Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Scripture Study Tradition

We are regularly reminded to spend time each day reading and pondering the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. For many of us, these words of President Ezra Taft Benson are still familiar: “The Book of Mormon was written for us today. God is the author of the book. It [was] . . . compiled by inspired men for our blessing today. . . . [I]t was meant for us.” (“The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975, 63).

As a child, my parents had a goal to read a chapter from the Book of Mormon as a family every night. This pattern usually meant that we would read the entire book aloud about every year. Family scripture study became a solid tradition. Even now, when I’m only home to visit a few weeks each year, every night our entire family gathers and Mom reads aloud from the Book of Mormon.

My family’s scripture study tradition helped encourage me to create my own personal patterns and traditions of scripture study. Studying the scriptures individually is also vital. Elder L. Tom Perry has said, “It is up to us to study the Book of Mormon and learn of its principles and apply them in our lives” (“Blessings Resulting from Reading the Book of Mormon,” Liahona, Nov 2005, 6–9). In the last five years I have developed a tradition of reading the Book of Mormon at a certain time each year. This pattern has made the Book of Mormon a miraculous influence in my life.

It all started four years ago. I was eighteen and getting ready to start my freshman year at BYU at the end of August. During June, July, and the first part of August I was still working my high school job and getting ready to move away from home for the first time.

As I started packing, I went through all the memories I had stored for all my growing up years. In a box under my bed I found a packet of envelopes I had received from a Young Women’s New Beginnings activity the year before. Inside each envelope was a spiritual thought with a scripture reading assignment from the Book of Mormon. Our leaders had called this scripture study program a “30-day Walk with Christ.” They challenged us to open an envelope a day and, by following the reading assignments, read the entire Book of Mormon in a month.

I had lasted less than a week. Swim practice and choir concerts got in the way, and I only opened a couple of envelopes. As I came across the packet again, I set it aside. I hadn’t been able to do the 30-day walk before, but wouldn’t this be a perfect time, right before I left for college? I felt like I could use a great spiritual boost just before I moved away from home for the first time.

I planned the thirty days so that I would finish reading the Book of Mormon right before my mom and I drove to BYU. I wasn’t perfect; some days I forgot or didn’t have time for the full reading assignment so I’d have to catch up and do double the next day, but I did it. After I reached the goal, I didn’t think too much about it—my mind was suddenly occupied with class schedules, buying textbooks, making friends, and settling into dorm life—but looking back I can see that reading the Book of Mormon in those thirty days just before I went to college did bless my life, immensely. This spiritual boost helped me remember who I was even though I was in a new place, far from home, and making my own decisions.

That was the first time I read entire the Book of Mormon during the month of August. A year later, August 2005, I was back home again and working for the summer. In the Ensign that month, the First Presidency message, by President Hinckley, was about the Book of Mormon. He said, “Today, a century and three-quarters after its first publication, the Book of Mormon is more widely read than at any time in its history. Whereas there were 5,000 copies in that first edition, about 5,000,000 are currently distributed each year, and the Book or selections from the Book are available in 106 languages. Its appeal is as timeless as truth, as universal as mankind. It is the only book that contains within its covers a promise that by divine power the reader may know with certainty of its truth.”

It is President Hinckley’s memorable challenge that we all remember the most: “I offer a challenge to members of the Church throughout the world and to our friends everywhere to read or reread the Book of Mormon. . . . Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”

August 2005 was the second August that I read the Book of Mormon, thanks to President Hinckley’s challenge. My summer job was the most monotonous employment imaginable: I was pulling staples for a large company’s record archiving project. It was good money, but very, very boring. I could listen to headphones at work, so I decided to listen to an audio recording of the Book of Mormon before I left my job and went back to BYU. The recording covered just about three work days. I decided to save this book for last.

My last three days of work were amazing! I had never read the Book of Mormon in so short a time before. Listening to the audio recording was a unique experience too. It only took about five minutes until I had to grab some scratch paper and take some notes. I kept a pen handy next to my work so I could write down phrases that had struck me or thoughts I had during the reading. What amazed me most was the entire book fit together so much better than it ever had before; because I was covering the whole history and chronology in just three days, I understood where all the flashbacks and break-off groups fit in with the book as a whole.

At the end of my three day Book of Mormon spree I had eleven pages, front and back, of notes, thoughts, and impressions from that reading. I still have those notes, the record of when I reread the Book of Mormon just after I turned nineteen years old. By fulfilling the prophet’s challenge, I, with the rest of the Church, truly felt “an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord” in my life for the rest of that year.

Because of these two previous experiences, when August rolled around in 2006 I felt an urge to read the Book of Mormon again. I had stayed in Provo that whole summer to work as an EFY counselor, and I finished my final EFY session the last week of July. I had a few weeks off of work before school started after Labor Day, so I decided to give in to that desire and challenged myself to read the entire book before school started. I spent all my free time reading the Book of Mormon. I remember how great it was to pull my picnic blanket onto the lawn in front of my student apartment complex on a free afternoon and read the scriptures just because I wanted to.

This year has been my fifth year in a row that I’ve read the Book of Mormon during the month of August, but this year, like every year, was a little different. President Hinckley’s challenge is a treasured memory for all of us now. This year has also brought new changes and challenges into my life. As I look back on the past five Augusts, I am so grateful for the inspiration I had to rely on the scriptures to give me the strength I needed to get through transitional times that seemed to come every year in August.

Reading the Book of Mormon in August may not become your tradition, but I believe that each of us can receive inspiration that not only urges but directs our scripture study. We are commanded to have personal scripture study because it blesses us and strengthens us. God has never given us a commandment that we do not reap both immediate and long term blessings from or that he will not help us to fulfill, if we ask him. Embracing patterns of scripture study so that they become firm traditions of spiritual devotion bring great spiritual power to our lives.

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