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Sacrament Talks: The Importance of Education

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at my home ward. It made me think of Jesus when he started his ministry in the synagogue he grew up in—it’s hard to try and act authoritative in front of people who knew you as a chatty Beehive.

I got a call from our family friend, the current bishop, who asked that I speak to the high schoolers of the ward on the importance of education and how that works with my faith and with motherhood. I spoke with two other women who grew up in the ward and have since moved away, who were quite the achievers. As the bishop gave our introductions and listed the things that we, collectively, had achieved when we were in high school. My introduction to my talk immediately changed…

As I sat here, listening to Bishop J, list all the accomplishments, I realized why I was asked to speak. I’m sort of the Prodigal Child when it comes to education. Those accomplishments? None of them were mine. So, if there are any of you who aren’t high school over-achievers, my talk is directed more towards you.

One of the things I love about our Church is the emphasis we have on gaining intelligence, both what we learn through our church study (prayer, scriptures, classes) and what we learn as we go through obtaining an education. We gain intelligence to become better people, to obtain wisdom, and have more choices, more opportunities in our lives. I have seen this last part particularly in my own life. I have learned in my educational career that as I use my free agency and choose to work hard, sacrifice my free time, rise to my teachers’ challenges, I end up having more choices in my life.

Our leaders seem to never miss an opportunity at a General Conference to speak to us about getting educated. President Hinckley in the last General Young Women’s Meeting talked about studying the scriptures to gain knowledge. Then, he said, “Resolve now, while you are young, that you will get al of the education you can. We live in a highly competitive age, and it will only grow worse. Education is the key that will unlock the door of opportunity.”I am particularly grateful for how much the Church encourages women to get education. I get upset when less enlightened politicians compare Mormonism’s treatment of women to that of the Taliban.

I see our church as one that encourages the very best in women. We have a histoy of it; this is a church that worked to get woment he right to vote and that has always encouraged women to pursue education. We have Mormon women’s publications starting with the Women’s Exponent in 1872. In there, one can read about women’s accomplishments as they became skilled medical doctors, great artists, and faithful servants to God.

Today, we are a church that continues to emphasize hard work and study for women and men.

I think our church leaders encourage us to get educations for lots of reasons, but one I want to focus on today is that we are asked to work hard and get educated because education provides us with more opportunities, more choices in our lives.

Sometimes, I saw the start of school as the time when my choices became extremely limited. I didn’t get to choose what time I’d wake up, I didn’t have as much free time. But, even then, I did realize that I had more choices at this time of year, more so than I’d have at any other point of the school year. Would I give it my all? Would I study as much as it takes to get that A?

I often chose the less intensive approach to my studies in high school; and it was hard to go back later in the year and resolve to do better even when I was disappointed with my grades.

I wasn’t a stellar student in high school. I chose that, and when it came time to go to college, my choices were limited. Even though I was excited about the University of Arizona, it wasn’t my first choice. I was disappointed with my high school achievements upon graduating and vowed to make college different.

When I got to U of A, I chose to work hard. I studied a lot. I sacrificed my social life often. This became particularly important as I realized what I wanted to major in. I loved studying world religions, and I loved studying the scriptures in an academic setting. But, this subject matter probably wasn’t going to get me a good job. In fact, maybe I couldn’t even get a job. And, then, there was the probably that I didn’t even know what kind of jobs there were for someone with my degree.

I grew up with parents who encouraged me to get a degree in what I loved. My dad said, “If you’re the best in whatever field you choose, you can get a job.” I prayed and felt like this was a path that I should pursue. I knew that if I was going to do a graduate degree in religion, I had to go to the best school. Because I had chosen to work hard as an undergrad, I had the chance to do that.

But, that choice to felt crazy…why would a Mormon woman go to Divinity School? Divinity School trains primarily ministers and religion professors. I couldn’t pretend like my degree would help me magnify my calling as a bishop one day since I’m a woman. And, even if that changed, well, we Mormons don’t pay our clergy. Then, there’s the career of a religion professor. Only 30% of PhD’s in religion actually teach religion (and I’m not talking about cushy tenure track position, this 30% includes people who teach adjunct, high school, etc.).

So, I married a man who agreed that I could do graduate school first and made the desert rat move to Boston. And, I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree.

Again, I chose to study a lot—just ask Nate. Again, surprise, opportunities came about.

