Saturday, March 18, 2017

Some thoughts on the gift box object lesson about the Holy Ghost

I’ve been thinking about the Holy Ghost in preparation to teach a lesson on it to 4-year-olds.

The lesson asks me to prepare a gift-wrapped box with a picture inside it of a girl getting confirmed to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The lesson wants me to give clues to the children to help them discover what is in the gift box.

--This gift given to us by Heavenly Father can’t be purchased with money
--We can’t hold this gift in our hands like a toy.
--This gift is worth more than any other gift a person can receive. (I’m assuming this means tangible gifts..)
--We receive this gift when Melchizedek priesthood holders lay their hands on our heads and confirm us members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This object lesson is structured very similarly to how it was when I was a child and had the same lesson. As a child, I remember being rather disappointed that there wasn’t something actually tangible in the box that I could take home and play with. (Of course, that was my literal-minded short-term child perspective.)

But today, as I think back over it and compare the lesson of that experience to how I think of the Holy Ghost today, I’m struck by how that object lesson has both inadequacies, and more profound lessons that perhaps children may not quite get, but faithful adults might catch.

I think it is inadequate to express how it isn’t so much us that uses this gift, as it that uses us.  On one hand, it isn’t a tool that we control the use of… but often it allows us to act as God’s instrument.  On the other hand, we must learn to act independently, since it seems we are expected to develop our own judgment and not become automatons.  On the third hand, we still are to trust God enough to set aside our own judgment and follow the Holy Ghost’s promptings when they come. 

When we as members are confirmed to receive the Holy Ghost, we are in effect given a gift very much like an empty box and told it is the most valuable thing we can have.  We have been taught a few things about what to expect, but it can be very puzzling to figure out this gift. Staring at it and expecting it to do something like a dog that does tricks doesn’t work.

And yet we aren’t left completely without directions.  Even though we don’t have a user’s manual for this gift, a quick survey through the scriptures reveals a whole raft of ways that the Holy Ghost can help us.  (comfort, guide, teach, enlighten, constrain, restrain, remind, warn, cheer, calm, testify, seal, strengthen, cleanse…) There are stories to learn from and there are plainly stated principles to follow.  For a gift that is so multi-functional, I find myself thinking of it as a sort of spiritual Swiss army knife, with an unknown and possibly unlimited number of tools on it.  (But again, that comparison doesn’t take into account how we become the tool of God under its influence.)

Yes, the box is empty.  With so much stuff around us, and so much equipment required for modern life, it so helpful that the Holy Ghost requires no tangible equipment to use. I think this object lesson of the gift box is very good at teaching the principle that it is something that can be with us always and can’t be stolen from us (except by our own transgression). 

I’m also struck by how the spiritual communication from our Heavenly Father to us is done so often with that still, small voice.  So often I don’t realize that I have been guided until I look back on an experience and think about it.  I am struck by the Lord’s trust and patience with us His children in that He waits for us to listen, rather than shouting at us.  I’m learning how much my receptiveness depends on my spiritual preparation and using my agency to retain a spiritual focus.

Also, considering I’ve had to fight against intrusive thoughts a fair amount the last 12 months, I’m learning the Holy Ghost is not about mind control.  We invite him; he doesn’t push in every moment. He’s gentle.

Whenever I think about how the Holy Ghost works in my life, at the end, I usually am left scratching my head and worrying a little that I am not living up to my privileges. I can’t shake the feeling that I could use it, or be used by it more if I were a better person. I yearn to gain more experience at recognizing its influence, gaining more clarity.  You probably feel the same.

Will you share with me your experiences with learning how to recognize the Holy Ghost and discovering new things that it could help with?


Rozy Lass said...

One of the most frequent experiences with the Holy Ghost for me is bringing into my mind ideas that solve problems. For example, I'd never been artistic. Decorating my room, apartment and home were difficult. I could set a table, but decorating it was impossible. At one point I was called to the RS activities committee and asked to produce posters for the monthly activities. Are you kidding me? But I accepted the calling and then the assignment. Each month as I pondered the activity and how best to make a poster about it my mind would be filled with ideas that I knew didn't come from me. It was a really fun experience for me. As a result of that I grew more confident of my artistic ability, having been tutored by the Spirit, and have done lots more designing and decorating.

Joseph Smith said something about recognizing inspiration when we have flashes of intelligence come into our minds. Works for me! Not sure, though, how to convey that to four year olds. Good luck.

Michaela Stephens said...

Oh! What a cool story, Razy Lass! Thanks for sharing that! I also like that you describe those experiences with the Holy Ghost as "bringing to my mind ideas that solve problems." I personally have lots of ideas, but ideas that solve problems... now there's a nice measuring stick to judge them by.

I haven't had much trouble decorating my house, but I think I would have trouble doing posters for RS activities. If I ever get that calling, I will probably need the same help you did.