Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How I Receive Personal Revelation

An anonymous commenter on my post Stake Conference and Personal Revelation said:
I was struck by the clear and very specific nature of the personal revelation you received last september regarding marriage. If it is not too personal, or difficult to describe, could you please relate the process of this revelation? Was it a voice, a warm feeling after a specific question or just what? I would sincerely appreciate your input...I don't think I have ever been able to distinguish between emotions, hopes, fears and the spirit.
I promised a follow-up post to respond to this question, and I'm only just getting around to it. I'm so sorry it took me so long. I hope you see this, Anonymous.

I was going to title this post "How to receive personal revelation", but I realized that personal revelation is just that - personal. How I receive revelation may not be the same way that you receive it. (I don't normally receive revelation this clearly, either.)

Normally, I receive personal revelation about what I need to do in one of two ways. The most common way is that I will feel flashes of insight while studying the scriptures, talking with people, listening to church meetings, etc. It's as if a light turns on and I just know. That's probably not very helpful, but it's the best I can describe it. It's not words or text - it's just thoughts. I still struggle to discern between genuine inspiration and my own thoughts/hopes/fears. However, I take comfort in Moroni 7:12-13:
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God...Behold that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God and to serve him, is inspired of God.
For the most part, this takes care of things. Basically, even if I'm unsure whether it is a specific revelation or my own personal desires, as long as it is good and right, it's from God so I do it.

This takes care of the easy cases. The second way I receive personal revelation is much more rare, but it has happened on a few noted occasions, mostly when I have a huge potentially life-altering decision ahead. (i.e. Do I go to school A or school B?) I have, on a few occasions, been blessed to perceive how a certain course of events will likely play out if I make a certain decision. I don't want that future, so I make the other decision.

Neither one of these two scenarios was at play with the marriage revelation. I think that revelation was a long time coming, honestly. I'll have to back up to my teenage years. I joined the church when I was almost 13. (My parents were inactive members, and they did not raise me in the church. A friend shared the gospel with me.) I immediately became the Molliest of Molly Mormons. I carried a For the Strength of Youth pamphlet in my purse, I was eager to share the gospel, I was almost Pharasaic in my Sabbath observance (much to the chagrin of my non-church-attending family), and I decided that I would marry a returned missionary in the temple.

As Molly as I was, I still had what I call a finely-tuned bologna-meter. (My patriarchal blessing calls it the 'gift of discernment', but bologna-meter works for my purposes.) Basically, when something said by an authority figure is off, I can tell. Well, the YW lessons stressed that we should only consider marriage to a returned missionary in the temple, and that we should never accept less because non-returned missionaries aren't good enough. My father is not a returned missionary, and he is one of the best men I know. My parents have a great marriage, filled with respect and love. It felt completely wrong that my YW leaders were basically saying that my mother should not have married my father. (For the record, they were married in the temple.)

By the time I was old enough to date, I was friends with a lot of non-LDS guys. I began dating one of my friends. I took a lot of flak for it, but I figured that since I was too young to even think about marriage, it wasn't a big deal. My parents didn't mind, since he was a great guy who treated me right. I figured that at age 16, it didn't really matter, and that when I was of marriageable age, I would date LDS men. I didn't really talk much about my boyfriend around the ward because I didn't want to set a "bad example" for the other YW, even though I didn't really feel in my heart that I was doing anything bad.

To make a long story short, he joined the church (of his own choice, not for me), we dated for a year and a half, broke up, he served a mission, and is now married in the temple with three kids. Dating outside the church had been shown to be only a good thing for all concerned in that situation, though I still was firm on marrying in the church.

In college, I had an on-again-off-again relationship with an LDS man, but it didn't work out. Then I went on a mission. After my mission, I started law school, and I found that I suddenly became unattractive to LDS men. I was constantly told that I was "too smart", "too ambitious", "too career-focused", etc. I also began to notice that there was a huge disparity in numbers of active single men and active single women after a certain age.

One day, when I was about 23, I was poking around on lds.org, and I saw that there was a topical section (made up of Ensign articles) on single members. I looked it over, and an article stuck out at me. President Hinckley was giving a talk, and he addressed the issue of what single women should do if they find themselves without an opportunity for temple marriage. I assumed that he would say to stay single and wait for the afterlife. Instead, he said to prayerfully consider the options, and that perhaps marrying a righteous non-member would be a valid decision. I was honestly shocked, since that flew in the face of everything I had heard in YW growing up. (I have looked for that article since, and I haven't been able to find it.) I didn't really think much of it, since, at 23, I figured I still had time to date and marry within the LDS pool.

Fast-forward to last September. I was 27, still single, and I was beginning to realize that I was fast approaching my expiration date in LDS singledom. (People were starting to say things like, "Don't worry. I knew someone who got married at 29 to a widower with 3 kids.") I was also beginning to realize that non-LDS men treated me with more respect and kindness than LDS men, and that I was more compatible with them. I found myself very interested in a non-LDS man I met at school with whom I had an excellent rapport.

There was a mid-singles conference that I decided to attend. My plan for that weekend was to ask God to make me stop liking this non-member and to help me like and be liked by a temple worthy LDS man. I had a prayer in my heart the whole weekend. Well, throughout the course of the weekend, I got the impression that God was telling me to chill out and not worry about it. Finally, on the last day of the conference, after I poured my heart out to Him, I got an impression. It wasn't words, it was more a feeling, and the feeling was that I should find a good man without regard to whether or not he is a church member.

I'm not really sure how to articulate it beyond that. I still don't know whether that means that I should chill out and marry a non-member, or whether I should chill out and the right member will come along. God tends to operate on a need-to-know basis with me, so I have faith that when I need more specific direction, I'll get it.

I hope that answers your question, Anonymous. Sorry it took so long to write, and sorry it was so rambling.


Jessica said...

Fabulously communicated. My experience with revelation has been similar. I remember that article by Pres. Hinckley as well. It explained a great deal about some of the wonderful couples I knew, many of whom had started out as part-member families.

(Oh, and if I die young and leave my husband a widower, feel free to try to marry him. Meanwhile, I'll keep trying to soften him up. ;) )

Anonymous said...

Dear Keri,
This is "anonymous". Thank you so much for this wonderful, thoughtful post. I appreciate the time you took in responding and I plan to digest it carefully and see if I can find commonalities of personal revelation in my own life. As I mentioned, I have been struggling with my faith in the church and I am hoping that I can find something real and profound to cling to. I know we are not supposed to seek "manifestations", but as I have discovered what I perceive to be acts of deceit by the church, I need something palpable to help me know whether to try to keep believing. I hope my hard (broken) heart over these seeming betrayals doesn't prevent me from seeing the truth. Your bologna-meter is an interesting concept. The black and white worldview I have been so thoroughly immersed in has left me embarrassingly naive at the age of 51. Perhaps I could learn to hone my bologna-meter skills and separate God from "the church" so I don't feel compelled to throw the baby out with the bath water. The kicker is that "the church" would not want me to consider it separate from God...what to do with all the gray??? Anyway, I'm grateful to you and I am going slow and trying to remain open to everything.

Deborah said...

This resonates with my experience. Thanks for sharing it.