Saturday, September 8, 2018

Elder Boyd K. Packer and a Story on Gospel Learning

I was reading Elder Packer’s book Teach Ye Diligently yesterday and I ran across a story that I felt has some important things to say.

“When I was a mission president, my assistants and I occasionally checked apartments. Missionaries sometimes have the tendency not to keep their apartments clean, and so every few months we would stop and make some inspections. (This procedure had an interesting side effect. Through the missionary “grapevine,” word would be passed on, and though we personally inspected only one or two apartments, all were cleaned up!)
In St. Johnsury, Vermont, I was surprised one morning at about ten o’clock to find that when we knocked at a door, expecting to make contact with the landlord, an elder answered. He and his companion should have been out tracting.
            I said, “Where’s your companion?”
            “He’s studying in the bedroom.”
            His companion was reading The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. I had read the book, so I commented on it to him, asking, “How will it help you in missionary work?”
            He replied something to the effect that the more you know, the better you can teach. I asked how many other books he had read. He was sitting on an old, high, four-poster New England bed. He reached down, took hold of the bedspread, and lifted it up so I could see several boxes of books under the bed. He had read them all.
            “Where did you get all these books?” I inquired. He indicated that he had a relative who was in the publishing business and that he automatically received all of the books that came off the press relating to the Church. After some conversation I instructed him to box up all the books and send them home. I also instructed him to write to his relative and tell him to send him no more books. For the rest of his mission he would need only the scriptures and one or two other books we prescribed.
            He vigorously protested, insisting that he was learning the gospel and that the more he read, the more he’d be able to teach. I tried to reason with him and finally, with some impatience, I said, “Elder, if you keep on this course, I’ll tell you what will happen to you. You will come to know about many things relating to the gospel and much of it will be useless to you. You will be the kind of individual who goes to a Sunday School class to disturb the class and irritate the teacher by demonstrating your ‘much knowledge.’
            “You will have more factual knowledge than most of the teachers you will meet in the Church. You will want to correct them in every class. If ever a mistake is made, whether it be by a Sunday School teacher, a bishop, a counselor, or a quorum officer, you will correct it. Many mistakes will be made, because in the Church we are all learning as we grow. You will not be called to positions because of your arrogant, know-it-all attitude will disqualify you. You will go through life wondering why you were passed over, blaming the Church and those in it, and eventually shriveling up spiritually.
            “Your problem is selfishness. You are more interested in what will happen to you on your mission than what you can do for others. You already know far more than you need to know to introduce investigators to the gospel and bring them to the point where conversion can take place. Remember, elder, this is not your mission. It is His mission. You will never gain the most important eternal things by the course you are following. You and your companion need to be out now knocking on doors, imparting the milk of the gospel. The meat can come later, and you can learn it later.”
            The elder recognized what he had been doing and sent the books home. There would be time for that kind of study later in life, and I assume that he is now somewhere in the Church possessing an ever-greater knowledge of the factual things concerning the Church and its doctrines, imparting in a gentle way the basic principles to lift many around him.” (p188-190)

I was very much struck by Elder Packer’s ability to predict what would happen to this missionary. The missionary wanted to learn in order to teach, so it would follow that the elder would use what he learned at every opportunity to correct errors. And of course there would be many errors.  But this missionary’s desire to teach wasn’t necessarily out of a desire to benefit others or he would have been out doing missionary work already. It was a desire to look knowledgeable in front of others, a desire to build himself up at others’ expense. That was the selfishness. And at that time, he couldn’t bear to teach and be rejected by investigators, since he knew he would be rejected often, so he was hiding from the prospect of rejection that reading and learning, while claiming it would make him a better teacher. He was afraid to trust the Spirit.

Something else also struck me about Elder Packer’s correction. In his prediction, he says to the missionary near the beginning, “Elder, if you keep on this course….You will come to know about many things relating to the gospel and much of it will be useless to you.”  Ouch.

If we enjoy reading about the gospel and learning much, this challenges us to think carefully about how it’s useful to us.  How does it inspire us to demonstrate greater faith in Christ?  How does it inspire us to change?  How does it help us become better?  

If our readings and learning doesn’t point us toward faith in Christ and personal change, it’s useless to us. And if the readings are pointing us in the right direction, if we don’t decide to do anything about what we’ve learned, we’re only reading for entertainment, not for growth.

Elder Packer also warned the elder, ”You will not be called to positions because your arrogant, know-it-all attitude will disqualify you.”  What’s the principle? Arrogance, know-it-all-ness, (and correcting everybody) is a disqualification for positions.    

I think this hit me particularly hard because I have been (and probably still am) guilty of that arrogance and know-it-all-ness. And I have been stupidly ambitious for position too. I’m less ambitious now than I was because I’ve now had one small leadership position, and I’ve learned how it is all about service and not self-aggrandizement.  But I still recognize some of that rotten ambition in myself. (Bleah)

Why does that stupid part of me think I need position?  It’s because some part of me feels like I need something to validate my importance and worth and thinks position will do that.  But it doesn’t and it won’t, no matter how big the position. 

So why do I think I need something to validate me?  Because somehow I haven’t quite internalized that I am a child of God yet. I know it in my head, but it hasn’t hit my soul.  Obviously, I need to work on remembering that. (Hmm, I think there was a conference talk on that in April…)

[insert struggling noises as I work to internalize my divine nature]

After thinking more about this, it seems to me that I, as a daughter of God, should be learning as much as I can about the gospel, but that I should also work to let it change me. A daughter of God looks for opportunities to serve wherever she is, and sees position as merely a different way to serve. A daughter of God shares knowledge and wisdom to inspire and encourage others. A daughter of God trusts the Holy Ghost to teach and convert. A daughter of God acknowledges what is right in other people’s viewpoints. A daughter of God recognizes others will know much she does not and tries to learn as much as she can from them.

Okay, I’m going to try to be like that.

I think I can learn a lot about what I should do by asking myself, “What would a daughter of God do?”  It goes right along with asking “What would Jesus do?”


Rozy Lass said...

You are not alone in your weaknesses. I could have written this post myself. Thanks for sharing; and keep pressing forward with steadfastness in Christ! We will be able to overcome the "natural man" and become humble and submissive through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The older I get the more I realize that patience is one of the most Godlike virtues. We must be patient with ourselves first and then with others. Remember always how patient God is with us, and thankfully so! Keep up the good work.

Michaela Stephens said...

Yeah, patience is good for the soul. As is humility and meekness. (Hmm, I think there was a conference talk about meekness back in April too.)