During the April 2018 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson shared a prophetic insight:
“Good inspiration is based upon good information.”
He was speaking specifically about the process of choosing his counselors in the First Presidency, but earlier in his talk, President Nelson gave another example of this principle in action:
“I have stood over a patient—unsure how to perform an unprecedented procedure—and experienced the Holy Ghost diagramming the technique in my mind.”
President Nelson already had decades of education by that point in his life. The inspiration he received in the moment was available because of the years he had spent learning and training to become a physician. The power of the Spirit amplified his intellectual preparation, and he saved a life.
I rediscovered the value of good information through an experience I had over a decade ago. When I became a mother, I found myself struggling to find quiet moments to ponder and seek inspiration. I had an extraordinarily difficult pregnancy followed by the birth of a son who required all of my energy. Sleep was elusive, and parenting was intense. I regularly felt anxious and unsure about the future, which only increased after the birth of my second son two years later (following another harrowing pregnancy). During this time my father, a family doctor, died of cancer. I not only lost an important source of emotional and medical support, but I was also grieving.
During this agonizing time, I found some false medical information that was propagated by two unscrupulous doctors and targeted at struggling parents. This information was widely spread by conspiracy theorists who claimed to have secret information that had been hidden by powerful interests. These assertions made the information seem rare, important, and valuable. I was especially vulnerable to this misinformation because of my son’s overwhelming needs and my deep desire to find answers and solutions to his problems. Most insidiously, this “information” offered a way to help save children like mine when no other professionals presented clear or simple paths forward.
While I never fully agreed with this medical information, it nonetheless led me to doubt advice from all medical professionals. Because I didn't know who to believe, I soon believed no one. I felt that I was the only one who could find solutions for my son’s health problems, and I felt alone and fearful that experts were deceiving me. My motives were loving, sincere, and driven by a desire to care for my precious child. But because my beliefs and actions were grounded in false information, I could not access the inspiration I desperately needed. Despite constant prayers, I found no answers, and perhaps even more importantly, I could not find peace.
Although this period of my life was filled with pain and fear, finding my way out of it proved invaluable to my emotional and spiritual development. This crisis taught me that truth almost never originates from a place of fear and anxiety. Life is challenging, and the Lord may not immediately provide answers and solutions. But I know now, based on my experience and understanding of God’s plan, that He will always provide me with peace if I am willing to trust and make room for Him.
Fighting our way through confusion and misinformation can be difficult, particularly when we feel vulnerable. But it is possible. Here are five insights I gained as I walked this path with my children.
1. Start from a place of faith.
Faith in the Lord is essential, as well as faith in His children. As humans, we have collectively built a wonderful knowledge base that combines all the contributions and wisdom shared by our brothers and sisters. So much of that progress has come as a result of sons and daughters of God seeking His glory by gaining the inspired intelligence that helps us all progress (see Doctrine & Covenants 93:36). We enjoy medicine, technology, and countless other blessings because good people have added to our common welfare. Have faith that the majority of God’s children are good and trustworthy.
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2. Believe the Lord desires to share truth.
He works in openness. He shares His truths widely and freely. He wants us to have all the knowledge necessary for our happiness and salvation. He does not work in darkness or support those who do. President Nelson provides such a beautiful example of this: “Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”
3. Seek out credible information from the best earthly sources.
Many of our brothers and sisters have worked hard to set up systems that do two important things: First, these systems weed out bad actors and bad information. Second, they aggregate and help us find credible information. We don’t have to restart the learning process with every generation because we have found effective ways to vet, share, and preserve information. Learn about these systems, figure out how to find true information, and leverage those same sources and systems for your benefit. This requires humility, as it is important we don’t succumb to the illusion that we can solve complex problems with simple intuition. Don't believe yourself above the women and men who have done the work to learn.
4. Use fear as a gauge.
Fear can be an ally in our efforts to combat misinformation. But when fear is used as a device to try and force a decision, assume something is not quite right. God has clearly promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Even in the most challenging times, the Lord does not want His people to live in fear. He has given us the gift of discernment to help us judge righteously. Those who seek to lead or influence us through fear are not His agents. When looking for trustworthy information, sources of peace, hope, light, and faith are best. We may feel discomfort as we stretch our spiritual capabilities, but we do not need to be dragged down by fear.
5. Nurture a strong and lasting relationship with the Spirit.
Just as in the story of President Nelson’s surgery, the Spirit can also help guide us in many ways. The Holy Ghost can tell us what to subtract and what to add in our circumstances and can guide us to the next level that feels just out of reach. However, the Spirit does not make up the difference when we willfully skip steps. When we combine preparation and inspiration, the Holy Ghost can amplify our efforts, make weak things strong, and inspire us beyond what we can do alone. Trust and have faith that the Spirit will help you by clarifying finer elements after you have put in an effort to understand.
Those early days of motherhood were challenging and sometimes dark. But as I look back on them now, I mostly see the ways the Lord blessed my family and held us all in the palm of His hand. Beyond teaching me how to physically care for my three boys, I now know He taught me even more important lessons about caring for their souls and helping them find Him in a complicated and confusing world.
As I reflect on these hard-fought lessons learned, I nonetheless feel a deep and satisfying sweetness in my soul. During that period I was never left alone, even when I felt that way. I was helped and taught through it all. As soon as I was ready to abandon fear and conspiracy, I found truth and wisdom. Just as President Nelson has testified, I too have complete confidence now that good inspiration can only come from good information.
Emma Petty Addams is a mother, musician, and executive director for Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG). Jennifer Walker Thomas, director of nonpartisanship for MWEG, contributed significantly to this essay.