Editor's Note: This is the last of a five-part series that will teach LDS students how to study and learn - from a spiritual perspective. Read the introductory article here.
Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. (D&C 19:23)
Our purpose for living on the earth is to gain experience that will enable us to become like our Heavenly Father and return into his presence. There are things found in earth life that are incompatible with this goal, and these we must avoid. But earth is essentially a testing-ground and an educational institution, and therefore we must assume that much of what we experience here has application to our eternal goal.
In setting earthly goals that will bring us closer to our ultimate celestial goal, we must establish priorities. My own personal priority list for the various types of knowledge I can obtain is as follows:
Many students concentrate on the last of these and ignore or place little emphasis on the others. This I believe to be improper emphasis on priorities. While it is true that a knowledge of the world and of the universe will help us gain skills that will be useful in the celestial kingdom, those skills will be of no avail if we do not learn how to attain exaltation, for God will not entrust us with power and government in the eternal world if we do not first show ourselves worthy of that trust. Saving knowledge must be at the top of our list.
Knowledge, of course, is useless unless it has application, either now or in the future. James pointed out that faith without works is dead and that even the devils believe, but do not act according to their knowledge (James 2:14-20).
Often, we try to use our knowledge to bring other people to God. But we sometimes forget the all-important principle expressed by President Marion G. Romney: "You can't lead anyone where you're not going!" We must be examples of the knowledge we possess.
Priority of the Family
Of all earthly institutions, the most important by far is the family. You may be mayor today, bishop tomorrow or prisoner the next day. But titles such as father, mother, son, daughter, brother and sister do not change. Of all his titles, it is the one having family connections - Father - that God has chosen for us to use in addressing him in prayer (Matthew 6:9). He has made it clear that families are forever, that the early Church in Adam's day was a family-oriented organization (D&C 107:40-57), and that priesthood in the celestial kingdom is a family affair (D&C 131:1-3).
President David O. McKay's statement of eternal truth should remain our guide: "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." Work, study, civil and church responsibilities are worthless if we fail the only eternal institution we have. I believe it a serious mistake to put off marriage and children (one of God's first commandments to mankind) until studies at the university or elsewhere are completed. While working on my four degrees, I became the father of six children.
Our Debt to the Lord
Obedience to the Lord's commandments should be a top-priority item in our lives. From the time of our birth, we have been under debt to Christ, who "bought [us] with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20). We have no right to set aside that debt until we complete some of our other personal goals. It would be wrong to put off a mission in order to complete one's studies. It would also be wrong to break the Lord's commandments for the sake of accomplishing lesser-priority goals. This is how I feel about desecration of the Sabbath day by school work.
I decided long ago that I would never study anything on the Sabbath day that was not in keeping with the sanctity of that day. In order to determine what is in fact suitable for Sabbath study, we can ask ourselves the following questions
The last two of these questions are meant to exclude improvement in knowledge alone. A knowledge of science, languages, etc., may improve the individual mentally, but it does nothing towards fulfilling the goals of the Sabbath. We are to do our own work six days a week, but the Lord's work on the seventh.
Two examples of misuse of the Sabbath for academic studies come to mind - both of them from my missionary experiences in Switzerland. A member of the Church in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds never came to Sunday services, though most of her family - including her husband, an elder - attended. One day, during a visit, I questioned her about it. She indicated that she was working for a degree at the university and that she was so busy she found it necessary to study on Sunday.
During this visit, I learned that the family had a teenaged daughter whom I had never met. Following her mother's example, she felt it important to use Sunday for study time and thus never came to church. Both of them promised to come to meetings at the end of the academic year, but I felt strongly that behavior was not so easily changed when the motivation was so flimsy. I told them that it was important to always keep good habits in order to do the right thing. Unfortunately, they did not listen, and when school ended, neither returned to church.
The other incident took place in Geneva, where we were teaching a young married couple expecting their first child. Both were medical students and had met in class at the university. The husband was expecting to complete his MD that year and the wife would finish the following year. One evening, as we tried to set a further appointment, our young friend declined, on the pretext that his preparation for the final exams would take all of his time for the next two weeks. The Spirit prompted me to tell him that if he did not see us for two weeks, not only would he fail his exams, but he would so lose the Spirit of God that he would no longer wish to be baptized. He laughed at this. He felt certain of passing the exams and guaranteed that their baptismal date would be set when we returned in two weeks. When we did return, he informed us that he had failed the exams and that they were no longer interested in the Church.
In spite of much work, schooling and family activity, I have made it a point never to study non-gospel subjects on the Lord's time and to always attend to my Church callings and activities.