Unplugging: How Literature Brings Us Closer to God

Taking time away from computer, phone, and television screens gives us the stillness we need to find refinement and come to know our Heavenly Parents. 

Photo by Mi Pham

Many missionaries have a hard time giving up Facebook, phones, and computer time for eighteen months to two years. For my friend, the difficult sacrifice was books. He often wrote that he missed being able to read classic literature. Sometimes, he told me, he even read through hymnbooks to find poems by Tennyson or Rossetti, or he would go online and look up general conference talks where Apostles had quoted C. S. Lewis, just so he could read some of the literature that he missed so much.

As someone who also loves reading great books, I understood how hard this was for my friend. While being a missionary allows for the unique experience of being “unplugged” from the world and focusing on the gospel, it can surely be hard to do for a full two years. When I received my friend’s letter, I had just read Elder Douglas L. Callister’s speech “Your Refined Heavenly Home,” in which he talks about the value of refinement (including turning off the TV, the phone, and the computer to enjoy good books) in bringing us closer to God. The talk gave me the idea to create a literary quote book using excerpts from literature that I felt spoke of gospel truths and then send it to my friend for Christmas that year.

I hunted through poems, plays, and novels from the great literary masters to find lines that would be mission-applicable. I knew the value of great literature (after all, it is contained in our hymnbooks and is often quoted in general conference). But I was still surprised when I found missionary-appropriate lines from Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Twain, Tolkien, and other authors I never would have thought to include in a spiritual quote book. Happily, I wrote them in a notebook and sent it off, hoping that they would satisfy my friend’s need for literature until he came home from his mission. It must have worked, because he married me a year and a half later. 

Taking time away from my own electronics to put together the quote book taught me the value of seeking after “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” as spoken of in the thirteenth article of faith. Elder Callister says that “there are those who speak of stirring ideas, compelling books, and inspiring doctrine. These are the few who make their mark in this world.”

When I remember to turn off the constant stream of electronic overstimulation and just enjoy a book, I remember that part of drawing closer to Heavenly Father includes seeking knowledge (see D&C 88:118). The act of unplugging from my electronics allows me to search for those stirring ideas found in uplifting literature and doctrine, and it allows the Spirit to speak to me and work through me. When we work hard to refine ourselves, we bring ourselves closer to our Heavenly Parents, and we get to enjoy a small taste of what being “of the race of the gods” is meant to feel like.

Read “Your Refined Heavenly Home” by Elder Douglas L. Callister.

Source: BYU Speeches 

—Michela Fleshman, Mormon Insights

feature image by kelly sikkema

Find more insights

Watch “Create” by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf to learn how we can use our divinely inherited ability to create things of substance and beauty.

Read “Seek Learning: You Have a Work to Do” by Sister Mary N. Cook.

Read BrookeAnn Henriksen’s Mormon Insights article “Creativity: A Link to Father in Heaven.”

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19 Comments

  1. You put into words the feelings in my heart. I have a great desire to live the gospel meaningfully, but I’ve also wondered how do I do that? Growing up in the South, religiosity always felt loud to me with praises and applications to the Lord forming half of almost every sentence. Now now in Utah, it feels much the same. Sometimes it feels like if I’m not posting a temple picture every month or taking every opportunity to bridge a conversation to religion, then I must be a bad member of the Church and I must not live my faith properly. This, of course, is utter nonsense. The beauty of the gospel is it transcends country, language, culture, lifestyle, and personality. Living the gospel is about seeking the good–whether that’s in the beauty and refuge of mother earth, a good book, or a conversation with a friend that has nothing to do with church. A guest lecturer on BYU campus said, “We don’t have a monopoly on truth. We have the truth on saving ordinances, but we could learn a thing or two from others.” So pick up Tennyson and read on. There is more truth in the world yet to be discovered and I can live my faith by being that truth seeker.

  2. I love this article! It is so true that God can also speak to us through literature. He spoke words to the prophets that they wrote in the scriptures. I believe God appreciates good literature too.

  3. Truth can be found any and everywhere if we look for it, but we’re often most capable of recognizing it when we’re being still. I took a world religions course, and as one of our assignments we read other religions’ books of scripture. I was glad our teacher had us do that, because I found that I recognized many of the teachings in those books. Truth can be found all over the internet too, but it can be a little more difficult to recognize sometimes if we aren’t taking the time to be still.

  4. I really appreciated your comments. I’m not the best at shutting off the worldly distractions to focus on the Gospel, but it is something I continue to try and improve. We learn in the Doctrine and Covenants about the importance of knowledge and how the knowledge we gain in this life is what we will take with us to the next life. For me, I feel I learn valuable knowledge as I read literature like you mentioned. I also feel allowing myself to ponder the items that I read allows the Spirit an opportunity to speak to me. As the world continues to become more hectic and loud, it is important to set aside time to reflect on the whisperings of the Spirit.

