We Are Always Warned
I remember when I was about five years old my mom sat me down in our living room one morning before busing me off to Kindergarten. Her face was serious, and I thought that I had done something wrong. With complete love and sincerity in her voice she placed her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Stanley, never get into a car with a stranger.” I can’t remember exactly what my response was. – Knowing me, it was probably something along the lines of, “Duh mom! I learned that on TV!” – But I’ll never forget that day, her sincerity in warning me, and her obvious love and concern for my safety are eternally etched in my memory.
As Latter-day Saints we are likewise warned of impending danger. Most of us will never give in to a stranger trying to force us into a car and down unfamiliar roads away from our lives. However, at times, some of us may give in to an even greater threat and go down unfamiliar roads of sin. In fact, it’s far easier going down those roads of sin because often so little effort is required. But before we do so, we are always warned.
All people in the world are given the light of Christ. Some describe it as the conscience, the Jimminy Cricket of spiritual nudges. But as baptized and confirmed members of the Church we are given the Gift of the Holy ghost, which allows us continual guidance from a member of the Godhead. Do we really understand what a blessing that is? – I used to put it to my early morning seminary students like this
- Picture in your mind a Presidency within the Church. The First Presidency. Your Stake Presidency. Even a Deacons Quorum Presidency.
- Now picture the three individuals within that presidency. (Go ahead, picture them in your mind.)
- They are each different aren’t they? Each has their own unique traits and gifts they bring to the calling.
- Obviously the President of the Presidency presides. He holds the rights to Priesthood Keys.
- As a Presidency they’re all involved in the same work. They have the same purpose.
- Picture the Godhead as a Presidency.
- Picture the three individuals within that Presidency. Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost
- They’re each different right? God is our Father, His son came and ministered among us, and the Holy Ghost doesn’t even have a physical body.
- God presides among the Godhead.
- Yet they’re all involved in the same work. They’re “one”. They have the same purpose.
Simple right? Now do this for me:
- Picture the second counselor in your stake presidency seeking you out to visit you. He’s just left a stake presidency meeting, and he’s came to tell you that your stake president was thinking of you and loved you. He asks how your family is doing. He asks about your temporal well-being. He shares an uplifting message, maybe even a scripture passage. Then he leaves.
For a far better illustrative purpose though, picture this one last thing for me:
- The Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead, is with you. He’s with you when you wake up and get out of bed. He’s with you on your drive to work or school. He’s with you when the day gets stressful. In fact, he never even leaves. And he’s there for you like a best friend. Feeling down? Great! He’s the Comforter. Need some guidance? Good, he “can teach you all things” (John 14:26). And best of all, when you’re about to face any danger he’s there in a “still, small voice” to warn you. He will always warn you. – Does he have other things going on? Sure he does. He’s busy. He is in a Godhead after all. There’s meetings. There’s billions of people to whisp around and touch, uplift, inspire, warn, and comfort. But in his omniscient, spirit-bodied, every present state, he never leaves you unless you offend him. He’s always there entirely for you.
And that’s pretty cool.
Today I was doing some yard work for my parents. In the 138% humidity of Alabama, I was outside sweating along taking apart an old piece of yard junk (every Southerner knows what yard junk is – this just happened to be an old piece of exercise equipment). I was having a hard time getting my wrench to catch hold of the rusted up bolts and nuts holding this equipment together, and the more I struggled to make them catch hold the more frustrated I became. I persisted, sweat began to roll into my eyes and burn them, and then came the Pterodactyls of the 21st Century: Alabama Bugs. There were gnats, mosquitoes, bumble bees, and my personal favorite, the Alabama Red Wasp.
After ten minutes of being kamikazeed by the smaller bugs, I noticed one red wasp who was hovering about 10 feet away. In the glaring afternoon sun I was wrestling with rusty bolts, sweat burning my retinas, and a litany of luridly colored bugs. And here was this wasp flippantly keeping to himself. He wasn’t stinging my arms like the mosquitoes. He wasn’t swarming my face like the gnats. He was minding his own business, mindful of me stumbling around and sounding like an enraged Ned Flanders, but he wasn’t bothering me. He obviously had no intentions to hurt me. But as I inhaled gnats with every breath, I grew more upset, and at this point I lost my cool. I felt that somehow, some way, some bug had to pay for the atrocities I was suffering of being bugged (literally).
Now let me interject briefly that I’m usually a pacifist when it comes to bugs. I hate killing them without reason. If a spider descends upon my desk while I’m on my computer, I casually find something to put him on and carry him outside. If a bee is usually swarming about in my presence, I ignore him like a Zen Master and wish him the best in his pollen collecting activities. If they’re not going to hurt me, why should I hurt them?
But not today. Today I forgot my Zen Master Approach to Wildlife and I wanted bloodshed.
