Acting in Confidence

by Natalee Allen

"Bad" and "Good" written on two pieces of paperThis essay is a talk given by Natalee Allen in sacrament meeting. Typically the speeches or sermons in LDS sacrament meetings are given by members of the congregation rather than the congregation’s leaders.

I think we talk a lot in the church about how to receive revelation, but I think it’s just as important to talk about what to do after we receive revelation. Receiving a gift like personal revelation requires action, and the more confident we can be in our personal revelation, the better. In Hebrews 10:35, we are told “cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.” Our Heavenly Parents want us to be confident in our actions and beliefs, and They want us to learn how we can better do that. I believe there are two very important components to gaining confidence in our personal revelations: challenging our own biases and beliefs, and acting in radical faith.

I am a grad student, and as such I am required to think critically about every piece of information that I come across. Which treatments are most acceptable for my clients? What requires intervention? I can’t just blindly accept any information that falls in my lap, as easy as that would be! I’ve found, honestly, that a lot of the questions I have in grad school can only be answered by research. A few weeks into my first semester, I asked one of professors a question I had about a friend’s baby’s language development. She looked at me kind of funny and said “Well, what do you think?” I was kind of taken aback and honestly completely stumped. I spouted off some ideas about typical expressive language development and rambled on for a few minutes before she interrupted me and said “I honestly don’t think it’s fair to ask me to evaluate or consult on a child I’ve never met. You have so many resources. It’s my job to teach you how to use them.” I was pretty taken aback by her bluntness, and after a good cry session in my car, I got to work. I found articles and studies that backed up my ideas, and even though my friend never asked about this particular issue again as it resolved itself, I found myself feeling much more confident in my skills as a clinician. I put in the work to find the answer, and given the chance, I would have felt much more secure about giving a client guidance or feedback. I now use this tool daily as I search for the best evidence based practices to use as a student clinician, and I am able to act in confidence. I think that idea can be applied to the more spiritual aspects of our lives. Just like it wasn’t my teacher’s job to tell me exactly what to do as a clinician, it’s not your teachers’ or spouse’s, friends’ or parents’ job to give you the answers to life either. Similarly, it’s not our job to tell our kids the answers, it’s our job to teach them how to find them. You have to put in the work to find them yourself (or in the case of being a parent, teach your kids to find them), so you can also act in confidence. Whether you’re searching for answers about your testimony or about whether to move for a new job, we all need the confidence a little work combined with personal revelation can give us.

A very big part of research is challenging our beliefs and biases. If I turned in a research paper that only brought up evidence supporting my hypothesis, but didn’t find evidence that challenges them and discuss why the supporting evidence was more compelling, I would get a very poor grade. We need to do this in our lives with other things too, and sometimes that is uncomfortable, especially when it comes to something we have believed our whole lives. Now, I am not saying that you need to go find anti-church literature just to feel more confident in your testimony at all. But I am saying that there are some uncomfortable things that have happened in the past and even in the scriptures that are important to wrestle with and learn more about. In my freshman year at BYU, I took a Book of Mormon class, as one is required to do. I had the most amazing professor who I ended up TA-ing for because I was so impressed with his work. He managed to look at the text of the BoM both scholarly and theologically, and I learned so much in his classes. One assignment that he gave that I loved was his “challenging assumptions” assignment. (See, this is sanctioned by a BYU professor so it’s probably okay that I’m telling you to do this over the pulpit!) Every other week we were required to do a write-up about one thing we learned in class or from our reading (and reading the way he was teaching us to read) that challenged something we grew up learning. For example, I had always grown up idolizing Nephi, as I think most people had as well. But when I learned that he was writing the account of his life as an older adult recounting his earlier life experiences, I started realize that maybe that macho-manliness and “being large in stature” stuff was a reflection of an older, wiser, more humble person. He was remembering the way he treated his brothers when he was prideful and arrogant, and how that affected his brothers’ descendants. Humanizing Nephi and remembering that he has flaws just like any of us, and that God works through imperfect human people, was a very freeing revelation for me! I had always thought prophets needed to be perfect, or at least near perfect, but they aren’t! It’s literally impossible for them to be. And that has strengthened my testimony in prophets, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. If I know that prophets and leaders can and do make mistakes, I am more able to seek confirmation of their words, and act confidently, not blindly following in their footsteps.

