About 8 years ago, I was wading through the prospectus-writing process of my dissertation, a process considerably more painful than writing the dissertation itself. It seemed that my chair and readers were never satisfied with any aspect of the study I was proposing.

In particular, I ran into problems as I tried to define gender in a way that was acceptable to one of my readers and in a way that was acceptable to the 150 Mormon women whose writing I was studying. (For what it’s worth, I define gender as beginning with something we have because I believe in a creation, but I also believe that it’s something we do, that we create, through repetition, through performance, through culture, by constantly respeaking ourselves in subject positions.) At one point, my dissertation reader refused to pass my prospectus because my definition of gender began with a fixed notion.

I was devastated and didn’t know what to do. I turned to my husband to talk things out, then to my academic Mormon friends and to my past professors at BYU to see how they had negotiated similar situations. But I couldn’t find any solutions or answers.

In desperation one afternoon, I locked myself in my closet, away from the 3 year old and 1 year old, cleared a spot free of shoes and dirty clothes, and knelt down. I told my Father about my problem, I told Him I didn’t know what to do, but that I was sure that He could somehow help. I turned over my problem—defining gender!—to Him.

This is one example of how the process of getting an education (a formal education, in this example, but an informal education in many others) has strengthened my relationship with God. In many ways, this has been one of the best consequences of my formal schooling. I’ve been thinking about this blessing this week as my Winter semester online teaching for BYU-Idaho is wrapping up. Next Tuesday is the last day of class. In my class this semester, I have 4 students over 60, 2 students who are young mothers, and 1 student who is returning to school now that her kids are in high school and college. Going back to school has not been easy for any of these students.

I have tried to be a cheerleader for them, posting uplifting quotes in my “Notes from Sister Pavia,” and letting them know that I am praying for them. This week I found this beautiful promise that Elder Henry B. Eyring made in his devotional address at BYU-Idaho on 18 September 2001. Although it was directed to graduates of BYU-Idaho, I do think it has applicability to all out there who are involved in the process of getting an education. Elder Eyring said, “I make a prophesy . . . . Those graduates of BYU-Idaho will become—and this is a prophesy that I am prepared to make and make solemnly—those graduates of BYU-Idaho will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve. . . . I further bless you that you may have the capacity to influence others. I bless you that you will be a lifter, a teacher, and leader. I so bless you in your families, in the Church, and in wherever place you may go to serve.”

As for my experience turning gender definitions over to the Lord, it turns out He could and did help. Soon after my closet prayer, my dissertation reader sent me some citations for some feminist theorists and theories that she had come upon and that she believed would help me negotiate the tricky line I was trying to walk.

So to anyone out there involved in trying to learn new things, I want to testify that this process is blessed by the Lord. He will help you as you do your best.

Do you have a testimony of education? How have you grown closer to the Lord through study?
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  1. Andrea R.

    April 4, 2014

    Some of the most spiritual experiences I have had have been I was learning and studying microbiology. My mind was opened, pathways were cleared, and I gained understanding I never would have without prayer and without the guidance of the Spirit. Many times before I began class, I prayed that I would be able to help my students understand and that their minds would be opened — not unlike prayers I have been given before teaching a lesson at church or giving a talk. Quite often, I would open my mouth in a microbiology lecture, and answers and explanations would come out that I hadn’t planned or prepared. I know it was the Spirit helping me to teach. I will soon be embarking on a PhD program, and I’m grateful for the tools I have gained in my educational life for study and critical thinking, but I will also be relying on the Spirit as well.

  2. Jessie

    April 4, 2014

    I have also felt some of the clearest promptings and guidance in my life when it comes to aspects of my education and my career (which is intertwined with my education). Growing up, my parents emphasized learning and education and I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge. My patriarchal blessing also notes that this is a spiritual gift and I have definitely felt the Spirit when it comes to education. I know I would not have made it through my master’s program, and especially writing my thesis, without strength and guidance from God.

  3. Rosalyn

    April 4, 2014

    Catherine, I love this–in part because I feel privileged to have seen you go through so much of this journey. (How long ago was it that I met you? 11 years? And you were pregnant with your oldest . . . ) But yes, I think there’s a lot of truth to the idea that “the glory of God is intelligence”–and I’ve felt that as I’ve studied and tried to write about the things I learn. I still have a long way to go, however. Someday I’d like to be as mindful about all of this as you are.

  4. Giggles

    April 5, 2014

    My three degrees are all in education, not exactly a money making field. But I’ve never been in it for the money. I’m constantly amazed at all the opportunities I have, all the differences large and small that I can make, because of my degrees. None of them involving monetary compensation. Getting my education has opened my mind to so many other opportunities to learn in life and I am grateful for the commandment to get learning, even by study and also by faith.

  5. Catherine

    April 7, 2014

    Andrea, Jessie, Rosalyn, and Giggles, thank you for sharing your own experiences and testimonies!

    Rosalyn, yes, it’s been 11 years! I’m so glad I attended that 4Cs in NYC and met you for the first time! I remember that you were one of the ones I reached out to and who gave me help when I went through this experience . . .

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