By Janet Walgren
I was about 35 years old the first time that I took a teacher development class. It was a church sponsored Sunday school class that was “by invitation only.” I had been teaching a variety of church classes for several years and, although I fancied myself an excellent teacher, I was excited to receive the invitation because I knew that there was always room for improvement; I felt special. Then, on the first Sunday of my new class, I was very was very surprised (shocked would be more like it) to find out that my neighbor had also been invited to attend the class.
My neighbor had a lot of challenges in life including a huge lack of parenting skills. I tried to help her out and teach her better parenting methods, and things had been going very well for about six months when all of a sudden she came knocking on my door. When I opened it, my neighbor let loose with a string of curse words that would make a sailor blush, thrust a borrowed parenting book in my face and continued shouting at me until I finally shut the door. I was bewildered; I had no idea what had caused her to behave that way and every time that I went outside, she would rush out and continue her verbal abuse.
My neighbor was not active in the congregation, did not live the church standards, and was not in any way inclined to change her behavior so as to reconcile it to conform to the standards set forth by the church. Needless to say, I was totally befuddled as to why the two of us were sitting in the same classroom learning how to teach the gospel, but at least she didn’t curse at me in church. As our lessons progressed, so did her enmity towards me. Finally the lessons were coming to a close and our final assignment was given. We were to prepare a lesson of our choice and teach it to the class. The object of the exercise was to prove that one could teach any gospel topic without offending anyone. Part of the assignment involved writing down an imaginary class profile.
I went home in total disbelief. I didn’t think that it was true and I set out to prove it. My imaginary class profile lived next door – all four of them and a few imaginary extras with similar problems thrown in for good measure. I wanted to make sure that I was doctrinally sound so rather than make up my own lesson, I took the hardest doctrines that I could find from existing church manuals. The next Sunday, I marched out the door armed to the hilt. I was last to present my lesson. After each presentation, the teacher and class would comment, and then it was my turn.
My lesson centered on baptism and eternal families. My neighbor’s husband was not baptized so when I quoted the scripture, “Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” I was telling my neighbor that they were not going to be an eternal family, and that her husband, the father of her children, was not going to go to heaven unless some major changes were made so that he could be baptized.
When I finished, I sat down feeling a little annoyed. The teacher was silent and the class pretended that my lesson didn’t happen; they were stunned. I had proven my point but there was no satisfaction in it. I skipped the rest of church and started walking home. About a block from home, my neighbor came racing towards me crying and screaming my name. I didn’t know if she was going to hit me or what, but when she caught up to me, she hugged me and said, “Thank you! I know that the gospel is true. I know the teachings. Why don’t people have the guts to tell it the way it is? Now I know that the rumor that I heard about you was a lie. I know that if you had the guts to teach the truth to my face, you would not lie behind my back. Please forgive me.”
That day, I learned a few things. I learned the cause of her animosity towards me and we were reconciled. I also learned that one can teach any truth contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ without offending anybody, IF you teach it in purity with honesty and love.