In research, the best way to find an answer is to get right to the source. In life, this is also true. Sources we can learn from include scriptures, prophets, scholars, and even the lived experiences of other people. The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only church I know of where members of the congregation get to talk to the whole congregation. We get to hear from people from all walks of life: disabled people, people living in poverty, single parents, LGBT people, women, people of color, and more. We NEED these voices and experiences. Christ experienced the lives and hardships of everyone. What better way to become more Christlike than to listen to the voices of the marginalized so we can serve them and challenge our own biases?

One thing about challenging our biases is that it is a constant, lifelong process. Even with things that we previously felt confident about, new revelations come along and change things. We should be aware of that and always be open to new ideas. Think of how much the church has changed in the last couple of years! Some of those things have been quite radical. I don’t think President Nelson plans on slowing down any time soon either. If a huge institution like the church can change, we can change too. Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Our outlooks on life change constantly, and hopefully always for the better. Who I was in high school is so different from who I am now because I’ve tried so hard not to let my fear of change overwhelm me. And that is hard! It has taken a lot of patient people willing to do the work and emotional labor of teaching me and sharing their life experiences. We can do the same when we know better, by doing better and helping others learn as well. We can help influence not only our own ideas, but we can also influence others in our families, wards, communities, and stakes by using our voice for good. Our Heavenly Parents want us to share the light and knowledge that we have received with others!

Alright, so you’ve challenged those biases, you’ve become more confident in your testimony and beliefs, now what? Personal revelation extends far beyond gaining a testimony. We are so fortunate that we are able to receive personal revelation that can help us make decisions in our life as well.

Sometimes we are stuck between two choices, neither of which is clear or perfect. When in the Garden of Eden, Eve was told to choose between the two commandments of multiplying and replenishing the earth, or not partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. These two choices were completely oppositional, and created the first opportunity to receive personal revelation. Eve knew she had to choose between commandments, and she knew that multiplying and replenishing the earth was the more important commandment of the two. It was the commandment with lasting impact that would save the souls of generations to come and allow for the Savior of the world to come to earth. This was a huge decision to make, and one that I believe Eve sought revelation from her Heavenly Parents for. When Eve made that difficult decision, she had the confidence required to move forward, even though it was hard, because she had the confirmation personal revelation gave her. When we receive personal revelation, we similarly can act with confidence.

Sometimes we are told to do something that we may find “beneath” us. Acting in confidence requires humility, as strange as that may sound. Moses was told to tell his people that, if they simply looked at his staff, they would be saved. Many of them scoffed at that idea as it was too easy, and they wanted something “more heroic” or something. We sometimes think that story is silly, I mean, if all I had to do to be saved was look at a snake I’d be like, “sign me up!” but how often in our lives are we told to do the small, most basic things and we kind of think, “hmm. I’m not sure that will actually work…” We need to be confident enough in our personal revelation that we are humble enough to follow even the small things. As Marjorie Pay Hinkley said, “never suppress a generous thought.” I believe this is true no matter how small the thought.

Sometimes, we have to act in confidence before we really feel like we’ve received personal revelation. I know many times where I wasn’t particularly feeling one way or the other on a decision, and I knew I just needed to choose one. I knew that if I felt uncomfortable about it, it would be the wrong choice, but it required confidence to move forward and choose anyways. Sometimes we don’t receive revelation towards any particular decision because they’re both good choices, and our Heavenly Parents trust us to make the decision that is best for ourselves and our families.

This level of faith is pretty radical. It requires confidence in yourself and confidence in your Heavenly Parents. But, we are all more than capable of receiving revelation for ourselves and our families. You do not have to be ordained to the priesthood to receive revelation. We have all been given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and spouses and parents need to work in tandem as they seek to better help their families. We also need to respect other peoples’ choices and trust that they have taken the time to seek out and receive personal revelation for themselves, as this is something every member of the church has access to. We need to be careful of judging those who are going through a faith crisis, who have decided to take a break from the church or who have made choices that you may not understand, as the key part of personal revelation is that it is personal. We cannot receive personal revelation for anyone else’s decisions. What’s right for us may not be right for someone else, and that is okay. Our Heavenly Parents know what They are doing. Trust in Them not only for yourself, but trust that They are leading others’ lives as well, no matter the direction they take.