I apologize for the long gap between my last post and this one. My husband is one of those *religious scholars*, and he supervises an archaeological dig in Galilee and just had to go back after two years’ Covid hiatus. This has kept me busy at home; too busy to write, but has still given me time to think. I’ve been trying to decide the best way to end this series, but it’s been hard to know how to do it. Endings and beginnings are often the hardest, after all. There is no conceivable way that any amount of writing could begin to cover all the ways that we can experience the spirit. But that leaves us still having the problem of knowing whether what we are experiencing is actually the spirit or not. How do we know it’s not just us?
This can be an important question, but underneath it is almost always one deeply problematic assumption: that something cannot be from both us and God. We have this compulsive need to make sure we firmly understand exactly where we end and God begins. Apparently there is a fixed line of demarcation and there can be no bleed over. We use terms like being a window or a door or letting go so God can take over or letting God write our story to remind ourselves of this distinction and the importance of keeping it safe from any human arrogance that will otherwise try to take credit for what God does.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for not being arrogant. But God doesn’t work through us. God works with us. We are not peripheral, replaceable pawns on some eternal chess board. We are the children of God. And when we combine and adapt ourselves to God we do not become puppets carefully differentiated from the puppet master, we become true heirs of God. We become like our Heavenly Parents—able to do good by thinking and acting with them, as opposed to being empty shells filled by them. (God is not an empty shell; how can we become like God by being something God isn’t?) As it turns out, our Heavenly Parents really do love and value their children, and, rather than taking them over Invasion of the Body Snatches style, actually want to nurture us to our unique and beautiful fullest.
This is important because of a fact we frequently talk about but seldom think through very well. God almost always speaks to us in our own voice. Stop and think about this. God almost always speaks to us in our own voice. But how can we trust God if we don’t trust the voice through which God speaks to us? How can we fully experience the spirit if we turn it away at the door because it looks a little too much like…us? Like the everyday? Like home?
So here is my advice.
- Stop worrying about the question is it from you or God. Hear me out. The closer we grow to God the more those lines blur and we stop worrying about credit and instead use our energy to fully embrace and focus on the work of love itself. God is living, and living in us; we are living, and living in God. The spirit is not God and nothing else. It is the joint union of us and God. This is the point. It is the power of waking up and nurturing the divine in the children of God. However, we can be led or lead ourselves astray. So when unsure if it is the spirit focus on the fruits. What would acting out this thing do? Would it nurture or tear apart relationships? Would it strengthen or break covenants? Does it require us to be humble, loving, patient, etc? (I say us because if we are trying to force others to experience the fruits of the spirit we are, ironically, no longer using the spirit. D&C 121). And if the spirit voice we hear is part God and part us, all the better. That’s how God does it. It means we are waking up.
- Try, make mistakes, learn, try again. Acting by the spirit does not mean we won’t make mistakes. The spirit is a living thing that is growing in us by helping us grow. That means it is messy and requires thoughtfulness and observation and learning. Observe, pray, write, think, read, listen, ask, ponder with God and with the people around you who you are trying to love as you act by the spirit to learn what worked and what didn’t and why. The spirit is not God’s insurance plan by which as long as you are trying to do what’s right God will ensure you never make a mistake. It is the power of growth in us. We cannot grow without making mistakes. So be humble. Be forgiving. You’re going to need it.
- Create! I don’t just mean artistically, though by all means that too! What do you love? What are you curious about? What are you interested in? How can these things be used to connect to those around you, including those outside your “group”? How can they be a blessing to your family and community and the people in the margins? (I don’t say the world. This idea that we have to change the world has caused more depression and anxiety and obliviousness than almost any other idea. The person living in your home, the guy next to you in line, the teenager who is struggling in school, the neighbor with depression, our manager at work, our minsters and those we minister to, the family member who voted for the other guy, these—the people who are around us—these are the areas of our greatest concern. Even the spiritual things in our life that are just for us can be a blessing to those around us as they teach us patience, compassion, interest, observation, etc. Think! What can you create with God? And for heavens sake, stop trying to change the world. Start with loving the people around you. That is the real work of God.
- Notice bias. Do you give more credit to other people’s gifts and abilities? Do you give more credit to yours? Chances are you do both depending on the situation. Notice when you are creating hierarchies of importance and relevance and when you are go out of your way to give attention and gratitude to the ones on the bottom of your hierarchy. There’s nothing like vocalized gratitude for small things to throw toxic big things off balance.
- Stop trying to be a blank slate. You are a child of God! And give the same freedom to others. The spirit is alive in them in ways it can’t be in you, and vice versa. Thank God!
I wish I could tell you it will be easy and that your efforts will always be appreciated. It won’t be. They won’t be. You will make mistakes. You will be misunderstood by people who claim to know better than you. You might be thrown out of your group. This is The Cross. And this is freedom. It is goodness. It is oneness with God. And God is not just waiting. God is already here. And, family, it is time to wake up.