I’m betting that unless you were one of those ‘super-smart-kids-with-plans-to-have-a-smarty-pants-career’, you probably said something like this about math at one point or another:
“WHEN AM I EVER GOING TO NEED TO USE THIS IN MY REAL LIFE? THIS IS SO POINTLESS TO LEARN!”
I did. I said that a lot. Thankfully I had a patient dad who sat next to me during one of those many homework meltdowns. Actually I should rephrase that: homework/drama queen-hormonal teenage girl/master procrastinator meets middle of the night exhaustion with WAY too much to do, due in a few hours, supposed to be sleeping/the homework pile all the sudden unleashes every stress & emotion and somehow seems symbolic of how chaotic and overwhelming my WHOLE LIFE is…MELTDOWNS. So naturally, I point my finger to the “stupid screwed-up education system” as the source of all my problems. If only those lame educators would recognize that most of us are not going to need to know this stuff, let alone how to solve for these advanced mathematics without a calculator! How practical is that? Are future employers going to fire upon seeing me pull out a calculator? UGH.
Am I right? Did you feel this way, or do you still? Anyway, there is a point to this.
Fast forward 10-15 years later (hopefully a little less drama queen & quick to point fingers) and this happens to me:
My 5 year old daughter runs into my room saying “I keep telling my brother that 2+2=5 and he says I am wrong! I’m going to school and I remember that! He’s being mean!”
Those of you with kids know that my son runs in after her spewing out his defense, of course at the same time that she is tattling. You know it becomes a battle of who is louder- but moms are super human and manage to hear both arguments at the same time. Am I right? 🙂
So I heard his counter “It’s so annoying! She keeps saying 2+2=5 and she will NOT listen to me that she’s wrong! You know I’m right mom! I keep telling her its 4 but she just won’t listen and now she is calling me mean! I’m not trying to be mean! I just need her to know that 5 is the wrong answer and if she does that on her homework she will get the answer wrong.”
I get the yelling to stop with the typical stern-tone-serious-faced “STOP YELLING” and I get a moment of silence to consider how to continue. Now that I’m the parent in this ‘homework meltdown’, I know I have a few choices here. My impatient and “so over it” mom-self wants to snap back (yelling no less) “I AM SO SICK OF THE FIGHTING! KNOCK IT OFF YOU TWO!! THE ANSWER IS ACTUALLY 4, BUT YOU TWO NEED TO LEARN TO BE NICE IN YOUR CONFLICTS!!! GO TO YOUR ROOMS AND THINK ABOUT HOW TO BE NICE NEXT TIME!” Thankfully the silence continues as the kids can tell I’m processing and deciding my next move. They hang on my face, awaiting their fate, with their pride on the line- Who is going to be right?! My own mind races. Technically, my son is right with the answer 4, but they are both in the wrong. They couldn’t see past their emotionally charged situation to find and solve the real problem. The problem with my daughter was that her pride & feelings of getting smarter was based purely on memorization not on understanding. The problem for my son is the same one that stays with many people as they go through life- it’s one that causes adults to harbor life-long grudges and stabbed back wounds: correcting without teaching. Pride in the form of being right but witnessing to this truth incorrectly. So. What to do. My face lights up and the kids catch on immediately. Excitement enters and the feeling of war subsides. I ask my son to get the Cheerios. I ask him to take out 2 cheerios. I ask my daughter to count them. “Get out 2 more cheerios son, but leave them in their own little pile.” You get where this is going. She got it. She LEARNED that “plus” and “addition” means ‘to add to’. She learned what ‘adding to’ actually meant. Understanding was written all over her face. She played with the Cheerios for a good while and the wheels continued to spin. She thanked her brother and I for teaching her. Her apology for fighting with her realization that she just memorized the sentence and she was remembering it wrong was sincere and heartfelt. Her brother was also apologetic for getting mad that she wouldn’t listen and genuinely discovered that day a new way of helping: Teach with understanding, don’t simply correct. And I? I learned a lot that day too. A lesson I have recently re-discovered as I try to navigate my course as a parent and person of faith.
