Anxiety or Intuition?

My daughter’s first backpacking trip was when she was four years old. She and her dad hiked in one mile. She carried couple of stuffed animals in her backpack, while her dad carried the rest of the gear. It was love at first sight for her. Every summer since then the two of them have gone backpacking together. When she was nine years old, she wanted to go out for three nights and four days and cover more miles than she had ever done before. 

The night before their trip reality set in and I began thinking about my nine year old out in the wilderness beyond the safety of cell phone reception. What if something happened to her? Even worse, what if something happened to her dad and she was left all alone? 

As my husband and I talked that night I told him had knots in my stomach about their trip. He simply asked, “Do you think it’s your intuition or nerves?” That was a great question. Was it some sort of warning or premonition, or was it my anxiety about the unknown? Was this the Spirit warning me?

It was late September, and we were headed to rustic cabin tucked away in the Ashley National Forest. As we pulled off the main highway and onto the Forest Service road it was started to lightly snow. We were in our mini van with our three young kids and with each mile that took us deeper into the forest and further away from the main road, I grew more and more uneasy. By the time we arrived at the cabin, I could not even feel the cool crisp autumn air or see the rich colors that glowed in the aspen leaves from the evening light.

As we started to unload the car my stomach grew more and more tight. What if it snowed a lot during the night? We had no cell reception and had not seen another person since we left the main road 20 miles ago. Everyone seemed to be excited to be there, except for me. Was I overreacting? It was getting late and if we decided to leave the cabin we would have to choose to either spend our limited finical resources on a hotel or drive the four hours back home. Both options were unfavorable. Was this anxiety or was this a divine warning? Anxiety or Intuition? Premonitions or Fears?

Why is it so hard to tell the difference between reasoning that is formed by anxiety and fear and reasoning that is arrived at by good judgment and divine inspiration? 

With these two situations, I responded differently. With one of them I decided it was just my nerves and I choose to ignore it. With the other I decided it was good judgment and followed through with my feelings. But the thing is, there wasn’t a real distinguishable different with my feelings. How do you know it’s your over-reactive anxiety telling you not to proceed or when to it’s wisdom, divine inspiration, and good judgment telling you not to proceed? Is there a way to go about these situations to make a choice with more wisdom than eenie meenie miney mo?

“We should study things out in our minds using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it; if we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment.”

“Using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us.”

Dallin H. Oaks

Developing reasoning powers is a skill that takes time, experience, practice, trail and err, and instruction. It is like developing any skill. Bill Gates is a master with technology, but even he has spent hours and hours developing those skills.

Sometimes we want to use the gift of the Holy Ghost, or divine inspiration, as a short cut to wisdom, like using the answer guide in the back of the math book to get the answers to difficult problems. The gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t an answer guide, He’s a guide to the answers, and at times we are left to our own abilities to figure it out. Sometimes our experiences in developing reasoning powers are much like taking a test or a pretest, where we are left to work out the answers the best we can. In these moments we are exposed to the temptation of emotional tantrums, getting angry with God feeling that He has treated us unfairly and must not love us because He isn’t providing us with the answers.

Over three years ago I filed for divorce, even though I wanted out of the marriage I felt conflicted about moving forward with the divorce. At the time, things were not getting better in the marriage and everything was falling into place with the divorce, so some suggested that that was my answer that the divorce was right, but if felt like an insufficient way to determine if something was right. During this time I was praying and fasting and pleading with God to give me some guidance and to let me know if the decision I was making was the best decision for my situation, but I never got a yes or no, only the reassurance that God was guiding me and was with me. I was angry and confused. This decision was going to have a lasting impact on my life and the lives of my children. I felt that the situation warranted God’s counsel. I felt like it was not good parenting on His behalf to let me make this decision on my own when the consequences would have such a lasting impact on the people in my life who meant the most to me.

These moments, when our emotions are pulled into two different directions and answers are unclear, can leave us terrified of making the wrong decision. It’s good to be concerned if moving forward with divorce is the best thing to do, that decision should not be treated lightly, but I was crippled with the fear of making the wrong choice that I focused more on God telling me what to do than exercising and developing my reasoning powers.

It takes faith to develop our reasoning powers. To move toward with a decision without having the confirmation that the choice you made is the most right choice in that situation, is an act of faith. To act upon your best judgment without seeing how things will work out, is an act of faith.

These things remain with you to do according to judgment and the directions of the Spirit.

Doctrine and Covenants 62:8

When making decisions, it is good to push ourselves to figure out what we think is the most right choice while also being humble in receiving guidance from the Spirit. For me I erred on the side of just wanting to use the Spirit to guide me and tell me what to do, for others they err on the side of only leaning on their own judgment. The best way is to combine the two.

A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it… We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment.

Dallin H Oaks, Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfalls
BYU Speeches June 7,1992 and Ensign October 1994

Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality.

October 10, 2019

Time writing this piece: 2 hours

Total time writing on this blog: 138 hours and 15 minutes