Near Misses: Failures in Personal Revelation

Ever have a spiritual near miss, where the Lord kindly gave you some personal inspiration about a matter where you listened to and responded to the message — and, though lack of diligence or follow-through, still blew it, barely missing the blessing He was trying to give you? Being in tune and getting personal revelation is not enough — it can be in vain if we don’t follow up with diligent effort on our part. I think we need to learn from our near misses in order to avoid them and have more spiritual “hits” our lives.

This morning my wife needed me to do some shopping to help her prepare for the Stake Auxiliary Training session she was running for Primary (the LDS children’s organization) leaders in the units of the Appleton, Wisconsin Stake. As Primary President, she does a lot of extra-mile efforts and has spent hours preparing and planning for this day. As crunch time approached, though, she needed a little help to get a few more items for refreshments. I left at 8:30 am with instructions to be back by 9:15 am, when she needed to leave.

I ran to a major grocery store and snagged everything needed, and was back on the road by 9:04, just five minutes from home. Success! I felt like I should call her and assure her that I would be back with a few minutes to spare, but passed on that idea, perhaps ignoring a prompting. No need to call, I reasoned – I’ll be home soon enough.

I came home, expecting to see some frantic last minute rushing, but everything was calm. Cool. We chatted and I helped put a few things away. Then after being home for about five minutes, as I was leaving the kitchen I looked at the big clock on the wall, the one that had shown 8:30 a.m. when I left, and puzzled over the time. It now showed 8:40 a.m., in contrast to my watch that read 9:15 a.m. I casually said to my wife, “Hey, that clock is off. It says 8:40, but it’s really about 9:15.” She thought I was kidding at first, then looked at her watch – and panic set in.

She raised an eyebrow and, with a tense but gentle smile, whispered, “My, my, this could be a keenly inconvenient time for that clock to fail, because now I suppose I’m going to be rather late and my hours of preparation may prove to be futile after all. I thought I was ahead of schedule and so productive, but disaster was looming – courtesy of batteries that suddenly died. Well, isn’t this an interesting learning experience? I do hope you’ll blog about it. Now please excuse me while I zealously strive to change, do my hair, my makeup, and about 40 other things in the next 30 seconds.”

Well, those may not be her exact words, but that’s how I interpreted her highly nuanced and intricately modulated shriek. It’s a marvel how much can be conveyed by the female voice in times like this.

Moments after she pulled out of the driveway, she called me and expressed concern that she may have left some things that she needed. My first impression – yes, definitely an impression – was to head to the printer in the basement where I imagined she had printed some documents needed for her event. “I’m heading to the printer. Anything there?” She didn’t think so, but I felt that I should look. Ah, there was a stack of colorful primary documents on the desk. I asked her about them, and she said no, she didn’t need those. Shouldn’t be anything there she needed. OK, I thought. I noted some documents were in the output tray in the printer, but, assured that she didn’t need anything, I ignored them and went upstairs.

Twenty minutes later, when I was halfway to the church (our Stake Center in Neenah), she called again, hoping I was still home. She realized that some printouts she thought were in her Primary bag were still at home, and hoped I could bring them with me. But I was too far from home now to get them in time to help her. Had I gone the extra six inches to reach into the printer tray and describe what I saw, the impression to head to the printer would have born fruit – and I would score a few extra admiration points. One’s account can never be too full. As it was, it was a sad near miss.

This is a trivial event in the big scheme of things. Her event was successful, the people she served were grateful, the food she brought was delicious, and life goes on, in spite of some stress and a few glitches. But I could have done a little more to help my wife if I had been a little more diligent and faithful in responding to what may have been a touch of guidance. As I pondered this event, I could see that I’ve got a stream of near misses in my life, where things went wrong in spite of seeking and receiving helpful inspiration from the Lord, not because of flaws in the guidance, but in the execution.

The challenge of turning personal revelation into success is much like the challenge of turning good ideas into successful inventions or commercial products. There’s a lot of work that has to come after the idea stage for it to be any good. Revelation plus active faith and diligence is what we need.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “Near Misses: Failures in Personal Revelation

  1. Fun post. But how do you go about life without letting every stray influence toss you around like a rag doll for fear of failing to heed true promptings? And then punishing yourself to no end for failing to respond when the resultant mess was really a product of natural coincidence?


  2. Jeff: Amen, brother. I often screw up in a) listening, b) understanding, and c) executing, such promptings too. My learning mainly comes from trial and error, mostly error. And sometimes, I just plain “chicken out” and do a Jonah.


