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Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander

Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander

18 Nov. 2008

Transcript

In Concert with the Lord’s Purposes and Designs

My brethren and sisters, it’s wonderful to be with you today. I enjoyed this beautiful reminder in music of the necessity for unity in our lives, among each other, in our communities. Certainly we have seen over the past number of months over the elections here in the United States a lot of divisiveness, a lot of nasty things being said. It’s time to heal, not only politically, but for us to be reminded as this helped us to remember, it’s good to be united with each other with things that are holy and good.

It was wonderful for me to come in and greet a number of you today. I’ve known you in Moscow and in the Ukraine, in missions and other places. It reminds me that we have to be nice to everybody all the time. I have to say that when I served as the president of the Europe East Area, Elder Uchtdorf was my counselor, and then when I served as president of the Utah South Area, he was also my counselor. And now that he’s President Uchtdorf, I can tell you that I’m very happy I was nice to him.

Anyway, it’s wonderful to be with you. It’s a great pleasure for me to be with young men and women who are so anxiously engaged in education and learning, and bettering your life. Even with increasing numbers of students in universities and colleges across the world, where so many are having opportunities now that they’ve not had before, you still are among the great minority of young people who have opportunities for education, for the opportunity to express yourselves, to study what you wish to study, to pursue a life you wish to pursue. And I hope that each of you spends time on your knees each day thanking Heavenly Father for the opportunity for education and learning.

Education is the disciplining of your mind and spirit. I would like this morning just to reflect on a few thoughts regarding the pursuit of education in our lives, both temporally and spiritually. For me, education is the opportunity to discipline our minds and our spirit. Its very process is the unfolding and the discovery of the potential that lies in each one of us, and certainly in each of you. The education of your mind, the unfolding of your self and your potential both temporal and spiritual to a determined purpose is undoubtedly the hardest thing you’ll ever do in this life. Education is hard work. It requires dedication and focus on what it is you wish to achieve.

Now I’d like to discuss a couple of principles with you that I have learned through my life. I have spent a good deal of time on campuses in my younger years, not so much since I became more involved in my calling now. But I look back on my years of education. My wife and I and my family were in school for 12 years after we got married, and it was a long road, and I learned lots of things of value. I hope then, today, to pass some of these on to you.

The first thing that I wanted to spend just a minute with you on is the fact that each of us, each man and each woman, is a unique being. No one comes into this life with what is called tabula rasa — that is a blank page, a blank mind. We each bring with us forgotten experiences, inclinations, gifts, talents, abilities that have been developing since the moment of our creation. Our mortal experience, of course, draws upon them, and our education enhances and fortifies and further disciplines them. One of the great challenges of our lives is to discover what is the unique part of us and to develop it.

The Lord revealed that “to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:11-12). But each of us, you and I, each has something that is uniquely ours—something that makes us uniquely us. And one of the great pitfalls of life, for me, is to think that we have to be just exactly like someone else. When we envy others their gift, or feel that somehow we must have one exactly like it, that someone is more gifted than I—then it seems to me that we miss the beauty of our own gift. We miss the beauty and strength and power of that which Heavenly father put in us.

We can spend entirely too much time acting or speaking or dressing like someone else, when we ought to be focusing on our own abilities and our own talents and developing them. This process takes courage, as you know. It also takes a willingness to try many things and to fail at some things along the way. It takes introspection and it takes education. But in the end, it is those who have discovered their own uniqueness and developed it who make the lasting contributions to the goodness of the world. And each of you is in the process of discovering that in yourselves.

I hope that, if you have poetry inside of you, that somehow you will bring it out. I hope that if you have music, if you have the desire to write, if you have the desire to create, if you have the desire to be the best legal secretary—whatever, it is that gift that you bring to the world. And the more you can bring that out in yourself, the more you can discipline, the more you can use it to create, then the better off we all are. And so, I want to say that each of us, you and I, has something that is uniquely ours, and to focus on that.

Secondly, I have learned that education takes both time and experience. The education of the mind is significantly more than the accumulation of knowledge, as important as that is. It is more than the accumulation of facts or figures, or even the mastery of a specific discipline. True education is beyond knowledge, understanding, or the ability to see the appropriate relationship of the various elements of knowledge, and to respect them.

For me, however, the consummate attainment of education is wisdom, or the judicious application of knowledge and understanding in our lives. Well might we follow the counsel in the book of Proverbs: “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; … Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:5-7).

The close link or bond linking knowledge and understanding and wisdom is also exemplified in a conversation that Solomon had with the Lord. “In that night did God appear unto Solomon, and said…“Ask what I shall give thee” (2 Chronicles 1:7).

