We all need teachers. Without them we wouldn’t know how to drive, analyze graphs, or kick a soccer ball. Sure, we might eventually figure out how to do these things on our own after a series of trial-and-error attempts, but teachers help us do them correctly from the start.
During my time in college I had this realization: The Ten Commandments are our most important teacher. They tell us what we need to know in order to avoid unnecessary mistakes in life, and they keep us moving on the right path.
My freshman year of college, when I e-mailed my mom that I had a crush on a boy, her response was “Remember the [Ten] Commandments, Lauren.” When I read her message I couldn’t help but laugh; it just seemed so ridiculous. The Commandments? Really, Mom? In essence, she was saying, “Lauren, they contain great wisdom. You can turn to them for guidance, and they will bless your life.” I didn’t understand what she meant at the time. But as I look back, I do see that if I had taken her instruction to heart, it would have saved me from so much backtracking.
Let me explain. Two years ago I went on a school abroad to Brazil. Part of our program was a four-day trek through a national park. Near the beginning of the trail we came to a fork in the path, and our guide, Roy, told us that when we’re faced with the decision about which path to take, the trail that looks worn and established is usually the wrong trail, because it’s traveled twice as often by people backtracking. Whereas, the trail that looks less traveled is probably the right one, because it was taken once—forward.
This reminded me of what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Go in by the narrow gate. For the wide gate has a broad road which leads to disaster and there are many people going that way. The narrow gate and the hard road lead out into life and only a few are finding it” (Matthew 7:13, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition). Who wouldn’t take the path to life, challenging as it may be at times? The narrow gate and path—the one that the Commandments point out—will take you directly to where you want to go. It becomes a one-way street, because once you experience the happiness and peace of following that path, you don’t have a desire to turn around.
I’ve come to agree with my mom that the Commandments are vital to my success in life. I turn to them for instruction, and their direction has always kept me moving forward. Take friendships. Sometimes disagreements and misunderstandings can put a friendship on edge. The human tendency is to take the “broad” path and label a friend “annoying,” “useless,” “hard to love.” I have taken that path too many times. It’s miserable, and I always end up having to backtrack and take the right path.
When I recently needed guidance about a friendship, a lesson in my Latin American history class brought the Commandments to mind. We had been talking about the Aztec society and how they had an advanced court system for their time. However, their punishment for every single crime was death; murder=death, adultery=death, drunkenness=death. Anyone accused of those offenses was labeled a failed human being and killed off without any chance of redemption.
The messes we may get ourselves into, the detours, are unnecessary if we take the right path to begin with.
This system of justice made me think of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the spirit of that command meant not only “Don’t kill,” but “Don’t think of anyone in an unkind or hurtful way.” Which is why I then thought of the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). If we are honest witnesses, we see our neighbor as he or she truly is, despite what they appear to be or have done. We see in them only the reflection of God, as having only the capacity for good.
In my situation, I worked consistently to reject any thought that my friend could be unworthy of love, and I claimed my divine right to witness the spiritual qualities my friend naturally reflects. And it worked! I began to see the patience, the humor, the sweetness, and the innate goodness of this friend. Since then, when misunderstandings with other people come up, every single time I turn to the Commandments my friendships grow stronger.
Another commandment that has taught me a lot is “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). To me, this commandment means we shouldn’t think that God’s existence is for nothing; that God is somehow impotent or incapable of bringing us goodness. God is good, and we reflect His goodness in our lives, thus proving His existence.
I learned this when playing on the varsity soccer team during college. My senior season, when we were training for a national tournament, we wanted to raise the intensity of our practices. Though this was a right desire, we went about it the wrong way. I know I did a lot of yelling out of frustration when drills wouldn’t work, and I wasn’t patient and considerate of others. The whole team recognized that the joy and love we had been expressing the entire season were absent, and the result was a horrible practice.
I finally realized I was on the wrong path in thinking that something other than patience and composure could help our practice. I had to backtrack and see that since those qualities came from God, they had God’s power behind them and could certainly help our soccer drills. From then on, whenever I came to that fork in the trail and was tempted to believe God was incapable of helping me, I worked to make sure I did not take that path, but instead allowed God to be the power and focused on reflecting Him—His love, His strength, His joy. Taking this path, I learned so much more about God and His goodness, not only in soccer but in the
minutiae of my life.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am for what the Commandments have done for my life. We all carry this “teacher” with us. The messes we may get ourselves into, the detours, the backtracking, are unnecessary if we take the right path to begin with.
Let’s not forget what takes us there. As my mother would say, “Remember the Commandments!”
Lauren Wienecke is a recent graduate of Principia College and the assistant coach of their women’s varsity soccer team. This article is adapted from a baccalaureate address she gave at her college graduation.