I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord

January 9, 2007 | 23 comments
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Last week I had dinner with three other people at a law professors’ conference in Washington DC. Two of the other people are Mormons. The third is a friend and former colleague, the daughter of two avowed atheists. As these things happen, we began telling stories about the Church, and my former colleague wondered how it was that I came to be converted to Mormonism. I related a version of my conversion story, which led to more stories around the table.

Some of the stories involved spiritual experiences in connection with a career change, and I affirmed that my family never makes a major move without first obtaining some form of confirmation from the Lord. This confirming voice may be heard in blessings or in prayers or in simple convictions, strongly felt.

Earlier today, I read the story of a BYU football recruit, recently returned from a mission to California, who decided unexpectedly to transfer to the University of Utah. While these sorts of decisions are always complicated by multiple constituencies and considerations, the football player explained to reporters that his family had fasted and prayed, and they felt certain that the Lord approved of the transfer: “I don’t know everything, but I do know that if I go where the Lord wants me to be that I’ll be able to accomplish” my dreams, he said. (For avid BYU football fans, this tale might seem like the story told to me by a member of my ward in Delaware. Apparently his brother was trying to decide whether to remain active in the Church and went to the temple, fasting, to inquire of the Lord. The brother came out of the temple convinced that the Lord wanted him to leave the Church.)

Some will scoff at this young man, but I can relate to him. My family has moved often, more often than we would like if left to our own devices. We have lived in 12 different states during our 21 years of marriage. At times I envy those who have been able to sink deeper roots than we have done. On the other hand, the lesson that I teach my children is that the Lord has a place for each of us, and we would do well to find it.

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23 Responses to I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Dear Lord

  1. Jonathan Green on January 9, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Thanks, Gordon. This topic, and the title of your post, have been on my mind for a while.

  2. Mark B. on January 9, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Do avid BYU football fans really think that transferring to the U is analagous to leaving the church?

    I would think they could come up with some handy rationalizations (having learned the art of rationalization while justifying in their minds the operation of a football factory in Provo) such as:

    “Well, he’s probably not that good of [sic] a player anyway, so God led him to the U so the Y can beat them.”

    or

    “Who knows? Maybe this guy will pull a Rashaun Broadus in a few years, and look at all the embarrassment we’re being spared.”

    or

    “He’ll probably leave the church by the time he graduates, anyway.”

  3. Lamonte on January 9, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Gordon – Thanks for your thoughts. I have a friend who is sort of a crusty fellow. He’s a convert to the church and grew up in an eastern city. I hope it isn’t stereotyping to suggest that his upbringing (location and environment) has made him less trusting and a bit more cynical than a naive country boy from Idaho like me. Despite his conversion ot the Gospel, he totally rejects the idea expressed by some (including me) that God has a specific place and purpose for each of us and we need to seek his guidance in all the choices we make.

    We moved from the Salt Lake Valley to Northern Virginia (suburban Washington DC) 18 years ago. I had desired a move to the east for a long time but my wife resisted until it became necessary to relocate for employment reasons. After these many years, we both can see that there was a purpose, probably many purposes, for the two of us and our four sons to move. Even the particular house and neighborhood where we initially relocated had significance.

    Despite his cynicism, I still love my convert friend and I truly believe that he will someday see, in his own life and that of his children, that our happiness is all about the choices we make and we are best seeking the guidance of God in making those choices.

  4. obi-wan on January 9, 2007 at 11:51 am

    While I wholeheartedly support the general thrust of this comment, I’m a little troubled that you (properly) urge us not to scoff at the player who felt he was directed to change schools, but are at the same time at least impliedly dismissive of the fellow who felt he was directed to leave the Church.

    I found Ihad much the same difficulty in missionary work. When we urged investigators to try “Moroni’s Challenge,” to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and they came back with the answer that it is not true, then I felt we had to respect that. Any other position undermines our entire set of claims about personal revelation and answers to prayer.

    So, too, with those investigators who felt God told them not to join the Church, but to become Unitarians or Jehovah’s Witnesses or whatever. You can’t very well tell people that they should go to God for answers and then complain that they are getting the wrong answer just because it is an answer that doesn’t suit your views or your purposes.

