Discerning the Divine

 

I’m in the midst of making a pretty big decision (where to go to grad school, essentially). I may be unorthodox, but I consider myself to be a pretty religious person. I believe that I can talk with God and that God may have some insight into the decisions that I make that can help me to make the correct decision. Yet in this decision making process, I repeatedly run into a dilemma—how do I know what’s divine and what’s me?

In my stake conference not too long ago some variation of this question was asked and the visiting general authority referenced an older quote from Elder Bednar. The essence of the quote is that it doesn’t matter. Just be a good boy or girl and it’ll all work out. Now, I understand the good that this can do. It can be paralyzing to try and only do what God wants for you if you are unable to figure out what is you and what is God. However, this “solution” seems to have severe limitations. If the question at hand is less of a “should I reach out to that old friend” and more of a “which school should I go to,” the advice to just be a good boy seems woefully inadequate. All of the options are good and sure, good can probably come from all of them. But they will place me in drastically different circumstances and I’ll interact with totally different groups of people.

I believe that God has greater insight/perspective/knowledge than I do. There are things He/She/They know that I don’t and probably can’t really, without divine assistance. Otherwise, why would I even bother seeking out God’s will? I want to do what God would have me do—I just need to figure out what that is.

The process so far has been interesting. I was hoping to go straight into a PhD program, but was only accepted to MA programs (BYU, Rochester, and Chicago). I’ve sort of mentally pictured this April (August kind of) being the end of my Provo experience—not that I hate Provo, I actually have a lot of friends and family around and love the opportunities to engage with Mormonism that would be much more difficult (or impossible) to find elsewhere. Part of me wants a change (and a beard). Because of this Rochester is incredibly appealing. I felt drawn to Rochester and had what I think was a spiritual confirmation of sorts that that was a solid decision.

That would have been fine and dandy, except I also felt that I should talk with professors and family about the options, to “study it out in my mind.” In discussions with professors, BYU was the heavy favorite, but an option emerged that I had not considered—a gap year, working, polishing my application and re-applying in hopes of being accepted to a PhD program to start Fall 2017. I haven’t really been able to shake that idea.

Yet new opportunities at BYU keep coming up, which would make the MA program incredibly rich and rewarding.

So, I’m stuck. I’m talking, talking, talking and thinking, thinking, thinking. And praying, praying, praying.

Perhaps all of the options would be workable for whatever God wants from me. It is as if I’m in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel and whatever I choose will determine what happens for years to come.

Yikes.

I don’t want to choose the path that ends up with me dying being consumed by a pit of angry crocodiles after I fell off a chandelier in a glorious (yet ultimately doomed) attempt to rescue the Queen of England. (Ok, you’re right, part of me does want to choose that path because how cool would that be, but I think you get the point.)

Perhaps whatever I choose it will converge into the path that I should follow, so really any option is worthy of taking. Perhaps.

I tend to think that the divine is intertwined in however we usually make decisions. I tend to think and think and think and research intensely (probably got that from my dad and his endless notebooks of thoughts and countless Consumer Reports magazines scattered around our house). For big decisions, I try to be open to how I feel and to follow that as well. Usually I can reach some kind of consensus between what I’ve thought and what I feel. Sometimes it takes some circuitous feeling and thinking to end up where I need to be, but usually I get there. At least life has been pretty great so far following that pattern, so I’m assuming I’ve done what I needed to do and ended up where I needed to end up.

I don’t really know always when something is me or if it’s divine, but I try to discern the divine in my life. Otherwise, who needs God?

I’m not always successful, but I think as I incorporate the divine or spiritual into my process, the specific influence of the divine may be difficult to pinpoint, but the presence of the divine can be counted on.

Regardless, all I can do is think and pray and feel and ponder and think and feel and pray and ponder and synthesize all that thinking and praying and pondering and feeling. Then, I choose.

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