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Devotionals

Kathy Skeen

A Teacher Who Knows Us

Thank you so much, ladies, for that beautiful music. I love the hymns, and I love this school. Just seeing all of you as you came in today makes me emotional. So many great feelings come to me from my association with each one of you, and I so appreciate that. I also appreciate David’s talk beforehand. I think maybe the Lord has something for you today, that the two of us are on the same wavelength here, and I wish David could just give my talk.

How much would you be willing to pay for a teacher who would be willing to ensure that you had all the correct answers? No need for a tutor anymore; no need for you to do your own work? You would just get all the answers. How often do we stop to realize that we really do have that Teacher in our lives? How often do we use Him? If we do consult with Him in our challenges, our questions, and our relationships, how often do we do what He asks us to do?

I’ve met with hundreds of students over almost twenty years here at the College who are struggling with who they are, what they can accomplish, and how to get there. And what I have found as I have worked with many of you is that it isn’t so much what you aren’t capable of as it is knowing that you personally, individually, are loved by your Heavenly Father and your Savior Jesus Christ, that They do want to hear from you, and that They want you to put your trust in Them and follow Them because They want you to be happy—happy in accomplishing what you came here to learn in order to go out there and become like Them.

I’m reminded of President Russell M. Nelson’s devotional addressed earlier this month to you, where he counseled each of you as Millennials—you have a blessing and a responsibility to be courageous in standing for truth and righteousness in a world so in need. He emphasized the importance of prayer in your lives so that you can be ready for all that is expected of you, the Savior’s disciples. When you go to Him with a humble heart, with real intent, on understanding your purpose here, and with a sincere desire to do exactly what He tells you, and then follow what you are told, He is bound by His promises to you.[1]

In this past General Conference, we were taught from some of the Brethren and sisters to first, ask, then listen, and yield to the Lord’s promptings for us. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said,

Why would anyone walk through life satisfied with the light from the candle of their own understanding when, by reaching out to our Heavenly Father, they could experience the bright sun of spiritual knowledge that would expand their minds with wisdom and fill their souls with joy?[2]

Man is that he might have joy,[3] brothers and sisters. Not when you graduate, or serve a mission, or find your dream job. Not when you meet the right person and get married, or even have children. Not even when you are reunited with Him. Man is that he might have joy now—right now, while you are in the midst of learning and studying.

Some may say that I am thinking this way because I love learning and always have, but why do I love it? Not because the Lord sent Kathy Skeen here with this great intellect. Certainly not. But you know what I have discovered in my short time here on earth? I’ve found that He has blessed each of us with the opportunity and gift of learning. It’s up to us to take advantage of it—not through our own understanding, as President Uchtdorf stated, but by reaching out to our Heavenly Father as we begin each day and all through the day, that we may learn what He would have us learn.[4]

Allow me to share a personal example, and I apologize in advance to those of you who have heard this story before. I hated math from the time I was in first grade and couldn’t make sense of taking a one from the tens column and making it a ten in the ones column. That just didn’t make sense to my six-year-old mind. Things didn’t get any better as I progressed through school. My parents encouraged me to memorize my times tables and helped me with long division. But then x and y came into the picture. How could x and y symbolize numbers? My poor high school math teacher spent hours trying to help me understand logarithms and matrices, and I think he finally just passed me because he felt sorry for me.

It wasn’t until after returning to college later in life that the desire to understand math returned. I noticed my own children, including my son here, doing calculus in front of the TV and getting "A" grades, and I thought to myself, “They are my own flesh and blood. If they can do it, I can.” So after spending three to five hours a day six days a week studying, to the point of dreaming about math, I walked out of my college algebra final and a vision was opened to me.

As I drove down the street, for the first time in my life I could see math in the world. It was in the power lines, the layout of sidewalks and roads. It was in the architecture of buildings. And I realized that the world truly is made of math. It was a beautiful and inspiring gift from God, just for me for that one day. And that vision disappeared but the experience has not because little insignificant Kathy Skeen learned something that day that I will never forget about how the Lord works. If I pray for help and put forth the effort, the Lord will make up for what I am not capable of.

I have to clarify that this doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want to do. For example, I could work for years on becoming an opera star, because I love to sing. But I will never be an opera star. What it does mean is that if it’s the Lord’s will and we are following what He wants to do, He will guide and assist us. When we yield ourselves to Him with a sincere desire for guidance, we find that we are not as limited as we think we are. We limit ourselves when we don’t put our trust in Him. As we yield ourselves, we find that when we give our lives over to Him and then follow Him, we can progress and even surprise ourselves at what we can accomplish and become.

Now, my challenges aren’t necessarily the same as yours. You may have challenges that are outside of your control or challenges that may have come as a result of your choices. The challenge itself is irrelevant; it is what we do with our challenges that matters. I want to repeat that—the challenge itself is irrelevant; it is what we do with our challenges that matters.

