I would first like to thank each of you specifically for your efforts to focus on the Savior as the center of your gospel study and teaching. As I have observed classes and watched you and your students identify His titles and roles, study His characteristics and attributes, and learn from His perfect example1, I have felt of Heavenly Father’s gratitude that you are testifying of His Beloved Son. As you have followed Elder Clark’s counsel to help your students learn to know Him and to learn from Him,2 I have seen an increase of the Holy Ghost in your teaching and invitations. As one teacher recently said to me, “Putting Jesus in the center of my teaching has brought joy back into my classroom.” I encourage you to continue to seek inspiration as to how to most effectively do this each day.
Today, I would like to invite you to build on your efforts to help your students see the Savior not only in their study of the scriptures, but also in you—as you strive to emulate His example and His love. You may remember this thought from President Boyd K. Packer which I find both stirring and staggering in its implications:
“The attributes which it has been my choice privilege to recognize in you brethren and sisters over [the] years are no more nor less than the image of the Master Teacher showing through. I believe that to the degree you perform, according to the challenge and charge which you have, the image of Christ does become engraved upon your countenances. And for all practical purposes, in that classroom at that time and in that expression and with that inspiration, you are He and He is you.”3
Of the comprehensive attributes of the Savior, the one that seems to provide both the motivation and the foundation for all others is His perfect love—His love for His Father in Heaven and His love for each of us.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, … and have not charity, I am nothing.”4 To a group of seminary and institute teachers, Paul may have said, “Though I have the gift of charisma and understand the fundamentals of teaching and learning and all pedagogy, and though I have really great object lessons and have not charity, I am nothing.” Now please do not use that statement as an excuse to not work hard at being a very skillful teacher. But remember that as we pray for understanding, knowledge, and even faith, if we do not add charity, we will be as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”5
The Apostle Paul also wrote, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind.”6
One example of the Savior’s kindness is recorded in Luke 19. Zacchaeus, a publican, had become rich in his service to the Romans but was hated by the Jews who felt betrayed by his tax collecting. One day, Zacchaeus sought to see Jesus but was unable because he was small of stature and unable to push his way through the crowd, which was unwilling to help him. So Zacchaeus ran out in front of where Jesus was walking and climbed a sycamore tree to see Him when He passed.
The scriptures say, “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
“And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.”7
Can you imagine what it meant to Zacchaeus to be seen, and what the Savior’s invitation did for someone so used to being excluded? This small act of kindness must have made a world of difference.
Our students need our long-suffering and kindness. Misbehavior, disruptions, and poor attitudes may, at times, make teaching more difficult. But in those moments, I urge you to look past the behavior and see the person. Please pause long enough to ask, “What else might be causing this behavior or this attitude?”
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “If those children are unresponsive, maybe you cannot teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.
“… None of that is dependent upon them. We can love them from start to finish, and miracles will happen.”8
But how do you do that, especially when some seem harder to love? Elder Holland also helped us with that when he said, “You can start by loving God. Then you can ask Him to help you extend your love for Him to others who need your love.”9 You can “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love.”10 You can pray to see them as He sees them. You can listen and try to understand them. And as President Henry B. Eyring added, “Serve them; find little things to do for them. Pay the price of service, and God will honor it. I will make you that promise. Do not worry if your students are not lovable at times. Just do something for them, and they will seem a little more lovable to you. It will be a gift from God.”11
To all of you that are attending the musical presentations and sporting events of your students or are finding other quiet ways to serve them, thank you. Even if they do not see you, they will feel your love for them increasing because the Lord will bless you with charity because you served them.12
Think for a moment of what Jesus did for the woman with the issue of blood. He did so much more than heal her physically. She must have been exhausted by pain, social rejection, and financial distress. So when Jesus perceived that virtue had gone out of Him, He “looked round about to see her that had done this thing.”13 The physical healing had already taken place. Jesus was on His way to meet another pressing need and yet He stopped. He acknowledged her faith, and He tenderly referred to her as “daughter.”14 The Savior saw her, not her illness. He saw a person who needed to be loved and lifted, not a problem to be solved or a task to be completed.15
Whatever task you need to accomplish, whatever lesson you need to prepare or teach, whatever discipline problem you may encounter, it is always an opportunity to lift people.
