It’s the Principle of the Thing

Elder Richard G. Scott spoke the following profound words in General Conference thirteen years ago:

“As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86).

Search for Principles.
How essential principle-finding is, not just for ourselves but for our young people today. The world shouts beligerantly in their ears all kinds of stuff (of which I won’t waste time here elaborating). The important question is how will the youth of today sort through the gunk, to find that which is true?

True principles are timeless. They apply in all scenarios, all countries, for all people. They clarify truth and they clarify righteous choices. They are truth. The most profound place to locate the Lord’s principles? In the scriptures.

How essential we give our young men and women ample time in the scriptures while we are with them, so that they can testify they’ve heard the Lord’s voice and can apply His teachings clearly and confidently in their lives.

Elder Boyd K. Packer testified of the urgency and “why” of principles and doctrine. He said:

“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.

“The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17).

So the question is, how clearly are we teaching our youth to find these true doctrines? We will not always be present in their lives (even if we are their parents).

The fastest and most effective way to give our youth this skill is to get them into the scriptures themselves. We want to help these kids learn to deduce, on their own, true principles from their scriptural pages. As Elder Scott and Elder Packer so succinctly taught, our students need these principles to guide them every day.

Principles are perfectly-portable-packages-of-truth and they will serve as endless generators of hope and spiritual guidance IF our youth can find them, understand them, and apply them. Principles will help our young men and women ascertain God’s safer paths given them in today’s world and courageously stick to those paths.

Learning to do this, though, takes time AND it takes practice. We, as these kids’ parents, teachers, and youth leaders need to provide that time and practice.

One of the seminary students in my class today provided a perfect example of this to the rest of the class–without even my involvement! During the devotional she gave, she shared having found a guiding principle in her scripture study last night.

During the devotional, she told of feeling overburdened currently in her life and struggling with forgiving others. Then she shared how she’d read last night in D&C 64 and read vs. 9 of that chapter. She said she read it twice because it struck her so powerfully about forgiving. Then as she moved through the chapter, she encountered vs. 33:

“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”

She shared during her devotional that from these words uplifted her and strengthened her to continue in the good deeds she was doing in her life right now. I watched in amazement. This verse and its attending truth had powerfully struck her last night and had become a guiding principle for her in her life.

I found this so exciting. She’d discovered this for herself last night! And what’s even larger, she felt able to explain, share, and testify of the experience with us today.

This, my friends, is the whole point, isn’t it? The Spirit brought her to it, not me or any other person in her life. She had placed herself in the right place and time (studying her scriptures) and as a result, she was given/shown by the Spirit a principle she could use as a guiding factor in her life.

I had nothing to do with this at all–she experienced this and as a result, was the recipient of a great moment of truth. What a thing to celebrate.

The reality of all this is quite apparent: while we can bring our youth to the fountains of truth, only they can discover for themselves how powerful truth really is and how simple it is to gain and apply it. When these moments come, they easily form a generator of energy and hope then to carry these young women and men through the challenging times facing them.

Thus, during the precious moments we have with our youth, let’s make sure to allow plenty of time where they can learn how to find these potent principles. The impact will be eternal.

We lead our youth to do this by:

  1. Spending time together AND privately in scripture study. How else will the Spirit have a platform or foundation upon which to testify if our kids are not in the scriptures themselves, no matter the class or the event?
  2. Spending time afterwards sharing, explaining, and testifying to new insights they’ve just discovered through the scriptures.
  3. Spending time journaling of the experience, so that they can have it recorded for future moments of need, whether for their own need or that of their posterity.

Oh, our potency as the parents, teachers, and leaders of these mighty youth. They’ve had so much placed on their shoulders. Surely we will give them that which will edify them most…the skill to find these perfectly-portable-packages-of-truth known as “principles”, left for us by the Lord amongst the pages of our scriptures!

Happy teaching!

Warmly,

C.S. Bezas

Talking, Talking, Talking, Talking, Talking,….

What do you do with a class of students so thrilled to see each other that they spend nearly the entire class time talking, talking, talking, talking…(you get the idea) while the teacher is trying to teach?

Well, I’ve noticed something quite interesting on the days where this happens to me versus the days when it doesn’t.

It’s a bit similar to being starving. The hungrier we are, the harder it is to concentrate. I rather think our youth are like this.

They are amongst the Lord’s brightest (we’ve been told). They have been prepared for these times which are upon us. They are quick of understanding. They are hungry for knowledge and truth. When I feed them spiritually with what they need, THEY ARE ATTENTIVE! When I don’t, they aren’t. Their bodies might physically be in attendance, but their minds sure are not. They’re not being fed with information they can retain.

