This very morning, my five-year-old daughter wailed in obvious distress, “I know I am supposed to ask God but how do you get an answer when you don’t know HOW to get an answer?!?” Honestly, I sat there stunned. This was a question grown-ups wrestle with. This was a dilemma for the ages. And here was this earnest soul entrusted to me…and I am supposed to teach one of the most important and trickiest aspects of life? I tried to comfort her. I didn’t want prayer to equate to frustration. But, I also needed to think through this more for myself…and I turned to the wise women in my life. There are a few women I have deeply admired for their perspective on personal revelation.

My Mom

My mom has a relationship with deity like none I have ever known. It is certainly nothing like my relationship. My mom “just” trusts God— at all times. And she prays about everything…like minutia that I can’t imagine the God of the Universe caring much about. And then my mother will ask me, “If God cares about me, then he cares that I am upset that I can’t find my keys/need a recipe/don’t know what Christmas present to buy a friend.” Whether it is related to her methodology or her character of simply trusting God, my mom gets incredibly powerful answers to prayers. Like, jaw-dropping ones. Let me tell you an example:

My sister calls in a panic as there is a flood of water gushing out from her new home, so much water flowing from her front door she can’t even tell where it is coming from. I live in another place, but I frantically start looking up emergency services for the town she lives in. She tells me, “I called Mom and she’s praying.” I barely acknowledge that. Yeah-yeah, pray— but we have to DO something here.

It’s the weekend. I can’t get anyone on the line.

My sister calls back in five minutes…after what seems like an eternity of attempted city service phone numbers. “Hey— we’re good. Thanks for your help.”

What happened?

“Oh, Mom called me back and told me in step-by-step instructions she had received how to find and turn off the leak.” This from a woman who had been in my sister’s house once and knew nothing about the plumbing. As my mother said, “Well, I needed to know, so I asked God!”

This is not the only time my mom has received answers like this.

The Healer

A friend of mine is a healer. She is a spiritually in-tune person and regularly seeks answers for herself and others who have asked for her help. When I have listened to her pray, it is clear to me that she is talking to someone she knows. What must that feel like? To approach our Father in Heaven with absolute humility, but also as a being you KNOW? A being who is all-powerful…and who is your friend? To know what time feels like when it is spent in the presence of deity? To have that be a familiar feeling? Stunning, truly.

My Friend

My best friend from university talked to me once about revelation…you get what you need. I thought it made perfect sense. If this earth is designed to be a loving school…(and school is probably not a perfect analogy but you get the point), then everything we experience can be something crafted for our growth. This means, when we interact with deity, we are getting what we need. The perfect parents are NOT going to deny us what we need. If there is the perception of a lack, it must come from our side. And a lack is not necessarily “no answer.” Perhaps we don’t WANT an answer. Or we don’t need an answer. Or an answer is not good for us.

“We are often left to work out problems, without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior’s sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening to the still small voice, the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of His Spirit.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks[1]

The Faithful Talk

I once heard a woman in my ward give a talk on prayer. She said she had never received answers. Ever. I sat up straight. This was someone I wanted to hear more from. Who admits that? In public? Over the pulpit? And she went on to describe going about her LDS life. I started to watch this woman. I was fascinated with faith like that. To be a person who doesn’t need a response? Who is still motivated to follow and believe and live her covenants? I was stunned with how impressively faithful she was.

As you see, there is a range of experience here, and I think that’s a crucial and intrinsic characteristic of revelation— it works differently for different people.

From conversations that I have had, it seems people get personal revelation and inspiration in a very wide array of methods. One woman spoke to me of how she received spiritual impressions in color. I have received them in song (though I am not a musically-inclined person at all). Another conversation told me that a woman heard answers through words. My husband acknowledges that he needs a one-two punch system— he disregards the first revelation that comes to him so the second “knock-out punch” hits him harder and indisputably. I have had experiences where I got no answer except the path seemed to flow out in front of me, times when the impression was a flashing marquee, times when I got lovingly reprimanded by a force that made me immediately realize simultaneously that I was important because I was loved and also I was ridiculously nothing on the scale of comparison between Divine and Me. I have had one single time when I felt a column of light that knocked me to my knees— an answer I could never doubt, though I would feel tempted. Mostly, I have felt vague warmth. Maybe. Or maybe not. And, probably most often, I have simply forgotten to ask. Like, I am part way through writing this essay and realizing that I didn’t pause to ask for help…on…duh…an essay on revelation.

Pause. Ask. Carry on.

Growing up I had thought that basically revelation was a still small voice or a burning in my bosom. In describing the still, small voice, Elder Packer said, “These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears.”[2] For me, this was partially true. One experience I had was definitely a “felt” voice— but there was nothing delicate or refined about it. It was a FORCE to be heard. More of the “pierce even to the very soul” kind of voice. (Hel. 5:30).

