Young Women: It is your choice
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The first time I heard this story, my thoughts began to race. What profound message would the martyred Prophet of the Restoration have for the new leader of the Church? Thousands of dispossessed Saints were spread across the plains from eastern Iowa to Winter Quarters and were experiencing dire conditions. They had been living on the open prairie for months and suffering starvation, exposure and illness.
I tried to imagine the most important piece of advice Joseph Smith would have to offer his distressed people from his now expanded viewpoint from the other side of the veil. The message he delivered was unexpected to me, but profound. He said: "Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you how to do and where to go. ... Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it, and it will lead them just right" (Brigham Young, vision, Feb. 17, 1847, in Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–1878, archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah).
This message to the suffering Saints of 1847 is profound because it is just as applicable and pertinent to the millions of Saints living throughout the world today as it was back then. It is an especially important message to teach our children and youth. We as parents and leaders can help our youth understand the importance of being led by the Holy Spirit by taking advantage of opportunities to teach them to recognize the Spirit in their lives. We need to point out to our young people when we have felt the Spirit during a lesson or family home evening and ask if they also had those feelings. Teach them to recognize the warm and peaceful promptings that will come to them more as quiet feelings than spectacular or dramatic manifestations. We can teach them from the scriptures that the Holy Ghost is described as a "still small voice" (Doctrine and Covenants 85:6) and that the Holy Ghost will tell them in their minds and in their hearts (see Doctrine and Covenants 8:2) the things they need to know and do. When our youth have these experiences, we can help them understand that what they are feeling is the influence of the Holy Ghost. They will then become more experienced in understanding the language of the Spirit and recognize it on their own. They will become spiritually mature and live Spirit-directed lives of service and purpose. They will be truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our youth also need to understand what a delicate and sensitive relationship we have with the Holy Ghost. There are situations and choices which invite the Spirit, and others which offend Him and cause Him to withdraw. Prayer, scripture study, attending Church, serving others and attending the temple all invite the Spirit to be with us. Then as we give youth opportunities both in classrooms and at home to bear their testimonies, they will again feel the influence of the Holy Ghost. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve has taught, "A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" ("The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, January 1983). Listening to uplifting music and engaging in wholesome activities also invite the Spirit. Watching, viewing or reading inappropriate materials drives the Spirit away. Giving in to temptation or willingly choosing to lower our standards in any way will offend the Spirit. President Packer states this principle rather plainly, "This voice of the Spirit speaks gently, prompting you what to do or what to say, or it may caution or warn you. Ignore or disobey these promptings, and the Spirit will leave you. It is your choice — your agency" ("Personal Revelation: the Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign, November 1994).
We need to impress upon our youth that none of us can afford to navigate this spiritually treacherous world without the influence and guidance of the Holy Ghost. To be out of touch with the very power that will warn, guide, teach, protect or give comfort is to leave ourselves open and vulnerable to the temptations and snares of the world and draw us further and further from the very source that will help and protect us.
When Joseph Smith was asked what made our Church different from other religions, he replied that we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (see James E. Faust, "Communion with the Holy Spirit," Ensign, March 2002). Elder LeGrand Richards said, "To me, the gift of the Holy Ghost is as important to man as sunshine and water are to the plants. You take them away, and the plants would die. You take the Holy Ghost out of this Church, and this Church would not be any different than any other church" ("The Gift of the Holy Ghost," Ensign, November 1979). The Prophet Wilford Woodruff said, "The gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon man" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , pp. 46-56).
Can there be any more important doctrine to teach our youth than the importance of seeking the influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives, learning to recognize the voice of the Spirit and, most important, following the promptings they receive through this great gift? The Prophet Joseph Smith sent a message from beyond the veil to his beloved people that boiled all the advice he could have given into one prophetically profound piece of counsel. Apostles and prophets throughout our dispensation have reiterated that message delivered to Brigham Young during the cold, hard winter of 1847. We, as members of the Lord's Church, and especially our youth, need this counsel now more than ever: "Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it, and it will lead them just right."