Those happy(?) student days

God provides strength and love, whatever is most needed.

We hear a lot today about the lives of students – the demands on them, their needs and opportunities. It's an exciting and important time in anyone's life.

As a university professor, I've given a lot of thought to how I can be most helpful to students who are facing emotional problems or difficult circumstances, even though I have limited contact with most of them.

Prayer has been a great help in leading me to discern needs and respond to them in useful ways. I understand prayer as listening to God, divine Mind, the source of all intelligence and love.

In her opening chapter of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," titled "Prayer," Mary Baker Eddy wrote of God as divine Love: "Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals" (p. 13).

I've experienced some of these "impartial and universal" expressions of God's love, most often either through strength and courage or through compassion and comfort, depending on what's most needed in a particular situation.

Two experiences have taught me much about these different characteristics of divine Love and the ways they apply to how I relate to students.

For a couple of years, I cotaught a senior-level class. At the end of the term, one student expressed dissatisfaction with the grade he was given. I carefully reported how we had evaluated him. But then the e-mails from the student became increasingly angry and abusive, bordering on threatening. I prayed to know what steps to take next.

The message that came was that I needed to confront the abusive behavior directly. I wrote to the student fearlessly, first enumerating examples of what I thought he had done well in the course and in previous courses but stating firmly that the evaluation was fair, his accusations were unfounded, and his abusive behavior was not acceptable.

His response was filled with contrition, admitting his behavior was inappropriate, asking forgiveness, and acknowledging he had an anger-management problem that he and his parents were addressing. My subsequent interactions with the student were respectful, with no hint of lingering hostility.

The other instance occurred a few years ago. One term, after praying about a course, I felt inclined to meet with each student to discuss the midterm exam. This was time-consuming but was a huge success pedagogically.

One student whom I met with had failed the midterm exam, but I felt intuitively that she could do much better. We discussed this, and I made a few suggestions to help in preparing for the final exam. She did much better on the final and easily passed the course.

Some time later, she sent me a note, saying that the day she came to see me, she had been suicidal, very depressed about her schoolwork and her family life. She said that this meeting was the only time at university that she had felt loved, and this had changed her instantaneously and profoundly. She was able to focus on her schoolwork, and there was much improvement in her home life. I knew that the message of divine Love had embraced and sustained her.

These instances indicate to me what we can do when we turn to God in prayer. Neither of these instances is a formula for assisting students in need, but prayer and listening to God's messages can direct us to assist those in need in ways that will be most helpful.

Turn thou to thy God:
keep mercy and judgment,
and wait on thy God continually.

Hosea 12:6

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