One of the joys of teaching the gospel is watching people’s lives change. It is a miracle to me, sometimes as vast as raising the dead, because they transition from spiritual death to being alive in Christ.
I would like to tell you about someone I’ll call Sean. I mentioned in the previous post about teaching the adult Institute class. I actually taught that class for nearly ten years. During that time it was not uncommon for a sister who was attending to get excited and drag her unwilling husband to class. Sean was one of the drug, or dragged hither ones.
The first day I met him he told me in blunt terms that he did not want to be there, and sat right next to me at the High Council room table. I said, “I would like to welcome everyone . . .”
He interrupted loudly with, “Well, if you would like to, why don’t you go ahead and do it?”
I ignored this and dozens of other snide comments that week and for many following. Each week he ratcheted up his aggression a little. His wife apologized mightily each week, but she wanted him to experience the Holy Spirit, and continued to tow him forth with my blessing.
About a month into this process I was teaching a lesson on being born again, and notwithstanding Sean’s barrage of funny/rude/disruptive comments, the Spirit was present, I was calm and ignoring him, when all of the sudden the Spirit put words in my mouth. To this day I can hardly believe I let them out of my lips. These things usually work best when you don’t filter them through your own intellect.
“Sean,” I said, “we have listened to your rudeness for several months now, and I want you to stop. You behavior is childish, aggressive and unbecoming a priesthood holder. If you really don’t want to come, just tell your wife you’re staying home. If you choose to come, please act like an adult. We love you, but we want to experience the things of God without your interruptions.”
I turned back to the class, the Spirit still present, and finished the lesson. Sean did not make a single wise crack, but he did raise his hand and made several very thoughtful comments. I was amazed. He was the nature of person who would have actually enjoyed telling me off in public, and then storming from building and from the church with cloud of self-justification swirling behind him.
After the closing prayer I expected Sean to roar out of the room. He didn’t. He waited until I was alone in the room.
“Brother Pontius. You were kind of hard on me tonight,” he began.
I started to apologize, but he shook his head. “No, don’t apologize. I had it coming. I’m an obnoxious SOB and I know it. It takes a lot of courage to say what you did, and I really respect that. I don’t respect people that just let me ride over them and say nothing at all. I am enjoying this class, so if you let me keep coming, I promise to act like an adult. And, if I don’t, I give you permission to call me on it just like you did tonight.”
I shook his hand. “I like you,” I told him. “You are welcome in my class any time.”
Sean smiled. “I can probably change that welcome over time. Very few people like me, and I know why. I just don’t know how to change it. I don’t go to church much because I just make people angry at me. I don’t really want to do that, but I don’t know how to stop.”
The Spirit nudged me again. “Sean, would you like a Priesthood blessing?”
He thought about this a moment, and then nodded. We closed the doors to the room and I gave him a blessing. The essence of it was that his aggression had served him well throughout his childhood. It had protected him. Now, with the blessing of our Savior, that his aggression was going to turn into leadership, and his ability to inspire and to command would be essential to his completing his life’s mission.
We were both amazed, because we both had felt the presence of the Holy Ghost. His wife wept, and he gave me a big hug.
Sean became my very good friend, and he still is. We have enjoyed many special times together, including flying in his private plane over the pristine beauty of Alaska’s wilderness. When I introduce him to friends I usually say, “This is Sean – he’s an acquired taste. In time you’ll love him too.”
He usually laughs, and proceeds to be himself, and then everyone understands why he’s an acquired taste, and before the evening’s over, they usually begin to love him too.
What is unusual about Sean isn’t that he’s obnoxious, nor that he’s amazingly brilliant, or that he has a very high IQ, and an incredible memory. It isn’t even that he was kicked out of his home at a very young age, raised as an orphan, ran away several times, and was abused until he joined the navy at age 17. What is really amazing about Sean is that he’s humble and teachable. He loves the truth, and he is willing to sacrifice to follow the light he perceives. He is one of the most inspired and insightful people I know.
I have known Sean for almost 20 years now, and he has taught me a great deal – including to not fear to speak the words Christ puts into my mouth, because no matter how hard or improbable they may seem – when they are HIS words, they always work miracles.
If I had edited or filtered my words that evening neither he nor I would have seen the inner beauty of his soul, and he would not have become my friend.