“Give me now wisdom and knowledge,” he said. (v. 10)

“And God said to Solomon, Because this was in thine heart, and thou hast not asked riches, wealth, or honour, nor the life of thine enemies, neither yet hast asked long life; but hast asked wisdom and knowledge for thyself…wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee” (vv. 11-12).

Well, I don’t believe that Solomon was granted these gifts without effort on his part. Certainly he thought through the problem. I think he was a man of great power, leading a great nation, many wonderful things to do. Yet what did he ask for? It was for wisdom and for knowledge.

In our own case, the education of our minds and the acquisition of knowledge and understanding and wisdom are not achieved by two years at a college or four years, or even twelve years of higher education. The two or so years you spend here at the LDS Business College places into your hands only the foundation of knowledge for a specific and chosen discipline. But understanding and wisdom in the use of that knowledge will take you a lifetime.

I am reminded of a wonderful Russian proverb that I quote to myself all the time. It is that “We will live and learn our whole lifetime, and still die a fool.” And I just find that so wonderful to think about, because of the difficulty of acquiring for ourselves—not knowledge, but understanding and wisdom.

Thirdly, education of the mind is the product of consistent effort and personal discipline. I was interested in an article that appeared last week in USA Today. Maybe some of you saw it. I hope none of you were in it. It states that nearly one in five college seniors and 25 % of freshman say that frequently come to class without completing readings or assignments. I know that’s not you. And many of those students say they mostly still get A’s. The survey doesn’t address whether these students are lazy, busy, intimidated, bored or geniuses. Students report spending about 3 ½ hours a week preparing for each class. That’s about half what instructors expect from a typical student, and that was part of the article from USA Today. I suppose that many of the study hours may have taken place cramming for an examination, or meeting a deadline for a written report as we heard today about the conclusion of the semester now—hardly the stuff of consistent and personal effort and disciplined work, I think.

How far it is from the observation made by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that

The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not obtained by sudden flight.
But they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.

This kind of effort has very little to do with grades, and everything to do with the achievement of true education. I cannot resist, really, the temptation to say a word about the importance of concise and clearly written goals, as Josh Bennett reminded you today. I hope you were listening. Such goals in our lives, and in our education, bring purpose and life to our effort and discipline.

I was just on a mission tour—and many of you have served missions; others are getting ready to go—I’m continually amazed that the missionaries want to work hard, and they want to work harder, all the time working harder. And then I ask whether they have set goals to discipline their effort, whether they have something in mind to achieve by their effort. And how quickly a discussion can change when that question is asked.

I recently read an interesting study about goals that I think you will be interested in. A study was done on Yale University’s graduating class some years ago. It asked seniors a long list of questions about themselves, and three questions were about goals. They were: Do you have set goals? Do you write them down? Do you have an action plan to achieve them? Only three percent of the class answered yes to these questions. Now, you would think from Yale University, among the best of the best focused, hard-working students, that they would have well-defined, written goals. But only three percent did.

Twenty years later, a follow-up study was done. It turned out that the three percent who had said yes to goals reported that they were more happily married, were more successful in their careers, had more satisfactory family life, and had better health. But get this—97% of the net worth of that graduating class was in the hands of that three percent. The power of written goals.

And you need to put it where you can see it every day, and many times through the day, whatever your goal is, whatever you wish to obtain. You need to write it and put it on the front of your books. Put it in your books. Put it on the mirror where you shave or comb your hair. Put it on the dashboard of your car. Put it on the door before you leave. Whatever. But your ability to achieve is somehow really tightly connected with your commitment to write a goal down, put it where you can see it, and then have a plan to achieve it.

When I was finishing my dissertation, I had a hard time getting at my dissertation after my qualifying exams. I was just diverted by good things, as we were taught today about Elder Oaks. But my department chairman finally pulled me off to the side and committed me to write my dissertation by the end of the year. And when I committed to write that dissertation by the end of the year, he then told me how to achieve it. It was very simple but very powerful. He said, “You will write your dissertation by the end of the year, yes. How many months does a year have?”

Well, I was a graduate student; I knew that. I said, “Twelve.”

He said, “Then I want twelve goals. And how many weeks does each month have?”

“Four.”

“Give me four goals for each one of those twelve. And how many days?”

“Seven.”

“Then give me seven goals for each one of those four.”

What was he teaching me? He told me that if I achieved my goal today, then I would achieve my goal in a year. One of the things that is so difficult for young people to understand is that time passes quickly, and at the beginning of the semester, it seems like the end of it looks ten years off. And one day frittered away may not mean much. But it’s one day that does not bring you closer to your goals. So the power of daily goals, written down, and a plan to achieve it.

Fourthly, there must be more in your education than selfish motive. The purpose of educating your mind is to bring something into the world that is worthwhile and of service to our fellowmen. True education is never selfish. It reaches out to others.