I’ve heard it best explained by author Teri James Bellis, who wrote When the Brain Can’t Hear. She said oftentimes students need mental “shelves” upon which to rest new information. Those shelves essentially serve as “applicators of interest” (my words, not hers). So if there is no immediate application of knowledge, the information slips from the mind and has no value.

She gives the example of teaching about birds to younger kids and that for some kids, they need a real life example of personal experience to make sense of the new knowledge. For a kid like this, you would say, “Remember last year when we saw the geese flying up from the pond near here? Those are geese. And today we’re going to talk about a specific kind of geese.”

Voila! The child’s mind is opened up and they now have a mental “shelf” to retain the new information.

In a broad sense, we are all like this. We are continually bombarded with information in today’s world, more so than ever. Youth are no different. In fact, they’re probably suffering with more information load than we are, given their homework load. To maintain sanity, there must needs be the ability to let non-essential information slip from our minds.

But we don’t want this for them when it comes to spiritual information! So what is a teacher to do?

Easy. We notice when the talking problem is rising. It is a perfect clue that we’ve not first provided a mental “shelf” for the students, prior to giving new knowledge.

Translated, this simply means the student needs to be shown “what this means” to them.

Case in point. Yesterday my class had a severe talking problem. I tried everything I knew to “solve” the situation. Of course, my approach failed. I can’t “solve” talking problems for my students. They control their mouths, they control their lives.

Today was completely different. Why? Because the Lord helped me create a far sturdier “shelf” in the students’ minds, before talking about prophets (our seminary lesson was on D&C 23 & 24 today). Without going into too much detail (as I’ve been asked by CES not to give scripted lessons on a blog), I will say that everything in this lesson today I chose to place in a framework about “them”–the students–and what they face today.

I shared a few examples from my own life regarding choices I’ve made–and the blessings I’ve received–by hearkening to prophetic counsel. But the huge difference between yesterday’s and today’s results in class really came down to this: my students could easily apply what they were hearing into their lives today — not just speaking symbolically, but TODAY, September 19, 2006. When they walked out the door of the classroom, they had tools from today’s lesson to strengthen them for the next 24 hours. This got their attention.

And the result? They listened all through class.

Reading Newspapers in Class

What do you do if a student in class reads the sports section of the newspaper? (or passes notes, or talks in class, or picks their nose, or…well, you get the idea–all rude behaviors)

A teacher relayed this question to me and here are a few thoughts.

1. Perhaps the student has no comprehension of the impact.
(At times, especially when we are under pressure from life, we are less aware of our actions and their impact on others.)

2. Perhaps the student has a school assignment that he is prepping for.

3. Perhaps the student is making a point (which could be any number of things).

4. Perhaps the student is angry and wants to be rude.

5. Perhaps seminary (or mutual, etc.) is the only place the student feels free to decompress, due to the rigors of homework and outside expectations.

Regardless of the motivation behind why “the sports section” during class, it is something that needs to be avoided. The students all need to learn that there is a time and a place for any activity here on this earth (actually, some activities should never be given a time nor a place).

But how does one teach this understanding, and especially the respect that we would hope would attend it?

The answer always is found in a four letter word (of the best kind)…
L-O-V-E .

When faced with a situation like this, the newspaper really needs to be put away. Generally speaking, most students will comply when asked–if not the first time asked, usually at least by the third time. :0)

But even so, we as teachers are not finished. Remember the quote: “When they know what we know and feel what we feel, they will do what we do.” In this instance, we have a perfect opportunity to show what we know and feel. And we can only do this (best way) in private with that student.

Speaking privately has a way of disarming a child. They are not having to worry about what their peers think and are more likely to respond openly (at least to some degree).

When and if you have a situation occur where you need to talk privately with a student about a specific situation, remember three things:

1. Their perspective.
2. Their perspective.
3. Their perspective.

All joking aside, until the student knows how much you care, they won’t care how much you know. Nor will they give much heed to what you say. It’s a funny thing about us mortals. It really does matter to us if the person standing before us, talking to us, cares about us.

So when you speak in private with any of your students, you will get better results if you first find out
a) how they’re doing in school and in life,
b) how they’re feeling about seminary (or young women’s or sunday school, etc.), and THEN
c) what they’re understanding was of when they “read the newspaper in class.”

What you learn might surprise you.

And the benefit by first seeking to understand (rather than reprimand) can yield amazing fruits.

Happy teaching!

Warmly,

C.S. Bezas

In Righteousness We Will Live

According to our Bible Dictionary, Hosea was the only prophet in the Old Testament from the northern kingdom that left written prophecies (1). He lived during a time of great societal decline, not unlike ours perhaps. Yet his entire message seemed centered around the strength of God’s love for His people, inspite of their pagan and wicked activities.

