Denice graduated from the University of Utah in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with an emphasis in Scientific Computing and a minor in German. She earned her master’s degree in 2011, also from the University of Utah, in Instructional Design and Educational Technology. She is married to Pieter Lingen who teaches 2nd grade at their local elementary school. Denice and Pieter are the parents of four children, ranging in age from 15 to 24. Denice currently serves as a youth Sunday School teacher.
What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What to Do?
As a math teacher, I’m asked a lot of questions. How do you factor a trinomial with a leading coefficient? How do you deal with the fraction in this equation? What do logarithms have to do with my real life? But probably the hardest question I’m asked, and one I’m asked a lot, is, “How did you know what you wanted to do with your life? And even if you do figure that out, how do you figure out how to get there from here?”
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I’m still figuring this question out in my own life! But I’ll tell you about some experiences I’ve had and what I’ve learned about finding the path that the Lord has for us in our lives.
As a young child and teenager, I found that I had two great loves in life: math and German. The love of the German language undoubtably came from the time I had lived there as a child. Living in another country during the formative years of my language development ingrained a part of my soul with a culture and language that will be forever a part of who I am. The love of math probably came from my grandfather. He had been a math teacher and eventually became the superintendent of what was then the largest school district in Utah. He taught me about the importance of both numbers and letters, both algebra and the written word, and he taught me how to teach students by helping them discover truth for themselves.
Like Nephi, I was raised by goodly parents. My parents taught me the gospel, instilled in me a love of education and put into my soul the strong conviction that I could do and be anything I wanted. For the most part, I loved school. I was nurtured as I learned, and I often excelled. I found myself a young college graduate at age 22 with a math degree and a German minor, wondering how to find the next step in my own life’s journey.
The other part of the story is that, in addition to being a lover of science, math and German, I am a woman. And somehow, the love that the Lord had put into my soul for these “secular” subjects just didn’t seem to fit in with the fact that I was actively planning to become a mother and stay home to raise my children. I want to pause here to say that just because the path I’m about to describe was right for me, doesn’t mean it would be the right direction for everyone. This was a very individual decision, and each of us is going to find our own way forward as we balance family life with a career. In my case, I got married during the final semester of my bachelor’s degree. I planned to work for a few years to put my husband, Pieter, though school, and then stay home with my children once they were born. My college professors frankly didn’t understand my determination to “settle” for “just” being a mom. They thought I was selling myself short and told me that if I chose to, I could do anything I wanted to. I was torn. I agreed with them that I had the ability – and education – to allow me to reach for the stars! And to be honest, I was sad that I was not going to be able to pursue a full-time career. But I also knew that Pieter and I had talked, prayed and sought personal revelation on the matter. And it was clear that the Lord wanted me to plan to be home with my children.
This brings me to a one of the biggest questions of this life: what do you do when you have no idea what to do? And what do you do when the things you think you know don’t fit in with the bigger picture you see in your head? I have to admit, I’m a person who likes firm, clear answers. I like the predictability of math. There are clear rules and principles. If you follow them, things always “work out.” Step 1 leads to step 2, and then to step 3. I always know where I’m going with math. When I look at a problem, I can usually see the end from the beginning. I follow the steps I know well, and then I find the answer. But, as I graduated and got married, I was facing some big questions that don’t have one clear answer. Finding step 1 was really hard. And even after that, I was really unsure what was going to come next.
Alma 34: 20-21, 24-27 say:
20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields , yea, over all your flocks.
21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
Some of you have lived with flocks and fields as a normal part of your life. I grew up in cities that did not typically allow for this experience. However, I understand these words to mean that we should pray over our life circumstances, careers and even financial matters. So, Pieter and I prayed, studied the question out in our minds and prayed some more. And we wondered how to really hear the word of the Lord and how to determine what our next steps should be.
One of the best examples in modern times of praying to find a solution to a complicated problem is the prophet Joseph Smith. He was surrounded, in his own words, by a “war of words and tumult of opinions,” and asked himself, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith History 1:10) And then he said that he found the following verse in James:
… If any of you lack wisdom , let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).
Joseph said that this scripture hit his heart like no scripture ever had before and remarked that:
If any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know” (Joseph Smith History 1:12).
This language speaks deeply to my soul. I often find his words echoing in my own heart and head. I frequently feel that if any person needs wisdom from God, that it’s me, and that without some help, or without more wisdom than I currently possess, I will never know what to do.
