With a new year comes new hope, new Sunday school curriculum and new resolutions to read and study the scriptures the way we know we should be. This parable, adapted from the LDS Church Education System training for seminary and institute instructors, may help with that last part:
There once was a young woman who dreamed she was walking along a quiet and secluded beach searching for gems in the sand. As she knelt down and began raking her finger slowly through the warm surface, the tiny grains of sand glittered invitingly in the sunlight. Before long, she noticed a colorful gem and picked it up.
Not wanting to lose it, the young woman carefully stuck the sparkling gem in her pocket for safekeeping. Eagerly returning to her search, she quickly discovered more gems resting just beneath the surface. As she collected the gems, she began to wonder if there were more gems hidden deeper in the sand. Determined to find out, she began to dig. With effort, time and patience, she was rewarded again and again with breathtaking jewels.
Each time she found a new gem, the young woman held it under the sunlight and studied it carefully. She turned each one over in her fingers, exploring its many shapes and facets. She thoughtfully and patiently examined the gems she had found and soon began to appreciate the unique qualities and characteristics of each one. Feelings of attachment to her new-found treasures began to grow within her.
After searching for a while, the young woman gathered her gems together and held them up to the sunlight. She was filled with awe as the light danced off the gems in a rainbow of colors. As the young woman sat appreciating the beauty of the gems, she looked up and saw her father approaching. Smiling warmly, he said, "I've been watching you dig in the sand. What did you find?"
The young woman eagerly displayed the handful of gems. Her father then asked, "Now, what will you do with your treasures?"
When we open the scriptures, it is as though we were standing on the beach with the young woman. The context and content of the scriptures are the warm sand beneath our feet.
While it can be pleasant just to read the stories in the scriptures, we won't find any gems until we start to dig. As we look for details in the context and content of the scriptures, we'll find valuable principles to guide our lives and enlighten our understanding. Elder Richard G. Scott taught, "As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances" (Aquiring Spiritual Knowledge, October 1993).
Some principles will be easy to find. As we read the Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, we will notice the obvious message that we should be kind to all of God's children. Other principles will require us to dig deeper. Questions will help us in our search. Who is the certain man in that parable? Why did the Savior specify that he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho? Did it have to be a Samaritan? What is the significance of the Samaritan's offer to pay any cost to heal the man? (Read more about this topic here.)
When we find true principles, we can hold them up to the light of the gospel to continue exploring their truths and implications. It may help to write those principles as short statements in the margins of our scriptures or in a study journal. As we expand our understanding beyond the context where the principle was found, we will be able to see how each principle applies to our past and present experiences. More importantly, we can begin to feel the truthfulness of each one.
Finally, after each exciting session of digging on the beach, we will have the opportunity to ask ourselves how we can use and apply what we have learned. When we are diligent in applying the principles of the gospel to our lives, we will have more experiences we can use to reinforce our testimonies and add light to future study sessions.
Our scripture study will be enriched as we seek to understand the context and content of the sections we read, identify doctrines and principles, and then work to better understand, feel and apply those principles. We may also find that we're better motivated to continue studying because we will see those principles changing our lives and it will be fun-- like digging in the sand at the beach.