When my daughter Tomi accompanied her husband, Jeff, from New Jersey to California so that he could pursue his master’s degree, she experienced a sudden identity crisis. In the past, she, too, had enjoyed academic studies. Now Jeff was learning exciting new things while she was cooped up in a small apartment with a new baby and a two-year-old.
Tomi loved her children and enjoyed being a mother, yet she felt frustrated that she could scarcely complete a thought without being interrupted. While previously she had been interested in politics, she realized she now knew little of what was going on, let alone why things were occurring. What happened to the informed person I once felt I was? she wondered.
Kim Wade, a former roommate of Tomi’s, had similar feelings. She, Tomi, and other roommates had enjoyed university studies so much that they sometimes attended each other’s classes, then discussed the material afterward. After graduating, marrying, and having a baby, Kim, too, felt a need for intellectual stimulation.
Tomi and Kim have found solutions. They realize that just as the Church emphasizes the importance of mothering and homemaking, they know that part of good homemaking is to establish “a house of learning.” The Lord commanded that his house be “a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning.” (D&C 88:119.) This is also a pattern for our homes.
There are many reasons to actively pursue learning beyond formal schooling and to pursue it in our own homes. The scriptures teach that learning affects us eternally. The intelligence we obtain here will rise with us in the resurrection (see D&C 130:18) and become a portion of our glory (see D&C 93:36). Indeed, the eternal potential that the scriptures hold out for man will obviously require immense deposits of knowledge. If we have such potential, should we really limit obtaining important knowledge to just a few years of our life?
Brigham Young thought not. He counseled that we should not “narrow ourselves up” in our learning, and he stressed that before us lies “eternity, with all its sparkling intelligence, lofty aspirations, and unspeakable glories.” (In Deseret News, 14 Mar. 1860, p. 9.)
There is a definite relationship between knowledge obtained here and eternal progression. Hugh Nibley writes that all honest intellectual pursuits will lead eventually “from the things of earth to the things of heaven.” (In Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young Univ. Religious Studies Center, 1978, p. 243.) And Camilla Eyring Kimball suggested that truly loving God with all our minds requires a continual seeking to understand his creations. (In A Heritage of Faith: Talks Selected from the BYU Women’s Conference, Mary E. Stovall and Carol Cornwall Madsen, eds., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988, p. 5.)
At the same time, we don’t have to look beyond the earthly to see the need for continued learning. Just being a good citizen and a wise voter requires study. There is considerable turmoil in the world as nations struggle with immense problems. Ignorance cannot conquer such problems; informed citizens, bearing more insight than can be obtained in bits and pieces from the evening news, are the driving force behind change.
Fortunately, in addition to the duty and responsibility associated with learning, we also gain pleasure from learning. Brigham Young spoke of the “variety of useful information” and the “rich hoard of hidden treasure” that await us in continued learning. (In Deseret News, 14 Mar. 1860, p. 9; spelling modernized.) I discovered this truth for myself when I took a class in Oriental religions. It helped increase my enjoyment of Oriental statuary, Oriental art, and Oriental gardens, for I then understood some of the principles and thought processes that created their beauty.
Indeed, such enjoyment can even approach rapture. In 1875, Ellis Shipp went east at the request of Brigham Young to study anatomy and medicine. While there, she wrote that her learning “[caused] everything in nature to be fraught with greater interest.” She felt the knowledge she had obtained had “opened to [her] view depths and heights of which [she] had never dreamed. … How much more beautiful is life when we understand its laws.” (While Others Slept: Autobiography and Journal of Ellis Reynolds Shipp, M.D., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985, p. 219.)
Pursuit of learning also leads away from sorrow and despair. Ellis Shipp found personal studies helpful in overcoming the grief of her child’s death. Similarly, women today find that intellectual pursuits can be healing balms in such difficult circumstances as divorce, the death of a husband, a debilitating health problem, or simply an empty nest. Study stimulates the mind in new directions and takes it away from paths where there may be pain.
But how do we find time to ensure that ours is a house of learning when there are so many tasks competing for our interest and energies?
Tomi’s solution was to keep books by her chair so she could read while she nursed her baby. She watched documentaries and nature shows on television while rocking a child to sleep. She began conscientiously to make time to read or study for awhile, particularly after getting the children to bed.
Also, when she talked to other women in her student housing complex while their children played together, she tried to discuss ideas and events rather than people. Since many of these women were from other countries, she learned much about their native cultures.
