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Learning in the Yoke of Christ

Gail Singley
February 06, 2024 11:15 AM

"This concept of joining ourselves to Christ transforms the nature of experiential learning in the light of the gospel. It's more than just understanding scriptures and doctrines; it's about forging a transformative relationship with Christ that allows his teachings to enlighten your perspective in any trial or challenge in your life. This relationship becomes the lens through which we interpret our experiences, the framework within which we grow, and the source of our strength and guidance."
I want to thank the choir so much for that beautiful song. I think it always sets the tone for devotional when the choir get to sing live. I want to thank you Jace for your opening prayer and Mariel. You are so tender to my heart. I want to thank you for your testimony.

Good morning. I’m going to first apologize to the teleprompter tear back there. I am going to stray from the notes on the teleprompter.

Welcome esteemed students, colleagues, and friends of Ensign College. I am truly humbled to be with you today.

The first time and only time I ever spoke in a devotional was back in July of 2016, At that point, I don’t think they trusted me to have a whole devotional so I got to split that devotional has recently become a more precious memory to me. I was privileged to share the devotional time with my dear friend, Steve Taylor. Steve, to our sorrow, passed through the veil a few weeks ago, leaving behind a legacy of unwavering dedication and love for the Ensign community. His absence leaves a void that words cannot fill. Steve exemplified what it means to be a capable and trusted disciple of Jesus Christ. His gentle spirit, steadfast faith, and the warmth of his friendship deeply touched our lives. We will forever cherish his memory, holding onto the lessons he imparted through his compassionate service and the quiet strength of his character. As we continue our journey, let us honor Steve's memory and embody the values he lived through – kindness, integrity, and an enduring commitment to our college community and shared mission of helping develop each other to become more capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ. His influence on our institution will be profoundly missed, but the impact of his life will continue to inspire and guide us.

As I look out at each of you gathered here today, I am deeply inspired by your resolute commitment and dedication to your spiritual growth and educational endeavors. Your journey here is not just one of academic achievements but also a profound spiritual quest. I commend you for embarking on this noble path by embracing attendance to devotional as a key to magnifying your learning ability in the classroom.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to my husband, Ron, who is with me on the stand today. When they said in opening in my bio, they said that my kids filled out missionary cards. It was because Ron invited us to the Mesa temple. We had been dating for several years and unbeknownst to me, he had invited us to the temple grounds to actually break it off with me and tell me that we shouldn’t continue to keep dating because he had no desire to remarry. But my children who had filled out the missionary cards had thwarted that game plan because he thought that wouldn’t be a good time to break up. He is the light that led me and my children to the gospel of Jesus Christ and guided us to membership in the Church. Also, I want to thank Sister Gayle Randall, a dedicated missionary here at Ensign College, who brought to my attention a remarkable scholarly article titled - "An Experiential Pathway to Conversion: Learning in the Yoke of Christ" by Robert K. Christensen, et al, published on the BYU Studies Website. [i] A thank you to Mike Ray, our Director of Career and Internship Services, who shared this article with Sister Randall when he invited his entire team to read it. Since that time, it has been a source of reflection for me.

Today, I am eager to share some of its concepts that beautifully intertwine the processes of learning, personal growth, and our relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ. As someone who was baptized at 39 years of age, and has recently walked the path of higher education by obtaining my bachelor’s degree in 2021 and master’s degree in 2023, continued learning in both academic and spiritual realms resonates with me. Although I have always considered myself a lifelong learner, my service at Ensign College has bolstered my efforts to become a better disciple of Christ. Heaven is in the details of our lives and led me to this institution 8 years ago, providing an opportunity where my talents, skills, and efforts would be magnified for their highest and best use.

In the short time we will share together, I invite you to explore with me how our educational pursuits and our spiritual paths are connected. How, through our studies and experiences at Ensign College, we can draw closer to our Savior and undergo a transformative process that shapes not just our minds but also our hearts and spirits.

This journey of discovery highlights how our learning experiences are not mere steppingstones to a career, but integral to our eternal progression and relationship with Jesus Christ.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “This life is not lineal; it is experiential. It is not really chronological, though we use clocks and calendars and wristwatches. It is essentially experiential.” [ii]

Building on our understanding of experiential learning, a concept you are learning in many of your classrooms, let's examine the life of Joseph Smith as a profound model of this concept, which led to his significant spiritual insights and contributions. Despite having a limited formal education, Joseph Smith's life journey demonstrates the immense impact one can have through experiential learning, particularly in a spiritual context.

Joseph Smith's experiences vividly illustrate how experiential learning transcends traditional educational methods. His life was not a series of classroom lectures but a dynamic journey of direct encounters, trials, and divine communications. These experiences shaped him into a remarkable leader and prophet.

