Choosing without seeing the path

I am trying to figure out the whole “answers to prayers” thing. Not the type of answers involving help or comfort in difficult situations, but more along the lines of guidance or direction when making big decisions.

It’s not been something I have worried too much about previously – I think that generally it doesn’t matter too much (in the grand, eternal scheme of things) what I choose. Even with the seemingly big decisions I’ve made up to this point, I’m not sure there was a “right” or “wrong” decision, though it’s completely possible that one choice was part of a more direct path to progress and happiness, while the other was more circuitous with a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness along the way. But, at least so far, the biggish decisions I’ve made have worked out alright in the end. I don’t look back at any of them and wish I’d made a different choice because I wouldn’t have learned what I’ve learned and wouldn’t be where I am now.

However….

I recognize that there are some decisions which are significant enough that the decision-maker would require, or at least really, really, really appreciate some affirmation of the direction in which they are leaning. Sometimes, when two roads diverge in a yellow wood, or anywhere else, if you’re really going to take the one less traveled by, or if you couldn’t care less which road is most traveled, but you think the road you choose will make all the difference, you want some reassurance that all that difference will be the positive sort.

As part of the decision-making process I have thoughts come into my head, sometimes as a result of connections to other thoughts, sometimes without any clear trigger. In my spiritual immaturity, I have yet to figure out how to distinguish my own thoughts from those which might be the result of the guidance of the spirit and inspiration from God.

I’ve been taught that things which are a good cometh of God. Maybe my “good” ideas, whatever they may be, aren’t just a result of my own cleverness and problem-solving skills, but they actually are a result of guidance and inspiration. That’s great for situations where the “good” choice can be fairly easily identified. But what about good, better, or best options? What if both roads could lead to continual goodness and love and service?

When all the thoughts and options bouncing around in one’s head are good ones, to some degree, that’s when it seems really difficult to figure out what guidance is being provided. There’s always a wonder – was that thought just mine or was that significant somehow? Did I just impose this feeling on that thought because it’s what I want to feel? Am I trying to convince myself that I’m making the right decision for the right reasons when really I just want to make it for selfish or stupid reasons? Does it matter what the reasons are if the result is a good one? But what if both results, to do or not to do, are good ones? Was hearing that comment from that person just now simply a coincidence? Is this thing just on my mind and now I hear about it everywhere? Am I creating a self-fulfilling prophecy so that I have external validation of something I want?

If I were to hear all this, as an external observer, I would roll my eyes at the indecisiveness – just pick one! Everything works out in the end. But I know that there are some decisions where waiting till things work out in the end just doesn’t seem good enough, or might even seem fairly terrifying. A lot of crappy stuff can happen before one arrives at the “end” where things work out.

Of course I know that if, when faced with a difficult decision, the best option was always clear, the degree to which free will plays a role would be greatly diminished.

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.

He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Agency in the face of opposition or confusion is required or there would be no good or bad choices to benefit or suffer from. And then there’s that faith thing again…acting on hope for things (inspiration, guidance, and direction included) which are not seen. I had thought the big, big decisions typically came as a result of a little motivation-via-revelation, but maybe even the big decisions, those that seem so big even taking one step without at least some degree of inspiration feels like taking a truly blind, flying leap across a giant chasm…maybe those decisions just require chasm-size faith.

I loved to choose and see my path; but now…Lead thou me on!

Power of Prayer

My uncle wrote a great post on his blog a few weeks ago describing a time when his terminally ill father was visited by President Monson. In speaking to this man, President Monson explained that he had just been at a meeting with the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12, and that, “as we prayed your name was read aloud and we united our faith in your behalf.”

At first I thought how awe-inspiring and comforting it would be to know that prophets and apostles were praying for you by name. But then I realized that I can’t imagine drawing any greater degree of comfort from prayers on my behalf than I have previously felt knowing that important people in my life have been praying for me.

A few years ago my aunt let me know that my cousin (her daughter, who must have been less than 6 at the time) had mentioned me in their family prayers that night. I didn’t write this down at the time so I’m not sure where I was or what I was doing exactly, but I do know that I was miserable and I probably wasn’t doing much praying. I also know that neither my aunt nor this little cousin had any idea of how I was feeling or what was going on. So I was absolutely amazed that someone was praying for me, without my asking them, without my praying for myself, and even more so that this prayer was said by a child I rarely saw and didn’t know all that well.

The prayer didn’t solve my problems or cheer me right up or even instigate a powerful spiritual experience. But it was a reminder that I was known and remembered, and it was an experience I kept going back to over the years. It was one of the milestones along my circuitous path back to faith that was solid and undeniable, and in that sense mattered a great deal.

I’ve had some great experiences wherein I’ve felt really blessed by the prayers of others recently, both after asking for prayers and maybe even more meaningfully, finding out that prayers were already being said for me without my even needing to ask.

Whether it’s a prophet or small child, I believe prayers said on my behalf mean something and matter if for no other reason than that I feel supported, comforted, and remembered knowing those prayers are happening as I’m working through hard stuff.