It’s dang hard. You hear things like “God isn’t there. Religion is for people who need crutches to lean on because they don’t have enough brains or self-worth to handle life on their own.” And it makes me want to fight back with the answers I know to be true. But fighting will never work. Just like it didn’t with my son and my daughter.
Now just like in mathematics, it is in real-life. There is absolute truth. There is no way around it. 2+2=4, no matter how badly you want it to be 5, the true answer remains 4. You may not have found that answer yet, but it is there. Science and Religion have been pitted against each other for centuries on end, but that doesn’t alter the truth: they go hand-in-hand, with mathematics, with physics, with chemistry, with all absolute truth… Sometimes in life you have to solve for ‘x’ and you can spend a long time working out the answer and feel pretty good about the answer you arrived on, until seeing the “F” you received on your paper. How could you be wrong? You’re devastated. But, you throw that paper away, don’t look to the markings you worked on last time, because somewhere along the line you messed up and the whole thing was wrong because of it. You get out a new piece of blank scratch paper and go at it again. The only way to get the answer and have it be in line with the real answer, is lots of work, lots of study, lots of patience, good teachers that follow truthful tutorials, and then get it double checked with the source of the true answer.
I think our own spiritual discovery of absolute truths in the spiritual realm is a lot like solving for ‘x.’ You’ve been provided pieces of concrete evidences. You’ve got the sun that couldn’t be even a mile closer or further in it’s distance to the earth without us either burning up or freezing to death. You’ve got the moon that also couldn’t be closer or further to earth without being either crushed with gravity or floating above unable to stand on our feet. You’ve got a perfectly rotating solar system. You’ve got perfectly formed molecules in water, air, earth…. You’ve got those pieces, sitting in an equation waiting for you decide if you’d like to solve for ‘x’.
Then you’ve got those who’ve taken the time to solve for ‘x’ and they are so anxious to help others desire to know absolute truths. But we mess up here, a lot. X= God. Some of us have learned that. But just telling the answer over and over, expecting others to simply believe and memorize the answer won’t help. You’ll see why, let’s go back to the kids+cheerios math scenario:
My husband came home and my daughter excitedly greeted him with “DADDDY!! I can ADD!! Ask me a plus question!!” He responded “Oh wow! What does 3+1 equal?” She ran off to her cheerios and yelled “4!! Just like 2+2!!”
If she had simply believed her brother that her memorization was incorrect and accepted that 2+2 equalled 4, she would not have been able to move past that one equation. She would have had to answer her dad: “I don’t know what 3+1 equals, I only know 2+2=4.”
How can we apply this to our lives? First- realize that all absolute truths can be solved for at the source. Do your study, search and seek. Get your work double checked by God. If you are looking for spiritual knowledge, why are you asking Google? Put in the work and then ask God if it’s right. Be willing to start over if the answer isn’t right yet. Turns out knowing how to solve without a calculator is a good thing after all. 🙂
Second, once you’ve found out the answers through your own painstaking efforts, your next move is to be a tutor. A tutor doesn’t expect students to memorize all the right answers. A good teacher helps by asking the right questions that promote thoughts in the right direction. A good teacher is patient. A good teacher knows when to take a break. A good teacher knows how to build up confidence in the student’s innate capabilities to be able to solve and learn things for themselves. It’s hard. So hard. You can’t just sit there and watch them scratch away on their solving sheet of paper, pointing out the errors along the way, you’ve got to let them follow it through and learn for themselves that there was an error and it needed correcting. You get to celebrate together when the patience and the encouragement paid off and they have actually understood for themselves.
It just all ADDS up. Learning how to solve a simple addition sentence will eventually become knowing how to solve complex advanced arithmetic. Our testimonies of spiritual matters are the same. They are subjected to our own continual work towards understanding not just memorizing what the gospel doctrine teacher says, primary teacher says, or your parents say. Testimonies, true testimonies founded on study of absolutes with humility to accept our own errors in the solving process, are born and cultivated by good teachers. May we seek good teachers, most importantly Christ- the greatest teacher to ever live- as we solve for life’s greatest mysteries. And may we have the patience & the Holy Ghost to help us know the right attitude and the right questions to ask to help open up the potential for true understanding in those we teach- our children most importantly.