I found a profession I loved as I did an internship at a hospital as a chaplain. I got to work with people of all different religions. Nate says that going to my job every day sounds like the start of a joke, “So, this Catholic nun, Jewish rabbi, and Muslim imam walk into the room…”

I had a career where I have the privilege of attending to people in their darkest moments. For a woman who struggles to accept the fact that I may not get the priesthood in this life, this was an answer to my prayers. I found a way to minister to people without leaving the Church.

Later, when I had children, I had to choose again. Some moms can go into staying at home and raising their children happily and without regrets. I admire them.

I think it was important for me to deliberately choose to stay at home. I had to make it a priority. I had to make it a matter of prayer and learn for myself that at this time in my life, this is where I need to be.

If I hadn’t had a career before I had children, I think I probably would have been resentful of not having been able to choose. And, frankly, there are a lot of days when staying at home is hard even though I know I chose to do this.

I’m also aware and grateful that I had the choice to decide to stay at home; it’s a choice that the majority of women in the world do not have the luxury of making. There are women far more righteous than I who must work longer and harder than I do and don’t get to spend the time with their children that they want to.

And, also, there are women far more righteous than I who choose to continue with their careers; they are just as good (probably better) moms than I am.

I have been blessed in my life to have a lot of choices, and I have been blessed to have excellent teachers in this ward. I’m grateful for the examples you have been in my life. When I first got called to YW’s, I thought, “Man, how did Sister G think of all those great activities?” And, when I first taught seminary, I thought, “Man, I really owe Brother F an apology for always talking to people while he tried to teach lessons in seminary!”

I know that as we work to obtain education and wisdom, God will bless us with more choices in our lives.


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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No Responses

  1. M&M says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Well done.

  2. Deborah says:

    Emily: This is probably my favorite post of the year — especially your emphasis on the spiritual and practical implications of choosing for ourselves . . . Thank you!

  3. Caroline says:

    Emily, this is so great.

    I love this part:
    “I had a career where I have the privilege of attending to people in their darkest moments. For a woman who struggles to accept the fact that I may not get the priesthood in this life, this was an answer to my prayers. I found a way to minister to people without leaving the Church.”

    I love it that you acknowledge your struggles with this. Very brave.

    A perfect talk.

  4. Ana says:

    Thanks for posting this, Emily!

    The only time I ever had to talk in the ward I grew up in, it was about motherhood. It was about a month after I started trying to conceive for the first time. Of course I knew everything (ha!). It was pretty much the worst talk ever.

    Glad you did better than I did!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Interesting! I just read your brief profile 2 nights ago to my husband.
    He said you couldn’t be LDS and a chaplain! Now I will clarify for him.
    I was lamenting about all the women with formal educations. I was the one that went from High School to marriage to children.
    I have been asked where I got my formal education, “oh,” I reply, “I barely passed high school.”
    I so love information, knowledge, enlightenment etc.
    I am self-educated and have excessive experience with on the job training.
    Somehow I still feel like there is value to have some letters after your name like B.A., M.A., PhD. etc. However, the letters I have after my name come from O.T.J.T. such as O.C.D, A.D.D, P.T.S.S and on and on. So, my point in all this is?
    I admire your story, but perhaps as I did it different I still am educated without the framed credentials?
    But oh how I covet your path.
    My, I’d love to be a chaplain too! I do it informally without pay, but to really do that job would be such a divine experience!
    I know, being a mother is divine too.
    You sound like one remarkable women. I am very impressed with your planning and choices to represent LDS women at their BEST!
    O.T.J.T (to the max)

  6. berzerkcarrottop says:

    Emily – Awesome talk! The only time I’ve spoken in our home ward that wasn’t a sibling’s mission farewell was after my first semester of college. I’m pretty sure it was lame.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    Thanks! I was pretty happy with the way it turned out (although I hated just about every minute of writing it). Combining the importance of education and motherhood feels so huge; most women have pretty strong opinions, so I really appreciate your responses.

    Caroline, you found the scariest part of the talk for me, but I think it’s the part that the congregation responded to the most.

    Anonymous, I struggled with the fact that the only speakers were women with graduate degrees. There are lots of people who don’t have the opportunity to get formal education, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less interested in learning or that they’re not intelligent. It would have been really neat to hear from someone like you.

    Also, you can volunteer at most hospitals as a “Pastoral Visitor.” Hospitals don’t employ enough chaplains to see everyone in the hospital who wants to be seen. Pastoral Visitors pretty much do the same thing (they just don’t have to go into the crisis situations). I’d love to see more Mormons go into chaplaincy! With our backgrounds in home teaching and visiting teacher, we’re already pretty skilled at talking to strangers.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great talk.

    I look forward to reading more.

    Shane G.

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