I wanted to share a talk that has meant a great deal to me. Gerald Lund gave this excellent talk (entitled "The Voice of the Lord") at a BYU Devotional in December of 2007. I highly recommend either listening to it at LDS Voices or reading its transcript here. (As an interesting "tid-bittal" side note, Elder Lund is my sister's husband's father, which of course really means nothing, except...that President Hinkley went to my sister's wedding. What? You didn't see me in the wedding pictures? Oh. That's right. I was on my mission. Aaargh. (I'm glad you got married when you did, Ali, despite it meaning that I couldn't be there.)
Moving on... The talk seems to me like the skeleton for his book Hearing the Voice of the Lord, which my lovely wife highly recommends (I haven't read it, yet). What stuck out to me was when Elder Lund asks everyone in the audience to be as silent as possible and listen for a few seconds. He then asks how many could hear the soft humming/buzzing: a soft buzzing that was present in the room the entire time, but which no one had heard because there was too much noise. He then likens this to the way that we often are unable to hear the Spirit's whisper, because we surround ourselves with too much "noise." This caused me to spend a great deal of time thinking on the "noise" that keeps me from hearing the voice of the Lord in my own life.
The noise is ANYTHING that blocks out, impedes, or even interferes with my ability to hear, feel, and understand the Spirit. Obviously this includes sin, but what I realized was that my life is completely filled with more subtle noises as well: distractions (music, movies, TV, sports, computer games, my random projects to clean up my iTunes, etc.) and my own desires. To clarify, what I don't mean is that these things are literally too loud or raucous (although some of them arguably fall into that category) for the Spirit to be heard; I had stopped watching rated 'R' movies and listening to more "questionable" music for some time. What I mean is that my mind and heart are so focused on them that I can't hear the Spirit whispering as much as I would if I were more "silent" or focused on listening. They pull my attention away from focusing on the Spirit, because I care too deeply for them.
To be honest, this has nothing to do with whether or not these things are "good" or "bad." Watching movies, listening to the amount of music that I did, playing computer games, and wanting to write music did not make me feel guilty. In fact, I felt pretty dang good about where I was in life and the spiritual development that I had already been going through; I felt sincerely happy. Yet, I was struck by the notion that anything--good or bad--that blocks my ability to hear the Spirit is noise that interferes with my potential spiritual learning and progression. What I came to understand was that cutting out the noise would enable me to hear, feel, and understand the Spirit even more than I already did. Letting go of my desires would enable me to not just feel the Spirit every once in a while, but to, as the sacrament prayer promises, have the Spirit with me always, because I would be always remembering Christ.
What I needed to do was let go of all of my plans, dreams, desires, and distractions so that I could re-evaluate each in the context of what will and will not bring me closer to Christ. In a sense it was like emptying out a garage full of stuff so that I could weed out what is worth keeping from what is not. Then, I would bring back in those things of value and discard those things that are just taking up space. I actually sat there thinking of the desires (like someday travelling to Scotland, going to a World Cup in Europe, and even owning an old school pirate ship in which I can sail around the Caribeean and Mediterranean) I have and the multitudinous distractions (my current James Bond-a-thon, movies and TV in general, songwriting projects, story ideas, book series I want to get to, themed music shuffles and mixes, etc.) and coming to terms with the thought that I could let go of these things--never accomplish them--and be happy. It was both difficult and immensely freeing (some of my projects are things I started years ago and have always held on to, feeling like I HAD to finish them or I would never be complete. Letting them go felt like a massive weight of my own making was taken off of my shoulders).
I have been terribly imperfect at times in my efforts to keep only the things that help me focus on the Spirit, because I still like these things. Every once in a while, as I am rooting around in the "garage," I will stumble upon something that I could have sworn I'd thrown out already (if that reference is not clear, I mean that I will still find myself holding on to things that I thought I'd already given up). That is ok. I don't need to feel bad or guilty for not being perfect in this, yet; just making the attempt brings a constant flow of blessings. Even in moments of frustration, when I either feel like I could do better or wonder why I can't seem to figure out if something is worth keeping around or not, I feel a peace and happiness that I did not know was possible. I feel happy, because I am more focused on my Savior, and I know that my Father in heaven is pleased with my efforts, though they be imperfect.