If you're looking for the login form, it has been moved to the site header to make it more visible and easily accessible.


Agency, Love, and Learning

by Elder Russell T. Osguthorpe.

Sunday School General President
 LDS Business College Devotional
January 26, 2010
My wife and I recently visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a French-speaking country located in Central Africa. This is a country of nearly 70 million people, 80 percent of whom have no employment and many of whom go to bed hungry every night. We were in the city of Kinshasa, a city with a population of more than 10 million people. In the stake conference meeting we attended there, more than 1,500 Saints filled every available square inch in the stake center.
We were in Kinshasa for only three days, but I will never forget the feelings I had while mingling with those Saints. They had little material wealth, but they were rich inspiritual strength. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the faith of the people in such a tangible way. I asked a Church leader, “What is your biggest challenge related to teaching in the Church here in the D.R. Congo?” He paused for a moment and then said, “Well, the members spend so much time studying their Sunday School lesson each week that they create these long lists of questions, and during class time, the teacher can hardly get a word in edgewise!”
His response made me smile. But it also caused me to think: why is it that no Church leader in North America would give such a response? To the contrary, most in North America would say the opposite: “I wish we could get the members to study the lesson before they come to class.”
As we were leaving the stake conference meeting in the Kinshasa stake, a choir sang “Praise to the Man” as a postlude hymn.I noticed a 14-year-old boy singing along at the top of his lungs. He was not in the choir but was singing along with them just because he wanted to. I was impressed he knew all the words to the song. And I don’t think he memorized the words because someone forced him to do so. Those words were in his heart. They had become part of who he was.
I keep asking myself, why did that young man know all the words of that hymn and why did he want to sing it without being asked? Somehow the gospel had sunk down deep into his heart even at that early age. How did that happen? How did the gospel get deep into his heart at the age of 14? I pose that question to you today. Talk to the person next to you for a minute or two about how the gospel gets down deep into your heart. How does this happen?
I think part of the reason may have to do with the connection between our heart and our actions.I sensed from the Saints in Kinshasa that this connection was very strong. Their actions seemed to be motivated by nothing other than pure love for the Lord and for His gospel.
What I saw in Kinshasa suggests an approach to learning that I would like to talk about today. We can approach learning with either an insatiable appetite to improve or with a feeling of obligation and reluctance. And this very condition—the condition of our heart and its relationship with our actions—will to a large extent determine how happy we are in this life and in the life to come.
Most of us think of education as a means to something else. We enroll in a course so that we can get a degree. We get a degree so that we can get a job. We may even think of education as preparation for life. We go to school to learn how to live in the “real world.”As a result, some talk about education as something other than the “real world.” “In the real world we have to earn a living,” some might say. Or “In the real world we have to become responsible for someone other than ourselves.”
My message to you today is that education is as real as it gets. The decisions we make as students are as important as anydecisions we will make in life. It is here, right here and right now, that we are learning to draw closer to the Lord or to move further away from Him.
Not long ago I heard of a freshman who went to college and chose not to learn. Rather than going to class, he stayed home and played video games—not for an hour or two per day, but all day and sometimes all night. When it became clear that he would be asked to leave school because of his grades, he packed his bags and left. No one knew where he had gone. His roommates didn’t know. His family didn’t know. He went to another city and e-mailed his parents to tell them that he was all right but that he did not want to go to college. He wanted to keep playing video games.
I once had to confront a graduate student who had clearly plagiarized her entire dissertation. The majority of the words in her document were not hers. She had obviously copied them from another dissertation. Even in the face of irrefutable evidence, she denied having done anything wrong.
These are extreme cases. But what about the student who consciously decided not to keep the dress and grooming standards of the college? It did not seem like a big deal. But the student became a little proud that he could get away with it. He refused to change.
I’m quite convinced that all three of these students knew that their choices were morally wrong. The problem is that in each case the students stuck with their decision. On some level, these students rebelled against the truth that was in them. Like the rebellious Nephites in the Book of Mormon, “they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them” (3 Nephi 6:18).
A rebel is someone who not only does something wrong but does it knowingly. A rebel does not make an inadvertent mistake. A rebel makes intentional mistakes. Laman and Lemuel rebelled against their father, against their brother Nephi, and against God. They were not ashamed of their wrongdoing. Their intentions were as unrighteous as their actions.
Good action
