lord has been there, even when I wasn’t sure if He was or if I was worthy or listening just right. I have tried to stay on the path, and He has be there. He has opened my mind and heart and spirit when decisions that needed to be made came along. Even as I felt the normal trepidation that comes from big decisions, he helped me move forward. He has helped me through the challenges that have come as a result of the decisions I have made (because they always do). He has given me tremendous blessings, and continually gives me tender mercies that help me know that He is involved in and aware of my life.

I believe the adversary wants us to doubt. He wants us to doubt our own selves and he wants us to doubt God. He wants us to doubt that there is hope when things are hard. He wants to paralyze us with fear or anxiety or worry or regret.

But what does the Lord say?

“Press forward….” (2 Ne. 31:20)
“Forward, not backward!…Courage…and on, on to the victory!” (D&C 128:22)
“Fear not” (with references too numerous to list)
“I am with thee.” (Isa. 41:10)
“All things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28; see also D&C 98:23; D&C 122:7)
“Be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.” (D&C 78:18)

The list could go on.

One of my favorite quotes that I share with young women when I have the chance is the following from Elder John H. Groberg:

In the past, I have tried to figure out whether I should go into business or into teaching, or into the arts, or whatever. As I have begun to proceed along one path, having more or less gathered what facts I could, I have found that if that decision was wrong or was taking me down the wrong path not necessarily an evil one, but one that was not right for me without fail, the Lord has always let me know just this emphatically: ?That is wrong; do not go that way. That is not for you. ?

On the other hand, there may have been two or three ways that I could have gone, any one of which would have been right and would have been in the general area providing the experience and means whereby I could fulfill the mission that the Lord had in mind for me. Because He knows we need the growth, He generally does not point and say, ?Open that door and go twelve yards in that direction, then turn right and go two miles ?. ? But, if it is wrong, He will let us know we will feel it for sure. I am positive of that. So, rather than saying, ?I will not move until I have this burning in my heart, ? let us turn it around and say, ?I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it. ? By eliminating all of these wrong courses, very quickly, you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going, and then you can receive the assurance: ?Yes, I am going in the right direction. I am doing what my Father in Heaven wants me to do because I am not doing the things He does not want me to do. ? And you can know that for sure. That is part of the growth process and part of accomplishing what our Father in Heaven has in mind for us ? (John H. Groberg BYU Speeches of the Year, 1979).

Elder Scott said something similar in the most recent General Conference:

Some misunderstandings about prayer can be clarified by realizing that the scriptures define principles for effective prayer, but they do not assure when a response will be given. Actually, He will reply in one of three ways. First, you can feel the peace, comfort, and assurance that confirm that your decision is right. Or second, you can sense that unsettled feeling, the stupor of thought, indicating that your choice is wrong. Or third and this is the difficult one you can feel no response.

What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior ?s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.

I take great comfort in the fact that the Lord is there, to help us make the decisions in our lives. If we are living close to Him, God can help us know when we are going to make decisions that are wrong, that are not part of His plan for us. That doesn’t mean He will always protect us from pain and struggle. It doesn’t even mean we will always be perfect at decision-making. But we can know that He will help us as we learn the process of making decisions (even protect us from decisions that would be wrong). Most importantly, I believe that all things can be for our good now and eternally if we press forward in faith.


Addendum:
When I am pondering life or the gospel, I like to ponder what our leaders have said. If you are this type of person, perhaps something in the following linked talks below will be of benefit to you.

Elder Hales

Elder Oaks

President Faust

Elder Scott

Elder Hales

Elder Hales

President Hinckley

Elder and Sister Oaks in a CES young adult fireside:

Another entire talk to read: Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. (I listened again to this tonight and was impressed particularly with his thoughts on how fear is usually something the adversary uses to dissuade us from moving forward in faith.)

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Alison Moore Smith June 22, 2007, 7:50 pm

    As usual, Michelle, this was a very thoughtful post. Thanks for the valuable information.

  • Melinda June 22, 2007, 9:03 pm

    Very good thoughts, and excellent GA quotes. Somewhere I picked up the idea as a YW that I would get crystal-ball sort of answers to my prayers. I’d heard so many people testify about being guided, and about knowing things “without a shadow of a doubt,” that I just assumed I would always know things that clearly. So those GA quotes about just pressing forward, and not expecting revelations shouted from the housetops would have been very helpful for me years ago. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have listened very well.

    I also remember being overwhelmed by all the options. There was a neat essay in “The Character of Jesus” by Charles Edward Jefferson entitled “His Narrowness.” He gives this metaphor: “Christ made himself mighty by limiting himself [in location and purpose]. It is with men as it is with rivers: a river becomes a river only by the assistance of its banks. The difference between a river and a swamp is that a river has banks and a swamp has none. Take away its banks and the river becomes a swamp.” I read that when I felt swampy and it rang true. Being told you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be can be scary, even though it ought to be inspiring.

  • facethemusic June 22, 2007, 9:35 pm

    So, rather than saying, ?I will not move until I have this burning in my heart, ? let us turn it around and say, ?I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it.

