Monday, April 13, 2015

Answers to Prayers

I have often made analogies for myself between learning the gospel and learning science. I tend to think they are essentially the same, so I'm sure my analogies sometimes overreach, but I have long thought of learning to recognize the Spirit as a grand experiment. I'm sure Alma had some influence on that, but I continue to find the comparison fruitful.

When you are learning to do new experiments in the lab, you begin by repeating others' experiments. You do things that already have an answer. We call them controls. Every experimenter has to make sure that he or she is a master of the technique. If you can't get the right answer on something that is known, how can you trust any new results? And you have to get it right lots of times to show you are a master. I have found listening to the Spirit to be very similar. How can I know if the Spirit was speaking to me, or if it was simply wishful thinking and ever-present emotions? I struggled with this for a long time. What I did was I looked for the experiments with known answers. I looked to see if I could get answers that I knew corresponded with good fruits. Then I looked for less certain answers and tried to pay attention for when they came. When they did, I looked to see if they produced good fruits. If they did, I thought, that was the Spirit. And I tried to pay attention. I thought I could discern a difference between emotional manipulation and the Spirit, or I at least knew enough warning signs to be cautious if there was significant possibility of the former.

Enough of the framework. There are some difficult implications of this--at least for me. I had to learn to get answers to prayers by getting the expected answers. People had to teach me how to ask the questions and what the answers would be. I had to be indoctrinated in the discipline of recognizing the Spirit. There is no way around it that I can see. We all have to be indoctrinated in a new discipline if we ever hope to master it. But once you begin to master it--even a little--you have to step away from the known answers, and that is when the unexpected can happen. My unexpected answers have led me away from the mainstream. I wonder if this is unavoidable? If you ask questions that haven't been answered in scripture or by prophets, or questions where prophets have contradicted each other, or questions where two moral goods are in need of balancing and neither can be satisfied fully, then you are going to get answers that lead you away from the mainstream at least sometimes, and maybe away from some prophets when there are necessary contradictions. Asking new questions is dangerous by definition if safety is in conservatism. Here are some of the Safe and Dangerous questions I have asked on my journey:

Safe question: Is man woman marriage ordained of God and an essential part of his plan? I got a yes to this.

Dangerous question: Do any other family arrangements fit in the plan? What ones? How? I didn't get an answer to this at all until after several years of studying biology and family. It took time for me to even think of these questions, and more time to be willing to ask.

SQ: Is it right to pray to Heavenly Father? I still haven't asked this question. It works for me. The fruits are good.

DQ: Is it good to pray to Mother in Heaven? Ever? When? Where? It took a close friend telling me that he couldn't picture a loving Heavenly Father. He could hardly picture a loving father of any kind, and didn't believe in God as a result. Then other people shared with me their views of God and why they had to change their views from the Old Man in the Sky that they learned as children. When they did, they found connection with Deity that they had never known before. It took me years to really believe this. My Dad in Heaven works great for me. But is this image I have of Him worth fighting for to the point that I would deny others connection with the divine? Or label them as flawed or inauthentic? When I could no longer deny them this, then I was ready to ask the questions. My answers surprised me, and I think these are just for me. But I'm glad I asked.

SQ: Is this Your true church, guided by You through living prophets, and capable of leading souls to salvation? Should I be baptized (serve a mission, go to temple)? I got a yes, yes, yes, etc. I safely generalized these yeses.

DQ: Will anyone else be saved? What about someone who no longer believes in Mormonism? Only partly believes? Believes but had to leave to be healthy and happy? Are there really righteous people who leave? Are there really people feeling the Spirit telling them to become nuns? Isn't that just because they didn't have the chance to be Mormon? If they had learned about Mormonism, wouldn't the Spirit have told them to do something different? I answered the first with an "Of course. God will straighten everything out in the Millennium and after. Everyone will have a real chance to become Mormon." Then I didn't have to deal with the logical and emotional consequences of the other questions. It took about seven years of being a missionary (two full time and five as a stake/ward/member missionary) to sincerely ask the next of these questions. It took another ten years of life experience to force me to ask the rest and not just accept my simple answer. Now I don't have an answer. I've lived the value of ordinances, but I can only trust that they have eternal significance for me--and I'm not sure what their place is for everyone. I have answers to some of these questions, but they have left me with more questions than before. I hope they've given me greater compassion.

SQ: What should I do to help my home teaching family in need? I call it safe, but this is frequently a harder question than many of the others.

DQ: What should I support to reduce poverty and injustice in my city, state, and nation? I have Spirit motivated opinions, here, but I can tell you God hasn't given me clear answers. I'm not sure I even know the right questions, or that I've studied it out enough to understand. But what I have understood sometimes makes me a stranger among my people.

SQ: Is ___________ called of God? I've had numerous yeses to this question.

DQ: Is this teaching from __________ good and true? Should I do what _________ counseled me? I've had both yeses and stupors of thought on these. I've had numerous silences, as well. I've had yeses that I later learned were partial mistakes--it was good for me to do what I did, but it wasn't good or true in a fuller sense.

How do I live in this minefield? As carefully as I can. I watch my step and trust the Doctor (and don't ask Doctor Who? It's not him) will be able to put any mistakes I make back together. Every once in a while I rush headlong after someone that seems to be in danger, forgetting that there might be mines between him and me. Sometimes I get sad or scared and just hide where I am, wishing it would all go away. Sometimes I yell at all the people I think are responsible for the mines. Sometimes I accuse people of not being serious or good or thoughtful if they aren't wandering around the same field with me. I'm sorry. I also think God has drawn me to the danger. If it isn't where He wants me to be, I'm not sure I've learned anything about hearing His answers. This is my path, for now. Hopefully it's the strait and narrow, because it definitely isn't the straight and narrow.

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