BYU students juggle church responsibilities and academic pursuits

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Linda Marin teaches a lesson at church. BYU students find different ways to balance their church involvement and academic responsibilities. (Annika Ohran)

College students have a lot on their plates, and BYU students are no exception. One thing more unique to the BYU student body, however, is the amount of students that actively participate in church membership and responsibilities. 

More than 98% of BYU students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many of these students hold a calling in their local unit of church members. Callings are an assignment within a local congregation that give the member an opportunity to serve, lead or teach other church members. 

Church callings can vary in amount of responsibility and time commitment and are just one of many ways that students are involved in religious activities in addition to their schoolwork. Many students attend church for two hours weekly, as well as other church activities including Family Home Evening and Institute. They also perform other personal acts of religious devotion such as temple attendance and scripture study. 

Adding all of this onto rigorous academic coursework provides a unique challenge for BYU students as they strive to find balance in their academic pursuits and their church responsibilities. 

For Anna Lemke, a junior studying human development, keeping things in perspective and maximizing her time helps her fulfill her responsibilities and do well in school. Lemke is currently serving as the first counselor in her stake Relief Society presidency, which involves visiting other wards in the stake; planning and attending activities, conferences and meetings; and ministering to members of her stake. 

“I think it’s really easy in callings and in school to get caught up in all the like nitty gritty busyness of it, and to lose sight of like, why am I doing this day in and day out?” Lemke said. “But I think when I can focus on the people in all of those aspects of my life … those, like one on one, just kind of sweet tender moments are, like what make it all worth it.” 

Anna Lemke reads scriptures at her apartment. BYU students find different ways to balance their church involvement and academic responsibilities. (Annika Ohran)

Lemke said the beginning of the school year was challenging as her church responsibilities were taking up a lot of her time. She was able to talk to other members of her presidency and figure out how they could scale back a little bit in order to perform better in all areas of life. 

“For me it’s looked a lot more like incorporating things as we go,” Lemke said. She said she utilizes “in-between moments,” such as making time to study her scriptures during lunch and texting people for her calling while she has free moments. 

According to Lemke, helping with church activities recharges her and is a very fulfilling part of her life. She said she has also found a lot of support in the other members of her presidency, and having connections with them helps her feel more excited about life and be more productive in school. 

Camden Carter, a political science major from Idaho, serves as the Elder’s Quorum president in his ward. Carter said he has been learning how to adjust to life as a student after returning from his mission in Vietnam, where he was able to devote all of his time to religion. 

Making time to balance his church involvement with everything else he has going on now is challenging, Carter said. While in school it’s easy to judge performance based on grades and completion of assignments, evaluating performance in church responsibilities is more difficult. Counseling with the Lord is something Carter said he has found helpful. 

“Including Him in like your planning and in your implementation of the calling that you have is really important,” Carter said. 

Carter said he prays every day about people in his quorum, upcoming activities and what God would like him to do to fulfill his calling. He pays attention to promptings about actions he should take, he said. 

“If I, like follow through with those promptings. I know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. And I feel like I’m fulfilling the responsibilities that I’ve been given,” Carter said. 

Maintaining an eternal perspective helps Carter know what he should focus on when school and church responsibilities conflict. 

Allison McArthur
A BYU student studying the Doctrine and Covenants with their Come Follow Me manual and other resources. BYU students find different ways to balance their church involvement and academic responsibilities. (Allison McArthur).

Linda Marin is a senior from San Diego majoring in family studies, serving as the second counselor in her ward Relief Society. Marin said some words from Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have been helpful to her as she tries to fulfill her many responsibilities. 

“Balance is bogus. There is no such thing,” Bednar said. “You can only do one thing at one given moment.” 

Marin said she had to decide what her biggest priority was going to be, and that in anything she did, people were going to be the thing she cared about the most. 

“We talk about, like work life balance or things like that, but it just like doesn’t exist, like what we have are our priorities. And that’s what we have to like, focus on,” Marin said. 

When Marin has a lot on her plate with school, she tries to give attention to the people around her and knows that God will give her time to fulfill her calling and get her assignments done. 

“If you believe the gospel Jesus Christ is a reality, then you remember what matters most, which is the lives of other people, right? Everybody is a child of God who deserves to be served and helped,” Carter said. “I’ve definitely seen that as I’ve kept it a priority in my life, and despite my like, school workload, continuing to work in my calling, I’ve had enough time and the ability to continue to be proficient in my courses and the work that’s given to me.” 

Marin said she has noticed a difference between herself and friends from other schools. Church never comes up on their list of worries. For her friends, she said it might seem strange to them that church takes up more than an hour of her week — but that’s what she loves about her religion. 

“You think about it every single day and like, ideally, you remember Christ all the time. And like, it doesn’t add to your burden. It takes it away,” Marin said. 

Lemke shared similar sentiments. 

“Sometimes I do step back and kind of think who else my age is doing this,” Lemke said. “I think at BYU especially, it’s not a matter of like, oh there’s this good thing or there’s this bad thing. It’s always a matter of there’s so many good things I could be doing right now.”

Lemke said trying to be all in with the good things in her life pays off, and the Lord will help her do as many of them as she can.

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