So the rebel is a person who does the wrong thing for the wrong reason—a bad action with impure intent. It is the most dangerous of all places to be in life. And it can happen even while someone is going through school.
What about the student who does a good thing but does it without pure intent? Last summer I was in a seminar where we were discussing grading practices. One student raised his hand and told about an interaction he had had with a roommate the previous semester:
My roommate was doing his homework one night and asked, “Hey, you took this course last semester, right?” I nodded my headyes. Then he said, “I just don’t understand how to do this problem. How about a little help?” I sat down with him, looked at the problem in the textbook, and realized I didn’t know the first thing about how to help him. I remembered nothing from the course. And the amazing thing is that I got an A in that course. It made me feel ashamed. How could I have gotten an A and remembered nothing?
Now this was a student who, I’m quite certain, got A’s in all of his courses. He knew how to get A’s. He knew how to study, how to prepare for exams, and how to turn in assignments on time. But I think the reason he felt ashamed is because he realized that he was just going through the motions. He was studying, taking exams, and handing in assignments not because he was intent on learning anything but only so he could receive a good grade and get his degree. He knew somewhere down deep that he had been pretending to be a good student but that in reality he wasn’t really learning. He was doing good things, but he was doing them for the wrong reason.
There’s nothing wrong with getting good grades, but this student discovered that if the grade becomes your only motivation, then your intent is not truly pure. And when we do good things with impure intent, we are imposters or, as the scriptures put it, hypocrites. That may seem like a harsh assessment of someone who is trying to get good grades, but I’m using strong words to warn against a serious danger. Christ spent a good portion of his ministry teaching of the dangers of hypocrisy. He taught that when we say or do something, our motives must be pure. Our actions and words must match the intent of our heart. We do not want to honor God with our lips when our hearts are far from Him (see Mark 7:6).
Good action
Most of us have felt the shame that this student felt—a shame that comes from pretending to be something we are not. After hearing that student describe how that experience made him feel, I’m convinced that he changed his approach to learning and made a firm decision to learn not just for the grade but so that he could better himself for the purpose of serving others.
So we can do the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. But more common than either of these is the problem of having good intentions and then falling short of those intentions. I have had more than one former student write to me from the mission field and say something like the following: “Dear Brother Osguthorpe, I hope you remember me. (I always remember them.) I took your course last year. Now I’m in the mission field, and I’ve got to tell you that I did not deserve the grade you gave me. Some of the work I handed in was not mine. I’m sorry. Could you please lower my grade?”
This is what I call the “natural man” condition.
Good action
Natural man
Yes, these students made a mistake. But their mistake was different than that of the rebels.The rebel actually wants to do bad things. The rebel has no intention of repenting. The rebel lies about his or her sin. The rebel might even be proud of rebelling. The natural man, on the other hand, wants to do the good thing but succumbs to temptation. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, “Why is it that what I intend to do, I don’t do, and what I intend not to do, I do?” (see Romans 7:15). He wonders why his mind and his body are so at odds with each other. How can he know God’s law in his mind and intend to keep the law and then yield to temptation? Nephi likewise laments the fact that he can sin when his witness of the Lord and his love for the Lord is so strong: “My heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” (2 Nephi 4:17).
We have all felt the condition of the natural man or woman. We have all fallen short of our good intentions. We have all experienced the gap between where we want to be and where we actually are. So we come to the Savior with a broken heart and contrite spirit, just as my former students came to me, and plead for forgiveness. When we do that, the “Lord is nigh” to us (Psalm 34:18).
Our goal in life is to find ourselves in this natural man condition less frequently—to “[yield] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [put] off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19), little by little, until finally we do the right thing for the right reason all of the time.
When we do good things with pure intent, we become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Savior taught us during His ministry that this is the pathway to happiness—that when our actions live up to our highest intentions, our most selfless intentions, then we automatically find ourselves close to the Lord. His Spirit is always with us when we are doing the right thing for the right reason. Any time we slip away from this in the direction of rebellion, hypocrisy, or mortal weakness, we distance ourselves from the Lord, and His Spirit cannot strive with us. From the scriptures we know that “if [we] receive not the Spirit [we] shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). I submit that without the Spirit we also cannot learn in the way the Lord wants us to learn (see D&C 88:118–19).
Good action
Natural man