Throughout Hosea’s chapters, he teaches of the Lord’s patience for Israel:

“For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name.

“And in that day will I make a covenant for them….I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.

“And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies….

“And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:17-19, 23) (emphasis added).

Our youth need to understand the beauty of the Lord’s love for them. They need to understand the Lord’s willingness to forgive and forget. This graciousness on His part will always come if and when our youth turn to Him in righteousness.

Notice the Lord does NOT say, “in perfectness.” No, instead the request is “in righteousness.”

When we look up the definition of “righteous”, we can read that this refers to living in a moral or virtuous way.

Thus we see, the Lord does not expect perfection (although that is an eventual goal); for now He simply requires that we set aside the things of this world (which destroy us, anyways) and seek a virtuous lifestyle – which is essentially what Jesus Christ modeled for us while here on this earth.

What are you doing to teach your youth this very thing? It’s something which has been on my mind for a time and I’d love to hear your thoughts. If Hosea could preach of God’s love during the wicked time in which he lived, we certainly can do the same.

Here are some simple suggestions. We can:

  1. Obtain a testimony of this ourselves.
  2. Notice examples of the Lord’s gentleness as we go throughout the year, either in the scriptures or in our personal lives. We can point them out and use the examples in our lessons.
  3. Lead our youth in research activities in the scriptures, specifically asking them to find examples of the Lord’s loving kindness, inspite of the people’s wicked choices.
  4. Have our students show each other examples in the scriptures of how quickly the Lord turns to His people when the people turn to Him.

We can be as Hosea for our youth–steady voices of truth, proclaiming God’s love for His children. We must do this, for who else will? May the Lord bless us to have the strength to do this, in wisdom and truth.

Warmly,

C.S. Bezas

(1) Bible Dictionary, p. 705.

The Sacrifice Required

‘POWERFUL TIPS’ Book News:
The Editor is finished with the manuscript and it is being sent off today to the printers! I’m so excited to get this out to you and pray it may bring you great comfort as you read it (once it arrives in bookstores, that is!). :0)

Other Thoughts:
I heard the other day a parent comment that early-morning seminary should be discontinued because it asks too much. This really gave me cause for pause. Does it ask too much from us to get up very early and at times feel sleep deprived as seminary teachers? Does it ask too much from the youth to get an hour or two less of sleep than their peers?

The same might be asked by a mutual teacher who works with unappreciative youth or by a parent who has their hands full with a rebellious child. Do our sacrifices really matter? Are they needed…because they sure require a lot from us! (well, I guess that’s the whole point of “sacrifice,” but I think you know what I mean :0).

This has been on my mind much, since hearing the comment mentioned above. Then we sang the following hymn in church on Sunday and I knew the answer.

REVERENTLY AND MEEKLY NOW
Text by Joseph L. Townsend, 1849-1942

Rev’rently and meekly now, Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one; Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain, Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree I have ransomed even thee.

In this bread now blest for thee, Emblem of my body see;
In this water or this wine, Emblem of my blood divine.
Oh, remember what was done That the sinner might be won.
On the cross of Calvary I have suffered death for thee….

Just reading those words out loud brings the spirit in force to me. And so as I contemplate the sacrifice required to teach of His Sacrifice, is it really too much? Or have I just not learned yet how to balance what it is that I need to do to carry this off well?

So sacrifice? Yes, sacrifice is required to teach early morning seminary, to work with unappreciated youth (without anger), or to continue to extend the hand of love to a rebellious child. In my case, there have been seminary teaching days in the past for me, with my chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, that I couldn’t even sit up in bed without my husband’s help. But once I got to a stand and got ready, got to class and taught the lesson, I would invariably feel the necessity of my sacrifice. For it brought me to a place of undeniable joy and a sense of satisfaction that cannot be feigned.

I WILL continue to teach these youth as I have been asked. The Lord has placed me in this position. He has placed you in yours. May we be blessed as we go forth, teaching of the One who literally bled and died so that we might live and know joy in the process.

What an amazing gift.

Warmly,

C.S. Bezas

Keeping Focus

Keeping focus while teaching makes the difference in bringing about powerful moments with those we teach.

As most of you know, I am a seminary teacher (amongst other things). There are a lot of things going on in a seminary class each day. Not only do we start with a devotional – usually student led – but there are other things which either contribute or distract from the 50 minutes we have together. Those distractions may come from off-topic questions or from a kid asking to go to the restroom. Regardless of what they are, they potentially stand in the way of powerful teaching moments.

Those are the distractions kids may cause. But as teachers, do we bring distractions to the classroom?

Hmm.

