Stories of Faith | Stephen Courtright
The moment for me was one of deep reflection, one in which memories seemed to play before my eyes like a series of movie scenes. This flood of memories washed over me as I was seated in a beautiful house of worship in Nauvoo, Illinois (USA)—a temple—a building which members of my faith consider to be the literal house of God. My memories were triggered by an event held just a few days earlier in which I had accomplished one of the most significant feats of my life—graduating with a Ph.D. from a highly regarded university. My wife and I had set the goal when we were newly married and had nothing to live on except for love and ramen noodles that I would complete a graduate degree in something, somewhere. Little did we know at the time that our higher education journey would extend for eight years, take us to three different states, and at times, zap every ounce of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy that we possessed.
And now, seemingly all at once, our journey had ended—I had marched in my doctoral robe to “Pomp and Circumstance,” received my long-awaited diploma, and been “hooded” by my graduate adviser. Furthermore, I was about to move our family once again to begin a new job as a professor at one of the top universities in my field.
Even though I was sitting in a holy sanctuary dedicated for the purpose of worshipping God rather than myself, I suppose I felt a bit prideful at that moment. I had accomplished something that, in the days of my youth, seemed totally impossible and utterly impractical. I had never been a star high school student, nor had I been particularly disposed to enjoying school as a boy. I was sure that anyone who knew me in my youth would be shocked that someone like me would ever attend graduate school. Yet here I was several years later—a Ph.D. with a dream job, several publications on my curriculum vitae, and a few research awards under my belt.
Perhaps because I felt more than a tinge of personal pride, God saw fit, as He often does, to humble me. Specifically, as I sat hand-in-hand with my wife, having all the scenes of the past 8 years playing before my eyes, I felt a gentle spiritual nudge to forget about myself and look around at where I was at and with whom I was sitting. Then, as a message from a loving Father, these words came into my mind, “This is who you really are.”
That personalized message from God—“this is who you really are”—taught me something in that moment which, in subsequent months and years, has profoundly influenced my life. I understood that while God knows and rejoices in our triumphs, He does not define us by them. We may instinctively define others and ourselves by worldly achievements and accolades, but as an eternal Being, God is not nearly as concerned with our earthly status as He is with whether we understand our eternal identity. As I heard the message “this is who you really are,” I understood that God defined me as something far greater than a Ph.D., or a professor, or a scholar. I am literally His child, born into the world with a divine destiny to serve Him and His children. That is who I really am.
Understanding my true identity as a child of God, I also understood that the honors the world bestows are merely temporary in nature. Yes, such honors can be important, even instrumental, in our individual earthly spheres. However, in the end, such honors are perishable goods, always having an expiration date, and have in some cases, a very short shelf life. On the other hand, God is eternal, and the gifts and blessings we receive by serving Him have no expiration date. In that sense, by understanding my identity as a child of God, I also realized that what is most important in life is not the amount of degrees I hold or the number of studies I publish. Rather, I comprehended that what is most important in life are those things which have an eternal shelf life—my faith and my family.
Finally, by realizing my true identity as a child of God, I understood that one key reason why I believe in God is because I have a hunger for something beyond what the world alone can provide. Some critics might suggest that needing “something else” like God is a sign of intellectual or emotional weakness. However, I understand that I am composed of both a temporary body and an eternal spirit, and that the eternal part of my being yearns and instinctively reaches for a Being who is eternal and who is the Creator of that spirit. Thus, comprehending that I am a son of God not only gives me perspective on what is most important in life, but it ultimately serves to fill my hungry soul.
“This is who you really are.” Having heard those words in my mind and felt them with my heart, I understood that my faith in and devotion to God trumps any career-related considerations. That is not because I am dissatisfied with my job (in fact, just the opposite is true!) or that I am intellectually weak. Rather, it is because I have felt who I really am—a child of God with a divine, eternally significant purpose in life, not just a professor or a scholar. I am far from perfect in that role, but knowing who I am makes all the difference in trying to become better.