Sometimes, especially with important decisions, we, of course, put lots of effort into making those choices. As members of the Church, we also often will seek guidance through prayer and personal revelation. Through the process, it's easy to become passionate about the answers we receive, about the decisions we make.
And with passion often comes the desire to share, even to proselytize. Herein lies a weakness I have seen in myself and in others. We sometimes assume that because our answer was right for us, that it will be right for others.
And yet, how often is there really One Right Answer?
There are truths that we are taught by our prophets, and I don't believe that doctrine is up for grabs. It is not within our stewardship to receive revelation about doctrine for the Church, or about the responsibilities of others' callings. We are told repeatedly that we receive revelation for our own stewardships, but not for others'.
But this principle applies to others' personal lives as well. We cannot take the revelation we have received for our own lives and apply it to others. That is not to say there is never a time and place to share our personal experiences and testimonies. There are also times and places to testify of true principles. The Spirit can help us know when and where these things may be appropriate. But I think we need to be careful about taking specific, personalized answers and trying to make them generally-applicable, especially when prophets of God have not done so. In the end, I am coming to believe we cannot do this without risking the violation of the principles of agency, and thus violating the plan of God at some level. Part of becoming like God is allowing for the agency of others.
How much room is there for personal revelation even with laws/commandments/counsel we know to be divinely inspired? Consider the following examples:
- Word of Wisdom (have you ever met someone who wants to convince you that they are living the 'higher law' of the WoW by some specific that has never been preached over the pulpit? I sure have...)
- Sabbath Day -- Have you ever actually met two Mormon families who apply this law in exactly the same way?
- Multiply and Replenish -- As important as the commandment to multiply and replenish is, we simply cannot know what is right for another couple, another family. Even something as simple as "You'll just know when you're done" is not something that can be generally applied. We were recently reminded in the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast that we are not to judge others on decisions such as this.
- Following the Prophets -- As passionate as I am about this topic, I see over and over again how each of our perceptions of what this means differs. My husband and I, as relatively close as we are on the topic, will sometimes find that we apply and interpret prophetic counsel in different ways.
- Preparedness -- Again, we have some pretty clear counsel on this topic, but none of us is in a position to receive specific guidance for others on how to apply this counsel.
Public vs. home school -- Oh, my. Here again, the passion is intense. How many of you have heard a homeschooling family insist that there is no other righteous way to teach children, particularly when we live in such challenging times? Or, on the flip side, have you heard a public schooling family condemn homeschoolers for any number of reasons? Oh, my.
Work-life-family balance questions -- Even as the prophets have been clear about the ideal, for example about the general roles and responsibilities of fathers and mothers as outlined in the Proclamation and repeatedly taught by our leaders, there is still room for personal adaptation and revelation, and thank goodness for that, since there are so many variations in life situation, culture, needs, etc.
Intimacy in marriage -- Have you ever heard someone complain that we don't receive more guidance on this topic? I think that part of the reason we don't is because we are supposed to figure this out, with our spouses and with the Lord. I have heard professional counselors giving specific guidance about frequency, for example, and I just don't think that is appropriate. Of course, there is some good general guidance out there, but I think we need to be careful about taking on anyone else's specific answers in this tender, private, sacred element of married life.
Home birth vs. hospital birth -- A post I just read today explores the process of making such a decision. This is another one of those hot topics that I have seen sometimes bring out the worst in women. How I wish we could respect each other's space to make choices and trust that we are each doing our best! There is most certainly no One Right Answer in this regard.
Discipline of children, or dealing with marital or other family challenges -- There are, of course, spiritual and legal laws that draw some boundaries in these regards, but, usually, there is a lot of variation on how we can deal with the various kinds of challenges that can emerge in family relationships. This is likely one of the most important areas in life where we need the power of personal revelation, and where we need to be ever-so-careful about generalizing our approaches and answers to others. We can offer support when requested, but often, giving advice or counsel can be problematic. The best advice I think we can give is to encourage our loved ones to seek spiritual guidance through prayer, and, if necessary, through professional help.
These are just a few examples of many.
As someone who has always preferred nice, clean, clear-cut answers to questions in life, I have struggled with all of this. I still believe there are certain things that are Right. (I suppose there will always even be debate about where those lines are.) But still, even there, I realize I cannot take away what God has freely given -- the gift of agency. God will freely give us when we ask, and we can only hope that those we love and care about will seek God's guidance in all of their important decisions - and even ones that may not be so important. God wants to be involved in our lives, and He wants us to care about and be involved in each others' lives. But there are limits to that involvement, I think. We need to be careful about generalizing personal revelation or even simple personal choice. We need to respect the agency of others, and rejoice in the plan that allows us to discover, by our own experience, the good from the bad. And to discover the power of the Atonement when we/others make mistakes.
Am I generalizing too much? :)