Chapter 7: The Holy Ghost
Me and the Holy Ghost (I kind of hate that name, by the way) don’t seem to get along too well.
I can’t think of any decision in my life that I can say with confidence was guided by the Spirit. I don’t have any powerful experiences with prayer where I feel like I was getting anything other than my own thoughts reflected back at me. During my mission, I was intent on fashioning some kind of lasting relationship with the Spirit. In my mind, the mission was like a great spiritual mulligan. Regardless of my experience in the past, I could now dedicate myself fully to God’s work and surely He (by the power of the Spirit) would give me a few hints along the way.
But it didn’t work out that way. I would plead for guidance — where to tract, which investigators to visit, what to say to some hapless street-contact, what advice to impart to some struggling young missionary — and always… blank. During my most faithful years, I would dread Richard Scott’s talks in General Conference. He was constantly speaking on the influence of the Spirit and how important it was. No matter how many note-cards I carried around with me, no matter how earnestly I sought, it seemed as if I was left on my own.
None of this is to claim that I haven’t felt the comforting influence of the gospel. I can remember one difficult period in my life in particular where I felt like I was receiving support from something beyond myself. I had recently graduated from high school and somewhat foolishly enlisted in the military. Marine Corps boot camp is not easy for anyone, but it felt particularly designed to make my life miserable. I had not been the most active teenager, and the grueling physical requirements were especially difficult for me. I was consistently near the bottom of my platoon when it came to things physical. I was also terrible and close-order drill — so bad in fact that the drill instructor informed me that I had suddenly come down with an “illness” that would prevent me from participating in the platoon’s final drill exam. I was actually a pretty decent shot, but that seemed like the only thing that I had any talent for.
Church was the absolute highlight of my week in boot camp. There was a small branch that met on the base, and the first Sunday I attended, I broke down sobbing (it actually caught me completely off-guard as I very, very rarely cry — I can think of only one other time in the last 10 years or so, but that is a story for another time). I would spend part of my precious personal time each evening (which was limited to about 30 minutes) reading a few verses from my little burgundy, military scriptures, and I really did derive quite a lot of comfort from them. It is difficult to parse out the feelings of nostalgia for something familiar from some kind of divine comforting influence, and while part of my experience may have been the former, I believe that a lot of it was the latter as well.
But, this business about testifying of the truths of the gospel and guiding and inspiring in daily life… that is just not my experience. A big part of my faith crisis was learning to accept the idea that maybe it just wasn’t going to come at all and, critically, that this wasn’t some personal failing or sign of terrible iniquity on my part.