Following the Spirit

bed and pillow“Just go to bed earlier.”

It’s a suggestion I’ve heard many times over the years as people have found out about my chronic health and insomnia issues. My schedule is seriously whacked, and frankly, it’s embarrassing for me to talk about and live with. Especially because I know that it baffles people who haven’t dealt with a major sleep disorder. After all, they can just go to bed earlier, so why can’t I?

For years, I have wanted to change my sleep habits. I have felt like that was the “righteous” thing to do. After all, the concept of “early to bed, early to rise” is something we find even in our scriptures.

How can I easily explain that I have felt the Spirit telling me that it’s not time yet? It makes no sense to an outside observer, but I know God knows my heart and the ins and outs of my life, and I feel like He is working with me to help me know what I should spend my energy on right now. And fighting my sleep issues is not currently on that list. I think it may be sometime, perhaps sooner than later. But I cannot force the change. I’m waiting for God to help me, in His wisdom and His order. And I feel like He’s there to cover me if I make mistakes along the way as I try to sort through all that I’m dealing with.

My struggle has (I hope) given me more understanding for how complex and personal each of our journeys really are. It’s all too easy to beat each other over the head with the ideals we know and believe to be true. Or, perhaps, even to hound each other over things we have found work for us.

I believe this is one of the reasons for the painful mommy wars most moms have experienced. In truth, does the gospel tell us whether to breastfeed or bottle feed? To have home or hospital births? To choose special-order “natural” toys and clothes or choose the Wal-Mart approach? To homeschool or choose public school? The list goes on. And, of course, that list expands well outside of the realm of motherhood. We can too often conflate personal passions or interpretations for absolute truth, whether it be in the realm of politics or preparedness, eating habits or spending habits, Sabbath day activities or Sabbath day attire.

I’d been thinking a lot about this recently, but it was this heartbreaking post that made me want to write. It’s written by a mom who felt inspired to put her refluxy baby on her tummy. It was something that allowed her baby to finally get some sleep and find some comfort.

And then her infant died of SIDS.

We don’t want to believe that following the Spirit could mean really hard things can still happen, but they can. We don’t want to believe that others may get different answers than we will, but they might. We don’t want to believe that we can’t fix others’ lives for them, but we can’t.

Let me not be misunderstood. I’m not trying to justify sinful or wrong behavior. We do have standards and commandments that are made clear, especially by the temple recommend interview and through the inspired counsel of our leaders. But even within the realm of gospel teachings, there can be room for personal revelation and guidance. And there is an awful lot in life that isn’t absolute. And I am learning that part of why we are here is to learn to sort through all of those kinds of things – and to give others the space to do the same. The more I accept that, the more I appreciate what agency and the Atonement are all about.

“Some may be tempted to say, “Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.” While we commend a righteous desire to be obedient, there is more to the Church (and more to life) than simply checking items off an assigned to-do list. If we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.”. – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“We who are General Authorities and general officers are called to teach His general rules. You and we then lead specific lives and must seek the Lord’s guidance regarding specific circumstances. But there would be mass confusion and loss of gospel promises if no general ideal and no doctrinal standard were established and…repeated.”  —Jeffrey R. Holland

” If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you.” –-Jeffrey R. Holland

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What experiences have you had in learning to follow the spirit? Please share your thoughts and comments below.

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Michelle is a wife and mom of three. In her pre-mom life, she was a business consultant. In her pre-illness life, she was an athlete and loved to run. Motherhood is her joy, but she also likes to keep her business self alive. For the past four years, Michelle has been managing editor of the More Good Foundation website, mormonwoman.org. This opportunity has brought together her passions for new media, networking, gospel study and sharing, and talking about the power of womanhood in God’s plan. Over the past several years, Michelle has also volunteered in capacities as a university advisory board member, student mentor, and conference planning committee member. Her focus in these capacities has been on women in business / women and education initiatives.

6 thoughts on “Following the Spirit

  • March 19, 2012 at 1:22 am
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    Great post, and well written. As you said, and others have in the comments, the Lord has certain absolutes that are clearly taught by the prophets – i.e. the “first principles and ordinances of the gospel” in the Fourth Article of Faith. Then of course there’s the temple recommend interview as you said, For the Strength of Youth, True to the Faith, etc. Yet we see so clearly how the brethren make a clear effort to teach principles–because this is a gospel of principles. “Teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” And that isn’t an excuse for disobedience as some might want to use it for, or might judge others as doing–in fact, it’s recognizing the true principle of obedience–of following and receiving personal revelation, building on top of the guidance from prophets.

    Not sure my comments make complete sense, but I basically connected with what you wrote 🙂 As someone also in a “non-ideal” personal situation, I can understand the importance of not being judged. People just don’t know. I personally really like President Monson’s talk about seeing through dirty windows, and focusing on charity instead of constantly evaluating other people. Thankfully, the Lord knows all 🙂

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm
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      Thanks for your comments, Jason. You are quite right about the principles–and I definitely agree with President Monson’s remarks as well.

      Reply
  • March 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm
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    Thank you so much for writing this. My husband also has chronic health issues — including sleep disorders. His schedule is always “seriously whacked.” I have had such a hard time explaining my situation to people who don’t understand and who want to hold my family to their own ideals.

    In addition to sleep disorders, my husband has chronic back and leg pain (the cause of which is still being diagnosed). These conditions are painfully evident when you live with him, but many other people don’t understand the issues because in the three hours they see him on Sundays he appears mostly fine. (Or they blatantly ignore the issues because, as we’ve heard many people say, “You’re only 26 years old! Of course you’re okay!”) Since they don’t see the rest of our lives, many people think that our lives are just like theirs — or at least, that our lives SHOULD be.

    The challenges with my husband have given me so much compassion for other people. It has completely changed the way that I think about and treat other people — especially in the ward.

    Thank you for posting this. It’s nice to know that there’s someone else out there who has similar thoughts and experiences — although I am very sorry that you have had such a struggle. 🙁

    Reply
  • March 8, 2012 at 8:21 am
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    I think that this is such an important issue and one that people don’t discuss much. You did such a beautiful job of touching on all the points associated with it. I, like you, have found that there is a path that the Lord intends for each of us–to be baptized, choose the right and return to Him–and there’s the one that is individually tailored to each one of us. What might be the right turn in the path for one person might be the wrong one for the next. In fact, I have found that very often, taking that individual path that many others might not (whether it was right or wrong for them to do so) leads directly to adversity. This can really challenge one’s testimony (such as the mom who lost her baby when inspired to let it sleep on her stomach) but that’s the point. That’s the plan. That’s what it’s all about. Just another reason why we shouldn’t judge others.

    Reply
    • March 11, 2012 at 12:46 am
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      This mortality thing really is something else, isn’t it? So much to learn. So much messiness. So much to drive us to understand how much we need God and an Atonement. And charity for each other.

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      • March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm
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        It sure is, isn’t it? There is always something new for us to learn and discover and work through, and thank heavens we have God and the atonement or we’d never make it through.

        Reply

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