A freshman student in my missionary preparation course e-mailed me one day and asked if he could come and talk with me. He had been enrolled in my course for six weeks but had never attended class. I assumed that he had decided to drop the course. But the resident assistant, or RA,in his dorm overheard him telling his friend that he was still enrolled but had never come to class. This RA was a recently returned missionary and a full-time student himself. The RA asked him if he still wanted to try to succeed in the course. He said he did. The RA then encouraged him to e-mail me.
They both came to my office to discuss the issue. I had never had a student miss so much class and still want to complete it. I explained that it would not be easy to complete the course after missing so much. I told the student that he would need to hand in every assignment and that his grade may not be as high as he might hope. He agreed. Following our meeting he attended every class, gradually made up all past assignments, and completed the course.
I asked the RA why he had helped this young man. He explained that while he was serving his mission, he made a promise to himself that following his mission he would helpevery 18-year-old he possibly could to prepare well for his mission. In short, the RA cared for this freshman enough to reach out and help him.
Learning is a matter of agency and love. We cannot learn unless we choose to learn. And only when we are reaching out to others in love will our learning yield the fruits it is supposed to yield. Agency and love.
Of all the things you learn during your college days, I hope you learn above all how to be a disciple—how to do the right thing and do it for the right reason. And that reason is love. You can think of this every day. While you’re studying for an exam, is your heart really in it or are you doing it reluctantly? If we ever do a good thing reluctantly, it is of no worth. As Mormon taught, if we “do it grudgingly, . . . [it] is counted evil” (see Moroni 7:8). So we have to watch ourselves all the time. We need to learn out of love for the Lord and for His children.
I want to be like that resident assistant who reached out to someone in need. He did not reach out because of any benefit that would come to him but because he cared about a fellow student. I met that freshman on the sidewalk the next semester. He came up to me smiling and said, “You changed my life by letting me finish that course. I want to go on a mission now, and I wasn’t sure before I took your course.” I responded, “Oh, I didn’t change your life, your resident assistant helped you change your life. Without him, you would never have come to see me.” He agreed.
I wonder sometimes about that student who played video games all day. Could someone have reached out to him? Could another student have helped him as the resident assistant helped the freshman in my class?
When I was serving as a mission president, I used to ask my missionaries, “What if we did everything out of love? What if love were the only motive for all of our actions?” No one would be trying to look better than someone else. No one would be doing something because heor she had been forced to do it. Think what that would mean!
I want you to think about what it would mean for you as students if love were your motive. We learn so that we can reach our divine potential. We learn so that we can serve others more effectively. When we choose to do good and choose it because we love others, learning accelerates.
I’m not talking only of the learning that occurs in class. I’m not referring only to mastering the topic we are attempting to learn. I have no doubt that when we exercise our agency, choose the good, and do it out of love for others, we will become more proficient in computer science or nursing or whatever we are studying. But I’m talking about much more than mastering a topic, as important as this is. I’m talking about learning that leads to personal growth and change. Every time we choose the good and then act out of love, our power to make good choices increases.
“The powerisin[us], wherein [we]are agentsunto [ourselves]. And inasmuch as men do good they shallin nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28). This power comes from God. It is the power to choose. And there’s no better time or place to practice it than while we are in school. We need to watch ourselves continually that we never become rebellious as a student, proud of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. We need to make sure we don’t pretend to be learning when we really are not. And anytime we slip and fall, we must put off the natural man and seek forgiveness in meekness. Then, when we do the right thing for the right reason, that power that is in us to be agents unto ourselves will grow.
Every time we learn more truth in whatever field of study, our choices expand. The nurse who learns about the effects of the drug atropine can choose to administer that drug to a patient whose heartbeat is fading. The nurse who does not know about the effects of atropine cannot make that choice, and the patient might die. So our ability to exercise that power that is within us to choose increases as we learn. The more we choose to learn, the more power we have to choose. More particularly, the more we choose the good, the more power we have to be good and do good. Our power of agency expands.
Not only does our power of agency expand as we use it effectively, but our capacity to love others can also expand. Mormon teaches us that “if [we] have not charity [we] are nothing” (Moroni 7:46). This is one of the most powerful statements in all of scripture. No matter how good we are at what we do, no matter how successful we may become in any field, no matter how good-looking we are or how athletic we are or how competent we are, if we don’t have charity, we are still nothing. No other quality counts if charity is missing, because then we find ourselves in that imposter box. No matter how great our achievement, if our heart is not right—if we are not filled with the pure love of Christ—it doesn’t count.
