Nature is a great teacher. In the mountains far away from civilization, my awareness of the natural world is heightened. The air is fresher; the skies seem to go on forever. The mountains are majestic and the evergreens more fragrant. Wildlife in its natural setting is in balance with the environment. There is a harmony between flora and fauna that is innate in its very essence. If we tune in to the subtly of nature, we’ll find it has much to teach us about our spiritual journey back home.
“Master, the tempest is raging.” (LDS Hymns no. 105)
On a hike in the mountains one summer, I came to a dangerous pass. A narrow wooden bridge crossed a raging river. On the left of it was a powerful waterfall. It poured white water down from the mountain into the tributary which meandered around the two great mountains I stood at one end of the bridge, listening to the thunderous volume of water, feeling the spray on my face. I looked over the railing, watching the churning water flow rapidly under the bridge. My mind began to ask questions.
“What if the bridge wasn’t here? Would there be another way to cross?” The force of the falling water was immense. It continued in intensity as it flowed downstream, churning around boulders, rearing white caps as far as I could see. The bridge was built at the narrowest part of the path, but it also sat over the most roaring part of the waterway. There was no way I could tell how deep this part of the river was. The violent waves concealed the depth, and any kind of danger that may be waiting down under. No indeed, the water was too violent to cross without using the bridge. In fact, people walked cautiously across the bridge, holding the railing tight to guard against misstep.
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2)
Later on down the trail, I came across a shallow stream of still water. It was wide, yet secluded between rows of trees and shrubs on both sides. Fellow hikers had more fun with this stretch of water. Some scampered over it hastily. Others splashed through it. Still others took their hiking boots off and stood in it to cool their ankles and toes before going on. I stopped here for a moment and simply looked down.
The water was still. In its stillness, you could see with clarity the shallowness of the stream. You could also note where any rocks or stones might be so as to avoid slipping on them. The stillness of the water made it easy to see it was not a dangerous body of water to cross. Not only was it completely safe, it was enjoyable to be around and it made for a cool break on a hot day. I took off my boots and let the mountain water quench my exhausted feet.
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)
The Holy Ghost speaks with a still small voice. He acts as a river does in nature to tell us right from wrong. We are spiritual beings on a hike headed back to our heavenly home. Each decision along the way—big or small, significant or trivial, has consequences that will affect the next decision we make. It is as if we are faced with varying types of rivers and streams to cross. If we understand the nature of the river, we can understand better the nature of the Holy Ghost and how he directs us.
Think of the still water of the stream from the hike. We can see easily the depth below and any potential danger that might be in our way. If the water is safe we can pass. If there were poisonous creatures on the bottom of the river, we’d be able to see them and we would know not to pass. It’s the stillness of the water that helps us to see things we would not be able to see.
Likewise, the Holy Ghost speaks with a still small voice. We sometimes struggle with the noises of life that get in the way. Temptation and disobedience add noise that can be confusing and distracting. Even our own desires for what we want may be in conflict with our Heavenly Father’s timetable and can get in the way of hearing the Holy Ghost. The answer is to stop. Settle your mind and heart. Regroup through prayer and repentance. And wait for the stillness to come.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27)
Stillness from the Holy Ghost has been described as a feeling of peace, clarity of mind and heart, and a feeling of correctness. It does not always lead to what you desire or expect, but it is unmistakably settling. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I decided to abandon fertility treatments after having years of failed attempts. I felt a feeling in my heart of undeniable peace when I asked, “Have I done enough?” I knew Heavenly Father was confirming that I indeed had done enough and I could move on. But I still cried for months over the emptiness of knowing I would never conceive in this life. My solace came when I realized I was obedient enough to be in tune with the Holy Ghost and I could recognize his promptings. If I live a good life, if I trust in the Lord, if I line my will with the Father, I will not be denied the blessings of motherhood in the next life. At first this seemed like a small consequence—the emptiness bore down on my heart so heavily. But now I realize how richly it has blessed me. The emptiness still comes and goes but the duration of the pain is less. Moments of joy and fulfillment in other aspects of my life are much sweeter. I’ve been able to undertake even harder trials and become closer to my Heavenly Father because of it.
In contrast, remember the roaring rapids at the foot of the waterfall. The water was so unsettling; it made it impossible to see the depth of the river or any dangers lurking below. If there was no bridge I wonder how many people may have tried to cross anyway. We put ourselves in this kind of spiritual jeopardy all the time—having a desire that looks like it is within our grasp, but not waiting for the clarity of mind that only the Holy Ghost can give that allows us to proceed with his blessing. If there was no bridge at this point on the hike, a smart hiker would turn around and find another way. We should endeavor to be spiritually smart on our heavenly hikes, having the courage to turn away from situations that are clouded with Satan’s distractions, temptations and traps.
Heavenly Father provides a way to get through our trials—much like the bridge
There are moments in life when situations are encumbered by hardship and pain—especially those that come on without warning. Financial loss, untimely death of loved ones, chronic health issues, family discord—these are the trials we all must face. We need not face them alone. Christ gave us the comforter in the Holy Ghost to walk with us and to protect us in our hike to heaven. While the Holy Ghost can act as the calming voice of clarity and the warning voice of danger, it too can often act as the safe arm of protection. Sometimes we have no other choice but to cross the raging trial in our path. When we allow the Holy Ghost to be our guide, it is like crossing over it on a secure bridge. The rivers may rage beneath us, the spray of the waterfall may drench us, but as long as we hold to the railing and take measured steps, we will pass over the danger.
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to provide many safety bridges through the promptings of the Holy Ghost—as many as we need. He never wanted us to hike this life alone. If we look for the bridges he has provided we can cross the dangerous paths. If we seek comfort and refreshment in the still waters, we can replenish our spirit with clarity of mind. If we remember that He is the source of the safety in our lives, and if we thank him in all things daily, this hike back to heaven will be filled with joy.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.