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Women and Education

A Future Only God Could See for You

It is wonderful to be here. This is not an opportunity I would have imagined for myself. It is truly a future only God could see for me. I am grateful for a Father in Heaven who knows me—who knows my potential and who wants me to become like Him. I can’t wait to someday see like He does—to know everything and to see the future and not just the past.

But for now I will stand like a little girl on my Father’s feet, holding His hands and trusting Him as He guides me through the dance of this life. As His daughter, I hope someday to grow up to be just like Him. I am trying to become more like Him now by learning as much as I can and by working to refine the spiritual gifts He has given me.

Daughters of God

Revelation given in the book of Joel speaks of the role of women in the latter days when it says that, in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, . . . and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28–29).

Your daughters shall prophesy! In these last days, we are meant to seek and receive spiritual revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Like Rebekah, Hannah, Elisabeth, and Mary, women are meant to receive direct spiritual revelation through the gifts of the Spirit. Like Miriam (see Exodus 15:20), Deborah (see Judges 4:4), Huldah (see 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22), and Anna (see Luke 2:36), we can develop the spiritual gift of prophecy and refine our ability to communicate with our Father in Heaven in ways that affect our own spiritual development and have a positive impact on the world around us.1

These spiritual gifts bring us closer to the image of God, in which we were created. Through her choice to partake of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, Mother Eve made it possible for each of us to exercise our agency in a world filled with choices, thereby providing a way for us to spiritually develop. I do not think it was an accident that by knowledge she opened a pathway that would allow us to become more like God. I believe this sets an eternal pattern. “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and we must likewise enhance our own inherent intelligence in order to become like Him and receive His spiritual gifts.

How do we reach this divine potential? How do we strengthen these spiritual gifts that have been foretold? Eliza R. Snow wrote, “Let them seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise.”2

An Expansive View

When God prepares a leader for the gift of prophecy, He expands their view; He does not narrow it. He provides context for the leader’s personal prophetic development through lessons on the vast science and history of the earth and of the people on it.

To Moses He gave a vision of “the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold. . . . And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not;. . . And he beheld many lands; and each land was called earth, and there were inhabitants on the face thereof” (Moses 1:27–29).

To the brother of Jared He gave a vision of “all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be . . . , even unto the ends of the earth” (Ether 3:25).

And to all the Nephite women, men, and children visited by Christ, “he did expound all things, even from the beginning until the time that he should come in his glory. . . . And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written” (3 Nephi 26:3, 18).

Formal higher education provides an opportunity to see more as God sees—not through a narrow and shrinking echo chamber but with “the depth of the riches both of . . . wisdom and knowledge” (Romans 11:33), with all things continually before Him (see D&C 130:7), “for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things” (Alma 26:35).

This vastness of knowledge must be earned through hard work and by leveraging a greater perspective than our own. Like Eve, we must have our eyes opened not only to new information but to new ways of thinking about that information. If we seek discernment through the Holy Ghost as we engage in this process, we will be brought to new ways of valuing, understanding, and perceiving truth.

Education Is a Commandment

Multiple prophets and apostles have made it explicitly clear that “for members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment.”3 Speaking specifically to women, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “You must get all of the education that you possibly can.”4 And President Dallin H. Oaks said, “We make no distinction between young men and young women in our conviction about the importance of an education and in our commitment to providing that education.”5

The Lord made clear that “all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal” (D&C 29:34). This means that the commandment to pursue education—no matter how temporally useful—is really about the development of our spirits and our spiritual gifts. We are commanded to receive education, and this is a spiritual—not merely a temporal—commandment.

Prophetic counsel to women has repeated the benefits of education in case we are called upon to become so-called breadwinners in our households. This is wise counsel, and I have seen its place in the lives of close friends and family members time and time again. But this counsel adds, “precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30), to a deeper truth about the education of women: our pursuit of knowledge has its own spiritual value regardless of whether we ever enter the paid labor force.

President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Your mind is precious! It is sacred. Therefore, the education of one’s mind is also sacred. Indeed, education is a religious responsibility. . . . In light of this celestial perspective, if you . . . cut short your education, you would not only disregard a divine decree but also abbreviate your own eternal potential.”6

Our learning is of value not only if we become mothers or workers, church leaders or community activists. We are of value because of our divine heritage and because of what will one day be our divine inheritance. Our value is not merely instrumental. It is intrinsic. And our learning is not merely instrumental. It is essential.

Education: “On Holy Ground”

I love this powerful quote from President J. Reuben Clark Jr.: [We] who [invade] the domain of knowledge must approach it as Moses came to the burning bush; [we stand] on holy ground; [we] would acquire things sacred; [we seek] to make [our] own the attributes of deity. . . . We must come to this quest of truth—in all regions of human knowledge whatsoever, not only in reverence, but with a spirit of worship. . . . Our knowledge is to be coterminous with the universe and is to reach out and to comprehend the laws and the workings of the vast deeps of the eternities. All domains of all knowledge belong to us. In no other way could the great law of eternal progression be satisfied.7

In addition, President Henry B. Eyring said, “Part of the tragedy you must avoid is to discover too late that you missed an opportunity to prepare for a future only God could see for you.”8

In a world that values education primarily as a means to increase our value in the workplace, nonlinear educational paths may sometimes be considered nontraditional, but they are not nonessential. As Kristen Oaks observed, “Women’s educational paths and experiences are often very different from men’s.”9 As Latter-day Saints, we know that the pursuit of education is not merely about gaining marketable skills in an efficient and linear fashion but that education is also a tool for gaining important spiritual growth and spiritual gifts that can be used in all facets of our lives.

