I Have a Question

Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

I study the scriptures regularly, but often I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. How can we really progress in spiritual knowledge?

Roger K. Terry, College of Business Management, Brigham Young University. All our lives we have been taught that we cannot be saved in ignorance. And so we study the gospel, cross-reference our scriptures, and ponder the words of the prophets. But sometimes after listening to powerful testimonies or after kneeling in earnest prayer, we seem to hear vague echoes speaking to us of a higher level of learning—and suddenly we wonder how prophets of the past learned what they learned.

This much at least seems clear to me: true progress in spiritual knowledge begins at the line which divides conceptual understanding from experience.

Some examples from academia might illustrate the point. I can learn the grammar and vocabulary of Russian; I might even acquire, through much training and effort, a Russian accent (if I am especially gifted). But I cannot really understand Russian until I have spent much time actually speaking with and listening to native Russians. Only in this way can I learn how the Russian mentality and culture is expressed through idiomatic phrases and various tones of speech. Likewise, I can learn business principles and theory, but without the experience of actually participating in management decision-making, my ability to teach business management is very limited. It is possible for a blind person to become an expert in the theory of color and light or the mechanics of seeing—to understand how the nerves and tissues function to transmit visual images to the brain. But there are some things about seeing that one who is blind does not understand in the same way that those who experience sight understand them.

In the same way, I might have an intellectual understanding of the gospel—even a fairly sound and deep comprehension of doctrinal principles—and yet not really “know” the gospel. For in religion, even more than in secular subjects, experience is a crucial element. Experience binds substance to the shaky framework of conceptual understanding. Faith, for example, is but an idea until I have learned how to exercise it and have received through personal righteousness an increase of faith. Then faith becomes a power—a principle of power.

I can learn of repentance and even gain a witness that Jesus Christ has the power as my Savior to cleanse me of my sins, but only when I partake of his atoning sacrifice and feel my sins actually forgiven do I truly understand repentance and forgiveness.

I might delve into the doctrine of spiritual rebirth, but unless I feel that mighty change within my heart, transforming me into a Saint, making me new in Christ, I know little of holiness.

I can study about the Holy Ghost and the mechanics of personal revelation, but until I conform my life to eternal truths and thus become worthy of the presence of the Holy Spirit, I cannot comprehend the peace of that sacred guidance and companionship.

I might speak eloquently of the bread and waters of life, but how can I speak with certainty and authority until I have tasted of them?

The higher learning is always the knowledge born of experience. But how do we obtain the right kind of experience? This, I believe, is a matter of the heart—a matter of submission and consecration. “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” (D&C 64:34.)

Speaking of the people of the church of God at a time of great persecution, Mormon tells us of their spiritual blessings: “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.” (Hel. 3:35; italics added.)

It seems that much of the ‘experience learning’ we gain is a direct result of this yielding our hearts to God and doing his will. Having our hearts right with God is sometimes the most difficult challenge in the learning process; the willingness and tendency to be spiritual are by no means natural for most of us. Often, only sincere prayer and fasting can prepare our hearts for such meekness and increase our desires for righteous experience.

How can we manage children successfully during the one hour and forty minutes of Primary?

Michaelene P. Grassli, second counselor in the Primary General Presidency. The secret to successful management of children in Primary is to create an atmosphere in which the children want to learn. If you can do that, effectively guiding and instructing the children will follow as a natural result.

First, provide for the physical comfort of the children to reduce discipline problems and restlessness. Children who are able to see and hear, who are not crowded, and who are not too warm or too cold are attentive and responsive. Primary sharing time groups and classes need to be of manageable size. Extra classroom space can be created by using dividers (which the Church participates in purchasing). This allows more classes to be held in larger rooms and in the cultural hall. While this is not ideal, I have seen it work well. Sometimes classes have to be held in the kitchen or in the hallway. Since adults’ attention is not as easily diverted as children’s, one solution might be to give these unconventional classrooms to adults instead of children.

Second, children enjoy Primary when leaders are well prepared and use plenty of variety. Most of our discipline problems disappear when leaders and teachers are well prepared. A variety of learning experiences involving listening, singing, praying, speaking, reading, dramatizing, moving, and participating use all the children’s senses and learning processes and will appeal to almost all children. You can learn how to prepare and how to use variety as well as other teaching techniques by studying The How Book for Teaching Children (PBIC03223) and by participating in the in-service lesson at the monthly Primary preparation meeting.

