Thursday, September 01, 2005

Lessons Learned

I think I stole today's title from my friend n. But I feel it'll be a good way to catch up on things I did since the events of my latest posts.

1: I can learn lessons from those I'm trying to teach.

While I was a counselor up in Idaho, I had to teach a lesson on obedience. My BC was coming in that evening to observe me. Previous nights we'd learned about faith and hope. I decided to drive home the lesson about why we obey Heavenly Father (because we know he has our best interest in mind and we'll be blessed by it). We started off with a little game of Simon Says. I, naturally, was Simon. I decided to tell them to do things that would benefit me more and more until they refused to obey.

"Simon says touch your toes," I began. I had them complete a few very simple tasks. Then came the turning point. "Simon says give me a dollar." Fourteen wallets were whipped out of fourteen pairs of sagged jeans. Twelve dollars were placed in my hand. One boy asked timidly, "What if I only have a five?"

"Simon says give me that." The five landed atop the other bills in my hand, and was immediately covered by a twenty from the last remaining boy. I took out my wallet and placed all the money inside. "Simon says go clean my room."

In a flash, the boys were gone. I sat in the empty room with my BC. He said laughingly, "Wow, I need to teach more devotionals like this." I explained that I was trying to tell them to do something that they refused to do. He suggested I ask them to do something illegal or impossible. Across the hall, the sound of a half-chant, half-grunt was emanating from my room. I went over there to see what was going on.

It was like a scene from a college-dorm version of Lord of the Flies. The boys had descended upon the room with their war chant, "Ugh! Hah! Ugh! Hah!" and efficiently made my bed, packed my bags, folded my laundry, and emptied the trash. With a cheer, they ran toward where I was standing in the doorway. I fled back to the room where we'd been holding the devotional, and the boys filed in behind me, still chanting.

When they were setlled down, I said, "Simon says kill Sippy!" For illustrative purposes only, I will describe Sippy. That was his last name, but if it were your last name, you'd have to go by it too. It just wouldn't fit you as well. Sippy somewhat resembled a love-sick toad. He had a round face and a broad smile and thick brown curls on his head. My paperwork reported that he suffered from ADSD, but he usually just sat there serenely watching whatever I was doing. As soon as I issued that command, his smiling face disappeared. I don't believe he stopped smiling; I just couldn't see him any more beneath the tumult that immediately surrounded him. The other thirteen boys soon cleared away (except for one tiny guy who had mounted Sippy like a wild boar and was pressing a pillow against his face), and Sippy just lay there, eyes closed and tongue out, obediently dead.

I couldn't figure out where to go next. It would seem pretty dumb to have these kids go through all this and then not be able to tie it into my lesson. I got desperate. "Simon says float in mid-air."

Most of the thirteen surviving boys formed a huddle in the middle of the room, and then after conferring for a moment like Huey, Dewie, and Louie, they began to lift each other off the ground. A few of the others began to hang from the bunkbeds, the light fixtures, and the doorframes. The room had been changed to the monkey pit at the zoo, with one large dead monkey in the middle. My BC was really amused by all of this.

"Okay, Simon says game over." I decided there was only one way to act like everything had gone as planned and that I'd had a spiritual lesson for them in the game--let them make it up. "So what are we learning about tonight?" I asked.


"All right, great. And what did we learn about obedience from this game?"

"That when Heavenly Father asks us to do something, even if it's impossible, we can still do it."

I was suddenly amazed by the simple fath of these young men. It occured to me in that moment, and more as I thought about it later, that I falter so often on the simple commandments, yet here were a bunch of kids who had so much faith in their efy counselor that they would strive to find ways to obey even the most immpossible of commands. I looked to my right and saw Sippy, still dead, but now squirming with the visible desire to make a comment.

"Simon says Sippy's alive again."

"I know what we're supposed to learn from this!" he shouted ecstatically. I nodded for him to go on. "This is just like that one time in the Bible when that guy had to kill his son and then the son was all obedient and then they put him up on the rock thing to kill him and then he lifted up the knife, but at the last second Heavenly Father came and grabbed the knife away [he was acting all of this out as he was speaking] and he was like, 'no, you don't have to kill your son anymore' and Heavenly Father blessed the son because he let him kill him even though he got saved before it happened." All that came out in one breath.

