Student of the Month

by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff

Have you noticed how much stuff we seem to collect? It is hard to sort through things and decide what to discard and what to keep. But, at some point we have to do it! In doing this tedious but necessary process, I came across of box of our son Jeff’s old school things — things he had accumulated over the years. One item was an award for “Student to the Month.” The note read: He’s a very self-motivated learner. He asks questions, helps others, and frequently communicates with me when he needs help.”

That note took me back. I remembered when he brought that note home and how proud he was to wear on his jacket the little button he received for this acknowledgment. Of course we were thrilled for him, as well.

This walk down memory lane got me thinking about how the comments in Jeff’s note seemed to be exactly what we all need to be doing to succeed in our spiritual growth. It’s also what A Course in Miracles is asking us to do to learn this course.

To succeed in school, kids are asked to be self-motivated learners, and the Course says, WE must want a better way. Students are told to ask questions when they don’t understand, and in the Course we are asked to question every value we hold dear to see if it is worthy of a holy child of God. A good student helps others, and in the Course we are told salvation is a collaborative venture – we can’t awaken alone. Finally, students need to communicate to their teachers when they need help. As Course students we are told to turn to God’s guidance continuously, because we clearly need help.

Just because some of us may have ended our formal “worldly” education doesn’t mean our spiritual education has ceased. We know how important it is to continue to stimulate our brains, so let’s investigate a little further what the Course is asking of us to complete our real education, and learn how we can become God’s “student of the month!”

Are you a self-motivated learner? Do you want a better way?

“This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary.”

These are the beginning words in the text’s introduction. Just as any academic class you might take, A Course in Miracles gives you a “syllabus” that states what it is, what is required, and then the rest is up to you. The effort you put into the Course becomes the benefit or lack of benefit you receive. Those who want to learn will find wisdom that can last them a lifetime.

I still remember the invaluable lessons of classes I took many years ago, but I also know it was because I wanted to learn; I put in the effort. If you feel the Course is your path, then you need to give it the effort it asks. The Course is telling us that a course in awakening to your reality in love is required (whether it be A Course in Miracles or some other path), but the time you take it is voluntary. Only you can honestly answer the question as to whether you are making the effort; and whether you are a self-motivated learner.

I know some of you are already feeling guilty, right? You’re wondering if you are putting in enough effort. You’d like to get a note from your Teacher saying you’re a self-motivated learner, right? Rest assured the note has been sent, and your little willingness has been noticed. We are not asked to do much for our awakening; we are simply asked to turn in its direction — to become aware of our compromises to peace, our unforgiving thoughts, and no longer choose to dwell in them. Even though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear, for God is with us.

“God hides nothing from His Son, even though His Son would hide himself. Yet the Son of God cannot hide his glory, for God wills him to be glorious, and gave him the light that shines in him. You will never lose your way, for God leads you. When you wander, you but undertake a journey that is not real. The dark companions, the dark way, are all illusions. Turn toward the light, for the little spark in you is part of a light so great that it can sweep you out of all darkness forever.” (T-11.III.5)

Are you asking questions?

“To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning.” (T-24.in.2)

I’ve heard Course students say they do ask questions, but they don’t get answers. This is usually because they have an expectation of what they want the answer to be. If we “hear” something that doesn’t fit into our expectation, then we don’t think we have received an answer. As the Course says, “All are called but few choose to listen.” (T-3.IV.7:12)

On the other hand, children in school are much like a blank slate; they don’t have a lot of blocks to learning. If they are told a lesson by their teacher, they believe him or her, and learning occurs. It has been said the most fertile time for learning occurs in those early years of life and can set the stage for a child’s interest or lack of interest in learning.

Every child asks questions. Sometimes it can be tedious, but it can also be exciting if we realize it is our opportunity to learn as well. I remember when Jeffrey was little and sitting in his car seat in the backseat. As I drove, he would ask me all sorts of questions about the things he saw and the words on signs. He made me see things I had never noticed before, and my world became more interesting and full because of the questions he posed. We need to turn to the Holy Spirit with our questions, even when we think we know, because he can show us a deeper meaning and understanding that not only makes life easier but makes it more exciting.

“Little children recognize that they do not understand what they perceive, and so they ask what it means. Do not make the mistake of believing that you understand what you perceive, for its meaning is lost to you. Yet the Holy Spirit has saved its meaning for you, and if you will let Him interpret it, He will restore to you what you have thrown away. Yet while you think you know its meaning, you will see no need to ask it of Him.” (T-11.VIII.2)

Are you helping others?

