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Cover image via LDS.org.
The bottom of this page features a song inspired by the reflections in this article. Don’t forget to take a moment to listen to it. Perhaps it can inspire even greater motivation to make the “Sunday school answers” your daily habits.
Let’s say you doze off during Sunday school. You know the kind of nap I’m talking about: eyes at half mast, brain basically in power saving mode. Then let’s say you’re vaguely aware that the teacher poses a question but no one offers an answer. Knowing you’re usually good for a comment or two, the instructor calls your name.
Fact #1: you have no idea what the question was.
Fact #2: Fortunately, you know that by responding with phrases like “say your prayers,” “study the scriptures,” or “keep the commandments,” you will significantly increase the odds of answering correctly.
Why is that? Well, my friend, that’s because you have tapped into the infamous Sunday School Answers—and you’ve just proven you know them well enough to list them even in your sleep.
So what exactly are the Sunday School Answers? They’re the common phrases (like those mentioned above) that are spoken so frequently from our pulpits and in our Sunday classes that we tend to dismiss them as trite or cliché. We may even become irritated when folks around us use these phrases, because surely we can come up with more original answers to gospel questions and personal struggles.
The next time we’re tempted to roll our eyes at the use of Sunday School Answers, we might consider that the Savior Himself made repeated pleas for us to pray always, search the scriptures, and keep His commandments. (Of course, we only know that if we have searched the scriptures, which—incidentally—is one of those dreaded SSA’s.)
On a recent Sabbath morning, as I listened to a young Priest say the Sacrament prayer over the bread, it struck me that the final phrase of that prayer states exactly why the Savior is so eager for us to embrace these spiritual practices daily: “…that they may always have His Spirit to be with them.” (Moroni 4:3)
By every earnest prayer we say, by making time to savor the word of God, and by our sincere striving to obey His loving commands, we a send an invitation for the Holy Spirit to penetrate our hearts. And when we are filled with the Spirit we become different people—better people—gradually growing in testimony and becoming more like Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder we’re continually admonished to embrace “the Sunday School Answers?”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shares the following story: “A friend of mine recently wrote to me, confiding that he was having a difficult time keeping his testimony strong and vibrant. He asked for counsel.
“I wrote back to him and lovingly suggested a few specific things he could do that would align his life more closely with the teachings of the restored gospel. To my surprise, I heard back from him only a week later. The essence of his letter was this: “I tried what you suggested. It didn’t work. What else have you got?”
“Brothers and sisters, we have to stay with it…We have to apply and reapply the divine gospel principles. Day after day we need to make them part of our normal life. Too often we approach the gospel like a farmer who places a seed in the ground in the morning and expects corn on the cob by the afternoon.” (1)
Have we ever given the Sunday School Answers a true opportunity to “work their magic” on us by making them a priority and persisting in our efforts for a prolonged period of time?
Where I live, corn gets planted around the middle of May, when the danger of frost is past. My husband’s goal is to have the cornstalks “knee high by the fourth of July.” In the weeks after planting, I often stand at the kitchen window to observe the progress as the first tiny shoots push through the soil. There comes a point in mid-July when I sit on the patio steps and I swear I can actually see the cornstalks grow before my eyes. I take a great deal of pleasure in watching those beautiful green plants mature, forming golden cobs of corn inside their husks.
But none of this growth could occur without soil prep, planting, watering, weeding, and sunshine. These are the Sunday School Answers of the gardening world. Just as certain steps must be followed in order for spirituality and testimony to grow and thrive, there are no short cuts to producing healthy ears of corn or plump red tomatoes.
When we have applied the Sunday School Answers faithfully, over an extended period of time, but feel that our spiritual garden is not flourishing as we hoped, we must guard against the tendency to compare our testimony with those of family members or friends from church. The soil in every garden is different. Some soil is sandy, some soil like clay. Other ground may be rocky or overgrown with an astonishing network of morning glory vines. It is no different with spiritual matters. Every heart presents a unique plot of ground for receiving the spiritual seeds planted by our prayers, our study of God’s word, and our efforts to obey the commandments He has given.
And we must not discount the effect of the variety spiritual gifts each person is blessed with. Where some of God’s children have been gifted with great faith—softening their spiritual ground and allowing sprouts to quickly ease through the dirt–others of us have different gifts, and may require a longer season for seeds to germinate beneath the soil’s surface.
I applaud every hopeful gardener who persists in toiling, even when their labor seems to yield few results. As they continue to work their soil, wrenching out rocks and uprooting weeds to make room for gospel seeds, gradually the ground becomes more hospitable for planting. Never give up on the basic spiritual practices that soften your heart’s ground, that plant God’s word in your soul, and that invite the companionship of the Holy Spirit.
Eventually, delicate shoots will make their way upward and into the sunlight. These seedlings may be small, but they are sure evidence that good seed was sown, and as gardeners carefully tend these precious young plants, both the gardeners and the seeds will thrive.
Carefully Tend the Seed
Words and music by Lynne Perry Christofferson
(from the album Lift Your Mind Higher)
Vocalist: April Meservy
You’ve heard of faith and would like to know
if there’s a way to make it grow,
And you’ve read scriptures that testify
that faith is more than meets the eye.
Well, a searching soul with real intent
can try a small experiment.
Compare a seed to the word of God,
and plant it in your spirit’s sod.
And if you carefully tend the seed
once you plant it in your softened heart,
though you’re struggling to believe
the seed will swell and it will start
to grow into the living faith you need,
if you patiently, prayerfully,
carefully tend the seed.
Now trees don’t spring up overnight,
they must have moisture, time, and light.
And every gardener has to wait
for seeds that need to germinate.
But you must work to keep
your ground from hardening
in your first attempt at gardening.
1. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, May 2009.