Consider the winter of 1838–39, a pivotal moment in Joseph Smith's life. In the depths of Liberty Jail, under extremely harsh conditions, he cried out in anguish to God, questioning the suffering and injustices he and his people were enduring. [iii] This heartfelt plea reflects a crucial aspect of experiential learning — confronting and questioning one’s reality. It's about engaging with the full spectrum of life's experiences, including moments of deep despair, and questioning.

The Lord's response to Joseph's plea is particularly enlightening, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 122:7:

“Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

This response underscores a key principle of experiential learning theory or, as I will refer to it from this point on, ELT, which theorizes that learning is not merely about the acquisition of information but about personal transformation and growth. The Lord didn’t just offer Joseph Smith an escape or immediate solution; instead, He provided a perspective that transformed Joseph’s understanding and approach to his trials.

ELT asserts that we learn best through experiences that challenge us. These experiences are not just about enduring or surviving; they are about growing, learning, and becoming more than we were before.

It is in these moments of trial and reflection that we often gain our most profound insights and undergo the most significant transformations.

Think about it: as we face challenges, embrace new opportunities, and navigate life's twists and turns, we grow and develop. Experiential learning means renegotiating what we can do and who we are based on our experiences. It's about learning that we are capable of more than we ever thought possible.

In a spiritual context, this kind of experiential learning aligns perfectly with our pursuit of becoming more like Christ. As stated in 2 Corinthians 5:17, becoming a new creature in Christ involves more than just acquiring knowledge of scriptures or doctrine. It's about a transformation of our hearts and minds, a process that often happens most effectively through the experiences we go through.

Joseph Smith’s life exemplifies this transformation through experience. His experiential learning journey — filled with revelations, trials, and profound spiritual encounters — enabled him to make a monumental impact in restoring the gospel and establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As students and members of the LDS faith, Joseph Smith's journey offers us a powerful model. It shows us that our educational and spiritual growth is not confined to textbooks and lectures alone. It happens in the fields of our lives, in the challenges we face, in the prayers we offer, and in the personal revelations we seek and receive. In embracing this model of learning, we open ourselves to profound personal growth and conversion in Christ.

In secular education, the learner often stands at the center of their own educational universe. However, in the context of our faith, we are encouraged to shift this perspective dramatically. We are invited to place Christ at the very heart of our experiential learning journey. This is not just a subtle shift; it's a complete reorientation of how we approach learning and life. Your dedication to attending devotional today is an outward expression that you are already on this path.

Think about the metaphor of a yoke. As you know, a yoke joins two animals, like oxen or draft horses, to work together, enabling them to increase their load. When we talk about yoking ourselves to Christ, we are speaking of a partnership where we align ourselves with Him, allowing His strength, guidance, and wisdom to influence and direct our journey. Matthew 11:29–30 states,

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

These verses in Matthew 11 are my personal conversion scriptures. These are the very scriptures that turned my intentions, efforts, and life towards getting to know my Savior, his Father and the principles of the gospel. It was the gateway scripture to the covenants I have made since discovering those precious words, “and I will give you rest”. I knew the feeling of being heavy-laden and longed for “rest.” I have come to a personal knowledge that truth is reflected in this scripture as it applies to the experiences in my life since embracing it.

This concept of joining ourselves to Christ transforms the nature of experiential learning in the light of the gospel. It's more than just understanding scriptures and doctrines; it's about forging a transformative relationship with Christ that allows his teachings to enlighten your perspective in any trial or challenge in your life. This relationship becomes the lens through which we interpret our experiences, the framework within which we grow, and the source of our strength and guidance.

Linking ourselves to Christ means that in our educational pursuits, our personal challenges, and our professional aspirations, we invite Him to be an integral part of these experiences. We seek His guidance, we lean on His understanding, and we trust in His direction. This approach brings depth and richness to our learning beyond mere intellectual understanding. It becomes a journey of the heart and spirit, leading to true conversion.

The hymn we sang together, “I Stand All Amazed,” helped us set the scene for our time together with a sense of wonder at Christ's love. It can be mirrored in the wonder and awe experienced in the progressive process of learning and personal growth through the lens of Jesus Christ and His teachings. Just as the lyrics invite us to stand amazed at Christ’s sacrifices, as an Ensign community, we have the opportunity to stand amazed at the depth and richness of the learning experiences we encounter here, especially when we are securely coupled with Christ and His teachings.

When Sister Smith spoke in devotional a few weeks ago she shared that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland emphasized the importance of this bond with the divine. [iv] The key to transforming our experiences into conversion is in "bonding" ourselves to God. This bonding is not a passive process. It requires active effort, constant striving, and a willingness to submit our will to God's. It's about seeking personal revelation and spiritual experiences and understanding that education, as vital as it is, is not the prerequisite for receiving divine guidance.

Let's delve deeper into the Experiential Learning Process, especially with Christ at the center.