  5. Thank you for this beautiful message. It’s a great reminder for me. As an English major, it’s often easy to get caught up in literature as a record of the struggles of the past—privilege in economics and politics, oppression based on race and gender. But literature is also a genealogy of the light of Christ working in the souls of humankind, directing their minds and hearts to the potential to distill the good and the lovely from a world that so readily dilutes them in chaos. It’s important that we don’t project our own beliefs as modern-day Christians onto the texts of the past, because doing so might distort our interactions with those around us by creating inaccurate assumptions; still, even in times of apostasy and in places that have not traditionally been centers of Christianity, God loves his children and blesses them with truths that upright people eagerly accept and implement, anticipating their eventual reception of the gospel in its fullness. And how much of that is to be found in the beautiful truths of books! Certainly, we must feast on scripture and other revealed doctrinal works, since these contain the truths of salvation; yet how incomplete would our understanding of mortal experience be if that were the only perspective through which we were ever shown the world? Of course the divine potential of individuals can shine through in their artistic creations, even when they have not yet received eternal ordinances. Literature should not be our only, or even our primary lens through which to see life—but it should remain an important one.

  6. This article really spoke to me! We can find truth and spiritual insights in many places, and the habit of looking for them wherever we are is a refining experience. Thanks for the thoughts, Michela!

  7. I honestly believe that unplugging is one of the best things a person can do. Like you said, it helps you grow closer to Heavenly Father. I also firmly believe it helps us grow closer to those around us, too! Meaningful relationships take time; if you’re constantly staring at a screen, that’s not something you can give.

  8. I find myself constantly reaching for my phone when I am bored, but reading this has made me want to reach for a good book instead. I want to start looking for Christian messages in the books that I read as well. Great post!

  9. Love this article! Reading can be an enlightening experience. I know that reading other people’s truth has helped me draw closer to the spirit.

  10. Agreed, this was a great article. God inspires so many people throughout the world, not just those in the LDS Church. We can learn so much and be inspired by great writers no matter what their background is.

  11. I love the insights this article taps into! Reading has always been and will always be one of my favorite pastimes, and I know it has the potential to draw us closer to the light of Christ.

  12. As an English major who is very used to skimming through texts rather than actually focusing on them, this was a great reminder to seek the the things that are “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” I spend a large portion of my day attached to my electronic devices, but if I took even half an hour from the time I spend on my phone or on Netflix to study my scriptures or read a chapter in a good book, it would change my entire routine. Because the Spirit is a still, small voice, it is easier to receive direction and promptings when we are not distracted by everything going on around us. Thank you for the reminder to actively seek divine inspiration rather than sit around waiting for it!

  13. All right, you’ve convinced me to read the original article! Thank you for sharing such a fun story. I love good literature, so I love the idea that it can and should be inspiring.

  14. I might be a little biased as an English major, but I firmly believe this is a true principle. I have been amazed at how my spiritual learning has increased every semester through the study of good literature. One instance that comes to mind right now is when I studied George Herbert’s “Prayer (I)” in a course on 16th- and 17th-century poets. Literature is profound and has the power to reach the truths of life, which is why it is also a great spiritual aid on our journey here in mortality.

  15. This article spoke to my soul. I love words in every form and often feel like the best version of myself when I spend a lot of time reading. There are so many distractions in the world today; it’s sad that so many people don’t realize the benefits of great literature. Thanks for sharing your words — they’ve uplifted me today and inspired me to read more!

  16. Everything in this article resonates so strongly with me… I have loved to read ever since Kindergarten, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve realized the incredible spiritual power of good books. Every time I read a novel by Richard Paul Evans, I am reminded of the power of faith, forgiveness, integrity, and love. I’ve found profound and inspiring quotes in all different sorts of books, and I think reading is good brain exercise that helps us understand the scriptures and the Gospel.

  17. As another biased English major, I completely agree. One of my old Stake Presidents always used to say, no matter whether you read the Book of Mormon, the best way to invite the Spirit is to have it with you and to open it. There is a power to literature, such that even the simplest of phrases can have so much meaning to the ready soul.

    Don’t forget that the key to good literature is that it gives something to you to take into your regular life. Take a piece, and pass it on. That is the key.

  18. Mormon Insights

    What a great idea. Good literature does have wonderful messages that uplift us. Would love to see a copy of the quotes you chose.

  19. Great literature is one of the untapped resources of today’s world. What a wonderful idea and truly thoughtful gift.

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