Bless you, Sippy. My heart reached out to him because of his enthusiasm and because he'd made the gospel connection I'd failed to. Abraham and Isaac, of course! We have few better examples of obedience in the scriptures. I told the kids about another Father in the Bible who let his Son be killed, an how the Son had died (just like Sippy! the kids noted) and how he had always shown us how to be obedient. I gave back the kids' money and promised them that if they would always try to find ways to obey Heavenly Father like they had me that night, that they'd always be given the blessings he had in store for them.

So, here are the things I learned that evening from those sagacious boys:

Lesson 1a: You are always God in lessons for your youth. You can't play the devil for a group of 14-year-olds who look up to you.

Lesson 1b: We should be striving to be obedient. The times when it seems the most impossible are really just the times we have to work the hardest.

Lesson 1c: There is a really easy way to get your room cleaned. Just make it a principle of obedience for a bunch of zealous teenagers.


Lesson 2: It is not our goal to outgrow our dependence on God.

"Heavenly Father, please take this trial from me." Repeat 4,000 times, but with a little more conviction and desperation each time. That sums up my prayers during my teenage years. I finally reached a conclusion: I would have to remove it from myself.

I don't know where this idea of God as training wheels came from in my life. I've always felt that if I were to grow into a being even remotely like God, that there would come a point when God would have to let go of the handlebars in my life and let me ride on my own. I viewed my major trials as tests like the Brother of Jared had with the light in the barges he built. I've just recently typed this all up in a letter to an old mission companion, so I'll copy and paste here in just a moment. First, though, I should say that I finally got these false suppositions out of my head after a lot of prayer and scripture study and especially a particularly grueling conversation with our Session Director, Brother Hinton in Santa Barbara well past bedtime one night.

Here's my new conclusion:

After the brother of Jared built the barges, he noticed three problems with them: we can't steer, we can't breathe, and we can't see. The Lord answered each of these issues in a different way. He takes care of our trials in those same three ways. With the steering issue, the commandment was basically, "I'll take care of it; you just need to have faith to get into the boat and you won't have to do anything else." Someimes we need to relinquish control to the Lord. With the breathing issue, the brother of Jared was given specific instructions about what he should do. The Lord was able to see what needed to be done and tell him to do it. In our lives, we often need to find out what the Lord's will is and go and do it.

It's the last one that is the most interesting, and in the end took the most faith. When the brother of Jared repeated his concern about not being able to see in the ships, the Lord turned it around on him and asked the brother of Jared what he wanted to have done. It seems that most of our major trials in life fall into this set. It is natural to feel like the Lord has abandoned us when he doesn't take care of our problems for us or at least tell us what we should do to work our way through them. But there's something important to remember. It may be up to us to come up with the plan, but that plan needs to include the grace of God. Sometimes we have to go into the mountains to forge our stones, but we still require the hand of the Lord to come and give them light. He always will, too.

That's what I'd been missing! Nowhere in the scriptures does God leave someone alone to fight out his own destiny. So what if God doesn't simply abolish the trials from my life the very moment I ask for them? That doesn't mean I have to face them alone. I might have to say, "Lord, please, I'm willing to do this and this and that, but I can't do that on my own and I need thy help." And you know what? He'll do it. It's not meet that we should be commanded in all things, but it's also not meet that we should try to do anything without the blessing and support of Heavenly Father. We need Him every hour, not just until we're done with him.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to write about more things I learned this summer, but for now it looks like my time is up on the library computer. no time to proof-read, either. Bye!


Anonymous said...

Son, You are awesome! Thank you for sharing your lessons of the summer. They are helpful in my life, too! Mom

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this experience. I love when I'm taught.

el veneno said...

Profound stuff. Thanks for sharing. Like you, I'm sometimes surprised how I'm just barely learning things that kids seem to innately understand. I love the way the kids didn't even flinch at a seemingly impossible task but instead creatively found a way to obey as best they could and had a good time doing it. I think of the things I've been asked to do in my life that seem impossible and its because I sometimes focus on the difficulty of the task and the obstacles in my way instead of thinking "cool, what's the best way to do that?" then going at it full speed.

Given said...

I've been toying with the idea of lesson one for my "farewell" talk. I really want to tie together a few things. You know what, I'm just going to post on it.