    To your first question:

    There are two keys to answering that:

    a) Discerning what it is that you’re being prompted to do. Asking yourself: is it a good thing or is it a not-good/bad thing?

    b) What is the source of the influence or prompting? Self? Ego? Physical appetite? Satan? Holy Ghost?

    The Book of Mormon teaches that that which invites to do good is of Christ. So if we feel an influence to do an obviously good thing, we should generally do it. Obviously good things are like doing your home teaching, calling someone you need to call, things we are already commanded to do in the scriptures, or are often admonished to do by the living prophets, etc.

    If the influence/prompting is for something that seems neutral or not-good (such as chopping the head off someone who is passed-out drunk in the alley) or anywhere in between neutral and not-good, then it takes discernment and familiarity (ie lots of practice) to learn to idenfity the _source_ of that influence. IE, “who’s talking?”

    Nephi did the “not good” thing because he _knew_ who it was that was spiritually speaking to him.

    The ability to hear and discern and understand the Spirit is a learned skill, more an art than a science. Then, obeying that prompting can take a lot of faith and trust in God.

    Worthiness, purity of mind and heart, humility, and active listening for the Spirit all play a part in discerning and understanding the Spirit.

    I believe the Spirit speaks to us much more often than we realize, but I often allow sin and other forms of distraction to create “static” on that spiritual channel.

    Less static means better ability to hear and understand spiritual promptings.

    Spirituality is not an off or on, 0 or 1, binary proposition. It’s a gradation of many shades.

    Sometimes, when it’s real important to the Lord, I think he has the Spirit “crank up the volume” in order to get through the static that we allow on our spiritual channel, or to overcome our inattention, or lack of trust.

    That “cranking up the volume” is my way of wording what Nephi described as being “constrained of the Spirit.” The Spirit didn’t force Nephi to kill Laban, but the Spirit made it painfully obvious to Nephi that he had to, or there would be dire consequences.

    Jeff’s and his wife’s actions were not life-and-death affairs. The Spirit had no need to “shout” at him or his wife.

    And whether or not natural coincidences led to the snafus of that day, is immaterial. Jeff is saying that God tried to help them out, and he wasn’t listening close enough.

    There are some other interesting questions raised by his story:

    Why didn’t the Lord prompt his wife instead of, or in addition to, him?

    Maybe the Lord did, and she wasn’t listening, and He couldn’t get through to her, so He went to Jeff.

    Maybe the Lord was trying to teach _Jeff_ a lesson about using him to bless/serve others. Maybe the Lord wanted to teach his wife that He would use others to bless her.

    Maybe the Lord was trying to teach Jeff to listen more closely in order to prepare for some more important things coming up in the future.

    Maybe the Lord was just letting Jeff know that even the most minor things are known to Him.

  3. Good questions. There are a lot of little things that don’t matter. Today, though, I honestly think I went through an orchestrated teaching moment, a gentle of showing that caution and diligence are needed in carrying out promptings that can go awry otherwise. It all revolved around the crazy timing of the clock. After a couple years, the batteries went out just after I left in a way that really messed up my wife. Had I been there, I probably would have caught it because I rely on my watch more and don’t trust that clock anyway since others have set it back or forward from time to time.

    It actually was a huge crisis for her at the moment. She so wanted to be on time, to be well prepared and organized, to meet the high standards she faces in her calling, and she had worked and planned so hard to do it all just right. And then she learned that in spite of it all, she would be quite late and would have to rush so much that somethings would probably be missing or disorganized. A minor thing for the cosmos at large, but a horribly frustrating moment for her – and I could have helped her sooner and better. I tried, but had a couple of near misses that puzzled me – and then I saw the bigger picture.

    Teaching moment.

  4. Bookslinger,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think I'm importing my own fears into Jeff's experience–not a fair thing to do.

    Mine has been a long painful road–dealing with a (how does one say) compulsive-ness in following promptings. I've done a lot of wacky things in the name of promptings that now–with a little more hindsight–I know to be a product of my own disordered mind more than anything else.

    I'm amazed at folks who are level headed when it comes to this particular issue. The idea of a living God is rather terrifying to me–though I suppose it might be a little more bearable if my limited understanding were tempered with a deeper knowledge of his love.


    A thought–You seem to have a wife like mine: Totally Awesome. I wonder, though, if perhaps the "lesson" for her was to let go a little. The Kingdom didn't fall apart because there were a few loose ends in her program.

    Our offerings are accepted when they're acceptable. And I would add that, even though you may feel you could have responded better to those specific promptings, the fact *for you too* is the show went on just fine.