Along with gifts, we have been blessed with weaknesses so that if we will go to Him in humility and faith, then He can make those weak things strong.[5] Rather than ignore, be ashamed of, or try to hide these weaknesses, pray for help in understanding what you are to learn from them, or assistance in overcoming them, or how to live with them, if that is His will. The Lord will comfort and guide you, and you will ultimately discover and be grateful for the insights and strengths that come from working through them with His help.

Sister Neill F. Marriott stated in the last conference,

Some may think they have failed too many times and feel too weak to change sinful acts or worldly desires of the heart. However, as covenant Israel, we don’t just try and try on our own to change. If we earnestly appeal to God, He takes us as we are—and makes us more than we ever imagined. Noted theologian Robert L. Millett writes of “a healthy longing to improve,” balanced with the spiritual “assurance that in and through Jesus Christ we are going to make it.” With such an understanding, we can honestly say to Heavenly Father:

 “So trusting my all to thy tender care,

And knowing thou lovest me,

I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere:

 I’ll be what you want me to be.”[6]

 

President Uchtdorf goes on to say that when we talk of faith, we sometimes hear, “I wish I could believe the way you do.”[7] I’ve heard that in my office before, brothers and sisters. But he reminds us that faith is not a gift that only some are blessed with, as Satan would have us believe. Rather, wanting to believe is the first step. If you want to believe, He will help you to understand and have faith.

President Uchtdorf reminds us that God is no respecter of persons. God is our Father. He wants to talk to us. He cannot be heard if we are not listening. President Uchtdorf emphasizes that it requires a little humility, and an open heart and mind, and it requires speaking and—perhaps most difficult—patient waiting on the Lord and His timing. I love President Uchtdorf’s analogy that if we make no effort to believe that He will talk to us, we are “like the man who unplugs a spotlight and then blames the spotlight for not giving any light.”[8] Remember Laman and Lemuel? We are amazed at their lack of understanding, but I wonder if they are included in the scriptures partially to remind us of ourselves at times.

I have also learned through the years that many of our questions, challenges, and trials can be resolved or at least lessened through our attendance at devotionals, the temple, our other meetings, and by studying the scriptures daily. Some students have missed devotionals, the temple, or scripture study because they were too busy with homework, without realizing that by making the solution-finding places a priority, they could enhance the completion and quality of their homework.

I have been continually amazed at the answers that came for students from all of these holy places of learning. It has been a testimony to me that Heavenly Father is mindful of each one of you and your individual needs.

This past Christmas season, I have been involved in doing more without reflecting, listening, and learning more from the Lord. Luckily, I read Elder Christofferson’s message entitled “Be at Peace” and was prompted to follow his suggestion. He said,

I hope you will take time this Christmas season to sit for a few quiet moments and let the Savior’s Spirit warm you and reassure you of the worthiness of your service, of your offering, of your life. Sit quietly with that little baby and come away spiritually strengthened and better prepared for all that is going to come later. Let that moment be one of rest and refreshing and reassurance and renewal.[9]

It took a couple of weeks of trying to find time because I was so busy. In fact, I was awakened early one morning with a quiet reminder of my desires, so I snuggled under the quilt and thought about that tiny baby born over 2,000 years ago who changed everything for you and me with His life, His death, and His resurrection, His Atonement. I felt His love for me and His kind chastisements in personal areas of need. He gave me insight and desire to become more like Him, to live as He would have me live, and to become who He would have me become.

It really is true that when we sincerely want to follow His will for us, we find that He can make so much more of us than we can ever imagine for ourselves. He has told us that He chastises those whom He loves. Why? Because He wants us to be all that we can be and because He knows what we need to change in order to be that way. I have come to look forward to and love moments of chastisement from Him. I feel His love and His encouragement at those times, and I know that He is directing me in my progress if I choose to follow Him.

I’m definitely not saying it’s easy. As you all know, change is difficult. Will you take just a moment now to think back to the last time that you really tried to make a change in your life? Think about the challenges and the rewards, both. Maybe write down a few thoughts right now, or at least take some mental notes from this exercise, including something you’ve learned about how you could more easily change in the future.

How did you feel as you worked through this change? Whom did you enlist to assist you? What was the result? I’ll give you just a minute to think about that.

The great part about failing in our attempts to change is that we can repent and start fresh, relying more on our Savior than we did before, maybe even enlisting the help of others in our attempts to change, including acting on the promptings of the Holy Ghost, good friends who love you, and family members.

Elder Larry Lawrence said, in the last October conference,

The journey of discipleship is not an easy one. It has been called a “course of steady improvement.” As we travel along that strait and narrow path, the Spirit continually challenges us to be better and to climb higher. The Holy Ghost makes an ideal travel companion.

Doesn’t He? Have you all felt that?

If we are humble and teachable, He will take us by the hand and lead us home.

