At the high school where I work we have a special needs student who has a mood disorder complicated by autism. He has difficulty controlling himself and appropriately expressing his feelings. Once, when he became upset in our office, he threw everything off the counter tops and hurled charts and trays to the ground. He flung himself to the floor and tossed his shoes. It’s an understatement to say he can be quite violent.
Because of this, he wears a harness so that he can be controlled should he become aggressive. He is always accompanied by a one-on-one aide. At the beginning of one school year, this student’s aide was a huge man, 6’ 5” and 250 lbs. The aide managed to control the student by the sheer power of his physical presence. In the event that the student became combative, his aide could simply man-handle him into submission. Unfortunately, this Atlas was reassigned to another student. Even worse, he was replaced by a petite young woman. She was so tiny and young that I worried she would be snapped in two by one of the student’s rages—but she wasn’t.
Over the course of the following weeks, I watched this little woman charm our student. While she always held his harness, she never had to hang on for dear life. When he refused to cooperate, she stepped close to the student and whispered persuasively in his ear. When they walked the halls together, she and he were in frequent eye contact, talking and laughing together. Once when he became upset in our office, instead of cowering (which I was doing!) she stood right beside him, gently rubbing his back, soothing him into submission. I was amazed.
This wonderful woman was able to work with and, for the most part, gain the cooperation of a most difficult student. She knew something about the power of love. Oh, so this is was the Savior was talking about!
After His death and resurrection, Jesus called to members of the twelve from the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They had been fishing all night but caught nothing. Knowing their discouragement and hunger, Jesus directed them to cast their net on the right side of the ship. Then, when the nets were hauled in near to breaking, He bid the fishermen come ashore and dine with him. They found a small fire with fish and bread ready to eat. As they sat around the meal, the Savior taught Peter and those listening about love. The Savior asked Peter, “lovest thou me?” When Peter responded, “yea, Lord” the Savior instructed: “feed my sheep.” A three word injunction made more powerful by repetition, this commandment should govern my every action: in the work place, at church, in the community and at home.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I feel I am under a particular mandate to share truth and demonstrate goodwill. That can be difficult in this hardened world; my efforts may be (have been!) met with mistrust, cynicism, and outright disbelief. In a 2005 General Conference talk, Ulisses Soares taught how to overcome these attitudes. He said, “People are most receptive to our influence when they feel that we truly love them.” Read his entire address here. This is what that tiny one-on-one aide knew, what the Savior was teaching to teach Peter and what I’m trying to do.
Fundamental to serving God is loving His sheep. For me this is a constant challenge. I battle impatience and annoyance all day long and return home to live with a wonderful man who sometimes makes me crazy! And then, there are some folks are just hard to love. I am a work in progress here, but experience has taught me that prayers for help, for a softened heart, for compassion and empathy do not go unanswered.
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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:
- Photo, school exterior—www.morethandodgeball.com/serve/i-could-not-think-of-a-better-use-for-our-building
- Photo, students—www.foxnews.com/us/2012/09/02/teachers-students-in-one-alabama-city-told-to-fight-back-if-facing-violent
- Photo, good shepherd—medleyminute.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-good-shepherd-loves-his-sheep.html
- Address, “Feed My Sheep,” Elder Ulisses Soares, LDS General Conference, Oct 2005—www .lds.org/general-conference/2005/10/feed-my-sheep?lang=eng
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