That’s why the account of the resident assistant reaching out to that freshman is so powerful. It was a simple act. All he did was ask the freshman if he wanted to complete the course. He asked him to exercise his agency. And when the freshman saidyes, the RA sat down with him and helped him draft an e-mail to me. Then he accompanied him to my office. He even came with the freshman to my class the first time just to make sure everything went well. That’s charity. That’s a selfless act for someone else.
Do I think that the RA’s capacity to love increased as he continued to practice those selfless acts for others? I know it did. Do I think that the freshman’s capacity to love increased because he was willing to receive the RA’s help? Yes. Emphatically, yes. It’s a law of heaven. Love begets love. Those who are not loved as children have difficulty developing a capacity to love as they mature. They don’t know what love is. Love is not something you can explain. It is only something you can do.
Elder Scott recently taught us about the important relationship between love, agency, and learning. Describing a teacher in Mexico City, he said, “His sincerity, purity of intent, and love permitted a spiritual strength to envelop the room” (Richard G. Scott, in Conference Report, Oct. 2009, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 2009, 7). This teacher was choosing to do a good thing—teach by the Spirit—and he did it with pure intent. He was doing the right thing for the right reason, out of love for the Lord and for his fellow beings.
Agency and love are the motivational forces that can lead us away from rebellion, hypocrisy, and the weaknesses of the natural man. I’ve described how the natural man can change by yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. But so can the imposter and the rebel. Alma the Younger was a rebel. He knowingly and actively fought against the Church. But he yielded to the Spirit and changed. The student who took a course just to get a grade rather than to learn anything also changed. He never wanted to do that again.
Some of you may know a rebel or an imposter who needs help. Maybe you have a friend who fights against the rules of the college and perhaps is even proud of it. Maybe you have friends who are pretending to learn but care only about the grade. Maybe someone is pretending to be faithful in the Church but is not. We can all reach out. Using our agency, we can choose to help. And we can help because we love our friends. We all need to work together to become true disciples. We need to exercise our agency and choose to do the right thing out of love.
This is the relationship between agency, love, and learning. It is not a loose, blurry relationship. It is a tight, irrefutable relationship. When we use the power within us to choose the good, we learn and we grow in our ability to use that power and we help others do the same. When we do everything we do out of love, we learn to give and receive love. Our capacity to love increases and so does the capacity of those who receive our love.
This is why your college years are so important. If as students you can become skilled at choosing the good and doing it out of love, then your whole life will be better. Your power to exercise your agency will increase. Your capacity to love will expand. You will be happy. You will be good wives and husbands, good mothers and fathers, good Church members, good neighbors, good friends. Personally, I want to be like the Saints I met in Kinshasa. I want my heart to be inseparably linked to my actions. I want to have the vitality, the eagerness, the dedication I felt in those good people.
I know these principles are true. I know that agency is a priceless gift from our Father in Heaven. He knew that it would be challenging for us always to choose the right. He knew that sometimes our motives might not match our actions. But He provided a Savior for us so that we would never need to remain in the imposter, rebel, and natural man boxes. To be in one of thoseboxes is to be in captivity. These boxes are inhibiting. They keep us hemmed in as if we were in prison. The only key we can use to escape is the Atonement. Through the Atonement we can be freed. We can be changed so that we have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). I know this.
My prayer is that we will always try to do the right thing for the right reason. I know with all my heart that if we do, then the Lord will magnify us. He will help us do things that we thought we could not do. He will lift us and strengthen us. He will expand our power to choose the good and increase our capacity to love. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

LDS Business College (LDSBC) is located in downtown Salt Lake City, three blocks west of Temple Square.

Our complete mailing address is:

LDS Business College
95 North 300 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84101-3500

Need directions on how to get here from where you are? They're just a click away.

You can submit questions or offer feedback via our online form, or make a call to one of the departments listed below (a more complete phone list is also available).

Admissions: 801-524-8145

Bookstore: 801-524-8130

Cashiers Office: 801-524-8153

Helpdesk: 801-524-8119

Registration: 801-524-8140

Regular Building Hours

Monday 6:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday -
6:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Friday 6:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Sunday Closed

Hours for specific College services, and exceptions to the building hours (holidays, semester breaks, special events, etc).