“Whenever two Sons of God meet, they are given another chance at salvation. Do not leave anyone without giving salvation to him and receiving it yourself.” (T-8.III.4:6)

This is a major part of the Course’s curriculum because the Course is teaching you who you really are and that you cannot find yourself without your brother. There are so many passages which reflect this truth, and the following is a particularly powerful one:

“The goal of the curriculum, regardless of the teacher you choose, is ‘Know thyself.’ There is nothing else to seek. Everyone is looking for himself and for the power and glory he thinks he has lost. Whenever you are with anyone, you have another opportunity to find them. Your power and glory are in him because they are yours. The ego tries to find them in yourself alone, because it does not know where to look. The Holy Spirit teaches you that if you look only at yourself you cannot find yourself, because that is not what you are.” (T-8.III.5)

Kids are encouraged to help each other in class because by doing so it reinforces what they have learned. The first time I was asked to help my fellow students was in kindergarten. The teacher gave me a threaded sewing needle and had me sew on buttons for the two eyes of each student’s bunny poster. All these years later, I can still feel the joy of being helpful. I can see how that simple, little experience set the stage for my life’s work.

Every time you have reached out to another, I know you have felt the same reward. It’s not dependent on whether or not they respond with great appreciation or not. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember one student’s reaction to my gesture of help, but the joy was not about thanks, it was about seeing I was needed and purposeful.

We can all be purposeful. Don’t diminish your extensions of love or service because it doesn’t look as grand as another. As the Course tells us, all expressions of love are maximal.

A good example is the Biblical story of the widow’s mite. The widow who had so little wanted to tithe to Jesus when he was teaching in the Temple of Jerusalem, and so she gave a mite, which was a very meager sum (it translated to be worth about six minutes of an average daily wage). Jesus told his disciples that she gave the greatest gift, for the small gift meant more to her than the extravagant gifts meant to the rich. Don’t diminish your gifts of service and support, but see each as an extension of love whose value cannot be quantified.

Are we communicating with God when we need help?

“God is your safety in every circumstance. His Voice speaks for Him in all situations and in every aspect of all situations, telling you exactly what to do to call upon His strength and His protection.”(Lesson 47)

Why would we not turn to God for help with this type of guarantee? Why would we want to do anything without His help?

As Jeffrey enters higher levels of science and math, he is encouraged to ask for help and show his work, especially when solving physics equations and mathematical theorems. His teachers promote this because then they can see where students are making errors and quickly identify the problem and correct it, so the students can easily continue on their path of learning. Many times it’s a simple concept mistake, but if students don’t show their work, they can feel overwhelmed and think they can’t do this type of problem solving at all.

When Jeffrey has asked for help from a teacher, he will usually tell me it was an easy fix because his teacher could see where his thinking might be faulty and introduce a correction. This is much the same way the Holy Spirit can help us with our faulty thinking as we read in the Course…

“The Holy Spirit asks of you but this; bring to Him every secret you have locked away from Him. Open every door to Him, and bid Him enter the darkness and lighten it away. At your request He enters gladly. He brings the light to darkness if you make the darkness open to Him. But what you hide He cannot look upon. He sees for you, and unless you look with Him He cannot see. The vision of Christ is not for Him alone, but for Him with you. Bring, therefore, all your dark and secret thoughts to Him, and look upon them with Him. He holds the light, and you the darkness. They cannot coexist when both of you together look on them.” (T-14.VII.6)

The Course tells us that salvation is not hard, it’s just very different than what we are used to. As children we are taught to become self-sufficient, but would we ever tell a child he or she doesn’t need food, water, shelter, or any of the things vital to their existence?

Our communication with God is integral to the awareness of our real existence; we could not live without it. Therefore, the communication is always going on, but it’s just one-sided — meaning God is always communicating with us, but we are not experiencing it. Our desire to hold onto our anger, judgments, or rightness is causing us to feel disconnected from His Help. We need to understand how vital it is for us to turn to God, not just when we need help, but every moment of the day. We have built up so much resistance to the truth that we now must develop the habit of joining our minds with God.

Children are naturally excited about growing up and learning. I remember playing school before I was old enough to go to school, and I bet you did too. I have never really had a problem getting Jeffrey to go to school because he wanted to learn. Even when he experienced some challenges in school, he never let them stop him from seeing the bigger picture of what school could offer. This is much like what the Course is offering us as we continue our “higher” education. We are asked to lift our vision from the fearful fray of the world and move above the battleground where we can see with more clarity the benefit of our healing.

Let’s Sum It Up…

The Course tells us to teach is to learn. Therefore, we learn through the demonstration and actions of our life. If we are living a life dedicated to learning the truth of our existence, questioning the limitations of the world, helping each other, and opening our hearts to the answers of the Infinite, life becomes an exciting adventure of endless possibilities.

At the end of every commencement speech, students are told of their limitless potential and how a future of success is within their reach. The same is true for us right now. We have never lost our power or place in the Mind of God, but it’s up to us when we will experience it.

Your student of the month note has been sent; you just need to open it up and be willing to believe it’s meant for you!

“Forget not once this journey is begun the end is certain. Doubt along the way will come and go and go to come again. Yet is the ending sure. No one can fail to do what God appointed him to do. When you forget, remember that you walk with Him and with His Word upon your heart. Who could despair when hope like this is his?” (M-Epilogue)

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