Making a neighbor unwelcome
Imagine that you have a helpful neighbor who seems to have a steady affection for you. The neighbor writes you notes and brings you treats. You do not respond. The neighbor drops by to visit and to share ideas, articles, and books but you busy yourself with household tasks. The neighbor shows regular kindnesses by picking up litter in your yard. You ignore the efforts.
It is hard to imagine such churlish behavior in ourselves. How could we fail to show all signs of welcome to one who was so gracious? Only a brute could be so unappreciative.
Yet I wonder if the situation describes each of us. Imagine the neighbor to be the Holy Ghost. He often brings us spiritual treats. Yet we ignore Him. He comes to us bringing new insights and appreciations but we are so busy with life that we do not interrupt our daily doings to be taught. He picks up the litter in our souls and refreshes us with goodness but we ignore His efforts. The Holy Ghost must be a patient fellow. He may be the most underappreciated man in town.
I know that I regularly fail to appreciate heaven’s messenger. God might well ask me: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).
All the signs of welcome
Let’s compare our treatment of the neglected neighbor with the welcome we might offer if we knew that the president of the Church were sending one of His counselors to personally visit and teach us. Not only would we prepare carefully, we would give our full attention to every word the messenger uttered. We might even take notes so that we would not forget the message. If there were some part of the message that seemed especially important, we might stitch it in needlepoint, frame it, and hang it in our home as a continuing reminder.
Yet the Holy Ghost comes to us as the personal representative of First Presidency of heaven. He travels across time and space (so to speak) to give us the considered counsel of the Father and the Son. While He is in our homes, He not only teaches us, He comforts and cleanses us.
Wow. There is no messenger to our lives who should be more welcome and more appreciated. How can we prepare for, value, and memorialize His messages? How can we make him a more welcome and regular guest?
Preparing for company
Nephi knew the key to heavenly tutoring: “I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him” (I Nephi 10:17).
We must seek Him. We must want him to come into our lives. Inside this desire another quality is humbly nestled: We must be humble enough to know that we need to be taught. When we feel intellectually self-sufficient, we may inadvertently turn away that heavenly Messenger.
The Lord makes an amazing invitation to all disciples: “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (D&C 42:61). Mysteries, joy, and eternal life—all for the asking.
Along with asking, what else can we do to encourage the tutoring of the Holy Ghost? I love Steve Covey’s suggestion that we can settle our minds and bodies and, in the peace, ask heaven specific questions: What can I do to be closer to the living Christ? What can I do to be a better family member? What do I need to do to be a better Latter-day Saint? What do I need to do to be a better student, employee, or community member? When we humbly and earnestly present ourselves for heaven’s tutoring, we are more likely to be taught.
Valuing His visits
For many years I found myself feeling blessed by warmth, insight, and joy, especially on the Sabbath. Yet, when I got to the end of the day and sat to revisit the blessings of the day, I could not remember the specific messages that had come or even the experiences that elicited the heavenly gifts. How could I receive a glorious gift and lose it before nightfall?
So I began a habit. I pull out an index card every Sunday. When I notice the Holy Ghost giving my mind or heart one of those welcome embraces, I make a note on the index card. Often the messages on the card are merely the title or selected words from a beloved hymn. There might appear to be no benefit from recording the familiar words. Yet it is my way of telling heaven that I noticed. And I am grateful.
Some of the messages I record are new insights. I think of these messages as God taking a highlighter to emphasize some message or experience in my life. Any time God makes such an effort to draw my attention to something, I want to be attentive. I not only want to make a note, I want to refer to it regularly. I assume that God had an important purpose for highlighting the message.
In fact, when I review my collection of cards from the previous months, I often find a pattern or theme. So I carry at least the previous month’s cards with me. In times of boredom I pull out the cards and reflect on recent messages from heaven. When I need inspiration for a talk or article, I pull out the cards and reflect on what God has been teaching me. I would like to be the kind of student Samuel was: “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).
Memorializing His messages
There are some messages that command special attention. Maybe we know that they could guide us in needed growth. Maybe the messages express a special feeling of truth or appreciation. We can honor them with special attention.
My dear wife, Nancy, has a scriptural message carved in oak: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart.” I have a poetic message that captures my feeling of appreciation carved in cherry wood: “God’s in his heaven; All’s right with the world.” A friend gave us a pillow with a cherished message: “Scatter joy.” In addition, our family room is brim with photos, keepsakes, and reminders of the noble people who are cheering for us from beyond the veil. The Holy Ghost has planted a love of these people in our hearts and we choose to surround ourselves with reminders.
All these physical reminders are intended to help us live more faithfully and joyously. They are intended to remind us of God’s specific counsel and continuing love for us.
There are other ways to memorialize His messages. Since our children were teens, we have had a Sunday ritual of inviting each family member to share their best experience of the day. It causes each of us in turn to sift through the blessings of the day and pay special honor to one of those blessings. Often we cannot limit ourselves to one but our gratitude demands that we list several. We rejoice together.
This tradition also helps us to appreciate the beautiful, customized way that God blesses each of us. Even now, as all three of our children are married and live far from us, we regularly talk by phone on Sunday evening and inevitably ask, “What was your best experience today?”
There are still more ways to memorialize His messages. My wife is a faithful journal keeper. She writes the story of her life on our computer. I am not as thorough as she. I make a few cryptic notes on my calendar and I save the calendars. At the end of each week I write a family letter that I e-mail to each family member.
My calendar helps me remember the doings and blessings of the week. The letters are a way of thanking heaven for the amazing blessing of life filled with specific lessons and blessings. Because our children are so tuned to the language of heaven, they can hear my tremors of joy even as they read the e-mails.
Embracing the Messenger of heaven
What good is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost if we constantly treat him as a bothersome neighbor? Can’t we make him more welcome in our lives? If we fully understood the special mission of the Holy Ghost, we would cherish Him. He is our connection to home as we wend our way through the wilderness of mortality. He is our Liahona. He is our energizer and purifier.
Joseph Fielding McConkie observed that, “it is the office of the Holy Ghost to lift burdens, give courage, strengthen faith, grant consolation, extend hope, and reveal whatever is needed to those having claim on his sacred companionship” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol. 2, s.v. Holy Ghost). When the Holy Ghost comes to us, He blesses us.
President John Taylor counseled that “every one of us . . . ought to cultivate the Holy Ghost in our hearts, and let it burn there like a living fire. We ought to draw near to God, and receive from him light and life and intelligence” (Journal of Discourses, vol.15, p.275).
God taught us: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;” (D&C 50: 24–25).
I hope to become more and more sensitive to His hints and intimations. If I am a horse and the Holy Ghost is the all-wise rider, I hope that He does not have to drag me by the bridle to my encounters with growth. I hope that I can learn to feel the subtlest touch of the bridle strap and respond promptly, gladly, wisely. I hope to learn to live in the Holy Ghost constantly. I hope He can feel welcome and appreciated as my constant companion and faithful guide. I hope to grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
And, when I die, what’s to be done with the mass of wood reminders, letters, calendars, and index cards that have helped me tune into God’s messages? Perhaps one of the children or grandchildren will find them useful as they seek to know God. Or perhaps the family will gather around the pile, start them on fire, and warm their hands by one person’s testimony that God is good, He loves us, and yearns to bless us.
May God bless each of us to welcome His messenger to our lives.