One of Kim’s solutions is to try to read two books at a time: one for personal enjoyment, the other for intellectual growth—a history, a biography, or a book on child development or social issues. Her baby responds positively when she reads aloud to her from books.
As children get older, women can glean knowledge as they help their children pursue learning. Camilla Smith of San Francisco, California, reads background material with her children as they prepare reports; then she discusses it with them. In this way, she learns, too, though on a different level. When she found her daughter didn’t like math, Camilla took math courses for parents. She was then able to help her daughter and has since held workshops to show parents how to teach children math.
Camilla also feels it is important to subscribe to a good in-depth newspaper or news magazine. She and her husband clip out articles they think will interest each other. Such sharing cuts the need for both to read everything.
Many women can easily avail themselves of learning via their husbands, either by studying with them as they pursue educational goals or by attending lectures and reading magazines that relate to their husbands’ jobs or professions.
Some women do find time for formal classes. Sharon Michael of Gainesville, Florida, was pleased when she learned, as a new convert, that the Church encourages education. She has returned to school to complete her degree. She arranges her schedule to be home when her children are there, and the whole family has cooperated to help her reach an important family goal. In fact, she says that her diploma should include her husband’s name as well because he often helps her study. Her children have been willing to cut back on certain aspects of their activities for part of the year; as compensation, the family attends cultural events together.
Women can overcome all kinds of obstacles when they have a deep desire to learn. In spite of her eighty-nine years and failing eyesight, Ina Fechser is still interested and interesting. She is continually learning and sharing her knowledge with the many children with whom she corresponds when away from her home in Moroni, Utah. Her friends have read books to her, and they sometimes even record books on cassette tapes so that she can listen to them anytime. When Ina expressed interest in listening to audiotapes of the Old Testament, friends helped her obtain them.
The Church, particularly the Relief Society, can help sisters continue the learning process. After all, when Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society, he promised its members, “Knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth.” (History of the Church, 4:607.)
Several years ago, the ward Relief Society presidency of which I was a part were impressed with President Gordon B. Hinckley’s counsel at the September 1989 general women’s meeting. He encouraged sisters to read good books and to forsake watching TV’s “titillating trash.” (See Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 97.) Feeling that for most women the problem was not really time, but direction, we tried to encourage more reading by providing a reading list for those who needed help in finding good books. We also organized a book club. Interested sisters met once a month to discuss their reading. We printed the name of the book in our monthly Relief Society newsletter so sisters could read it even if they couldn’t attend the discussion. Other sisters attended the discussion even if they hadn’t read the book, benefiting from it as a book review.
We also frequently presented one miniclass at our homemaking meetings that encouraged spiritual and/or intellectual learning. Topics for these classes included the writings of Josephus, historic and cultural highlights of our area, the history of the Bible, and women in Church history. Near Easter, our stake president demonstrated the elements of the Passover seder, showing us how it held witnesses of the Savior’s sacrifice and resurrection.
Years ago, I found that a key to working any new goal into an already-busy schedule is dovetailing—organizing one’s energies to accomplish more than one task at once.
For example, after a move that was difficult for our daughter, a senior in high school, I felt I needed to help her adjust. So I supported her high school debate team by providing transportation for the group and serving as a judge. Thus I accomplished three goals at once: I helped my daughter, provided community service, and found intellectual stimulation through the debates.
Also, as wife of a law school dean, I have had the responsibility to help wives of new and visiting faculty members adjust to a new area. One way I did this in Florida was to invite them to attend a university book club with me and then work together as discussion leaders on some of the books. I walked every morning with the wife of one new faculty member. We often discussed the books we were reading. On those walks, I got physical exercise, developed a good friendship, provided community service, and developed myself intellectually. And since most good literature deals with the most important questions of life, there were many opportunities to discuss the gospel with my new friend.
Since so much of a modern mother’s time is taken up in chauffeuring, she can avail herself of some excellent radio broadcasts, such as those on National Public Radio. Mothers can also read while waiting for children to complete lessons or activities.
Combining exercise and reading—particularly on a stationary bicycle—is another way to accomplish two tasks at once. Or you can do part of your workout on the bicycle while reading, then complete your exercise outdoors, enjoying nature and reflecting on the materials you have studied; this offers time for digesting and assimilating information.
All who hunger for and who eagerly seek light and knowledge will be blessed. Brigham Young’s promise to the Saints still holds true: “Truth, wisdom, … light, and intelligence exist upon their own qualities. … Truth cleaves unto truth, because it is truth; and it is to be adored, because it is an attribute of God, for its excellence, for itself.” (In Journal of Discourses, 1:117; italics in original.)