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Pillars of Making Critical Decisions Correctly

Audio: "Pillars of Making Critical Decisions Correctly"
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Have you ever considered how you can think about moving a muscle, and then it happens? This is because of a coordinated sequence of events that allows your brain and muscle to communicate with one another. An action potential sweeps down a neuron, opening voltage-gated sodium channels. Which, in turn, open voltage-gated calcium channels. Calcium floods the cell and binds to snare proteins which cause the exocytosis of acetylcholine. Several steps later, your muscle contracts. Just like moving a muscle, making critical decisions correctly utilizes a coordinated sequence of steps.

Today, I would like to focus my talk on making critical decisions correctly. I have prayed, fasted, and sought Heavenly Father’s guidance that the words said will be what some of you need in your life today.

I encourage you to listen to the Spirit and record any impressions that you have during our time together on the devices you held up earlier. I know that those impressions will be much more important than anything that I say. Most of you are at a point in your life where you are making decisions that will forever change the trajectory of your life here upon the earth and in the eternities. Some of these decisions include personal values and beliefs, educational and career paths, whom you should marry, when and how many children to have, and others. These decisions will become foundational for the rest of your life.

I remember being at this critical juncture myself. Soon after returning from a mission to the Philippines, I found myself being lost, not knowing what paths I should take educationally and personally. I had just entered my freshman year of college. I was going through some challenging times, wondering if I could make the correct decisions. I remember thinking nobody liked me and feeling lost, not knowing what I should major in or how to help my emotionally and physically struggling family. I felt that things were not working out for me. I remember attending a fireside in the BYU Marriot center. Elder Richard G. Scott was speaking on “Making the Right Choices.” [1] In fact, here is a picture of the “lost” me during his address.

I remember leaving knowing that the words of Elder Scott were true. He helped me gain the confidence that I could do hard things. This experience began teaching me the importance and pathways to receive personal revelation in the decision-making process.

As I attempt to teach you today what I have since learned about making decisions, I’m going to build off the story of how I ultimately decided to ask my wife to marry me! First, a quick introduction. My wife Katty and I met in high school cross-country and reconnected years later to train for a marathon.

Often, I would sleep through my alarm clock for our morning runs and would awake to the sound of her knocking on my window. After a long summer of running together every morning, we began attending different colleges. We ran a half-marathon together, and I realized I wanted our relationship to be more than just friendship. Two weeks later, we finished the full marathon.

A few months following the marathon, Katty started to tutor me in calculus during my finals, which gave us a chance to spend time together. We started dating over winter break and continued long-distance when school resumed, meeting every weekend. As our relationship progressed, we extensively discussed marriage. After weeks of consideration, we excitedly bought a wedding ring that would arrive in three weeks. Even though we bought a ring, we were still seeking revelatory confirmation that it was the correct decision. This process helped me identify four pillars of personal revelation and decision-making that I want to outline throughout my talk today.

It is also important for me to remind you that you can do hard things and make critical decisions correctly.

Write this down as a reminder: "I can do hard things."

The first pillar of making correct decisions is preparing to receive personal revelation. This involves learning to recognize spiritual communication. The Holy Ghost communicates with us through our spirit. It is important to learn how this communication is detected by our physical bodies. One of the keys to receiving spiritual guidance is to do things that enhance our personal worthiness and readiness. We need to be in places and do things that bring us closer to the guiding influence of the Spirit. One of the things I have learned to do is study the Book of Mormon daily.

President Russell M. Nelson has said “My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life.” [2]

Who doesn’t need that inspired promise? By immersing ourselves daily in the stories, words, and teachings of the Book of Mormon, you will make better decisions every day and receive answers to your own questions.

Additionally, to receive and “hear” the delicate promptings of the Spirit, it is important to find a clean, neat, quiet place.

Taking the time to create a tidy space helps with order and cleanliness, reduces distractions, and invites the Spirit. Think of the pattern set within the walls of the temple. I personally find it easier to receive direction when I have made the effort to be in a cleaner place.

Finally, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of touching the temple so that the temple can touch you. I want to testify that being in and near the temple helps us look upward and helps us prepare to receive the spiritual guidance we need. Earlier this semester, I was touched by Sister Jennifer E. Meredith's devotional address where she said, “I was exhausted in every conceivable way. I told my husband that I needed to be in the temple. My spirit needed oxygen, and I knew being with the Savior in the temple would strengthen me.” [3]

Listen to these words from our prophet, President Nelson: “If you don’t yet love to attend the temple, go more often—not less. Let the Lord, through His Spirit, teach and inspire you there. I promise you that over time, the temple will become a place of safety, solace, and revelation.” [4]

When making important and often eternal decisions, it is wise to attend the temple to receive the guidance, direction, and confirming witness that you are headed down the right path.

