Since this is my last post before I head out to the mission field, I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. I’ve slipped into the 21-year-old version of a “last lecture” mentality. (I hope I’ll be back to write after my mission, but that’s a little ways out.)
A few weeks ago, Michelle Marchant gave a beautiful devotional here on BYU campus and it got my spiritual/mental cogs turning. Her address was entitled, “My Life is a Gift; My Life Has a Plan” (http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=2103) and in it she focused on how each of us in this human family is a child of God. To introduce her topic, she shared the insight of her three-year-old niece who already understands that, “Heavenly Father made you and He made me.” Sister Marchant talked about God’s universal, yet individual and personal awareness of each of us because He is an “attentive father.”
So, I’ve been pondering on how the knowledge of our divine heritage changes our approach to teaching. When I recognize the inherent divinity in my students, how does that change how I think of them and how I teach them?
When I was abroad last summer, my class took a trip to Turkey where we visited the site of ancient Troy. As we stood there on the ruins of a civilization fallen to war, my professor said something I’ll never forget, “The only way people can treat each other with such cruelty is if they dehumanize their enemies.” If you cast your opponent as more beast than man, as a monster, as a savage, barbarian, etc., then you’re no longer fighting a man with a family and hopes and convictions and a future, you’re a fighting an inhuman entity to which you cannot relate. It’s easier that way. When people recognize their brotherhood, they have a much harder time doing awful things to each other.
Moving along that train of thought, if we recognize not only our brotherhood, but our shared divine identity, our treatment of one another elevates accordingly. When I see my students as children of God, not just kids at an elementary school, I understand more of their potential. The responsibility of teaching God’s children is intimidating. How could I be worthy of such an important duty? That’s when I remind myself that I am also a daughter of God, and these little people who inspire me daily are my spiritual siblings. The camaraderie of being one of God’s children sent to guide and teach others of His children is a sweet feeling. The exchange between student and teacher as two beings teaching each other different lessons, emerges more clearly for me when I think about us as siblings.
I’m the oldest of eight kids in my family. As the oldest, being a teacher and leader has been the default for my life. My parents have always expected me to set a good example and help my siblings figure things out. I distinctly remember chats with my little sister when I was 10 and she was 8 where I would explain to her that she could learn things “the easy way” by listening to me or “the hard way” by finding out firsthand what happened if you crossed our parents. Teaching as a sister is a tender experience. You do it because you’ve seen what your little siblings will be up against and you want them to succeed. So you give them your knowledge to assist them in hurdling life’s challenges. And you remember the big sister or big brother figure who gave you that knowledge in the first place. And you know that your little sister, your student, will one day be someone else’s big sister, someone else’s teacher.
In her talk, Sister Marchant shared my favorite Elder Maxwell quote. The idea represented in this quote has been a pillar in my thought process for years now. “The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.”
Thinking of teaching as an interweaving of human orbits in which we are siblings and children of God, makes the whole process seem so collective and synergistically oriented. I love that! Teaching makes us all part of a web of sharing knowledge, of melding our maps together, of forging a path arm in arm throughout generations to make it home together.
So I’m off, brothers and sisters, to teach and lift, to be taught and lifted, and in the end, to come home with you.