And I hope that our love will extend to those who are not currently enrolled or attending. There are many like Zacchaeus and this woman who wait behind the crowds. So follow the example of the Savior and go find them.16 Please, be prayerful and counsel together as you seek inspiration as to how you might help more young people learn of the Savior and His teachings. Enrollment and completion efforts should be a priority and a driving passion in our work to bless more of Heavenly Father’s children.
The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.”17 What might it look like to be clothed in the bonds of charity?
In John 8 we read of a woman who was brought to the temple and presented to Jesus by the Pharisees. They said to the Savior:
“Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
“Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground, as though he did not hear them. When they continued asking, He rose and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
As the Pharisees began to feel convicted by their own consciences, they left one by one. Once Jesus and the woman were alone, He gently asked, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
“She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”18
As you contemplate this event, will you consider three of the many lessons we can learn from the Savior’s perfect example?
First, the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to learn from our mistakes and, through repentance, not be condemned by them. In our classes there are students who have made mistakes. As we compassionately teach of our Father in Heaven’s willingness to forgive and of the joy of repentance,19 we help students (and our children) believe that the Savior’s Atonement applies to them—because it does.
And by the way, this counsel applies equally to each of us. We also need the Savior’s Atonement to help us to be forgiven and to heal. Then as we personally experience the joy of repentance, we will be able to inspire our students to turn to the Savior because that invitation will come from our own changed hearts.
Second, love is a great motivator in helping us want to do what is right. Elder Dale G. Renlund said, “Surely, the Savior did not condone adultery. But He also did not condemn the woman. He encouraged her to reform her life. She was motivated to change because of His compassion and mercy. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible attests to her resultant discipleship: ‘And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name’ [John 8:11, footnote c].”20
As teachers, or as parents, we may be tempted to withhold needed expressions of love because we worry it might be confused with excusing sin or condoning misbehavior. Our students and our children usually already know how we feel about the Lord and His commandments. What they often need is the reassurance that they are loved and valued. The love and hope this woman must have felt as she was blessed by the Savior’s “bonds of charity” is what we hope all our students will feel as they learn of Him and of His gospel.
Third, the Savior loves the Father’s doctrine but never used it as a club. The Pharisees knew well and even appealed to the law of Moses, citing both the law and its consequences. But the very Giver of the law, whose mission was to “bind up the broken hearted [and] proclaim liberty to the captives,”21 chose instead to extend mercy. He protected the woman from the accusing hands and hearts of the Pharisees while providing them needed self-reflection and awareness of their own need to change.
At times we have students and teachers who have used doctrine in a way that invites a spirit of accusation and condemnation. Rather than encouraging and edifying, this approach demeans and can even destroy. To follow the example of the Master is to teach in a way that brings hope and heals the brokenhearted.
In addition to sin, broken hearts come from a variety of circumstances. Many students come from difficult, even traumatic situations that leave them doubting if they are loved and valued. Some struggle with challenges, with anxiety, or with perfectionism that causes them to hear condemnation instead of hope. Others feel unwanted because they face temptations or challenges in relation to sexual identity and feel trapped and worried that they have no place or future in the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
As teachers, we need to seek to understand what these experiences may be like for our students. Let me share with you just one example from the perspective of a former student explaining his experience in seminary. He said, “The commandment is to love your neighbor, but it feels like people think it is to love your neighbor unless you are gay. The overarching message is that is the worst possible thing, and it makes me question how I can have self-worth and how Heavenly Father can ever love me.”
Whatever personal challenges students may face, we need to listen in order to understand and to communicate sincere empathy and love. We need to create classrooms where questions are welcome and issues are discussed with respect and thoughtfulness. We need to clearly teach truth and help every student recognize his or her eternal identity as children of loving heavenly parents.22 And we need to help students know they are not alone. Showing them more love and understanding will invite the Holy Ghost, increase learning, and heal broken hearts.23
President Dallin H. Oaks taught, “We have a duty to ‘bear one another’s burdens that they may be light’ [Mosiah 18:8]. While we cannot change the Lord’s doctrine, we want our members and our policies to be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality.” He also added that “Our members’ efforts to show more understanding, compassion and love should increase respect and understanding … [and] reduce the hate and contention so common today. … That is surely our desire, and we seek the help of our members and others to attain it.”24
It is critical that every teacher understands the doctrine, knows what the Lord’s prophets are currently saying about these topics, and knows how to respond in helpful and compassionate ways.25 We are very committed to making progress in these areas and will be providing additional training and resources to help you.