 However, we need to ask the Lord for directions along the way. We have to ask some difficult questions, like “What do I need to change?” “How can I improve?” “What weakness needs strengthening?”[10]

Sister Marriott stated,

When we open ourselves to the Spirit, we learn God’s way and feel His will.  During the sacrament, which I call the heart of the Sabbath, I have found that after I pray for forgiveness of sins, it is instructive for me to ask Heavenly Father, “Father, is there more?” When we are yielded and still, our minds can be directed to something more we need to change—something that is limiting our capacity to receive spiritual guidance or even healing and help.[11]

Some of that guidance may also include understanding what gifts you have been given and how to develop and use them. This is an important time to be considering what kind of career you should seek, based on your personal gifts and talents. Through the years, I’ve talked with students who have struggled because they wanted a career that would bring more money, or more free time, or make them into someone whom they aren’t. The world would have us think that pleasure and money are the way to happiness, that focus on ourselves brings satisfaction. As you consider a career, choose wise mentors who have found true satisfaction in giving of themselves rather than getting.

I had an experience with that myself when I decided to be an elementary teacher so that I could have the same schedule as my children. That was my purpose. This wasn’t a worldly plan, but I hadn’t consulted with the Lord and was thinking more about what I perceived were my needs. I’d not considered that the Lord might really have a plan for me with regard to a career that would fit my own gifts and talents.

And so I worked on completing my teaching degree, and I enjoyed it and learned things that would help me be a better mom and teacher, and I made good friends along the way. I didn’t even realize that it may not be the best course until one afternoon while teaching a unit on Rome to my sixth grade class. I thought how much I wanted to bring gospel principles into what they were learning. I remember looking out the window with that thought in mind. It was more of a desire than a prayer, but the Lord heard, and now you know the rest of the story.

It’s not been easy, but I learned from a section in my own patriarchal blessing that by the sweat of my brow would I earn my bread, and I plan to continue sweating until the Lord tells me it’s enough. Honestly, I doubt that day will ever come because of what we learn and become when we sweat.

The Lord has blessed each one of you with gifts and talents to be developed and used to contribute to society in meaningful and productive ways—ways that will be satisfying to you, an example for your families, and a blessing to your community. And you don’t have to learn that through trial and error. You learn that through asking Him and others whom you know and trust. You learn it through studying your patriarchal blessing, through reflection on what you enjoy doing, and then studying it out—perhaps with the help of career tests and counseling.

The Lord’s way of finding a fitting career takes you—the person He created—and enlightens, enables, and ennobles you as you use your gifts and talents to bless others. One of the gifts Heavenly Father gave me in my career here is a love for each one of you individually, whether I’ve spent years with you or have yet to meet you in this life. He blessed me with the insight to see a little of your potential and your purpose here, and I’m so grateful for that gift.

I pray as I prepare to leave you that you will have a desire to see yourselves as He would have you see yourself, that you may fulfill your mission here on earth and become closer to becoming whom He would have you become. I pray that you may love to learn and realize what a blessing it is that you have been given this gift of learning, that your desires will be to learn out of the best books those things that will help you develop and grow—maybe even something you never wanted to or thought you could learn.

I pray that you will take advantage of this opportunity to learn how to learn the Lord’s way, that your learning will be enhanced and enlightened through His Spirit. I pray that you may love hard work, that you may gain fulfillment through an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. I pray that you will take care of each other, reach out to each other—in class, in the hallway, on the street. You have the ability to bless each other significantly.

I pray that you may seek chastisement from Him, that you may come to better understanding of the Atonement in your life, that you may learn to love as He loves, that you may learn to love yourself more, and that you may learn that through repentance and forgiveness and service to your fellow man, change will come easier to you as you practice it often.

I pray that your thoughts may be filled with virtue, that your confidence may wax strong in His sight, and that you may be a light to the world. I pray that you will have a desire to read His word every day, to gain insights and understanding of Him and His ways. I pray that you will make attending devotionals and the temple a priority, that you may gain insights directed toward you specifically at this time in life.

We have a Teacher who knows and loves us better than we can possibly comprehend or love ourselves. If we reach out to Him with a sincere heart, with real intent, ready to listen, learn, and follow Him, I promise you He will answer you. He will sustain and comfort and guide. He will chastise and forgive and forget.

I pray that you may enjoy the experience of studying and pondering on the life and teachings of our Savior and Redeemer in your personal behalf, that you may find answers in your desires to become what you may become and can become, that you may feel of the peace only He can give this year and always. I pray that you may come to know yourself as you learn more of Him.

I love you, brothers and sisters. I pray that you may feel that love, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Becoming True Millennials,” Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, Jan. 10, 2016.

[2] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Be Not Afraid, Only Believe,” Oct. 2015 General Conference.

[3] See 2 Nephi 2:25.

[4] Uchtdorf, “Be Not Afraid.”

[5] See Ether12:27.

[6] Neill F. Marriott, “Yielding Our Hearts to God,” Oct. 2015 General Conference.

[7] Uchtdorf, “Be Not Afraid.”

[8] Uchtdorf, “Be Not Afraid.”

[9] Todd D. Christofferson, “Be At Peace,” Liahona or Ensign, Dec. 2015.

[10] Larry R. Lawrence, “What Lack I Yet?” Oct. 2015 General Conference.

[11] Marriott, “Yielding Our Hearts to God,” emphasis in the original.

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