In April of 2008, Elder David A. Bednar spoke of this scripture in James and how it guided one specific aspect of Joseph’s prayer. Elder Bednar said:
Please notice the requirement to ask in faith, which I understand to mean the necessity to not only express but to do, the dual obligation to both plead and to perform, the requirement to communicate and to act (Act in Faith, David A. Bednar, April 2008).
Elder Bednar continues to explain that faith is not a static requirement of being, but rather a principle of action that leads to power. Quoting Joseph Smith, Elder Bednar says:
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join” ( Joseph Smith—History 1:10, 18 ).
Joseph’s questions focused not just on what he needed to know but also on what was to be done! His prayer was not simply, “Which church is right?” His question was, “Which church should I join?” Joseph went to the grove to ask in faith, and he was determined to act.
True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to righteous action.
Elder Bednar continues:
“…faith in Christ leads to righteous action, which increases our spiritual capacity and power. Understanding that faith is a principle of action and of power inspires us to exercise our moral agency in compliance with gospel truth, invites the redeeming and strengthening powers of the Savior’s Atonement into our lives, and enlarges the power within us whereby we are agents unto ourselves (see D&C 58:28 ).”
“I long have been impressed with the truth that meaningful prayer requires both holy communication and consecrated work. Blessings require some effort on our part before we can obtain them, and prayer, as “a form of work, … is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer,” 753). We press forward and persevere in the consecrated work of prayer after we say “amen” by acting upon the things we have expressed to Heavenly Father.
Pieter and I had not yet heard Elder Bednar’s talk, but this describes what we tried to do. We did our best to listen as we prayed, and then we received power in our lives as we followed the direction that we received. That doesn’t mean everything was easy. But praying in faith, and then acting on the light we had been given, brought things together for our good. In this process, I learned from the example of my husband to be more comfortable and trust the Lord, even when I couldn’t see the full path in front of me. Pieter finished his schooling, and right at the same time, our first child was born. We eventually welcomed three more children into this world, and I found a joy that I’d never imagined in being their mother. I can say now that if I could spend eternity doing just one thing, it would be having and raising children. Being a parent is without question the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. But it is also the most amazing and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I fell in love, again and again, with each of my children. I lost myself, and then found myself in this role. Being a mother changed me profoundly. It did not, however, relieve me of my own responsibility to find my talents and act on them. There was more that the Lord wanted me to do.
In Matthew 25, we read the parable of the talents:
14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
When the day of reckoning came, the lord of the story rejoiced over the first two servants who had expanded upon that which had he given them. He said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” But he was upset with the third servant who had hidden that which he had been given, and not built upon it. The Lord had intended him to use the talent and to receive the blessings of seeking to grow this talent.
In my life, I knew that I had a talent to understand and communicate about mathematics. I had experienced enough time in the classroom to know that this was a part of who the Lord had meant me to be. And so, even as I worked to raise my children full-time, I felt the stirrings of math and teaching in my soul. I wondered if, or when, the time might come that I could use my degree in some way. As opportunities arose to use my educational background, I did. I worked part time as a teacher and as a math tutor. And when an opportunity arose to seek a master’s degree, I excitedly signed up. It’s interesting as I look back now that these opportunities seem to have been laid out almost like stepping stones, sequentially leading me to the place I am now. It didn’t feel like it at the time. I was never quite sure of my steps. It felt very much like the metaphor we often use to talk about faith: like I was taking one step into the darkness at a time, then waiting for a bit more light, and then taking another step, all the while trying to balance my steps with my own personal needs and desires, as well as the needs of my family.
Fast forwarding about 18 years, I found myself once again not sure what direction to step. My oldest was preparing for a mission. I had been working as a math teacher a few evenings a week at the local college for several years. I loved this work, but it also wasn’t quite providing enough for us to make ends meet and also pay for a mission. We had looked to all of the avenues we knew and nothing was working out.
And then, I received a call about a possible class at LDS Business College. And the next day, I stepped into the elevator on this campus, feeling less sure of myself than ever before. It was two days before the semester began, and I was about to take on a whole new class at an entirely new college. Was I out of my mind to even consider this? I had three younger children in school, a very busy afternoon and evening schedule, driving them to music lessons and soccer practice, and was incredibly busy with my oldest as he prepared for his mission. I felt like I was standing at the intersection of two crucial parts of my life: my deep love of teaching math and my eternal role as a mother.
