After three years of college, I found myself spiritually upside-down. In my literature class, the short stories implied that modern life had no meaning and that people had lost their values. In a cultural-traditions course, the teacher explained that original biblical texts had portrayed Jesus as a violent, rebellious man and that scribes had softened his personality over the centuries. In a teaching-methods course, the professor asked how we would entice our students to read when we became English teachers. “You know, the only book some Mormon children have in their homes is a Book of Mormon,” she scoffed. The rest of the class laughed.
Despite my spiritually confusing college experiences, I kept pursuing my education because I saw glimpses of truth: the individualism of Henry David Thoreau, the pioneer strength portrayed by Willa Cather, the courage demonstrated by Socrates. Surely secular learning was a worthwhile experience!
I didn’t recognize how precarious my spiritual position had become, however, until one winter afternoon when I was sitting in the cafeteria with my mother, who was also attending college. Excited by her astronomy class, she leaned forward and told me in rapid, intense tones that galaxies aren’t strewn randomly across space but form patterns like fans and rainbows. “And maybe not a single atom floats in the remote regions between galaxies,” she added. My mother had taught me to read and had encouraged me to build a chemistry lab in my bedroom closet, and now we were sharing our love for learning on the same level.
But our cozy conversation turned into a confrontation when we started talking about religion. I told my mom that I didn’t know whether or not the Church was true and that if I didn’t feel differently soon, I might stop attending because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I explained to her my suspicion—fueled by my peers at the campus newspaper—that ignorant people leaned on religion simply because they were afraid to die. I told her that I was outraged that my church didn’t encourage women to use their talents in a career. I expressed dismay that the Bible contained so many stories that seemed improbable or immoral.
As I argued, my mother put her head down, and then her chin started to quiver. With tears in her eyes, she asked me to stop talking that way. “I never thought I’d hear you say this,” she said. I could imagine what she was picturing in her mind: the icy mornings when she pulled my sister and me to Primary in a sled because she didn’t have a car that day; the simple prayers she helped us say that our dog would get well, that lightning wouldn’t strike us in a field, that we would be kept safe at night; the songs we used to sing in the car while running our errands, such as “Jesus said love ev’ryone; Treat them kindly, too. When your heart is filled with love, Others will love you” (Children’s Songbook, p. 61). Now I was turning my back on these innocent truths because I thought I had found something better: the ideas of the world.
My mother wouldn’t give up without a fight, because she had invested her whole soul into teaching me the gospel. She pointed out that I hadn’t taken any institute classes and that I wasn’t reading my scriptures. I was investing four or five hours daily in secular study without putting any time or effort toward spiritual growth.
“Please,” she said, “read the Book of Mormon, too. You have to pay the price for a testimony. You reap what you sow.”
I decided that it couldn’t hurt to take my mom’s advice to read the Book of Mormon again. I remembered from seminary that Alma asks us to experiment upon the word of God. He said, “Exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you” (Alma 32:27). I found myself desiring to believe because I missed the peace of mind and the strength that I recognized the gospel had always given me. I wanted to dispel my gathering spiritual gloom.
Changes didn’t happen in a day, but with daily effort during the past seven years I have come to love the Book of Mormon again. It brings me closer to Heavenly Father because it teaches me about people worth emulating: Nephi, who was willing to do anything the Lord asked; Alma and Amulek, whose faith enabled them to break their bonds and caused the prison walls to tumble; Captain Moroni, who possessed great understanding and labored tirelessly for the welfare of others; Ammon, who proselyted in a hostile land; and the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, who stood unarmed in their fields as the Lamanites struck them down. The great men and women of the scriptures teach me that my possessions, my social status, my appearance, and my level of education don’t matter as much as my love for the Lord.
My mother was right: we reap what we sow. I think of my grandfather, who is a dry farmer. He keeps his soil clean and weedless year after year, and he plants his wheat on just the right September morning, when the dirt is moist and cool. The seeds germinate and then stay tucked in their beds until spring. By early June, the green stalks will have burst from the dirt and grown three feet high.
In my mind’s eye, I see Grandpa walking down the furrows in his work boots, sifting green kernels with calloused hands. Soon the wheat will ripen into golden, firm pellets. Harvest time reminds me of a quote from President Spencer W. Kimball: “The realness of a personal God; the continued active life of the Christ … ; the divinity of the restoration. … These can be known as surely as that the sun shines, by every responsible person, and to fail to attain this knowledge is to admit that one has not paid the price. Like academic degrees it is obtained by intense strivings. …
“… The testimony is the electric light illuminating the cavern; the wind and sun dissipating the fog. … It is the rich, nourishing kernels of corn instead of the husks in the trough” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 57).
I still love secular learning. I read voraciously during my spare moments; my husband sometimes complains that books crowd every room in the house. I marvel at minds outside the gospel that glorify nature, morality, and hope. But because I am better grounded in spiritual knowledge, secular ideas no longer threaten my testimony as they once did. Looking through my spiritual eyes rather than my physical eyes, I am better able to distinguish true ideas from false ideas. I can avoid sources that destroy my inner peace. My college experiences taught me the need to feast upon spiritual things. By nourishing our souls as well as our minds, we can enjoy a rich harvest of testimony, spirituality, and peace.