…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Going With the Flow

By Rex Goode


I finally went to college in my forties and graduated at fifty. It’s an accomplishment that I claim some pride in, since I’m the first generation in all of my lineage to get a college degree. It felt good and it has been of great value to me.

I learned a lesson early on about tests that reflects a lot of my philosophy about life. When it came to preparing for tests, I had two choices and I had experience with both:

  1. Cram. Stay up the night before. Make flash cards. Re-read the entire textbook. While waiting for the professor to start the test, study text books and notes right up to the last minute.
  2. Read my notes and review the book, then trust that I’ll be fine when the time happens.

It didn’t take me long to learn that the latter was the more effective method for me. I don’t advise taking an important test on no sleep. No matter how well I knew the information, fighting to stay awake through a test is no way to get a good grade.

I found that listening to the lectures, engaging in discussion during class, and doing a reasonable amount of study, then trusting my talents and other natural factors to kick in when the information was needed produced a far better result in the form of a good grade.

There is a principle here for those who love an addict as well as the addict himself. It has to do with my own life and struggle with addiction as I came to reason that the solution to addiction was not to fight it, but to get into a flow of sorts that made fighting it unnecessary.

Another example of getting into the flow is the preparation of talks or lessons I give in church. I used to prepare by spending endless hours reading, looking up cross-references, and finding just about everything I could that would support the things I wanted to teach. I’d set down an outline and promise myself I’d stick to it. That works better for talks than for lessons, because you can always count on class members to derail a perfectly planned lesson. With talks, you can usually count on someone on the program to take up more than their share of the time and you have to quickly adjust.

Of course, this usually happens because they planned the way you did. It’s a difficult thing to spend hours and hours preparing to deliver a ten minute talk without feeling a desire to go over your alloted time. Think, however, about your preferences as a listener. Would you rather hear someone rattle off without coming up for air information packed into fifteen minutes that should normally take much more, or a ten-minute sermon that is inspiring and best of all, brief and to the point?

Eye contact, facial expressions, and good voicing, filled with inspiration and insight are far better than an information dump with the deliverer’s face buried in a stack of notes. The former is a flow. That latter is not.

How, then, does any of this apply to addiction and the co-addiction of a spouse? Much of that has to do with the motivation behind the two styles of operation. When I say “motivation”, I differentiate from a goal.

Using the college test analogy, the goal in either case is a good grade. It’s the motivation that is different. In the case of cramming for a test, the motivation is fear. If you don’t study, study, study, you might fail the test. So, you spend hour after hour, long past the point of exhaustion only to arrive at the circumstance where your preparation itself has turned against you.

I suspect that the same is true of spending inordinate amounts of time preparing lessons or talks. It is based on fear—fear that you’ll look stupid, fear that you won’t hit the mark of your assignment, fear that you’ll forget something, or the plain, simple terror of speaking in front of people.

I think that cramming for a test is also based somewhat on anger. I’ve been present when a group of my fellow students were cramming together for a test. The complaints and anger abounded about the evil professor whose tests are unfair and has no idea about the plight of students also dealing with family and work responsibilites.

So, if the first method is based on fear and anger, then what is the second method based on? I say it is based on faith, a combination of faith in yourself to be able to meet a challenge and most importantly, faith in God to see you through all trials, and yes, tests.

I’m reminded of a poem I read in a joke book when I was a boy:

Now I lay me down to rest.
I pray I pass tomorrow’s test.
If I die before I wake,
That’s one less test I’ll have to take.

Author Unknown

A reminiscent as it is of an old prayer poem many of us learned as children, it is true that asking the Lord for help with a test is not a silly thing. A college test or a sacrament meeting talk could often be equally important to the individual doing them. In some ways, passing my college tests had more to do with my future than the occasional talk or lesson I gave.

Consider the promise the Savior made to his disciples:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 14:26

My preference for my second method of preparing for tests was based partially on my own sense of my natural abilities, but also on the deep assurance that I felt that the Holy Ghost would operate in me while taking the test to “bring things to [my] remembrance.”

This is an important point, because it presupposes that I had the knowledge in my head in the first place. I think that praying to ask that I be able to supply answers that I didn’t earn by listening and reading would be the same as asking God to help me cheat. Such a request would also be motivated by fear, fear I earned by not paying attention.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

I acknowledge that despite the fact that I did my best to listen to lectures, read the material, and learn the concepts, that my success on tests is due to the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost, which indeed did give me a sound mind with which to accomplish a string of tests and ultimately a degree.