    But then again, who am I to judge what God intends to teach you? But then again–again, you've made an intimate experience public and in so doing will run the risk of having presumptuous spiritual hacks like me pouring on the advice. ;>)


  5. About 20 years ago we re-did our kitchen–cabinets, counters, floor and table. It was completed on a Friday, and that night we noticed a couple problems with the counter. Saturday morning, the counter man came back and corrected it in about 5 minutes. While he was working the thought came to my mind to tell him “You do great work!” which is not what I normally say as I think that’s over-used and too often insincere. I didn’t ignore it but told him that we really liked the work he’d done for us. A couple minutes later the thought came again and I said that we were really happy with the work he’d done and that we’d like it and use it for many years. He was obviously in a grouchy mood and I followed him out to his truck, where the thought came a third time, and I assured him that we were pleased with his work and really liked it, etc., and he left.

    On Monday, his obituary was in the newspaper, where it said that he’d been found Saturday afternoon, having shot himself. I was quite upset for a long time, as I realized that I’d been put in his path as a last chance to save his life and had failed, not because I hadn’t tried, but because I’d failed to use the exact words I’d been given that he’d needed to be told at that exact time.

  6. Ouch… it’s definitely no fun to realize I’ve bungled the execution of a spiritual prompting…

    On a brighter note, however, I’m fairly sure we’ll look back some day and retrace our footsteps through this minefield called mortality… and be blown away at the disasters we avoided by following small — or even unnoticed — promptings.

    It brings to mind an Isaac Asimov story I read once about some über-powerful aliens meddling in human affairs. One makes a bet that he can prevent world-wide nuclear war by a “level 5 change” — something a simple as prompting some Mr. Nobody to change one vowel of his last name.

    Of course, as Jack mentioned, this sort of thing is really spooky/scary if you don’t know the guidance comes from a loving source; at the end of the story, name changed and war averted, the aliens make a new bet: undo the first bet’s effects using another level 5 change…

  7. Magically thinking could also lead you to believe that God killed those batteries at that particular time to prevent your wife from getting in a wreck if she were on time.

  8. Dan,

    Your story about the carpenter prompted me to respond. I don’t think you are to blame for this man’s death. You did complement his work, even though you didn’t use the exact wording of the prompting. He chose to ignore your complements and he ALONE pulled the trigger. You did what you could, but ultimately we all have our own agency. Your “mistake” probably helped you grow spiritually in some way, but in no way was the cause of his death.

    When I was a missionary, I started out obsessing over the “exact” and “perfect” choice of words that would magically give someone a testimony of the Gospel. “If I could make them understand!” I thought. The fact that I was speaking broken Estonian didn’t lessen my self-torture.
    Well, as my Estonian improved, I realized that beating myself up was not what God wanted. Placing all the burden on myself was wearing me out and focusing on the “perfect” phrase made me miss the delicate Spirit. I realized over time that it was never my responsibility to convert anyone–I was imperfect and I might as well get used to it! Instead of trying to convert anyone with my great word prowess, I just tried to focus on sharing the joy I felt about the Gospel. I still made mistakes, but I felt peace and I was ok with my imperfect self. Instead of trying to place the burden of someone’s eternal salvation on myself, I left the burden in it’s rightful place: with Christ. And he is so much kinder than any of us.

    Heavenly Father knows the desires of our hearts, he knows our intentions even if the product is defective 🙂 I believe we will all be judged accordingly. This is what I love about the Gospel: I believe we will be happily amazed at how many different kinds of people will be standing with God at the last day– and given the small percentage of LDS members in the world–probably most of them will not be Mormon! 🙂

  9. Anon at 7:34 PM, December 14, 2008:

    Yes, that's a possibility.

    And your thought is illusrated in the scripture in Rom. 8: 28
    "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

    And in D&C 59: 21,
    "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments."

  10. Might I suggest a simple trick. Get more clocks, put two clocks side by side. Then if one goes beserk it won’t torpedo your VIP schedule.

    Einstein was said to be chary of the discovery of the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. “Could it be that God plays dice with the universe?” he is reported to have said. Well, there’s your answer. You are playing dice with your single clock. It will *probably* show the right time, but two clocks (especially of different type) will almost *never* fail the same way. God uses measures to ensure success even in spite of goofs and accidents and random events.

    I’m not sure why he speaks in a still small voice. Makes it look like he wants poor communications some of the time.


  11. Thank you for this post. Jack’s comment “presumptuous spiritual hacks like me pouring on the advice.” was a timely read for me and I needed to read it. Sometimes the biggest mistake I make is not listening to the Spirit when he says “do NOT post your thoughts on the internet.” I am happy though that you felt prompted to post your experience. Even after we’ve made a mistake, the Spirit finds a way to help us feel better.

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