As gospel teachers, we have tools that are wonderful and that help us stayed focused. First and foremost, I have my scriptures which are referenced in each lesson from my teacher’s manual – and this is true, whether I’m teaching sunday school, seminary, or in any other auxiliary. It is important to remember that the actual scriptures are the most important topic/content to be used for the lesson that day. Nothing else can bring the spirit quite as quickly as simply reading the Lord’s words. What better way to stay focused each day for the lesson’s purpose, than to actually read from the scriptures suggested in the manual.

Speaking of manuals, my teacher’s manual is another excellent tool for helping me define my teaching emphasis for the day. Usually, there is too much to choose from in each teacher’s chapter/manual. This is intentional, as I’ve been told from my CES supervisor. We are given much in the manual and it is through prayer that we are to discern what to share with our specific students. Each student’s needs vary, as do that of each class.

As gospel teachers, in our manuals we typically can find headings for each section. These can additionally help clarify an inspired focus for the day. For example, as a seminary teacher, each of my manual chapters has a general heading called, “Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For.” Under that heading are listed anywhere from two to eight (or so) unique principles to be gained from the current chapter we are studying in the scriptures (there are usually many additional principles than just those listed in a manual…the ones listed in the manuals simply provide important starting points). Thus, these headings are great focusing tools!

I also have found an additional aid that very much helps me keep my focus on my teaching goal for the day…during class time itself. I call it my “blue-hangy-downy thing.” I’m sure there is a much more professional title for this teaching aid, but until I can get a picture uploaded, I will describe it. It is blue, about three feet long by four feet long. And it has about 12 lengths of horizontal plastic to hold paper strips. It is the perfect tool for use by teachers.

I use it to do the following: when I want my students to walk away with an important focus for the day, I summarize the teaching focus or portion of a scriptural phrase onto a long strip of paper. I slip it in one of the plastic areas for the kids to look at during the class hours. I use it as a backdrop during the rest of our classroom activities.

Sometimes I’ll even transfer an abbreviated version of the headings from my teacher’s manual to individual strips of paper. I place those in the appropriate places on the blue-hangy-downy-thing. This way I can know that all through the lesson, my students are having visual reinforcement as to what the lesson is for the day.

No matter what might happen during the class, I can be continually referring back to the word strips. In so doing, our lesson stays focused and I’ve used more than one body sense for learning (research shows that the more modes used in a teaching environment, the longer the retention in the mind of the learner).

Each of these tools (and there are others, of course) have helped me work towards that desired moment where the students grasp an eternally significant principle and I can see the light go on in their eyes. It’s been another day well taught. With the Lord’s help, we’ll have many!

The Burden of Balance

‘POWERFUL TIPS’ Book News:
I’ve just heard from my publisher and the book is now back from line editing and will soon be ready to be sent to the printers!

Other Thoughts:
I just finished writing an article for Meridian Magazine, entitled The Burden of Balance. In writing this piece, I thought of the times of anguish I have felt when I realized I’d traded sweet time with my children in lieu of over-the-top prep for a seminary class I was teaching the next morning.

I’ve since learned to balance my time a bit better with my family, seminary responsibilities, and all the other endeavors I have going currently (although, of course, I’m still learning in all this). But my heart does anguish in those lost moments, when I all too often said, “Not now, honey. Mommy can’t play. I’ve got to prep this seminary lesson.”

And so I turned today to page 2 of TEACHING THE GOSPEL: A HANDBOOK FOR CES TEACHERS AND LEADERS. It’s a tidy little booklet (well, not too little…it sports about an 8 1/2×11 inch size). I mused over the page entitled “Religious Education.” On this page, discussion ensues about the difference of secular education and religious education, the purposes and approaches.

And my heart noted the phrase at the bottom of the first column on the left: “The worth of a soul“.

THIS is why we teach the gospel to each other at church, and at home. It is because souls matter. And this is precisely why it is essential we conquer balance issues as we go through life. Never must we lose sight that while we are carrying out responsibilities, we also must remember that people matter most.

And so for all the times my children heard that tired phrase, “Not now, honey. Mommy is busy,” I am so sorry. I’ve apologized to them for the abundance of those times, spent in church duties and otherwise, and I’ve shared that I’d forgotten one of the most important parts of the gospel: that our relationships are eternal.

The hand that squeezes mine today in its tiny, sweet plumpness, will one day be big and strong – and I hope will still desire to cling to my future old and frail hand.

If I push away people who matter most, simply because I’m fixated on a responsibility of some sort, I’ve then truly forgotten the heart of religious education in the first place…edifying those God has placed in my life, starting first and foremost with my own family.

I pray I’ve learned the lesson.