Like a test, living a virtuous life free of addictive behavior, is a result of motivation.  Acting out and acting in behavior are based on anger and fear, respectively. Co-addict (spouse) behavior is also based on anger and fear.

My acting out behavior began as a young boy in response to repeated physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. My anger found expression in the comfort of inapproprate sexual behavior and my fear motivated me to say “yes” to an abuser whose anger could be assuaged temporarily by my cooperation.

Like the student who stays up all night to study for a test, many a pornography addict will be up all night dealing with life’s frustrations through the numbing effects of pornography abuse. And like the cramming student, who fears the realities of the upcoming test, the “cure” turns against the pornography addict.

So if the motivation for getting into the flow is faith, what is the flow itself? I believe the flow is the power and gift of the Holy Ghost. It is the flow that all takers of tests, whether in college or in life, must find and dive into without reservation and fear.

It flows both from God and to God. Like diving into a swift and mighty river that flows to the sea, you can get there without much effort. The current will take you along. However, as anyone who travels rivers in vesssels can tell you, you can’t just rest. You have to paddle wisely and effectively. Merely staying still can be dangerous. Effort is required.

Yet it is a different kind of effort than swimming upstream, which most approaches to addiction tend to be. These methods are based on the addict’s reasoning, which is often greatly impaired. The river analogy is imperfect, because swimming upstream against a powerful current will still get you going in the right direction. Chances are, you’ll drown long before you get to the destination.

Being in the flow requires intelligence. Just as you can’t expect the Spirit to help you pass a test you didn’t try to prepare for, you have to know where you’re going and what you need to do. If the flow turns left and you’re focused on going straight, you’ll be out of it before you know it. Staying tuned in is essential.

This idea of going with the flow is counterintuitive to the culture of “Keep Your Shoulder to the Wheel” and “work out your own salvation.” We feel responsible to flap our arms against the troubles of the world. We’ve been taught the platitudes about praying like it all depends on God and working like it all depends on us. While there is some truth to this, the work being done must be the right work, and the harder part is God’s, and therefore the credit for it, goes to God—the harder part being the suffering of the atonement.

I had a wise college professor who understood the futility of cramming for exams. On the day before an exam, she counseled everyone to go home and get a good night’s sleep. She railed against the idea that passing a test meant you knew something that would last. She was more interested in the demonstration of understanding through class participation and a change in behavior. It’s true that I can’t remember a single detail of any test I took in my college career. Yet, I know how to do my job. I got in the flow of it.

Likewise, I remember a talk on tape I heard a few decades ago by Hugh B. Brown about the nature of God. At the beginning of the talk, he said that he was certain at some future point, we wouldn’t so much remember what he said as what we felt. I’m trying right now to remember the points he made and can’t, but I do remember that I felt the Spirit strongly and it changed me.

To get into the flow and go with the flow, you must tap into the power and Gift of the Holy Ghost. The power is available to all, even to those who have not received the gift of constant companionship. This is done at the most basic level through study and prayer, yet even these are not enough, especially if they are done as exercises rather than with meaning and feeling. Change comes by cultivating a Spirit-driven passion for the good things of spiritual discipline.

In other words, pray because you love to pray and read the scriptures because you love the scriptures. The natural outcome will be greater spiritual strength. You don’t have to force that outcome. It flows to you as a result of not only your actions, but your intent. If you pray for the purpose of ticking off date on a calendar, you’re not in the flow. Worse than that, you’re still thinking that it’s you that will change your heart.

You might ask, “But what if I don’t love to pray or read the scriptures?” I would answer, “Then start with praying for that desire.” We all start somewhere.

I’ve talked to many people at a crossroads between a life without addiction and giving in to it. They didn’t know what they wanted. So I asked, “Then what do you want to want?” It’s often a much easier question to answer than, “What do you want?” I definitely understand struggling even with the desire to improve my life.

Getting and staying in the flow goes beyond merely praying and reading the scriptures. If these things didn’t enlighten and motivate to change, they would be useless. You must act on the inspiration you receive. Don’t be merely trapped in the flow. Go with the flow. Do what the flow leads you to do. If you don’t go where it is trying to take you, you’re beached.

The changes that will be made in you will likely be that lust will be replaced with love and cleanliness of thought and action. It will result in personal confidence and even closer association with the Spirit. Best of all, it brings you closer to God and even more in tune with the Spirit. It will change you forever.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:45–46

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