Now on to pillar number two: “Study it out in your mind.” [5] This pillar takes a lot of work. That work can look like extensively researching and exploring your options, creating pro/con lists, mental reflection, reading your scriptures, recording the guidance that comes in a journal, seeking guidance from trusted individuals, and studying your patriarchal blessing. President Nelson has said, “Good inspiration is based upon good information.” [6]

Studying it out in your mind can be different from person to person, and from time to time. It can be helpful to think logically about the choices you need to make. Think about how these choices will affect each aspect of your life and the lives of your family members.

Another powerful way to study a decision out in your mind is to read, review, and study your patriarchal blessing. My patriarchal blessing has been a significant tool throughout my “decade of decision” [7] and throughout my life. I carry a copy of it with me in my wallet. Hundreds of times, my blessing has helped me along my journey, giving me direction toward where I am today.

Eventually, through your studying process, there comes a time when you need to make a decision as to what path to take. Standing still and doing nothing does not lead to an answer. Elder Dale G. Renlund testified of that in our last general conference by telling of an experience he had with an ocean kayak and waves that knocked him over when sitting still. “By consistently paddling the kayak, I maintained momentum and forward progress, mitigating the effect of waves hitting me from the side. The same principle applies in our spiritual lives. We become vulnerable when we slow down and especially when we stop. If we maintain spiritual momentum by continually ‘rowing’ toward the Savior, we are safer and more secure because our eternal life depends on our faith in Him.” [8]

Heavenly Father expects us to work and be responsible for our own decisions. Studying it out in your mind, on paper, and seeking guidance takes enormous effort. Our Heavenly Father intended this to be the case to provide growth experiences and to build our faith in Him. Make a decision that aligns with your thoughts, feelings, and goals.

This takes us to our next pillar of decision-making: praying to know and learning to listen.

With a decision made, it is time to pray to Heavenly Father, seeking confirmation that the decision you have made is the correct one. Then, listen for answers. President Nelson testified,

Follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort.

Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.” [9]

There are three ways that I have observed that he answers these prayers in my own life. First, if the decision is correct, He will cause that “your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” [10] I have felt this confirming witness in my life many times; each time through feelings of clarity and joy, helping me realize that the decision I have made is the correct one. I have felt light, progression, and peace.

The second answer that we can receive is a stupor of thought, which will cause you to forget the path that you have chosen. [11] Personally, this feeling has come as a feeling of uneasiness, confusion, and lack of clarity. These answers can be very useful in helping you get on the right path. The key to this type of answer is being willing to change your heart and mind to align with Heavenly Father’s will for you.

The third type of answer that I have experienced repeatedly is the lack of an answer. This one is extremely difficult because sometimes you feel that you are not receiving an answer.

Elder Richard G. Scott testified of the third type of answer: “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is evidence of His trust.” [12]

When you get an answer like this one, do what Elder Scott counseled. Proceed with trust. I want you to know that in preparing for this talk I have consistently prayed for you and have felt directed to affirm to you that you can make difficult decisions. You got this. Our loving Heavenly Father will lead and direct you. He can make more of you than you can make of yourself. If you trust Him, you will see that He will put you exactly where He needs you.

Another observation that I have seen in my life is that answers to my questions have rarely come all at once. They come “line upon line.” [13] I have also learned that it takes repeated effort that causes you to grow and learn how to trust in Him.

To illustrate this point, let’s return to the story of how my wife and I made the decision to get married. Remember that we had just purchased a wedding ring. Over the next few weeks, we diligently sought confirmation from Heavenly Father that we should marry each other. We began wondering and doubting if getting married to each other was the right thing to do. We prayed, fasted, read scriptures, attended the temple, and spent time in clean, neat, quiet places seeking that direction. We continued to study it out in our minds by putting time and effort into this critical decision. Yet, no answers came despite our heartfelt prayers. This lack of direction was extremely difficult for both of us. We were in love and really wanted to get married. Why wasn’t Heavenly Father answering our prayers? Why were we not receiving an answer? I did not know what to do or how to proceed, and yet I had a wedding ring for Katty! I didn’t know if it was right or wrong to marry her. Finally, I was discussing this with my mom. She said, “Do you love her?” to which I replied, “Yes, very much.” She replied, “Then marry her.” This experience helped me realize that I had already received my answer. This gave me the courage to proceed with trust.

