With a goal to develop more Christlike attributes, our youth Sunday School class had a lively discussion recently on seemingly mundane object lessons, otherwise known as parables.
Jesus Christ was the master of symbolic teaching, but after viewing a Mormon media production on the parable of the lost sheep, we were reminded how Jesus created teaching moments at the most inopportune times using parables to capture interest and dispel controversy. Together, we were more determined to do just that in our own lives.
After the video, students took turns teaching truths learned from several New Testament parables that were suggested in “Come, Follow Me.” For example:
• The parable of the 10 virgins reminds us that spiritual preparation is vital not only for tackling today’s troubles but for eternal progression. Just like a student who diligently studies for a test cannot instantly share all his knowledge with a friend who arrives at class unprepared, so, too, we cannot share our hard-earned testimonies with those who need a quick save during a stressful moment. It doesn’t mean we can’t serve, help and strengthen, but each has to enter the gate of salvation opened by the Savior on his own two feet in order to progress.
• The short and sweet parable of the lost coin was a reminder that some things or people are worth the time to search and find. Our student compared the lesson learned to effective visiting and home teaching as well as missionary work.
• Another student summarized the parable of the sower and his seeds and reminded us that even good seeds can’t grow in poor soil. She said we must prepare ourselves so that truth may take root, grow, flourish and stand strong within us.
• The parable of the prodigal son reminded us to avoid envy and being judgmental as well as the long-term consequences of rash and greedy decisions in our youth. Together, we talked about all needing Christ’s Atonement to help us overcome our individual weaknesses and to forgive others for theirs.
• The longest, most emotional discussion was sparked by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Our most ardent supporters of “earning what you receive” had a very hard time accepting the fact that the laborers who worked for just an hour received the same wage as those who worked all day. We talked about contracts, opportunities and gratitude but ultimately, Elder Jeffery R. Holland’s perspective was the most helpful: “Why should you be jealous because (God) chose to be kind?” And “Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.”
We also discussed Elder David A. Bednar’s parable of the cucumbers and pickles and tried to think of experiences or traditions in our own childhood that could be used as a parable to teach about Christ. Most responses had to do with sports, but my favorite was the story offered by my daughter about our naughty flock of chickens.
One out of the seven chickens is a definite outcast and is regularly and literally hen-pecked. She has a crown of feathers on her head and the other, more normal-looking chickens bully her incessantly and even rip a feather off her head as they pass. She often stays in the nesting box all day to avoid interactions. In spite of her social trials, this crowned chicken we call “Princess” is tame enough to pick up to hold. Her rejections have made her meek, humble and loveable rather than defensive and feisty. My daughter said that our chickens will be a source of teaching-opportunity parables for a long time to come.
We finished our Sunday School class with a speed round of parable sharing. To begin, we imagined ourselves sitting in a missionary moment in a living room with a certain object on the table in front of us.
“Grab a regular object from everyday life and symbolically teach a principle of the gospel using it,” I said, and then passed around a bag of random items from a drawer in my bathroom.
With less than a minute of preparation, here’s a sampling of what my students blurted out on the fly:
“Like this flashlight, the gospel can help you navigate your way through the darkness of your trials and help you find your way.”
“Like this bar of soap, the Atonement of Jesus Christ cleanses your spirit.”
“Learning the gospel is like brushing your teeth, but if you want to take it to the next level, you floss. Likewise, to really study and take your testimony to the next level, you must read your scriptures everyday.“
“Living righteously is like using an orange highlighting marker everyday you will do things to highlight and remember instead of just cruising through another plain day and possibly have choices you’d rather black out with a permanent marker.”
“This ornate bracelet watch is really just a tool to tell time, but sometimes, we get so caught up in frills and decorations, we forget what matters most.”
“A pencil sharpener is a good reminder that we must always keep our testimony sharp, not dull.”
“This bag of little rocks reminds us that we need to build our spiritual foundation on the rock of Jesus Christ and not on sand.” (Side note: Before you judge me for having rocks in my bathroom drawer, my student didn’t realize they were actually some uncut sapphires we mined this summer that look rather dull and boring — another perfect object lesson!)
Training our minds to think symbolically helps prepare us for teaching moments when seemingly ordinary objects can be used to explain gospel truths. Christ was the master of such teaching methods and we can only hope to follow in his footsteps.