Conference has usually been an uplifting time for me—the counsel of our Church leaders comforts and motivates my soul. I love the time with my family and look forward to the ironically named but word-of-wisdom-approved coffee cake we enjoy every Sunday morning session. It all spurs me on to a renewed commitment to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Except the coffee cake. All that does is remind me to eat healthier on Monday.)
But this last conference was different—I did not leave feeling like I normally do.
Sitting in the chapel watching a session of conference, I felt something I had never experienced before.
I felt what only can be described as godly sorrow and a keen awareness that I was not where God needed me to be.
He was chastening me, right in the middle of a conference talk. And it was uncomfortable—I sat through the rest of that session of conference experiencing a very real mental and spiritual anguish.
I was feeling the “divine discontent” that Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught comes when we compare “what we are to what we have the power to become.”
In that moment, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that God needed me to become more.
Normally general conference weekend for me is all sunbeams and choir songs, inspiration and spiritual nourishment, speed scrabble and foot massages.
However, in this session, the Spirit spoke hard truths to my heart that I needed to hear. He was compelling me to act, and to act now. God was telling me that He was not happy with me at that moment. And He did it so forcefully that I wasn’t sure what hit me—He was the Speaker and I was the captivated, yet reluctant, audience of one, with a talk designed specifically for me.
This was not an easy message to hear!
It’s not like I was guilty of any great sins. I wasn’t guilty of doing anything, actually—and that was the problem! I wasn’t progressing in the slightest. I was coasting.
In my defense, I felt like I had a pretty good excuse. I was coming off the hardest time period of my life after a nine-year battle with a debilitating anxiety disorder, a condition so severe that, at one point, I couldn’t leave my house for weeks at a time. But now I had come so far with my anxiety and I was doing so well that I kind of took my foot off the gas as far as that whole “progressing” thing goes.
Why couldn’t I sit back a little and enjoy the victory? Did I really have to start the next game right now? Can’t I just sit on the sidelines a little longer?
The answer was a resounding “No.” I had been sitting on the sidelines too long already. Now was the time to act. Heavenly Father knew it and, deep down, I knew it, too. But up to that point, I had been paralyzed into inaction by fear. I was putting off opportunities (and relationships) because I was terrified that I would fail yet again. It was much easier to stay in my bubble and not take any real steps to challenge myself.
We each have an innate sense that we can be more. Combined with all the messages heard at general conference, I was filled with this urgent discomfort telling me that I needed to make changes immediately and live up to my divine potential.
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In the same general conference session where my feelings of discontent began, Sister Michelle D. Craig of the Young Women general presidency spoke of this exact feeling, saying, “Each of us, if we are honest, feels a gap between where and who we are, and where and who we want to become. We yearn for greater personal capacity. We have these feelings because we are daughters and sons of God, born with the Light of Christ yet living in a fallen world. These feelings are God given and create an urgency to act.”
I felt that urgency to act like I had never felt it before. I was suddenly keenly aware that I was not only not living up to my privileges but that I was actually holding myself back from receiving blessings due to my lack of effort and, quite frankly, my lack of courage. In no uncertain terms, Heavenly Father let me know that He wanted to bless me, but I had to give Him something to work with! I had to act.
With each talk that session, the divine discontent grew and my complacency was thrown into sharp relief—I was so affected I wanted to get up and leave the meeting! But you can’t hide when the Spirit is trying to teach you something. I had been praying for guidance for years; the answer just came unexpectedly, in the form of a much-needed course correction to move forward and proceed with faith.
“We should welcome feelings of divine discontent that call us to a higher way, while recognizing and avoiding Satan’s counterfeit—paralyzing discouragement,” continued Sister Craig. “This is a precious space into which Satan is all too eager to jump. We can choose to walk the higher path that leads us to seek for God and His peace and grace, or we can listen to Satan, who bombards us with messages that we will never be enough: rich enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, anything enough. Our discontent can become divine—or destructive.”
Even though it was a very painful experience, I began to learn that this divine chastisement would ultimately be for my good, if I allowed it to be. If I truly wanted to go where He wanted me to go, I needed to be willing to accept and even seek out that correction. Paul said of divine correction, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:6)
In an April 2011 general conference address entitled "As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten," Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught that divine chastening has at least three purposes: (1) to persuade us to repent, (2) to refine and sanctify us, and (3) at times to redirect our course in life to what God knows is a better path.
“The very experience of enduring chastening can refine us and prepare us for greater spiritual privileges,” he said.
We know that the Lord will try us and test us, for He will have a pure people. In D&C 101:5 the Lord said, “For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.” He doesn’t chasten us on a whim or because He is bored, He gives us these course corrections “for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)
“If we sincerely desire and strive to measure up to the high expectations of our Heavenly Father, He will ensure that we receive all the help we need, whether it be comforting, strengthening, or chastening,” said Elder Christofferson. “If we are open to it, needed correction will come in many forms and from many sources. . . . Perhaps some of the things said in this conference have come to you as a call to repentance or change, which if heeded will lift you to a higher place.”
At first, I did not take this call to change very well—I am not used to such heavenly course correction! I had to really take the time to ponder what that meant and how I would choose to respond. I could either react with bitterness and stubbornness or with humility and a willingness to change.
We will all receive spiritual nudges along the way; it's up to us how we respond. Sister Craig taught that divine discontent can prompt us to act in faith, following the Savior as we turn our lives over to Him.
I didn’t feel this divine discontent during the actual trial; I only felt God’s love for me. During the height of the anxiety, there were many Sundays where I couldn’t make the walk in to sacrament meeting—I would sit in my car for an hour, willing myself to go in, then drive away dejected, frustrated with my failure. So even though sometimes it meant having my own worship service consisting of Music and the Spoken Word and an old conference talk, I knew my offering at the time was acceptable to Him. I was giving all that I was capable of giving at that moment. He knew I was sincerely trying. But as I healed and learned to manage the anxiety, I began coasting—what was once an excruciating challenge then now didn’t even warrant a second thought.
I was now capable of giving much more, and becoming much more, and yet, I wasn’t. I was holding myself back. I felt like I already had come so far; I wasn’t ready to go farther. Not yet! But He knew I was ready, and He knew it would take a heavenly push to literally get me out the door.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I also was much more in tune with the Spirit that conference – I had been attending the temple every week and actively searching to see God’s hand in my life. I asked and, boy, did He answer.
Within days of that conference and my moment of divine discontent, I applied to write for LDS Living, mostly against my will. Even though I desperately wanted it (and had wanted it for years) I didn’t think I was capable of a full-time job after all I had been through with the anxiety. At one point, I literally started praying to not get the job—I just didn't think I was ready! The Lord, however, not only knew I was ready, He knew how much I needed it and what an incredible blessing it would become in my life.
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Within months, I applied for and was re-admitted to BYU to finish my degree. I finally received an answer about going to graduate school and what career path to follow. And in case that wasn’t enough to challenge me, I am currently planning a two-week solo trip to Europe.
In the six months since I made the choice to accept His course correction for me, my life is on a completely different path than it was then. Finally, after years of the unknown, I feel confident that my life is on the trajectory that He wants it to be. Little spiritual indicators along the way confirm to me that I am doing what He needs me to do. After literally years of pleading for answers, obstacles in my path have cleared, and I finally feel like I know what He wants me to do with my life.
I am so grateful for that session of general conference, even though it was uncomfortable. God’s chastening hand helped me finally see that I am not only physically and mentally able but, most importantly, spiritually willing to put forth the effort to follow His path and accept His love-inspired correction.