  5. Rusty on January 9, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    There is a certain difference between:

    1) “I’m going to ask the Lord where He want’s me to go and then I’ll go there.”
    2) “I’m going to make my decision (of where to go) and ask confirmation from the Lord.”
    3) “I’m going to make my decision (of where to go) and if the Lord doesn’t approve He’ll let me know.”

    I’ve done all three, but it’s usually #2 or #3. So I guess in my case the song would be “I’ll go where I want to go as long as the Lord is cool with it.”

  6. Russell Arben Fox on January 9, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Lamonte,

    “Despite his conversion ot the Gospel, he totally rejects the idea expressed by some (including me) that God has a specific place and purpose for each of us and we need to seek his guidance in all the choices we make.”

    I would not say I totally reject the notion that “God has a specific place and purpose” in the works for all of us; my feelings on the subject are far too convoluted, and far too torn by many various experiences over the years, to embrace such a definite answer. However, I’m afraid I am mostly going to have to put myself in your friend’s camp, at least in regards to myself. The path which has brought us to Kansas, with my current job and in our current home, in so many ways could be read as a series of constant miracles, promptings, interventions, and so forth, which ultimately put us in the place we are supposed to be. Yet I cannot in good conscience read it that way; there were too many heartfelt prayers, too many pleadings, too many struggles and disappointments along the way to discern in it a positive accomplishment of the Lord’s purposes. On the contrary, my overall feelings about our situation today follows from the slow realization that I ought not try to figure out my own standing before God in relation some sort of path He has planned for me, but rather than I ought to simply respond to Him as fearlessly and faithfully as I can, wherever I am. And, if along the way we find a place that is right for us, that probably simply means He saw many ways and places wherein our lives could be “made right,” and that it up to us and random chance to determine which one of those places would be our own.

    Of course, then there is the example of my in-laws, who have always strongly felt that they ended up in Michigan exactly because there was a specific purpose the Lord wanted them to accomplish there, and who am I to say they are wrong? Certainly there are many positive consequences of that move which they can point to. The Lord’s confirmations come more frequently to some Saints than others; if you–like my in-laws–have come see God’s confirming hand in your move to the neighborhood in which you live, then I’m not going to doubt it.

  7. greenfrog on January 9, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    We cannot help but to create stories about our lives, no matter where we are. By so doing, we create meaning and purpose, as well.

    Our creation story tells of God doing the same upon discovering materials from which an earth could be created.

  8. Gordon Smith on January 9, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Mark B, it sounds like you have been hanging out at Cougarboard! Let’s just say that some BYU sports fans see a great sense of mission in the athletic program of the school.

    Rusty, that was excellent, and like you, I have done all three of those things. Love your new hymn, by the way.

    Lamonte and Russell, that was an interesting exchange. I agree with Russell that “where we are” is determined by a “series of constant miracles, promptings, interventions, and so forth” — not to mention the cumulative effect of myriad other choices and non-choices that are not the subject of intense searching. My eagerness to do His will does not require me to locate the “one and only” path of my life (and I didn’t read Lamonte as saying that), and I think Russell’s attitude of “respond[ing] to Him as fearlessly and faithfully as I can” is not only admirable, but consistent with the notion of finding one’s place in the Kingdom.

  9. Lamonte on January 9, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Russell – Thanks for your thoughts. I can’t say I disagree with you. I am somewhat aware of the challenges you have faced professionally as you have shared them with us here at T&S. May I add one thought to your skepticism brought about by many moves and disappointments along the way.

    I mentioned that we moved to the east coast for employment reasons. Just prior to that, I had been given the opportunity to be a partner in an architectural practice. My partners and I took over a going concern by buying the local office of an internationally known firm where we had been working. It was a dream for all three of us to own our own firm one day. But as great as things started out, they quickly turned around and ultimately we lost everything we had worked for. I came eastward and for five years dug myself (with the love and support of my family) out of the gaping hole I had created with that endeavor. What a disappointment. Then, just as I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, disaster struck again and I lost my job here. I looked for work for nine months before finding permanent employment. But now, thirteen years later, things are fine. I’m still not sure I am where I should be professionally (I’ve changed jobs 4 times since then) but I have discovered new treasures that were right in front of my nose prior to that but I was just looking elsewhere. I doubt I will ever be totally satisfied with my life and I think that is a good thing but I know that the trials and the struggles that we have endured together as a family have made us a closer and better family. That is the message I get when I consider how the Lord has guided us, either by us listening or by circumstances that we have faced. I think you would be surprised at how many lives you might have touched by living and working in the various places you have found yourself. And some of your influence might not even be felt or realized for years to come. I am grateful for my life, including the hard times that have come…and that have passed me by. I wish you great success in your new position in Kansas.