So here are the four fundamental principles of true education: The discovery of our own unique qualities, time and experience, effort and discipline, and beneficial service to others.

I have applied these four principles to secular education, but they are equally valuable in the process relating to the education of our spirit. The Lord counseled us to “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). Let’s look at these principles very briefly in the time that we have, as they relate to our spiritual growth and spiritual development or spiritual education.

First, the discovery of our own unique qualities, talents and abilities. Each of us is a son or daughter of God. This places in us wonderful potential and lofty goals. This mortal life has purpose and meaning. No less important and no less interrelated in our spiritual education than in our secular is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding and wisdom, as they relate to the spiritual matters of our lives. It is certainly true that knowledge of spiritual truths can be approached by study. We are counseled often to study the scriptures and to study the words of the living prophets. However, I have come to the conclusion in my own life that study alone will not and can not bring full comprehension of spiritual matters. Some truths must be revealed to be known, and the first step in receiving such revelation is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Events in my life over the last few years, including the death of my wife, having suffered some time with cancer, and meeting a new woman with whom I can share my life—I have learned by my own experience that I am grateful for my knowledge of the plan of salvation. I am grateful for my knowledge of priesthood ordinances. But it is my faith that brought me understanding. It is my faith that brought me solace and comfort.

The writer of Proverbs points out that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). And if we desire understanding of spiritual things, then we must employ our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, the purpose of our life’s work must be in concert with the Lord’s purposes and designs for us. I think of the words He spoke to Moses: “I am the Lord God Almighty,…thou art my son,…and I have a work for thee [to do]” (Moses 1:3-6). Each of us has a work to do in this life. Each of us—each of us—has something to do that no one else can, and when we pursue it, identify it, discipline our minds to achieve it, and discipline our activities and our lives to accomplish it, then our lives are in concert with that which the Lord would have us do.

One of your College’s cultural beliefs provides the framework for the time and experience step in our spiritual education, wherein the Lord says that He gives us “line upon line, [and] precept upon precept, [and] here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30).

The Lord’s educational program for each of us is a lifelong educational process. It never ends. You may look at us on the stand and think that we are ancient, and we probably are in some ways, but I can tell you that we struggle, just as mightily as you, to bring about good things. We work just as hard on our own individual righteousness and faith, as you do because it is a lifelong pursuit that never ends. It never stops. It always grows. We never reach the end of it. And the further we go, the more expansive it becomes. The more we move down the road of life, the more wonderful things there are to see and do and understand. And so, we are involved just like you are involved. Life is to learn from, not just to endure or to experience.

Well, in effort and discipline. What about that, in our spiritual education. To Abraham, the Lord said, “We will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).

I am reminded of—just very quickly, I will share a story with you from something that happened in Moscow, in Russia. I was asked by President Packer to speak with our staff in our Moscow office about things that were troubling them, the problems they had in their life. And it was interesting to hear their responses. All of these wonderful Latter-day Saints who were temple recommend holders and often went to the temple and sacrificed much to do so—as we spoke, I understood that many of them, after their baptisms, went through a period of some inactivity, some introspection, some deciding a very critical issue. And it seems to me that every one of us must make a decision in our lives, that we will accept or not accept the standards of the gospel as our own personal standard. And this was the cause of their inactivity. They had made the decision to be baptized, but they hadn’t yet made the decision to endure to the end. Only when they made the decision, often in a difficult moment where friends or family poked fun at the Church or poked fun at them or ridiculed the standards of the gospel—only in those moments did they have to decide. Then, “Is that me? Or isn’t it? Do I accept those standards for my personal standards, or do I not? And if I do, then I must stand up. And if I don’t, then I will go away.”

That’s called enduring to the end. That’s a harder decision for me—that decision to accept for ourselves a standard of life, a standard of living, of integrity and honesty and commitment that is tested in moments of opposition and difficulty. And so effort and discipline are every bit as much a part of our spiritual education as our temporal. And of course, the purpose of our experience is to be of service to our fellowman.

Well, those are the four things that I have learned, among others, about education. It’s a difficult process. It’s a hard road that you’ve put your foot on, lifelong—one that requires your best effort.

I pray that you will be successful and above all, that you will enjoy the journey. Enjoy the process of education. It is wonderful and a great blessing to have mentors and teachers who point you to good, interesting, wonderful, powerful ideas. Take advantage of this period of time in your life. Enjoy it. Don’t run from it. Use it for the betterment of yourselves and the betterment of our world.

I leave with you my testimony that God lives, and that the Church is true. The priesthood we bear is the Holy Priesthood of God, with ordinances that open the power of the Atonement of Christ to our individual lives. I bear witness to living apostles and prophets on the earth. May we have the courage to follow them in difficult and trying times, that our lives may be blessed with peace and safety, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.