To propose, I bought her a set of new scriptures with her first name and my last name embossed on them. We went to the temple to read scriptures as we had done several times before.

Sitting on “our” bench, I gave her the new scriptures and asked her to marry me.

She was able to confidently say yes because she, too, had put in the extensive work to study it out in her mind.

This story illustrates the need to “proceed with trust,” which is our last pillar of making critical decisions correctly.

With whatever type of answer you receive—the burning in your bosom, stupor of thought, or the lack of a clear answer—be courageous and take small steps of faith. Be willing to take steps into the darkness. I testify, as you take these steps, that your path will be illuminated step by step. Though we sometimes wish to have the whole picture before us, this pattern gives us opportunities to grow. I have seen this in my life when choosing whom to marry, where to attend graduate school, which career paths to persue, when to have children, and so many more.

We must not forget however, that sometimes we have to take the wrong road to see the better road. Elder Jeffery R. Holland and his son Matt have both shared stories about an experience they had with wrong roads. They were trying to get home after a day’s adventure when they came to a fork in the road that was unfamiliar to both of them.

They prayed about which way to go and both felt that they should take the path to the “right,” only to find that it was a dead end. This experience helped both realize that Heavenly Father allows you to take steps in the wrong direction to help solidify the correct road, allowing you to never question that you are on the right path. [14] I am a witness to wrong roads and how they shaped my career path.

The key is that you keep moving. Sometimes, we become paralyzed in the decision-making process. We erroneously feel that we are incapable of making correct decisions. Sometimes, we may feel like we can’t say no or that, since we decided on a direction, we must continue no matter what. These feelings do not come from our Heavenly Father. Simply sitting still and asking Heavenly Father for direction often does not lead to inspired answers. You must move. You have to decide. Then act. Proceed with trust and know that the guidance you seek will come.

I testify that you can receive personal revelation to help guide your life as you make critical decisions correctly. This decade of decision can be a joyous time where you learn how to receive guidance in your life. The foundation for making correct decisions includes preparing yourself to receive personal revelation, studying it out in your mind, asking in faith, listening for His answers, and proceeding with trust, knowing that He will guide you line upon line to put you exactly where He needs you.

I know that you can do hard things. You can learn to receive heavenly guidance in your life to make critical decisions correctly.

I want you to know that you belong at BYU-Idaho. You will be blessed for being here today. I testify that every professor and employee at BYU-Idaho is here to help you. We are here to help mentor and guide you through this decade of decision. I hope that you feel that support in every class you take.

I testify that as it says in Moroni 10:5 that “by the power of the Holy Ghost you can know the truth of all things,” [15] including what you should major in, whom you should marry, and what you should do for a career. All things means all things. I testify of heavenly parents who love each of us personally. I know that Heavenly Father hears and answers each prayer. I testify of a loving Savior and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that you can do hard things, and that you can make critical decisions correctly. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Notes

[1] Richard G. Scott, “Making the Right Choices,” BYU Speeches, Jan. 13, 2002, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/richard-g-scott/making-right-choices/.

[2] Russell M. Nelson, “The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015.

[3] Jennifer E. Meredith, “How Will the Lord Manifest Himself to You in the Temple?” BYU-Idaho Speeches, May 7, 2024, https://www.byui.edu/speeches/devotionals/jennifer-e-meredith/how-will-the-lord-manifest-himself-to-you-in-the-temple.

[4] Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” Liahona, Nov. 2021, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/10/47nelson.

[5] Doctrine and Covenants 9:8.

[6] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/revelation-for-the-church-revelation-for-our-lives.

[7] See Robert D. Hales, “To the Aaronic Priesthood: Preparing for the Decade of Decision,” Ensign, May 2007.

[8] Dale G. Renlund, “The Powerful, Virtuous Cycle of the Doctrine of Christ,” Liahona, May 2024, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2024/04/43renlund.

[9] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives;” emphasis added.

[10] Doctrine and Covenants 9:8.

[11] Doctrine and Covenants 9:9.

[12] Richard G. Scott, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2007/04/using-the-supernal-gift-of-prayer.

[13] 2 Nephi 28:30.

[14] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Wrong Roads,” YouTube, Nov. 5, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNQC-_srxH8.

[15] Moroni 10:5.