    That’s so simply put, but it’s basically how I’ve operated since I was about 19. And thankfully, those impressions that something was “wrong” have saved me from making some pretty stupid decisions that would have put me in bad circumstances.
    I mentioned in another thread, a wedding that almost took place but was cancelled three days before. Unfortunately, that particular decision had to be prompted by a wise Bishop’s counsel, but the truth is, I knew it wasn’t right before he told me to go home and pray about it again. The difference was that even though I had some very real concerns and proddings from the Spirit to call it off, I stupidly felt like by some miracle, my efforts could somehow make my fiancee a better man. And the truth is, I wasn’t the person I should have been, either.
    That whole circumstance changed everything for me though, so I’m very thankful for the lesson I learned. Now, when I have those promptings and warnings that something is wrong, I listen immediately.
    An additional lesson though, is how incredibly merciful and patient He is. It’s not like He gives us one warning then lets us hang ourselves. I was being prompted and wasn’t listening. So then He worked through my Bishop. I think this happens to us all the time, but we’re not paying attention, we’re not in tune and we miss it. The Spirit tries to reach us, but we ignore it, brush it aside, or aren’t in tune enough to hear it, so then he speaks through others a friend, a parent, a Bishop, a YW leader, in a Sacrament meeting talk, a lesson… we either eventually wake up and pay attention, or we learn the hard way by going through with the wrong decision and suffering the consequences.
    Something that’s made decision making easier for me, is simply understanding that since Heavenly Father wants me to make good and wise decisions, I can trust that when I study it out and ask, he’ll let me know if my decision is a good one. I’ve been led so many times, that I know He’ll guide me again.
    Great discussion starter Michelle!

  • facethemusic June 22, 2007, 9:38 pm

    It is with men as it is with rivers: a river becomes a river only by the assistance of its banks. The difference between a river and a swamp is that a river has banks and a swamp has none. Take away its banks and the river becomes a swamp.”

    Ooooooooooh! I LOVE this comparison! How simple yet profound! Thanks for sharing this Melinda!!

  • mlinford June 22, 2007, 10:57 pm

    Melinda,

    That is a great quote! Thanks for sharing. Love it. And it has some good applications in other ways, too, methinks. (Like commandments, maybe?)

    Tracy, good point about how merciful and patient God is. It’s one of the things I’m learning to trust in more and more. I want to be perfect NOW (yesterday, actually), and want to control my life so that I don’t make mistakes and don’t ever have to look back and say, “DUH!” But, alas, that is not the plan.

    One of the things I didn’t write about is the advice I give young women to learn how to hear the answers from heaven with the “smaller things.” The sooner they learn that, the easier the big decisions will be. 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith June 23, 2007, 2:30 am

    Welcome, Melinda! 🙂

  • east-of-eden June 24, 2007, 4:52 pm

    This was a really great post, and I really apprecaited it.

    I look back at my 20s and wish that I was not such a dork about making decisions and I would have learned to rely on the Lord, my good judgement and what I knew was right a bit more. That’s not to say I was a basket case when it came to my decisions, but I do wish I would have spent less time on worrying about the outcome of my life, and just enjoyed the time I was in.

    I think we also had parallel dating lives too.

  • SilverRain June 24, 2007, 7:40 pm

    I finally had time to read (skim) the references. You are a jewel, Michelle. 😉

  • mlinford June 24, 2007, 8:53 pm

    I think we also had parallel dating lives too.

    Back in that day, it was called my soapy opera. 🙂

  • mollymormon June 24, 2007, 10:35 pm

    Great comments! Although, I have to laugh because I think I am one of those who had the neatly packaged life:

    (e.g., Graduate from high school at 18. Go to college. Be swept off feet at at age 20. Know on second date that he is the one. Get married. Have first child at ?)

    Except I graduated at 17… Truthfully to me marriage always seemed so far away that perhaps I never did worry about it and maybe that’s why it happened that way for me, lol. Yet, when I knew he was the right one to marry, I did have some doubt. I felt so young (still do!) and my parents were arguing more than ever and I didn’t know if I wanted to get married if that’s what was gonna happen. It still did take faith to take that step.

    I agree, we need to keep moving until we feel that it is wrong, but that isn’t as easy at it sounds! We had a great RS lesson on that, using the power of prayer talk from GC.

  • mlinford June 24, 2007, 10:53 pm

    I agree, we need to keep moving until we feel that it is wrong, but that isn’t as easy at it sounds! We had a great RS lesson on that, using the power of prayer talk from GC.

    Agreed. Things are rarely as easy to do as they are to talk about. I hope my post made it clear that this is all a work in progress for me. All I know is that the principles are true, but it’ll take a lifetime I’m sure to really master the ability to hear and follow answers without a struggle. 🙂

    That talk by Elder Scott, btw, is one of those talks that just keeps on giving. I have read it many times and have found some really profound advice that is practical and that has changed my view on prayer. I think I need to read it again. I feel there are so many gems in there that if I really got, my life would be so much easier!

    Thanks all for the comments!

    Molly, p.s. part of why I struggled with the fact that my life wasn’t neatly packaged is because so many people I knew had it that way. But you know, someday you’ll probably find yourself an exception. 🙂 No matter what the specifics (neat package or not), decision-making takes faith. I like the way you brought that all around. 🙂

  • mollymormon June 24, 2007, 11:21 pm

    But you know, someday you’ll probably find yourself an exception

    Oh, I have no doubt about that. Already it’s not like I imagined, I mean I don’t have that white picket fence yet. 😉 And who would’ve EVER thought I’d homeschool my kids? Certainly not me! And there are plenty of other things that I never imagined, but hey, it’s time for me to get to bed (relatively) early!

  • Cassy August 13, 2014, 9:30 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. It truly has made a difference for me.

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