If there are moments when things are being said by you or by students that may cause someone to feel unwanted, will you pray for the strength and understanding as to how you might help lower the hands of accusation? Help your students remember that every one of us is still growing and needs the Savior’s mercy. It was Lucifer that was known as the Accuser, who “accused [us] before our God day and night.”26 In comparison, the hands, arms, and love of the Lord are outstretched still.
Another characteristic of divine love is the desire of our Father in Heaven for us to become like Him and to receive all the blessings He has prepared for His children.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “Our Heavenly Father is a God of high expectations.”27 He does not give up on us. He bears with us when we falter, hopes for us as we improve, and patiently endures as we grow. A teacher who loves her students also has high expectations and will care more about their eternal progress than about how today’s class went or how well she is liked by the students.
Jesus cared deeply about the progress of His followers.
For example, Jesus saw in Peter what he could not see in himself. He invited Peter to act in faith, and when Peter faltered, the Savior lifted him up, always focused on who Peter would eventually become.
Having high expectations will inspire students to act in faith, allowing them to experience the Lord’s promised blessings. Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that when we lead and teach without love and have low expectations, we encourage rebellion. High expectations without love fosters deviance. High love but low expectations creates a feeling of fraternity but little progression. However, high love and high expectations creates miracles.28 That is the type of love the Savior has and is the type of love we must have if we are to make a difference in the lives of our students.
When I ask seminary and institute students how the love of their teacher has blessed them, their answers come quickly and are filled with gratitude. Here are just a few recent examples:
One young woman said, “I love walking into seminary and seeing my teacher happy and smiling. I do not even know how to put into words how much his love has done for me. A little while ago he gave me a compliment, and I walked out of the building trying not to cry, it made me so happy. That simple compliment meant so much to me. Every day I am excited to go to seminary. It is the highlight of my day. My teacher’s love for me has taught me to love everyone else as a son or daughter of God.”
To paraphrase another, “Our class today has really changed me. I got my courage up to ask a difficult question, and my teacher really listened and tried to understand where I was coming from. Then she took the time to address my question. What she said really opened my eyes to some things I had not considered before.”
And finally, a young man wrote, “I started off this semester with a bad attitude. I did not care for the gospel or myself, and I was so far from happy. I told my parents I wanted to drop seminary. And then I went to class. And my teacher knew my name even when I had not been there before. The spirit in our class set the tone for my entire day, and life got a little better. I changed my habits, started attending church more, read my scriptures, and started thinking. Because of his love for us and for the gospel, and the light of Christ I saw in him, I strived for that light and that love. I will graduate from seminary, serve a mission, and one day marry in the temple because my teacher invited the Spirit and taught with Him as His companion every day.”
Now in closing, I would like to voice my appreciation for the Lord and for you. I am grateful for the Lord’s all-encompassing and immediate love. I am grateful for His patience as I strive to learn the very lessons we have talked about today. His love and compassion make me want to be better. And I want you to know how much we love you. We recognize your tireless service to those you teach and assist. We know how much you pray for them, and how you ache when they struggle, and how you rejoice when they succeed. We know you carry your own burdens and rely daily on the Lord for His strength for you and your families. We hope you know that we pray for you and that we love you.
May you help each student come to know and love the Savior by helping them to see Him, both in their study of the scriptures and in you. My prayer is that we will simply be kind and see individuals and not problems; that we will reach out to bless ever more of Heavenly Father’s children; that we will lower the hands of accusation and help everyone feel they have a place and a future in the Lord’s Church; that we will encourage our students to follow the Savior’s teachings as lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ, clinging to the covenant path so they can receive all the blessings our Heavenly Father has for them. May we help them feel and rely on the love of our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. And may you never forget that “the image of Christ [can] become engraved upon your countenances. And for all practical purposes, in that classroom at that time and in that expression and with that inspiration, you are He and He is you.”29
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Version: 5/19. Translation of “Above All Things.” Language. PD60009021 000