I often wonder what our children are losing in this everything-at-your-fingertips society. We watch the television, Internet and movies, where every aspect of the story is spelled out in surround-sound, airbrushed living color and amplified music.
In our modern world, we don’t have to think – just let information flow over us as we sit in a lackadaisical stupor. We go from day to day connecting with everything and everybody – but seldom making connections.
We don’t ask the important questions: “What does it mean? What am I supposed to learn from this hour and a half for which I sold my precious time? What eternal tidbit of value did that Facebook post or email teach me? What difference has it made in my life?”
I wonder if our children are being taught to think or if they are just being spoon-fed information that will come as an A, B, C or all-of-the-above answer on a multiple-choice test.
The scriptures use parables and symbolism to teach the great lessons of life. Moses raised a serpent in the wilderness to symbolize those who look to the Savior, who would one day hang on the cross, to symbolize the fact that if you are sick spiritually and look to the Savior, He will heal you.
The story of the manna in the wilderness is symbolic of our need and quest for spiritual food that comes daily from the Holy Spirit if we take the time to gather it through prayer and scripture study. The sacrifices of animals symbolized the sacrifice of Jesus. He would be slain for the sins of the world.
God could have spelled everything out in literal terms, saying, “Look, you are supposed to pray. You are supposed to trust in the Savior, and He will die for you.” He chose to use symbolism because symbolism teaches on two levels.
Only the obvious ideas come across as the story is told, but the symbol, or what the story represents, connects to the principle and is much more instructive. What better way in ancient times to teach the value of Christ’s sacrifice than to have people take an animal, not just any animal but the best of their herd, and sacrifice it?
The ancient children of Israel, through their rituals and sacrifices, were given the opportunity to feel the way God the Father would feel when He gave His only son as a sacrifice. Symbolism causes you to think and make connections, not just listen to or participate in an interesting story.
Jesus often used parables to teach his followers. Parables, of course, are simple stories that on the surface have little significance, but when applied to life have deeper meanings. The parable of the talents is a classic example.
Jesus told of a master who was going on a journey, and he gave each of his servants certain talents (money). Each servant had to invest his talents. One servant did not invest; he buried his talents in the earth.
When the master came back, the servants were required to give an accounting of their investments. The ones who had invested their talents wisely were given more talents. The one who hid his talents lost everything. Of course, the master symbolizes Jesus and we are the servants.
We will one day give an accounting of all that we have done in this life. Some will have accomplished many things, some will have accomplished a few things and there will be some who have wasted their time and resources on things that don’t really matter. The parable is designed to make us aware of how important it is to use our time wisely.
If we are vigilant and spiritually aware, Jesus will still teach us in parables even today. The other day, my husband, Reg, wanted me to walk to his work and bring him some keys. He works about a mile and a half from our house.
I thought it would be good exercise and was glad to do it. I decided to take the scenic route, which crossed a rocky hill, down a ravine and over another hill. I had taken that route many times a few years ago, but I had forgotten the fact that I would have to cross a barbed-wire fence to get to the road that led into his work.
I made the trek just fine until I came to the fence. I have grown a bit fluffy since I last crossed the fence, but I didn’t realize how much until I crossed through the wire and caught top – and bottom – on the barbs of the fence. I was stuck. I tugged this way and that. I pulled this barb off my shirt only to be snagged again.
I knew I was in trouble if I didn’t get out of the situation. You can’t just stay in a bent-knee, squatting position very long without giving out. That would be disastrous. I didn’t want to tear my clothes, or worse, I didn’t want to rip my skin. I have done that before, and it hurts.
I finally wilted down on one leg and ripped my pants and my leg in the process. I pulled all the snags off my shirt as I went down. Finally, I was free. I wasn’t badly hurt, and my pants would survive.
I had to laugh at myself. I should never try to go through a fence by myself. I need someone to hold the fence up and press the wire down in order for me to get through without a scratch, especially at my age.
It was not until later, when I thought about my plight, that the parable came to mind. Going through adversity is like going through a barbed-wire fence. You need help from above and below. Of course, the barbed wire represents the adversity we must all pass though.
Everything can be bright and sunny and the journey passing just fine, and the next minute you are standing in front of a barbed-wire fence.
It doesn’t look daunting, and you think you can get through it by yourself, but halfway through you get stuck. You know you are going to make some choices that will make the situation worse, but you are powerless.
If we look up – in other words, pray – the Lord will send someone to help. He will inspire someone to come to your aid, someone who will step on the bottom wire and allow you to pass through unharmed. If He doesn’t send someone to your aid, He will give you inspiration to be able to lift the wire high enough to free yourself.
There was another application to this experience. I learned that we need each other. Sometimes we are crossing through the barbed wire of adversity, and sometimes our neighbor is. When we are going through the wire, a good neighbor will be there for us.
If our neighbor is going through the wire, we need to be aware and be there for him or her. That is why the Lord counseled us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Life is full of parables. All of nature is designed to teach us lessons we cannot learn any other way. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” He wanted us to learn from them.
We just need to look around and even pray for the eyes to see His parables written in full color in our lives. The Lord still teaches as He did centuries ago, even though it doesn’t involve animal sacrifices anymore. He still uses symbolism and parables.
In a world where everything is instant gratification, we need to be especially vigilant to teach our children to see beyond the obvious.
We can’t allow them to vegetate in front of manmade devices and expect them to see the face of God. We need to teach them, by our example, to connect to God’s creations and read His unwritten parables.
We need to walk, talk and listen to our children as we walk with them though the forests and meadows of life. We need to teach them that there are no mountains that you cannot climb with God’s help.
Teach them the value of human life, and teach them to connect with one another, not with fingers on a cell phone keypad or a computer keyboard, but eye to eye and heart to heart.
Teach them that there will be barbed wire fences where without God and your neighbors, you will be stuck and will feel excruciating and lasting pain. Teach them to open their eyes to the wonderful majesty of life that lies in pondering the purposes of God. PD