"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 17, 2014
Thoughts on Learning Hard Things
by Kathryn Grant

I love Isaiah. I love the poetry, the symbolism, the imagery. I love the warnings and encouragement. The latter-day themes are startlingly relevant, and more than once Isaiah’s words have provided a personalized compass for my life.

But I could easily have missed this wonderful experience. Why? Because for some years there has been a meme going around in the Church that Isaiah is “hard.” Some complain about obscure passages and others joke about not making it past the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon.

Sadly, my initial experience with Isaiah was colored by these misperceptions. I found pretty much what I expected: just as many had said, Isaiah was mysterious and hard to understand.

But the fallacy of this point of view became clear to me one morning as I was looking at the words to Handel’s Messiah. I realized that I’ve never heard anyone complain about these words being hard to understand — yet many of them were taken directly from Isaiah!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Isaiah isn’t challenging. But his words aren’t an impossible mystery. In my study of Isaiah, I found resources such as classes and books that guided me (one of the best being Victor Ludlow’s Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet). Several inspired teachers taught me the importance of evaluating my own gaps in understanding and learning to ask the questions that would bridge those gaps.

I also spent time in personal study. I wrote about what I learned in a scripture journal. And the result has been a growing understanding of and love for these words of a prophet who was personally commended by the Savior (3 Nephi 23:1).

Unfortunately, fear of learning hard things is all too uncommon. How can we overcome that fear? It helps to be realistic about the challenge of learning (instead of either exaggerating or downplaying it). We can realize that learning is an iterative process, and that we are going to learn line upon line and precept upon precept (Isaiah 28:10).

If our perception of something being “too difficult” is holding us back, we can realize that we hold the key to our freedom: we can align our perceptions with reality and exercise our agency in order to learn. Learning accelerates when we have confidence in our ability to learn and when we take responsibility for our own learning.

Why give in to self-defeating attitudes and behaviors? And why take the chance of limiting others because of our own fears about learning hard things? It’s okay if learning something is hard; we can do hard things with the Lord’s help (Philppians 4:13).

The joy of learning hard things goes far beyond the effort we put into it, and it pays increasing dividends throughout our lives.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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