I’d like to share a story of how making a sacrifice to fulfill a temple assignment while I was in graduate school led to a significant blessing that definitely helped my graduate work – and spared me from possible disaster when I presented at paper at an international conference.
Before telling the story, let me offer a few words of advice to those in college. College life can be so busy and demanding that it is easy for many LDS students to feel justified in “taking a vacation” from the normal duties of Church membership. After all, how can a student facing so much homework or the burdens of graduate thesis work afford to take time off for things like home teaching or going to the Temple? Doesn’t the Lord want them to take full advantage of BYU or whatever other school they are attending by giving their studies 100%? Isn’t college life a special time to prepare for the future, and won’t there be plenty of time for Church service once they get into the real world?
Don’t fall for such deceptions. Yes, we do have serious demands, and need to diligently put in the time required for our studies. But remember, we are called to serve and “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in” (Mosiah 18:8-10), and that includes BYU or Purdue or MIT. You may be surprised to find that life gets even busier once you are out of college, and if you can’t live true to your covenants now, how will you later? It’s a balancing act, but it can be done. As for home teaching, the people around you have problems just as great as people outside of college and may even be more willing to be influenced for good by home teachers at this young point in their life than when they are older and more set in their ways. Serve the Lord and be active in Church attendance and service in your youth, prayerfully seeking guidance on how to strike the right balance (and yes, there are times when one needs to decline an assignment, but do this cautiously and prayerfully – we are not asked to run faster than we have strength).
Now the story. I was in graduate school at BYU’s Chemical Engineering Department, putting in many hours for my Ph.D. project using a cool laser technique (Laser Doppler Anemometry or LDA) to study swirling flow in simulated coal combustors. I had obtained and analyzed a large body of data, and was about to submit a paper to an international conference on LDA to be held in Lisbon, Portugal in 1984. My paper had to be in final form in just a few days, and I was pretty excited about the prospects of travel to Portugal and presenting the paper. With still plenty of work to be done, I was facing a temple assignment for my ward (I was in a city ward, the Provo Ninth Ward) that would eat up a few precious hours. I thought about declining and could easily have justified it to others, but wasn’t sure that the Lord would agree. As I considered this decision, I recalled what I had experienced so many times on my mission: sacrifice to serve others is rarely sacrifice at all, and brings joy and other blessings as well. I felt that I needed to put the Lord first in this matter and go to the Temple, in spite of pressure to skip the assignment.
I went to the Temple with others of my ward, “sacrificing” about two hours of time. While I was there, my mind turned to my paper and the work I still had to do to complete it. I was just finishing up some of the equations and plots of the analyzed data, and — the equations! I felt very uneasy. My mind turned to one of the equations I had been working with and using in the data reduction, and suddenly it hit me: there was something wrong in how I was using one of them. In fact, one of the equations that I had put into my paper was simply wrong, and there in the Temple I realized that some expert on LDA at the conference might notice it immediately and ask questions that would expose a stupid mistake on my part.
All this happened in a few moments of quiet in the Lord’s temple. To me, it was a brief burst of revelation that saved my neck. I left the temple so grateful that I had attended, realizing that if I had just kept crunching away at my nearly-completed paper without time for prayer consideration, I may have faced what would have been a disaster for me. If I had not decided to “sacrifice” my time by attending the Temple to fulfill a priesthood assignment, the Lord might have been unable to bless me as He did.
The Portugal conference was a wonderful experience for me. My paper was well received, with several kind questions – no public humiliation – and I had an amazing time in Portugal (in spite of a tortuous 10-hour train ride from Madrid in a sealed train filled with chain smokers – courtesy of a travel agent who couldn’t get me to Lisbon directly). This was one of several experiences in college that taught me that the Lord does bless students and help them in their work, if only we’ll let Him by doing what He asks us to do.