by Sam Nelson (bio)
I remember when I was first filling out my papers to go and serve my LDS mission. I had always wanted to go and always planned on going, but for some reason, I just had the sickest feeling about it. Was it because I wasn't ready? No … I was ready. Was I unworthy? No … I was fine with everything. Was this the spirit telling me that it wasn't time for me to go? Was it the spirit telling me I was supposed to wait to put my papers later? was I meant to go to another mission? I didn't know.
When push came to shove, my bishop told me I should go at that time and I did. I received a call to Concepcion, Chile and right away I was sent to my Aunt White's old sector (where she'd served ten years earlier) where I helped her converts and also worked with them to bring many other people to the restored gospel. I was exactly where I was supposed to be, exactly when I needed to be there.
Just a few months ago - while on my mission - I had a similar experience, I decided to take a risk, and take it upon myself to go open a new area called "Puente Ñuble." Everything about the idea made perfect sense and - initially - I felt good about it. It was not in any way against any mission rule, but it was different. Leaving a designated sector was never done before, but it seemed like the right thing to do in the given situation.
That night I had the sickest, worst feeling about it. Thoughts came … "How stupid would you look if this didn't work!? Why are you taking it upon yourself to do something that has never been done before? Who do you think you are? Why don’t you just do what you are supposed to do?" The next morning I woke up and told my companion that I wasn't doing it. I told him that it was a silly idea, and totally irrational … "I just had the worst feeling about it." I said. But after some time, and a lot of talking, the other elders that lived with me convinced me to do it, and I did. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, those last three months were the most successful and fulfilling of my entire mission. In fact, if the 21 months before that were nothing more that a preparation for my time in "Puente Ñuble." I would still consider my mission the most productive two years of my life.
Why did I get that bad feeling though? That doesn't seem to make any sense … In my case, I think it was a combination of things; nervousness, fear of failure, fear of rejection, uneasiness about the unknown, risk of embarrassment, and I think that Satan even puts things in our head sometimes.
Remember Joseph Smith's first vision story? I'm going to quote part of it.
15 "…I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… "
The rest is history.
It's a dramatic example, I know, but I think there is an important lesson here. What if (at the end of verse 15) Joseph Smith threw up his hands and said: "Nope, I'm done, I've got a bad feeling about all this. I'm just going to go to that one Methodist church I was feeling partial to like everyone else."
The sons of Mosiah had a bad feeling too … "they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit." (Alma 17:3-5)
Examples of bad feelings proceeding important steps are all over the standard works.
In the world, "I have a bad feeling ..." is a phrase commonly used and accepted as an excuse for not doing something. But the legitimacy of that excuse is not doctrinal.
2 Timothy 1:7 says: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
There is one thing we know for sure… Fear does not come from god. How confusing would that be!? If God influenced us the same way that Satan deceives us? D&C 9:8 teaches us: "But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong." (notice: this is an extremely unscary feeling).
I've received a stupor of thought when I ask things that are not aligned with god's will. And, through the gift of the Holy Ghost I've had impressions that I shouldn't do things, and avoid places. However, it is a feeling of confidence and power, not of fear.
At times, on my mission, usually before big decisions, I would get a "bad feeling." I personally love thinking of new ways to do things. There were two or three times in my mission when I thought of a new idea that had potential to help more people. And each time, I got the sickest, worst feeling before executing it. But I'm glad I followed through anyway, because most of the good that I was able to do on my mission was a consequence of those two to three decisions I "had a bad feeling" about.
Two of the most important things I learned in my mission are:
1. Never confuse tradition with obedience.
2. Never confuse fear with the Holy Ghost.