As I pushed the elevator button, I looked up, and I saw one of those signs we have, with quotes from the weekly devotional. It was from our former college president, President Richards, and it wasn’t even a current quote. It was about a year old. There was no specific reason that this particular quote should have been there that week, other than for me to read on this day. I took this picture of it so that I would remember the quote. It said, “Your gifts and talents were given to you by a loving Father in Heaven before you stepped foot on this earth. He is giving you responsibilities to build those talents and gifts into strengths, that you may carry off the kingdom triumphantly.” Like Joseph Smith, I felt this quote pierce my soul. I was here on this errand, at this crazy time in my life, because the Lord was giving me a chance to build and refine the talents He had given me. I let that thought settle, and I felt the confirmation in my heart of what my mind knew: the Lord knew me and knew the talents I had better than I did because He had blessed me with them. And right now, he now intended me to use them here at this college, to further develop myself as His daughter, and to bless the lives of others.
Going forward from this time, I’ve found that the Lord had more in store for me here at LDS Business College/Ensign College than being a part-time teacher. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to help in so many other ways, including eventually becoming the steward over the Math Department, and also coordinating with other areas of the GE department as the General Education Department Chair. For each of these roles, I’ve looked to the Lord for guidance as I’ve taken each step, making sure that this direction and this path is the one He means for me to take at this time. In this case, these steps have led into a career that has taken me in many fun and exciting directions! It has felt very much like what Elder Bednar has called a tender mercy, to follow the opportunities that the Lord has given me, and to grow into who I truly am. It speaks deeply to me of how well he knows me, what brings me joy and what I am truly capable of.
In other cases, developing the talents the Lord has given us will lead us to other paths of service. My father-in-law never had the opportunity to receive a formal college education. His talents in helping others led him to a career that wasn’t glamorous but that allowed him to meet people from all over the valley and the world. I asked him once what he would have done if he had had the opportunity to seek a formal college education when he was younger. He said that he wouldn’t have known this at the time, but that looking back, he wished he could have become a counsellor. And then, several years later, he was given the opportunity to serve in this way through a calling to minister to those who were in the Salt Lake County Jail. He spent several years counseling and teaching these people who were at a particularly difficult and vulnerable juncture of their lives. He helped them find courage and a way forward as they tried to figure out how to make a better path for their own lives. We never know where the talents the Lord has given us will lead us. But if we pray and walk forward in faith, we can be assured that He will give us a way to use them to bring joy to our lives and to bless others in His kingdom.
After that long story about my life, I will tell you what I have learned. Life is more like math than I thought. There are clear rules and principles. Study it out in your mind, pray and then walk forward in faith. Look to others around you for support. Help other people as you walk. If you follow these rules, things always “work out.” Step 1 leads to step 2, and then step 3. Unlike math, you usually can’t see the end from the beginning. But, I realize now, I can really only do that with math problems I know well. And in life, we’re rarely given difficult experiences that we already know well. But the fact is, we can come to know the steps of prayer, revelation and acting in faith. And if we follow these steps that we do know well and look to the Lord, He will always leads us to the correct path for us.
The second thing I’ve come to know for sure is this: the Lord has blessed each of us with talents. This is the case whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you grew up in the United States or in Africa, and whether it appears to us that our life circumstances will lead us in a direction where we can use these talents or not. He expects us to look for these talents, ask Him for more light and knowledge when needed and look to him to find ways to grow and develop that which we’ve been given. 1 Nephi 3:7 states, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” This applies to finding and developing our talents as well as to direct, specific commandments. Because the Lord expects us to develop and grow according to that which we’ve been given, He will help us find ways to accomplish this.
Finally, I am learning that finding the path that the Lord has for each of us is a constant work in progress. I’m still working on figuring out some parts of the path that the Lord has for me. Some things can be seen clearly as I look back, while other areas of my own path are still unclear. I mentioned at the beginning of my talk that math was one of two great loves of my early life. But what about my love of German? Where did the Lord give me an opportunity in my life to develop and use this? Well, I’m still figuring that out! I know that my life has been enriched as I’ve incorporated parts of German culture and language into my life and the lives of my children. My oldest child was called on a mission to the Alpine German Speaking mission, which covers the area that I lived in and loved as a child. I had the profound blessing of watching him learn to love this culture and people just like I did. We were deeply blessed to meet many of these people when his mission ended and we went to pick him up. And during this trip and after, I felt the Spirit whisper to me that this was his time and mine would come. I’m not yet sure when or how that will happen. But I’m trying to learn the steps now of walking in faith and trusting the Lord. I might be on step 3 or 4 of this part of my path, and I can’t yet see the end. But I hope that the Lord will allow me to find a way to broaden and develop this talent that He has given me when the time comes.
Thank you for letting me speak to you today. I look forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for each of us as we pray, act in faith and find and develop our talents through the help of the Lord. I testify of this, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.