How does one determine the will of the Lord for one’s life? How does one know what circumstances in life are caused by one’s own bad decisions and which are simply “meant to be”?
The simple (or simplistic) answer to these questions? Revelation and faith.
But what does that really mean in practice?
I had the idea today that the ability to accept simultaneously the will of the Lord and the trials I’m going through would be a great accomplishment of faith. It would require a recognition of the goals I have for myself and those which the Lord has for me. But at the same time, it requires patience in faith while enduring circumstances and trials that make it temporarily impossible for me to reach those goals.
For example (and this is a situation in which many at BYU find themselves), suppose you have an understanding that the Lord expects you to get married and raise a family. That is a worthy goal, which you have accepted for yourself. But at the same time you don’t seem to find anyone around you with whom you’d want to build a relationship that would eventually lead to such an end.
This is where the quandary of decision comes to play. You have to look very carefully at your life and try to determine which circumstances are caused by your own decisions and which are the result of a test the Lord wishes you to pass first. Can you not find anyone you’d like to date simply because you don’t go out and date, or is it because the Lord wants you to wait for something else in life, some new phase or some other change?
If you can come up with an answer to that, you’ve probably come quite close to your solution. But life’s problems so often elude such clear-cut explanation.
At this stage, you must learn to exercise faith in the Lord: faith that His promises will be fulfilled, as long as you prove faithful to His desires. And faith without works is dead (James 2:20). That means you’ve got to do something about it. You can’t sit still and expect something to happen.
A few passages of scripture may be beneficial. The first is one of my favorites:
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
—Isaiah 54:10 (cf. 3 Nephi 22:10)
The Lord has no intention of forsaking us in all our trials. Indeed, He stands there ready to help us when we call on Him.
And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.
The term waiting on the Lord implies not idle, dormant waiting but active, trusting anticipation–faith that the Lord will fulfill His promises in His own time.
The well-known declaration of the Lord to Joseph Smith adequately summarizes this type of faith:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
—Doctrine and Covenants 121:708