Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Lesson—a paradigm shift (change in perspective #2)

On Robert’s first day at school, he
had a wonderful time.
He swung on the swings.
He sang with the other children.
He listened to the stories.
He loved sitting at a desk and
smelling new paper and touching
new pencils.  And his teacher was
very, very nice.

One day Robert’s teacher said, “Children,
it’s time for our lesson.
We are now going to learn how to solve a problem.
One plus one equals what?”

Robert was very curious and listened carefully
while the teacher explained.
Then he raised his hand and said, “The answer is two!”

“Right!” said the teacher.

And Robert was very happy
because he had solved the problem.

The next day when the teacher started talking about
solving a problem, Robert just stared out the window
at a bird that was hopping on a nearby branch,
because he already knew how to solve a problem.
But when his eyes went to the blackboard after the
bird flew away, he saw written there “2+2.”

“What?”  Robert looked at his teacher in surprise.
”Another problem?”

“Oh Robert,” the teacher said, twinkling as if she
knew some marvelous secret, “this is just the beginning.
There are lots and lots of problems.”

Robert sighed.  Then he listened as the teacher
explained, and he raised his hand and said, “four!”

“Right!” said the teacher.

And Robert smiled because he had solved two problems.

Every day when Robert went to school,
there were more and more problems to solve.
And sometimes Robert said to himself,
"This is not fun!”

But his teacher told him he had to
do it anyway, because what he was there
for was to learn.  And he could have fun at
recess and lots of fun after school.
And she said, though Robert did not believe
her, that after he had solved lots of
problems he would feel even happier than
when he slid down the slippery slide.

So one by one Robert solved the problems.
And after he solved them he smiled.

And he moved up a grade.

Then one day the teacher said,
"We are now going to do story problems.”

“Oh, boy,” said Robert, “this sounds like fun!”
He liked stories,
so he listened carefully.

“If you are outside and playing,”
said the teacher, “and you have three cars
and one truck and Joey comes alone
and grabs two cars and the truck,
how many times should you hit Joey?”

Robert thought and thought.
"Two times!”  he said.

“Wrong,” said the teacher.

“Three times!” said Robert.

“Wrong,” said the teacher, and she looked ‘
at him with soft, expectant eyes.

Robert puzzled over this for a little while,
then his hand shot up and he said brightly,
"I know!  No times!”

“Right!” said the teacher.

And Robert smiled because
he had solved another problem.

Robert grew bigger and bigger
and so did his problems.  Oh, he loved
recess, and he played ball and roller-
skated with friends after school
and had the best time!
And the teacher saw to it
that they sang and drew pictures
and had lots of fun in class.

But always there came the problems.

And sometimes he slumped down at his
desk and said, “I am not enjoying this! 
Why are you punishing me with all
these problems?”

And Robert’s teacher, now twinkling as
if the secret were even more
wonderful, answered, “Oh Robert, I am
not punishing you.  It’s just that you
have moved up a grade and are ready
for harder problems.
And here comes one now.”

Robert held onto his desk with both
hands and squeezed his eyes shut
and listened.



Last month, a couple of days after I’d given my Relief Society lesson, I opened the manual and read through my lesson for April.  The lesson topic for chapter 7 was “Faithfulness in Times of Trial.”  In other words, adversity.

One of the first times I read through the chapter a thought popped into my head.  Somewhere I had a little book, a parable really, by Carol Lynn Pearson that would be the perfect introduction to a discussion on adversity.  The book was called “The Lesson” and it told the story of a boy named Robert going to school each day and having to solve problems. 

It turned out that Cindy Lynn had the book at her house—a  mercy really because I never would have been able to find it here with so many of our books still in boxes.  I read it last week while I was there, and had to laugh (though I almost cried) when I came to this page:

One day as Robert was gazing out
the window at the raindrops that were
making puddles on the sidewalk
and thinking what a great splash he
could make, he heard his teacher say,
"Robert, if your family moved to a small
house in a big city and you had to leave
behind two aquariums and one dog and
your best friend…”

“Oh no!”  interrupted Robert.
I don’t want that problem.
Give me a different problem!”

“But I can’t,” said the teacher.  “This is
your problem and you must solve it.”

So Robert worked on it and cried a
little, and finally, after some time had
passed, he found that he had solved
the problem.  And he smiled.
And if felt good.


Oh I knew Robert’s pain!  I knew how much he wanted the teacher to take away this problem and to give him another!  And I hoped that one day I would feel like I had finished solving this particular problem, so that I could smile about it and it would feel good.

I kept thinking about how perfectly this little book fit with my RS lesson.  I worried a little bit about my ability to read through the story without crying, but figured I would just have to be tough.  And then on Sunday night I looked at this week’s Relief Society announcements, trying to find out what time our RS meeting last night was going to start, and saw this at the bottom of the announcements,

Next week’s lesson will be Chapter 6, “Becoming Perfect Before the Lord,” by Cindy Ray.

I froze.  Panicked, right then and there.  That was not my lesson, because I was preparing chapter 7!!  But as I thought about it, I realized what had happened.  Last month, I taught chapter 5.  Since there are two lessons from this manual each month, I automatically assumed that my next lesson would be #7.  But—we’d had stake conference the week after my lesson, so lesson 6 had never been taught.  Sure enough, when I emailed the RS president, she agreed that I was supposed to be teaching chapter 6 this coming Sunday, and not chapter 7.

At first I thought I would ask them to switch it for me.  But I knew that it was very possible that next week’s teacher was already working on her lesson, and it wasn’t fair of me to make her plan a new lesson so that I wouldn’t have to.  And then I thought—maybe this has worked out the way it was supposed to.  Maybe I didn’t need to study this lesson to teach it.  Maybe I just needed to study it for me.  Because reading this little story over and over has reminded my heart of this basic fact—that one of the purposes of mortality is to be tested, and that each test just a lesson, teaching us and shaping us.  I’m not sure why, but somehow the whole thing is so much more manageable when I look at it from that perspective.

Oddly enough the other thing it’s done has been to give me gratitude for the last couple of years.  A few pages later in the book it says,

Robert had a long summer vacation and
played and played and played.
And when it was time to go back
to school, he was ready.

I realized as I read this that in so many ways the last four years (before Russ got laid off) were our “long summer vacation.”  Russ’s last job was really wonderful.  He enjoyed what he did and liked the people he worked with.  He made more money and we actually had some financial flexibility.  Sometimes he had to take time off without pay but those times ended up being really great—having so much time with him during those years was a bonus.  We had beautiful social support structures in place, we liked our callings, we went to the beach regularly.  With the exception of that one time when everything broke, the last four years were fairly peaceful and filled with joy.

Looking back now on these wonderful years I am filled with gratitude to the Lord for being so kind to us—for giving us a “summer vacation” before giving us this new lesson to learn. 

Who knew I could be so grateful for the mistake of preparing the wrong lesson…


  1. Great post! Funny, I am teaching chapter 7 in RS this Sunday and was looking for ideas on how to introduce the topic. I love the perspective of this poem! I may borrow this :)

  2. I totally went on Amazon and just bought this book. :)

  3. sounds like it is the right book at the right time. someone gave it to my when my sister, cheryl, died and it did not help me at all. maybe i will get it out and see if it helps now that mom died.

    i am with plus one was really enough for me and i like questions w/a clear answer. <3