  10. CS Eric on January 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Two years ago, I received two job offers within a couple of weeks of each other. One was a promotion and to the city where my wife’s sister (who is the only family we are close to on either side) lives. The other was a lateral move where we knew nobody. I got two very strong answers. “No” to the promotion near family, “Yes” to the lateral where we would be strangers. My sister-in-law still hasn’t forgiven me, but my wife is starting to accept the answers.

    Up until last week, I was still wondering how urgent the need really was that we move. I was reminded in a rather unpleasant way why we needed to leave, but am still not sure why we are here.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on January 9, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Lamonte. I like your comment: “I am grateful for my life, including the hard times that have come…and that have passed me by.” Because you’re right–we never can no what the Lord may or may not have moved us out of the way of, can we? I might find myself instinctively agreeing with your skeptical friend, but my skepticism doesn’t go all the way down; one can have doubts that the Lord’s hand is present in one’s life, but if one is a sincere doubter, then you have to doubt those doubts as well. And so I end up where I usually am: a bit of a cynic, but a romantic all the same. I don’t know if the Lord wanted us in Kansas, but I know there were things we wanted as a family, and we’re finding them here. So maybe that’s a confirmation all on it’s own?

  12. Kevin Barney on January 9, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    When I was on my mission and we would use the promise in Moro. 10:3-5 with people, on occasion someone would say they had gone through the process and received an answer that it was *not* true. I always accepted such an answer (for *that* person) and never argued about it. While I personally might suspect that the person hadn’t really read the book or pondered it or even prayed about it, their bona fides was on them, not me. I don’t think there is anything I can bring to the table that will trump (perceived) personal revelation.

  13. Craig V. on January 9, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Bonhoeffer, while he was in prison, wrote a sermon for some close friends who were about to be married. I believe it was the sermon he would have preached if he had been able to officiate at the wedding. From what I remember (and my memory is rusty on this) he starts the sermon by admonishing the couple not to say that their decision to marry is God’s will. He argues something like “It’s not God’s will, it’s your will and your choice and you need to take full responsibility for that choice.” He ends the sermon, however, by pointing out that nothing could be more obvious than that the marriage is God’s will.

  14. Jack on January 9, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    I’m learning, as I older, not to ask the Lord for too much advice.

  15. Jack on January 9, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    …as I *get* older…

  16. Mark B. on January 9, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Cougarboard? Never heard of it!

  17. Heather O. on January 9, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    What if sometimes He wants us in specific places, and sometimes He doesn’t? I have had experiences where have been very firmly directed towards something, even one occurence where I was offered a job with no other job prospects in sight, and yet had a very strong prompting to turn it down. It was weird, and I was shaken and confused, but I turned it down, not knowing why. Well, another job, a more important job, one that literally changed my life came along not long after that, and I am convinced the entire thing was orchestrated by the Lord. Still, I was my choice to follow the path. I remember sitting in my car after the job interview, knowing what was at stake, knowing what I was being asked to do, and everything in my heart rejecting it. I finally said, out loud even, “Ok. I’ll do it.” A feeling of peace and joy like I had never had filled my heart, and I knew I had made the right decision. And, like I said, the job changed my life. But the Lord still made it my decision.

    However, I don’t get this kind of direction all the time. I have struggled with other opportunities, and sometimes feel like the Lord is saying, “Well, what do YOU want?” and He lets me accomplish what I want to accomplish, and I just pray He makes sure I don’t screw up too badly. Also, we are largely responsible for many of our own opportunities, or lack thereof. We are often rewarded for our own hard work, as well as our laziness. Could I have gotten some of the jobs I had if I had failed grad school? Hardly, and the Lord can’t do much about that.

    So while I am not in the camp of “The Lord never directs us–it’s all up to us”, I can also say I can’t agree with “The Lord ALWAYS directs our path.” Somehow I think it’s a combination, a team, a great improvisation of sorts where the Lord says, “Well, what will I do with Heather now that she’s decided to be here?” mixed with an occasional dose of “I need her to be here now.” To me, that feels much more comfortable, and much more in line with a God who respects our free agency.

