Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fitness of body and soul

I went for a run this morning before the sun came up. There was a moderately hard frost on the ground and some ice on the sides of the roads. Since I'm not much for the cold, it was chilly. I did a few push-ups and sit-ups afterward and then took a shower. It felt great to exercise again.

As I ate breakfast, I was reading an article by President Uchtdorf. He quoted Harold B. Lee, who said that it is what we do about what we know (about spiritual matters) that helps us to maintain that knowledge.

That is, we learn about spiritual matters through the mind and spirit. The evidence of such matters consists largely of thoughts and feelings, which are ever so easy to forget. If we do not act in such a way that we can continue to receive thoughts and feelings from God through the Holy Spirit, then we will lose sight of the evidence that we once had.

After a moment of reflection, I concluded that God gave us our bodies the way they are for a reason. He gave us bodies that require maintenance: exercise, good nutrition, hygiene, and caution. Learning to care for our bodies teaches us how to care for our spirits. We exercise our spirits by doing the things that we know we should do. We nourish our spirits by studying God's words and by praying. Spiritual hygiene involves careful and honest introspection and frank conversation with God, asking Him to forgive us when we fall short. And we should be careful to avoid wounding our spirits through sin.

As we care for our bodies our spirits, we will find similar results: we will be stronger, healthier, and happier. And God is kind enough to teach us about one by showing us the other.

Friday, January 1, 2010

How to be a good gospel learner

My dad taught one of the lessons in church this Sunday. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I raised my hand a couple of times during the lesson to answer questions and participate in other ways. I participated even more than usual and the class participated, or so it seemed to me, even less than usual.

Classmates and teachers frequently say things about how often I comment. Out of respect to their mothers’ instruction to say nice things or nothing at all, most of what people say is congratulatory or grateful. But there are enough comments that are neutral or negative to leave no doubt in my mind that my degree of participation is bothersome to some of the people in my classes.

I have taught the gospel as a missionary, as a summer camp counselor, and as a seminary teacher, in addition to a few other capacities. In each of these capacities, I was told that good gospel teachers ask questions because effective gospel learning means that the learners (students and teachers) are taught individually by the Holy Spirit, which usually takes place when they carefully consider the principles being discussed.

As I thought about my dad’s lesson, I realized that students can choose to be good gospel learners. That is, they can choose to learn about the gospel, independently of their teachers.

Good gospel learning is based on the same principle as good gospel teaching; the teacher is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit teaches when we are trying to learn.

Students can train themselves to ask the same type of questions to themselves that their teachers are trained to ask. They can look for similarities between a story or scriptural passage and aspects of their own life and they can try to identify good examples to follow or mistakes to avoid. They can identify choices that they can make in their own lives to live according to the principles that they learn. Considering gospel principles in this way will certainly invite the personalized teaching of the Holy Spirit that is the objective of every gospel learning situation.

This sort of questioning does not come naturally to every student, but there are things that students can do to develop this ability. Preparing gospel lessons has developed my ability to ask these questions, especially as I have prepared questions for my students in those lesson plans. Asking the type of questions mentioned above during personal gospel study will also develop this ability. Students may also find it useful to read lesson material before class so that the ideas have time to sink in; it may be that people are good at asking themselves useful questions, but not good at asking them quickly enough to be of any use during a class period.

Finally, I encourage every person in every gospel teaching situation to participate vocally. Every one of a person’s ideas may not change someone else’s life, some will. A person’s ideas certainly cannot benefit others if they are not shared. Also ideas become better developed as they are articulated. Those who give voice to their ideas will find better ways to apply gospel principles in their own lives.

I encourage my readers to participate both mentally and vocally in their classes, for their own benefit and for the benefit of others.