A multitude of things have surprised me about coming home. Many things were totally unexpected; some things went beyond expectation. Here are a few things that I found most notable. First, for some reason, the volume of voices competing for attention seems to have magically multiplied since my return. It’s little wonder that missionaries are instructed to not watch TV, go to movies, surf the internet or listen to the radio, because in each of those medias there is a constant stream of words being spoken, many of them to the benefit of the listener, but regardless, drawing attention away from the Voice that should be in the forefront of every persons life. In other words, distracting from the Still Small Voice of the Spirit.
As a missionary, I didn’t notice the voice of poitics, world and national news, celebrity drama, music and movies. Members and investigators would occasionally give us snippits here and there, but it wasn’t a constant, steady stream. Without the confusion of all the other voices vying for attention, we could easily focus on what we needed to. (see 3 Nephi 11:1-7) On the other hand, with digital media right at my fingertips, I litterally can tune into any voice, even many voices, all at the same time. Facebook, blogs, the radio, and all the other media outlets has bombarded me with all sorts of information from all sorts of sources. The trick really has been filtering through to find the jewels among the glass, to separate the truth from the error. And, like I’m sure you all know, it’s not as easy as it seems. Not only that, but with all the information that I have been consuming (both correct and false), it’s been a trick to identify the all the voices inside my head, all giving me different messages.
Here’s an example: Last week, I read an article about bringing back sabbath worship, about how Mormons have turned the sabbath from a day of rest into a day of busyness. Instead of just going to church for one to two hours, there is mandatory three hours, plus meetings for leadership before and after church, plus ward choir, plus home teaching, fast offerings, quorum and auxillary leadership meetings, firesides, etc. etc. You all know how it is. It was a very persuasive article, and it brought home the point that the sabbath shouldn’t be so jam-packed with unnecessary administrative stuff. Those ideas have been rattling around in my head ever since I read that article, affecting my judgement. It’s interesting to note that Satan, with all his wiles and minions and such, has only one weapon with which to attack us: It is his voice. It is the words he places into our minds directing us to do his bidding. It is sheathed in subtlety, formed of flattery, and sharpened by persuasiveness.
Has anyone ever noticed that the Adversary usually tends to use your own voice when tempting you? He does that for me. It’s almost like wispering to my own mind in my own voice gives more authenticity to the temptation; it’s like I thought it up myself! It makes it tough to figure whether I was the one who thunk the thought, or whether it was planted in my mind by the Devil. So, when I woke up this morning, one of the first things I thought before I even got out of bed was “You know, I don’t have to go to church today. I can just stay here and relax all day. I don’t think I want to go. I don’t even think I want to pray.” At this point, alarm bells were ringing (see 2 Nephi 32:8-9), so I figured that I would, seemingly against my better judgement, roll out of bed into a kneel and pray.
Here’s another really interesting observation: Lucifer speaks to me in my own voice; the Spirit speaks to me in His own voice, a voice which has become so inmistakable that I immediately recognize it when I feel it. He doesn’t need to pretend to be someone else to get our attention or give authenticity; the feeling of the Spirit itself gives the trust needed to know that whatever communication is given will be truth. I felt it when I started praying and knew immediately that I was making the right choice. Suddenly, it became easier to see the right choice with regards to church. Even while I was at church, though, the temptation came “Oh, you’ve made it through Sacrament meeting. You can go home now, or relax in the foyer.”
Before I came home from my mission, I was told that one quarter of all missionaries who come home go less-active. That was a shocking statistic to me at the time; I didn’t understand how that could be possible, considering these missionaries spend two years preaching and teaching about this church and gospel just to fall away from it. Now that I am experiencing what life after the mission has to offer, I understand. All these extra voices make it incredibly difficult to tune into the Voice of the Master. It makes it difficult to see the truth from the error, especially when error is so prevalent. I almost wonder what to believe at times, which surprises myself. It’s true that returned missionaries haven’t “Arrived” in any way, shape, or manner. We aren’t all that special or important; we don’t know or live the Gospel any better than anyone else. We are still tempted by the same things that always tempted us.
It’s remarkable how much changed during my mission, but it’s also amazing how much stayed the same. I still possess the same weaknesses I’ve always had. But now, perhaps, I can recognize them and deal with them better. It’s going to require constant vigilance. I have to make sure I keep up the regular habits: Prayer, scripture study, church attendance, temple attendance, service, etc. That will arm me with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Notice: The Spirit, which speaks to us, and the Word of God, which I’m sure could have been translated the Voice of God. (see Ephesians 5). Notice what both Christ and Moses (see Matthew 4, Moses 1) use to cast the Adversary out: their voice, envoking the power of the name of the Son of God. Notice our prayers use our voices, blessings are given by voice. Even the very elements of the Earth were created through the vocal command of the Architect. Recognizing the voice of the Spirit is one of the most important things we can do in this life.
TL;DR. It’s important to recognize those voices we are receiving daily, whether from The Lord, or from the Adversary. Cyphering through is tricky, but the tools given us, like Prayer, Scripture Study, and Church, help us to drown out the bad voices and tune in to the good voice. Regardless, we will still get messages from the Adversary, but if we work hard, we can detect whether it is him speaking or not. The Spirit always identifies himself when he speaks to us in some way or another. Cheers!