Our intellectual and spiritual growth through education is a righteous pursuit and represents our willingness to fulfill a commandment of God. Investments in our own development are worthwhile because we are daughters of God, and He wants us to reach our divine potential in every possible way. But it should also be acknowledged that it is virtually impossible for the influence of a Spirit-led education to end with only our own benefit.

In 1 Corinthians 13, we read, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. . . . Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:2, 8).

Elder and Sister Oaks wrote, “Our religious faith teaches us that we should seek learning by the Spirit and that we have a stewardship to use our knowledge for the benefit of mankind.”10

We seek knowledge because it makes us more like God and brings us closer to Him, and His central trait is pure and benevolent love for all of humanity. The more we become like Him through knowledge and the more we hone our ability to hear Him testify of truth through the Spirit, the more these things will lead us to service in every aspect of our lives.

Women’s voices are needed in all echelons of human activity. Boyd K. Packer taught, “We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out. . . . There is a great need for women who can receive inspiration to guide them personally in their teaching and in their leadership responsibilities.”11

To this, President Nelson added: We . . . need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without . . . women who can speak with the power and authority of God! . . . I plead with my sisters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before. . . . As you do so, the Holy Ghost will magnify your influence in an unprecedented way!12

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said, “All women need to see themselves as essential participants in the work of the priesthood. . . . The kingdom of God cannot function unless we rise up and fulfill our duties with faith. Sometimes we just need to have a greater vision of what is possible.”13

Sisters, never question the value of your education or wonder whether you will have an opportunity to learn and use the knowledge you have gained. God knows you, and even though you may not yet know His plans, He knows the end from the beginning. He is preparing and qualifying you for the work He wants you to do. He will continually guide you to ways in which your knowledge and skills can be of benefit to yourself, your family, your community, and His kingdom.

Preventing Friendly Fire

For the battles we face in this life, we need to allow God to arm us in His way, in His time, and with His spiritual gifts. But in preparation for these battles, our women are frequently wounded from friendly fire, even as we stand at the armory.

Virginia H. Pearce suggested that “when we feel that we must protect and defend ourselves . . . , our energy is used counterproductively and our learning and the learning of others is severely limited.”14

Women frequently persevere in the face of insensitive comments on the part of those around them. We are prepared to soldier on through the attacks of the adversary, who seeks to deter the pursuit of our divine potential at every turn. We are often less prepared for the stinging and inappropriate attacks and judgments of our brothers in the gospel, fellow sisters, friends, spouses, and parents.

If God has directed—even commanded—a woman to pursue her education, who are any of us to turn her away or to add to her burden as she makes her way to the summit God has bid her to climb? If God is preparing the women of His Church to fulfill prophecy—both ancient and modern—about the role of women of the Church in these latter days, we should be celebrating and supporting the women in our lives as they prayerfully seek inspiration and use their agency and intelligence to grow spiritually and serve mightily.

Latter-day Saint women are courageous, particularly when they have been emboldened by the knowledge that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and that He will qualify us to do the work that lies before us. Once we know what God wants us to do, we are fully capable of following the counsel of President Hinckley to “sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to . . . train [our] minds and hands to become an influence for good as [we] go forward with [our] lives.”15 We will seek every good gift in the service of our God. All we ask is that others not stand in our way as we pursue the Lord’s errand.

_

This speech is adapted from a BYU devotional given 27 June 2017 by Eva M. Witesman, an associate professor in BYU Marriott’s Romney Center of Public Service and Ethics.

Photography courtesy of BYU Photo and BYU Special Collections. All photos used in this article were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notes

  1. See Guide to the Scriptures, s.v. “prophetess,” scriptures.churchofjesuschrist.org.
  2. Eliza R. Snow, letter to Mary Elizabeth Lightner, 27 May 1869, Church History Library; quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 45.
  3. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Two Principles for Any Economy,” Ensign, November 2009; see also “Education Is a Commandment,” Prophets and Apostles, 27 July 2012, churchofjesuschrist.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/education-is-a-commandment.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stay on the High Road,” Ensign, May 2004.
  5. Dallin H. Oaks, “Women and Education,” Ensign, March 1975.
  6. Russell M. Nelson, “Education: A Religious Responsibility,” BYU–Idaho devotional address, 26 January 2010.
  7. J. Reuben Clark Jr., “Charge to President Howard S. McDonald at His Inauguration as President of the Brigham Young University,” Improvement Era 49, no. 1 (January 1946): 15.
  8. Henry B. Eyring, “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, October 2002.
  9. Dallin H. Oaks and Kristen M. Oaks, “Learning and Latter-day Saints,” Ensign, April 2009.
  10. Dallin and Kristen Oaks, “Learning and Latter-day Saints.”
  11. Boyd K. Packer, “The Relief Society,” Ensign, November 1978.
  12. Russell M. Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign, November 2015.
  13. Bonnie L. Oscarson, “Rise Up in Strength, Sisters in Zion,” Ensign, November 2016.
  14. Virginia H. Pearce, “The Ordinary Classroom––a Powerful Place for Steady and Continued Growth,” Ensign, November 1996.
  15. Gordon B. Hinckley, “First Presidency Message: A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, January 2001.

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