In an address given to BYU about personal revelation, Lionel Kendrick of the Seventy taught that revelation can come through the mind as: enlightenment, light and understanding, scriptures, instant recall, an audible voice, leader’s counsel, dreams or visions, and visitations. Revelation can also come through the heart as peaceful feelings, warm feelings, compelling feelings, and even dark and confused feelings.[3] A no was a “stupor of thought.” (SIDETONE: the best story I ever heard on a stupor of thought was a man trying to pray if he should marry the girl he had been dating for a while…and he couldn’t even remember her name.)

And, I think that gets to the crux of the matter— we receive in different ways. We are different people with different needs and different styles of learning that work best for us— and we have Heavenly Parents who are fully and more thoroughly aware of all this than we are.

So, revelation comes. It can come in any way it needs to.

What I am more curious about is— how can we foster more revelation in our life?

So, I am going to start with some personal experience, a disclaimer, and a personal fierce truth:

I had always been taught that you had to be in the right place for revelation…and, while I agree that is helpful, in my experience it is not a contingent kind of relationship. Yes, if I read my scriptures and go to the temple and stay out of “unclean” places— then the Spirit has more conduits to reach me. BUT, some of the most important answers I have received have come from desperation. Humility to receive has been the hallmark— regardless of where I am.

And, as I am writing this, I also realize I have had two significant exceptions. I was not being humble at all when I received those…so what makes us able to receive? In writing this, I have had to think through…

AUTHENTIC. I think answers to prayer come from authenticity. Authentic humility, or authentic anger, or authentic need, or authentic seeking. Whether we are standing in a bar, are full tithe payers, are in the temple, or haven’t been in years— we ABSOLUTELY can still receive personal revelation from our loving Heavenly Parents. They seek after the missing lamb…they welcome the prodigal Son. Christ “even” spent time with “sinners.” So, do all those other things because they are good for you. But never think the lack of them in some way cuts you off from the love and revelatory power of your Heavenly Parents.

“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul” (Enos 1:4).

Writing this has been an exercise in personal revelation. This section of the essay was not what I had first written. But I felt moved that someone (and maybe more than one someone) needed to hear that being loved is not a transactional relationship. YOU ARE LOVED PERFECTLY BY YOUR HEAVENLY PARENTS. We CAN receive from our Heavenly Parents ANYWHERE, at ANY TIME, while doing ANYTHING. The key is that it prompts a new understanding.

“By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God” (D&C 76:12).

Now, going back to the ways I have been trying to foster more revelation…

First, paying attention.

In thinking back over my life, I can see a few moments I have had clear answers. But, knowing my Heavenly Parents (and knowing me), I bet They are involved a lot more subtly than I realize. A bummed mood? And I spot my favorite-colored flower. Late for an appointment? And I get the perfect parking place. Angry? And a hymn comes into my mind. I think these are moments when the divine has touched me. Moments of little revelation and probably more that I can’t/won’t/don’t see. In fact, I would say A LOT MORE. So, I am trying to pay attention.

“God reveals himself to [people] who are prepared for such manifestations.”— President Spencer W. Kimball [4]

Second, attribute.

I mean, why not? Either that was a divine force benefiting your life, or it wasn’t. But cultivating a feeling of being loved by the universe is never a bad thing. When I am questioning whether something came as revelation or a divine gift or a moment of tender mercy, I now have a policy that I just go right ahead and attribute it to my Heavenly Parents. I mean, why not?

“The great volume of revelation … come[s] to today’s prophets in the less spectacular way—that of deep impressions, but without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events accompanying…Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication.”—President Spencer W. Kimball[5]

Third, gratitude.

You can say that perfectly-colored flower was chance, or you can smile and say “Thank you!” Attributing and gratitude are powerful. I think gratitude keeps us humble and swaddled. And with all the potential buffeting the world offers, some divine swaddling is a GOOD thing to carry.

My mom always said that the most important thing she could teach us was to pray and get answers. President Harold B. Lee said the same, “The most important thing you can do is to learn to talk to God.”[6] He goes on to talk about cultivating ears to listen, as well. In this quickly-changing world, a parent cannot foresee everything a child needs to know and understand in order to thrive. You simply cannot google all the answers to life’s predicaments. There are tricky things in where to go to school, and which job to take, and who to marry and not marry, and how to stay married, and how to reach our children. The ONLY source of all knowledge is God, our Heavenly Parents. So, figure out how revelation works best for you, try to receive revelation, cultivate divinity as a regular part of your life…and stand in awe at the gift of personal revelation.

[1] Teaching by the Spirit (address delivered at new mission presidents’ seminar, 22 June 1994), 8.
[2] Boyd K. Packer “Candle of the Lord.” Excerpt from Ensign, January 1983, 51–56
[3] Lionel Kendrick, “Personal Revelation.” from an address given on 20 May 1997.
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid.
[6] ibid.