Our first step is to actively seek and be open to new experiences, stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing both challenges and opportunities. We will benefit from our self-awareness of how we react when adversity comes our way. Will we follow Nephi’s example of problem-solving and craft a new bow or have a hardened heart that complains and murmurs that “it’s not fair.”

Next, our bond with Christ becomes crucial as we reflect on Christ’s teachings. We expand our abilities when we interpret our experiences not in isolation but through a gospel lens. What can we learn exponentially about living a life reflective of His teachings?

Armed with insights from our reflections, we can then make plans and act thoughtfully and prayerfully, applying Christ's teachings to our decisions and moving forward with faith.

Continuous learning that is centered around Christ doesn’t end with action; it's an ongoing cycle. When yoked to Christ, each step, reflection, and decision contributes to our transformation and growth.

It is interesting to consider that even ordinary, everyday experiences profoundly impact our mindset when we are conscientiously tied to Christ. It's often in daily habits, small moments, and seemingly mundane experiences where true transformation occurs.

When we realize that it is the emotion and meaning associated with an experience that makes it extraordinary, not just the activity itself, we can find profound growth by reflecting on and applying Christ's teachings to these moments.

It is also interesting to realize that we can apply experiential learning to nearly everything in our daily lives, whether acts of service, personal scripture study, prayer, or active participation in college programs and activities.

The role of the Holy Ghost in this tapestry of learning, when aligned with Christ, is indispensable. The Holy Ghost enlightens our minds, comforts our hearts, and confirms truths as we navigate our experiences. This divine companion, and personal guide, can prompt us to notice opportunities, offering clarity and peace in challenging situations. We are encouraged to actively seek the companionship of the Holy Ghost and maintain that connection through prayer, scripture study, obedience to commandments, and the commitments you have made as a student or employee of this institution.

As we conclude our time together, let us reflect on experiential learning as a pathway to conversion, especially with Christ at our side and guided by the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Our experiences, whether in the classroom or the broader world, are pivotal to our spiritual growth and development. I urge you to embrace this journey with faith, patience, and an eagerness to learn from Christ. Each experience approached with an open heart and mind to Christ's teachings and the whispering of the Holy Ghost holds the potential for profound learning and growth.

As students at Ensign College, you are uniquely positioned to embrace this Christ-centered approach to learning. You can take advantage of integrating your academic pursuits with your spiritual growth. You have the resources, the environment, and the community to support you in this endeavor. I encourage you to experiment with yoking yourselves to Christ in your studies, in your personal life, and in your future careers.

Remember, when we bind ourselves to Christ, we are not merely attaching ourselves to a passive partner. We are teaming up with the living, loving Son of God, who actively participates in our lives. He lightens our burdens, enhances our understanding, and deepens our capacity to love and serve. This partnership in our learning journey is the most rewarding, enlightening, and life-changing experience we can ever hope to have.

As we navigate our daily lives, this transformational union shapes not just our academic pursuits but our very souls. His light permeates our being, His love guides our actions, and His wisdom illuminates our path.

In my own journey, I have experienced trials, challenges, and frustrations, but there have also been profound changes within my heart and soul that have provided opportunities for joy even in the most difficult situations. The opportunity to transform my perspective through experiences from a Christ-centered perspective has brought me closer to my Savior and provided a deepened understanding of His attributes. I testify that as we engage in experiential learning, yoked with our Savior, and guided by the Holy Ghost, our journey can become one of incredible spiritual transformation and deep, lasting conversion. May each of us continue to seek, learn, and grow in the light of Christ, and may our educational and spiritual endeavors be forever intertwined in this sacred journey of discipleship.

Thank you for being here today and for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. My testimony today is that when we unpack our experiences through the lens of Christ and his teaching, we will find strength and learning opportunities in all things. Especially the trials in our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


[i] An Experiential Pathway to Conversion; Learning in the Yoke of Christ, Robert K. Christensen, Matthew D. Wride, Neil R. Lundberg, BYU Studies Quarterly, 61.3.
[ii] It Thou Endure It Well, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Fireside, December 4, 1984.
[iii] D&C 121:1–2.
[iv] Bound by Loving Ties, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU Devotional, August 16, 2016.

About the Speaker

Gail Singley

Gail Singley, a native of Ventura, CA, transitioned from a foundation in Animal Science at UC Davis in 1982, to earn a Bachelor's degree in Business Management in 2021 and a Master of Science in Business and Leadership in 2023 from Western Governors University.

Since joining Ensign College in 2016, Gail has showcased her versatile skills across various teams, including Student Support, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, and, since January 2021, as the Performance and Talent Development Manager in Human Resources. 

Her journey into the Church began in 1999, inspired by two of her children's experiences after filling out investigator cards at the Mesa Temple during the Christmas season of 1998. Currently a ministering sister, Gail has contributed to various callings in the church from Nursery to Relief Society. 

Married to Ron Singley, they lead a blended family of 10 adult children and 19 grandchildren, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the 20th grandchild this month.
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