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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Merciful Master Teacher

The Merciful Master Teacher

In the spring of 1992, I was living with my wife and 2 children in Orem, Utah while attending my final semester at BYU.  I had already been accepted into graduate school which was scheduled to start later that summer… IF I was able to pass all my classes during this final semester to meet the prerequisite requirements.

To complete this task, I was registered for 17 credits, while working 30 hours per week, and serving as our ward Elder’s Quorum president.  Oh, and did I mention that I was married and had two small children at the time?  On top of that, my wife came down with a sudden onset of facial numbness, which the doctors worried might be early signs of multiple sclerosis. (As a great blessing it turned out to be only a transient case of trigeminal neuralgia from which she had no lasting effects, but it was very nerve-wracking at the time).

To say I felt overwhelmed during this time would be an understatement of monumental proportions.  As I began that final semester and considered the task of completing those 17 credits while juggling everything else in my life, I felt exhausted and almost defeated before my classes had even began.

But in the midst of that crazy first day on campus, I scurried in late to my 4 credit Microbiology class, and an incredible thing happened.

The professor was an elderly gentleman, who walked in with a warm and inviting smile.  He greeted all the students fidgeting anxiously in their seats, introduced himself, and then spoke these words, as best as I can recall, “I have been teaching for many, many years, and this is my final semester of instruction before I retire.  It has been wonderful to teach at this University and I am happy for my coming retirement and I am in a very good mood about it all as my career comes to its end.  As a result, and because I am in such a good mood, you will have to work hard at it if you want to fail this class, because I want to end on a positive note.  I wrote the text book.  I think it is a good book, so we will follow it during our lectures each day and the examinations will be based off the material in the book and the chapter reviews.  You will gain all the information you need from the book, but if you have questions, I will be more than happy to discuss them with you in class or in person to make sure you have the information you need to pass the exams.  I will not take attendance role in this class, but you will need to be present when the exams are administered.  Now, let’s learn and have a wonderful experience together.”

His kindness and demeanor were so refreshing, inspiring and inviting. It was a ray of sunshine and relief in what looked to be a stormy semester ahead.

True to his word, his lectures followed directly out of the book, and I quickly realized that if I but spent time to read the chapters, focus on the materials bold print and chapter summaries, that I could easily pass the tests when they were administered.  What I thought would be a daunting microbiology class, became my easiest and most uplifting class that semester, and offered the relief necessary to fulfill my other responsibilities better and progress to graduate school and further advanced studies.

As I reflect back on that experience, I can’t help but draw some spiritual comparisons which are so applicable to all of us in the current world we live in.

Let’s face it – life can be and is in fact pretty crazy and hectic most of the time.  It seems as if there is a constant barrage of things to be done, responsibilities to be met and things to do and keep our attention focused upon – all at the same time! On top of that, others often place demands upon us in work, school or other areas of life, and some of them in not such nice ways.

Amidst all of these pressures and strains of the mortal life, our spiritual and Church responsibilities are also present, and if we are not careful, can also be looked at as burdens rather than opportunities for meaningful service.

So let us ask some questions of ourselves.  If we put ourselves in the shoes of the “professors” of the world, which kind of professor are we?  Are we the unrelenting kind, who is dishing out demands to our spouse or children, coworkers, peers or fellow Church members, with an expectation that, “It’s all up to you, and you’re going to have to work hard to earn a passing grade in my book, and by golly the tests are going to be very difficult and require all of your energy to live up to the task.”

Or are we more like my retiring professor, who offers a kind, mild, gentle path of learning and growth amidst the challenges of life?  Life is already a hard journey, as we all well know, and the Charity and kindness is needed and appreciated far more than harshness, inflexibility and judgement.  The kindness we offer may be the light others need to help them along their pathway.

Love, kindness and service lifts the burdens of others and helps both them and us progress together to a more relaxed and advanced state of graduate-study-level-living.

When you think about it, this is the path our Lord and Savior, the Master Teacher offers to us. He stands at the head of the human class, with loving invitation and welcoming smile.  Can’t you picture Him looking at us with encouragement and saying, “I love you, and I want you to be successful and pass this class called mortal life.  I want to make it easy for you to understand what you need to know, so I have written a textbook for you.  It is called the Holy Scriptures.  It is a good book and I am the author of it.  So if you are willing to follow the textbook, it will teach you what you need to know to pass the examinations when they come.  If you don’t understand something, I am more than happy to talk with you in person in prayer and answer your questions and do everything possible to help you be successful so we can all enjoy this experience together.”

He might then also add, “But there will be mandatory tests along the way, just to see if you are really learning what is contained in the text book and understanding how to apply it in your life.  You will have to be present for these exams, but if you have done your part, I will help you and make sure that you can pass with as little difficulty as possible.”

He also encouragingly offers, “Because I am on your side, you will have to work hard if you want to fail this course.”

The Savior is merciful, kind and willing to go as far as He can to help us succeed in the classroom of mortality, but he will not force us against our will.  I believe that ultimately, if we want to fail, it will be because of our own choice, not because of any punishment of His.  I believe that He will go to the uttermost degree to offer us mercy, grace, pardon and forgiving understanding – to the fullest extent we allow Him to do so through our agency.

Now don’t misunderstand what I am trying to suggest here.  The scriptures teach that the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.  And the life we need to experience is often full of challenges and trials designed to help us learn and grow in ways we could not do otherwise.  But amidst that, what the Lord offers is Charity, the pure love of Christ.

“And Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in inquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. ...Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and who so is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:45-47)

Indeed, amidst all of the challenges of this 17 credit, crazy, busy life – what the Master Teacher offers if we are willing to enroll in his class is this invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I will be forever grateful for my microbiology teacher, who offered me a path of hope during a very difficult time.  And I will be forever grateful to The Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, who offers us a much easier way through the classroom of life as well!

May we all choose to enroll as His students, and offer that charitable kindness to each other throughout the time we are in this class together.