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The deeper demands at exam time

From The Christian Science Journal - February 7, 2011

Originally appeared on spirituality.com


It was Tuesday night. Two days remained until my big music history exam, and although I had been studying intensely for days, I still felt unprepared and inadequate. Usually, classes come easily to me, but over the previous few weeks this particular class had proven to be more demanding and rigorous than I had anticipated. So I was feeling doubly unsure of how to approach the large exam that faced me. I studied between classes, during meals, and even tried to review material in my head as I feel asleep each night. Yet somehow the more I studied, the more pressure I felt.

Suggestions of stress and limitation pushed their way into my thought, and at first I didn’t bother to address them as I had learned to do in Sunday School. “I’m too busy to deal with those thoughts now,” I said to myself. “I’ll worry about that after the exam.” Of course, this wasn’t a very good plan!

Two days before the test, I found myself sitting at my desk with my thoughts absorbed with limitations: limited time to study, limited space in my head to absorb any more information, limited energy to stay awake long enough to do what I had to. Suddenly, it became clear to me that on the human, material, limited plane, and in my present cramped state of mind, it wouldn’t be possible for me to study as much as I needed to. But rather than feeling that this was a dead end, I realized this moment was an opportunity for me to be liberated by turning things over to God.

I remembered a passage from Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy in which she discusses the demands that are placed on us: “Truth, Life, and Love are the only legitimate and eternal demands on man . . .” (p. 184). My Sunday School teacher had recently introduced me to this passage, and I had immediately loved it! I liked to think about how the only demands on me were those of Truth, Life, and Love—anything separate from those couldn’t be a legitimate demand on me at all. I began to pray with this concept.

At bedtime, I felt compelled to open up Miscellaneous Writings to one of my favorite chapters, “Love Your Enemies.” In this chapter, Mrs. Eddy wrote: “Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception?” As I re-read the familiar words, it became clear that I needed to have a change of thought about this exam. I had been making the exam into an enemy, I now realized; I needed to rework my understanding of it. Mrs. Eddy wrote: “Whatever purifies, sanctifies, and consecrates human life, is not an enemy, however much we suffer in the process” (p. 8). I now began to see this exam anew: Rather than an enemy, it was really an opportunity for consecration and growth. I thought back to the three demands on man—Truth, Life, and Love—and began to take joy in thinking of ways I could express them in my preparations for the exam.

It was as though a mental cloud was lifted—I instantly had a renewed sense of joy about taking the class, which I had been eager to enroll in at the beginning of the semester. I realized I needed to look at each study session as a celebration of God’s wonderful works rather than as an insurmountable stumbling block.

Holding these fresher, purer ideas close to my thought, I proceeded with my studying the next day. Then on Thursday afternoon, I sat down to my exam feeling refreshed, prepared, energetic, and positively brimming over with joy to be there. This feeling continued throughout and after the exam.

I am grateful for the nearly perfect score I received on the exam when my professor handed it back the following week. But more than that, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn a bit more about the loving, supportive, joyful nature of God.

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