I picked up my biggest and flattest wrench. I eyed the red wasp, and he seemed to eye me back, acutely aware that the psuedo-cussing-barbarian with red eyes was making an advance towards him. He landed on a pile of cinder blocks and crawled around to the back side, away from my view. I advanced the few feet towards the wasp and raised my silver wrench above my head. After just a few seconds the wasp reappeared atop the blocks, looking suspiciously innocent and harmless, and as I prepared to take my death blow…
Dozens of thoughts popped into my mind all at once! Lessons on peace. Lessons on forgiveness. Lessons on anger. But most poignantly and oddly, in a flash I was reminded instantaneously of Joseph Smith’s multiple experiences with the brethren in Zion’s Camp. I seemed to see a group of ragtag Mormons setting into camp for the night. I saw their surprise at discovering three rattlesnakes at setting up a tent, and I saw as a group of men prepared to kill the snakes. But then, in my mind’s eye, I heard and saw as the Prophet Joseph commanded them in his booming but eloquent voice, “Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation.”
Standing their in my parents’ yard with a wrench raised high, the Spirit of the Holy Ghost took literally one second to bring dozens of things to my remembrance, and warn me what I was about to do was wrong.
But I ignored it.
And as the sun glared on I brought down my wrench in one swift motion, killing the wasp instantly. I pushed away the thoughts that had just been flashed into my mind, and scraped the dead bug onto the backside of the cinder blocks so as to avoid sitting on it if I decided to take a rest later on.
I went on with my labors, eventually completing my task at hand, and moved on to other tasks. I moved scaffolding. I took apart an antenna. Hours passed. I raked leaves and gathered tree limbs. And then, as the day was drawing to a close, I noticed a pile of cinder blocks that I’d wanted to adjust all day. “They’re just a little bit crooked in that pile,” I thought to myself. So with my OCD propelling me I approached the cinder blocks and started rearranging them.
About three blocks into my block moving effort I grabbed a block which sent a liquid fire of burning into my wrist. I dropped the block instantly, shouted out in pain, and I realized I had forayed upon the dead wasp from earlier in the day.
Karma, it seemed, had taken a very short amount of time to catch up with me.
As the day turned to night, and my wrist, hand, and entire arm swelled with the same fierce redness of the wasp itself, my moment with my wrench held high kept coming into my mind. Not only had I recognized the Spirit in the moment of his warning, but I had decided to blatantly ignore him. That “constant companionship” I am always praying for was killed the same moment I killed that wasp.
Part of our baptismal covenants we renew each week are that “we might always have his spirit to be with us.” Elder David A. Bednar had this to say about experiences like mine today –
We should also endeavor to discern when we “withdraw [ourselves] from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in [us] to guide [us] in wisdom’s paths that [we] may be blessed, prospered, and preserved” (Mosiah 2:36). Precisely because the promised blessing is that we may always have His Spirit to be with us, we should attend to and learn from the choices and influences that separate us from the Holy Spirit.
The standard is clear. If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing. If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us. Because the Spirit cannot abide that which is vulgar, crude, or immodest, then clearly such things are not for us. Because we estrange the Spirit of the Lord when we engage in activities we know we should shun, then such things definitely are not for us.
I recognize we are fallen men and women living in a mortal world and that we might not have the presence of the Holy Ghost with us every second of every minute of every hour of every day. However, the Holy Ghost can tarry with us much, if not most, of the time—and certainly the Spirit can be with us more than it is not with us. As we become ever more immersed in the Spirit of the Lord, we should strive to recognize impressions when they come and the influences or events that cause us to withdraw ourselves from the Holy Ghost.
Taking “the Holy Spirit for [our] guide” (D&C 45:57) is possible and is essential for our spiritual growth and survival in an increasingly wicked world. Sometimes as Latter-day Saints we talk and act as though recognizing the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives is the rare or exceptional event. We should remember, however, that the covenant promise is that we may always have His Spirit to be with us. This supernal blessing applies to every single member of the Church who has been baptized, confirmed, and instructed to “receive the Holy Ghost.”
– Elder David A. Bednar, “That We May Always Have His Spirit To Be With Us”; 176 Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Today I messed up. A dear friend of mine, someone who has always been there for me, and a member of the Godhead tried to tell me something and warn me. But instead of listening, I ignored him. I thought I was smarter than him, or that at least this once he was wrong and I was right, and I offended him. Luckily the Spirit is forgiving and our Heavenly Father is very merciful. But it leaves me to wonder how many other times the Holy Ghost has tried to get a message through this thick head of mine, how many times he has prompted, pushed, nudged, and even hollered, and I have missed him. After all, I can’t get stung every time I ignore a prompting…
That would just make this discipleship thing too easy to figure out…
Painful, but easy.
And my prayer is that next time I hear that “still, small voice” I pay more heed, and don’t get so caught up in my own pride.
We’ll see how that goes.
– Stan Way