At a Crossroads: Learning by Study and by Faith

When two of my greatest dreams seemed to be at odds, the Holy Ghost taught me they could complement each other beautifully—but only if I remembered to put God first.

“You need not fear. As you stay on the path that leads to eternal life, the Holy Ghost will guide you in your decisions and in your learning” —Mary N. Cook

Photo by Valentin Sirbu

As I walked home in the rain, I found myself dreaming about gathering around a mahogany table stacked with books and discussing Borges with my graduate peers. It had been about a month since I’d started my graduate school preparation course, and while I initially found the class exciting, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the expectations projected upon me as an exceptional undergraduate and future PhD student. I was alone—lost in muddled thoughts of my future. For years I had planned on pursuing a PhD in Hispanic literature, but now the more I thought about it, the more uneasy I felt.

Something big had just changed in my life: I was engaged to be married in three months. Somehow, for a while I’d believed that my plans could continue on unhindered—but eventually, reality seeped into my thoughts.

I had so many conflicting feelings: I wanted a PhD, but I also wanted to be a mom. Maybe changing diapers wouldn’t lead to my magnum opus, but surely there wasn’t anything more fulfilling than teaching my own children. I didn’t want to neglect either of my dreams, but I didn’t know how to achieve both of them. I knew God had a specific plan for me, but in what direction would he eventually take me?

After ruminating on the topic for several days without making any significant progress, I decided to turn to the inspired words of Church leaders. I searched “women and education” on and found Sister Mary N. Cook’s talk “Seek Learning: You Have a Work to Do.” As I read and reread Sister Cook’s words, I came to understand that all the education I could receive, both secular and spiritual, should be used to serve God and my family.

As Sister Cook confirms, “Gaining knowledge now will pay huge dividends when you become a mother.” As if speaking directly to me about my future, she added that we’ll be prepared to fulfill whatever plan God had prepared for us if we’ll “seek learning by study and also by faith.” This phrase taught me that my PhD would be a great blessing for my family, but only if it was augmented by my diligent study of God’s word.

Even more comforting was Sister Cook’s assertion that “you need not fear. As you stay on the path that leads to eternal life, the Holy Ghost will guide you in your decisions and in your learning.” While I still may not have a clear-cut answer to my question, I know that if I’m faithful and obedient, Heavenly Father will lead me to make the best decision for me and my family—even if that means postponing one of my dreams for a while.

Source: LDS General Conference

—Faith Sutherlin, Mormon Insights

Watch or read Sister Mary N. Cook’s talk “Seek Learning: You Have a Work to Do” for more insights.

feature image by aziz acharki

Find more insights

Read “Real-life Education,” by President Henry B. Eyring, who discusses how education prepares us to serve in this life and in eternity.

Watch “Putting God First,” the story of a young woman who found strength and direction by putting spiritual things first.

Watch the Mormon Message “I’m a Mormon, Aunt, and Award Winning Math Teacher” for one woman’s perspective that there is no cookie-cutter way to be a Latter-day Saint.

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