  18. Bookslinger on January 10, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Sometimes it literally doesn’t matter, as in that one section of the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord tells some individuals they could go North, South, East or West, it didn’t matter. However, with his foreknowledge, I’m sure he knew in advance which direction they’d pick.

    In the cases of those who haven’t learned how to listen to the Spirit, or how to ask for and recognize spiritual confirmations, maybe it doesn’t matter for them, because they are currently incapable of receiving that information. I don’t think the Lord would expect them to live up to things they are presently incapable of.

    However, he may use other means, by arranging external circumstances such that outside influences are used to get them “into position” if he wants them in a certain place.

    But for those who are capable of receiving spiritual directions, either through promptings that the Lord initiates, or spiritual confirmations resulting from the ponder/decide/pray process, I believe the Lord does often have specific plans for them.

    Some of the major bad decisions in my life were when I second-guessed God after receiving promptings. I dismissed some important promptings thinking “God wouldn’t tell me to do that. That must be Satan whispering.” (How many of us would have dismissed the prompting to kill Laban?)

    In 1986, I misinterpreted the dictum “It doesn’t matter where you serve, but how” to mean that I didn’t need to ask for a confirmation about where to live, once I had accepted a certain job. And so I dismissed a prompting telling me to pray about which ward to live in, and I ended up living as close to the workplace as I could. In hindsight, that decision put me in a ward with some individuals who had a negative influence on me, and kept me away from people in another ward with whom I should have been in contact.

    My last move, in November 2006, was based solely on a spiritual directive that I needed to be in a certain ward. Which move was to correct a mistake I made in moving in 2002, and which I compounded every year when my lease was up. In 2005, the Spirit clearly told me it was time to move back to where I should have been, but I procrastinated. There’s more to the story, but that’s the short version.

    It wasn’t until after each mistake, or missed opportunity to move, that reasons became apparent. There are reasons to be at the “right place at the right time.”

    Even though I spent 4+ years living somewhere other than where the Lord wanted me to be, I think he still put me to work and gave me assignments and promptings while I was there, and I was able to do some good, and be of service. (I placed hundreds of Books of Mormon on that side of town, some of them due to specific promptings.)

    The Lord doesn’t entirely abandon us when we screw up. Perhaps he said: “Oh well. As long as you’re here, you might as well do this, and this and this.” However, I believe a higher good would have been accomplished had I been where he wanted me to be in the first place.

    Another mistake I’ve made more than once, is that once I realize I screwed up and took the wrong decision, I often assume that it’s uncorrectable, and that the opportunity is lost forever. Sometimes opportunities are lost forever, but sometimes we can repent, recover them, and still make good, even if we don’t recover 100%.

  19. JKC on January 10, 2007 at 11:28 am

    I sure would have dismissed the prompting to kill Laban. The guy was already falling down drunk, practically passed out, why did he need to be killed? It’s not unreasonable that a good bonk on the head would have done the job well enough. Personally, to me Nephi’s conversation with the spirit sounds more like personal rationalization than a divine mandate to kill. He’s also likely writing this decades later, so he had plenty of time to construct his own narrative of what happened. This might sound like a threadjack, but I think its just an example of what Russel is talking about when he says that his in-laws see his life as manifestation of divine will, while he sees it more as the result of personal initiative. Nephi thinks he was inspired to kill Laban; I find it easier to believe that he is blaming God for his own decision to kill someone.

  20. JKS on January 10, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    What becomes difficult is when making a decisions for the ENTIRE family, what may work out well for one member, may just be OK for another, and be worse for a another. It becomes impossible to make the best choice for each child individually, for instance. Perhaps choice A would work out best for Child #1 individually and neutral for Child 2 but devastating for Child 3, but Choice B is much better for Child 2 and 3 and only mildly bad for Child #1.
    Being a parent is such a huge responsibility. You make the best decisions you can, with all the resources you have (your knowledge, your experience, research, the spirit) and then you just have to move forward based on your best call.
    For me, I have to have real faith in the purpose of mortality in order to make decisions at all.

  21. Bookslinger on January 10, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    JKC, I think that at some point in our spiritual progression we have to stop trying to discern the source of spiritual whisperings by the content, and start discerning them by actually recognizing the voice of who is speaking to us. That was a hard process for me to go through initially, and it seems I have to relearn it often. I still end up not recognizing, and unfortunately sometimes still disobey or chicken out a la Jonah.