A third factor with far-reaching effects is the need children have to feel they are valued by their Primary teachers and leaders. The Savior often demonstrated his high regard for children.

“And it came to pass that [Jesus] commanded that their little children should be brought. …

“And he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

“And when he had done this he wept again;

“And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.

“And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.” (3 Ne. 17: 11, 21–24.)

As I study these passages, I am warmed by the Savior’s love for children and the value he places on them. Primary leaders must desire this love and develop it through prayer. You show how you feel about the children in the way you greet them, speak to them, touch them, in the tone of your voice and the look in your eyes. If children feel they are loved and valued, they will be happy in Primary and responsive to the lessons prepared for them.

I recently visited a Primary where two leaders, Heidi and Candy, had caught the vision of what Primary should be for children. They carried out the Primary program, bringing variety and enthusiasm into their presentations. But their greatest strength was that they genuinely liked the children and showed it by looking right at the children, not at the adults. They smiled a lot, knew the children’s names, had a sense of humor, and enjoyed the children’s responses. They totally immersed themselves in a joyous association with children. They apparently felt for the children the kind of love that the Savior showed. And best of all, the children listened, participated, and learned. Children feel a special warmth and self-worth when a member of the bishopric attends Primary regularly with a short message just for them. We’ve seen children become more attentive and leaders more motivated in Primaries where the bishopric demonstrates such interest.

We pray that all Primary leaders and teachers in the Church will indeed feel love for children and follow the Savior’s lead in teaching and ministering unto them. Thus you can help make Primary a warm, loving, happy place where children want to come and learn.

I am an active member of the Church, but in recent months I’ve had some serious emotional problems. Why hasn’t my membership in the Church prevented these problems?

Garth Allred, institute instructor and marriage and family therapist, St. George, Utah. I have often been asked this question by those I counsel. I recall one middle-aged sister who was experiencing severe anxiety; her priesthood leaders had referred her to my office for counseling. She had a history of drug and alcohol abuse before she joined the Church, but now she recognized that these substances were no longer an option when she needed a calming influence. She sat there before me, desperately trying to gain some composure, her eyes red from hours of weeping.

“Why do I hurt so much?” she asked. “Things are so much better since I joined the Church a year ago, but I still have periods when I am terribly depressed.”

As I visited with this sister, I noted that she had serious misconceptions about what membership in the Church should do for her. In effect, she believed that because she had joined the true church, she should automatically be given the solutions to all her emotional problems. She felt that her depression should have vanished away at the moment she was given the gift of the Holy Ghost.

I gently explained to her that that is not how the Lord works. He helps us to learn and grow line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. (See Isa. 28:9–10.) Spiritual growth and knowledge does not come to us automatically by virtue of membership in the Lord’s church. Furthermore, depression and other emotional problems can be caused by physical and psychological disorders unrelated to our membership in the Church and which can often be improved or resolved by medical treatment or professional counseling. Faith and priesthood blessing can also do much to alleviate such problems.

It is not enough to join the Church and be “active” in it. Baptism alone does not change lives or cure physical problems. What is required is obedience to the principles of the gospel, devotion to God, wisdom in following the counsel of priesthood leaders and the promptings of the Spirit, patience, and professional help when the circumstances warrant it.

Membership in the Church can be seen as a tool—a tool by which we can change our lives to be more in harmony with God’s will. But we must remember that such changes will most likely not happen overnight. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in the King Follett discourse, taught that growth in the gospel is a gradual thing:

“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346–47; italics added.)

It is not enough simply to be a member of the Church. True gospel rewards come only when we walk the gospel path. Our membership and activity in the Church should serve as the means to that end; they are not ends in themselves.

Sometimes, though, we need help getting firmly onto the gospel path. Some people have emotional scars so deep that they need special counseling, either with their bishop or with a professional counselor. Others, struggling with depression or related trauma based on physical disorders, may need medical help. Change and resolution of problems is not always easy. But the change can come; the resolution can be achieved. When we take the appropriate steps, when we make covenants and commitments, when we expend the effort required, when we pay the price to bring gospel principles into our daily living—then, and only then, will the gospel become the true power in our lives that it was meant to be.

When we become consistently and patiently involved in gospel work, we will realize great blessings, among them eventual mastery of emotional problems.