Samuel WoolleyTaylor wrote a very funny novel, Heaven Know Why, which features a devout Mormon bishop who expects the Holy Ghost to guide his every decision. The bishop’s less devout wife can only influence him by entering a closet next to his office, putting her face into an empty milk can, and, in her deepest voice, delivering messages from the Holy Ghost.
And I can see why the husband was fooled. If a message is important enough to send via the Holy Ghost, it ought to be sent in an audible voice—not just a burning in the bosom which may be confused with heartburn.
I don’t know how much other Christian faiths emphasize listening to the Holy Spirit, but the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is a promise Mormons rely on—sometimes with less than desirable results.
I know I entered parenthood firm in the conviction that I could raise a perfect child, making no mistakes as a parent, so long as I fasted and prayed over every decision. By the time Wort rolled over for the first time, I knew parenthood was more complex than I’d ever imagined, and the Holy Ghost couldn’t possibly keep up with the amount of inspiration I needed to raise even a non-perfect child.
But, old habits die hard. George and I relied on prayer and a strong feeling the Lord was guiding us when he quit a good job in Seattle and we moved to rural Utah. This was during the ‘70s when potential Cold War destruction and the devastation of the Apocalypse loomed large in Mormon consciousness. The tiny community in which we settled was filled with fellow refugees from the evil world beyond the borders of Zion. We took what low-paying jobs we could find and hunkered down with our food storage awaiting the end—which didn’t come. After a few years, we all pulled our heads out of the muck and moved on. I don’t know about our neighbors, but this time George and I didn’t rely on the spirit to guide us. We looked for jobs in the city, found them, and fled.
In a way, relying on the spirit counters the basic LDS doctrine of agency. Growth—spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical—comes through exercise. A God who answers every prayer and guides every decision would be like an over-protective parent—one who raises a clinging, dependent child. And listening for guidance that God has not seen fit to send can lead us to confusing our own feelings of fear or desire with divine inspiration.