    The scriptures have plenty of examples of the Lord telling someone to do things that don’t make sense. And the church in this dispensation has plenty of examples, starting early on with Joseph Smith, with all the migrations, building temples while in poverty, consecration, plural marriages, colonizing, foreign proselyting missions, etc.

    In my life, especially over the last 2.5 years, my ability to recognize the voice of the Spirit bears direct relation to my diligence in the simple things: repentance, humility, daily scripture study, daily prayer, weekly family home evening (even us singles are supposed to have family home evening), meeting attendance, and service.

    As I’ve learned to better recognize and pay more diligent heed (both of which are continuing challenges) to the voice of the Spirit, I find that growth occurs, and that new scenarios, and even new levels, have been presented. I’ve made a few trips to other cities (both within an hour’s/day’s driving, and cross-country flights), not knowing exactly what I was to do when I got there. But when I got there, I was led to specific places and specific people.

    I _literally_ put into practice the title of this post (and the hymn) and was rewarded with the blessing and honor of participating in amazing events in those cities. The windows of heaven were opened, and blessings rained down on me in those cities. I was taught from on high about what the Lord can do, and what he wanted me to do. And they wouldn’t have happened had I not literally travelled where the Lord wanted me to travel. And just to be clear, there was no other purpose for those trips (besides one to visit relatives) other than the Spirit said to go there.

    As I reflect on those travel assignments, it’s beginning to hit me that there are many other things that the Lord could or might be telling me, or would be telling me, if I wasn’t closed off by thinking “the Lord would never tell me to do _that_.”

    So yeah, there is the ponder/decide/pray paradigm. That is, and should be, the most common pattern. But there are also those times when the Lord wants to initiate a communication at his instigation and say “do this.” The Doctrine and Covenants is full of such examples. Most revelations to Joseph Smith were the result of his petitions. But some came at the instigation of the Lord.

  22. Barb on January 11, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    I admire people who are brave enough to follow promptings. At one time when things were bad in my home life, I prayed about trying to move to a shelter for women in a town that is about forty-five minutes from where I live that did not allow children. I have a huge phobia that I am always contaminated and thus being around children is hardest as they are so small and thus more at risk. I felt good about this. But I did not have a job there. I could completely shut down. I rely on the support of my family. Plus, that would be quite a stigma to put on my family for me to be in a shelter. Also, I do not think there was physical abuse at the time. I think it was just other abuse although it was hard and could be scary.

    I prayed about going to my current job and felt a peace. In many ways, it has been a good experience. I prayed about getting a new job a few years ago and felt a peace, but I could not go through with it. I am not sure if my family who provides transportation was against or if I was just afraid that I may not be able to function.

    I prayed about going on a mission and felt more strongly about that than anything I have ever done in my life although I was extremely shy and it was against the wishes of my family at the time. I went. My family was supportive of me though they are not members. In fact, my mom wrote me every week. I can’t believe I had the faith to go through with it. I can’t believe I did it. But that was before my condition made me afraid everywhere I went and everything I did.

    So I just hope that I am where I am supposed to be. I wonder if I am not after all as I have come to terms with a lot of things that I may not have were I to have lived someplace else. I was able to see a lot of good in my abusive parent that I would not have seen otherwise. That is not to say that they did not do a lot of good as I was growing up. It is just when things get bad, you start to write every action good or bad as part of the abuse cycle. At least, I did that at a point when I was bitter.

    By, the way, I am not going to come back and see if anybody makes comments. I would be a fool to do so because I have been hurt too many times in the ‘nacle when people just ignore me when I open up. So if I don’t come back to read, then nobody can hurt me.

    But I hope you don’t mind my saying what I wanted to say.

  23. Barb on January 11, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    I am back to say that I think my hormones are a little off at the moment. There have been so many good and kind people that I have met in the ‘nacle. One of them has even become a close friend. And all of this is off topic, I know.

    I think it is great for those of you who follow promptings. I wish I had the faith. However, my condition makes everything so catch 22. I can’t live on my own easily because I can’t take care of myself. And sometimes living here is very hard. But it has not been too bad in the last couple of years. So I count my blessings for any deliverance. I just hope I am where God wants me. That is really all that matters in the final analysis.

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