Helen Keller was an extraordinary woman. She was born healthy but due to an illness was left blind and deaf at only 18 months. She was extremely intelligent and was frustrated at her new environment.After many frustrating years Helen’s parents, in an attempt to help, hired a woman named Anne Sullivan, who was also acquainted with blindness, disappointment and heart break and understood her infirmities. With patience, kindness and long suffering Anne finally broke the barrier and taught Helen how to communicate, how to read, how to live deaf and blind in this world.
Elder Christofferson said, “The story of Helen Keller is something of a parable suggesting how divine love can transform a willing soul.”
Helen and Anne’s story is remarkable and beautiful but how is it a parable in divine love transforming a willing soul?
When I asked that question, the answer has been pouring over me for a few days… I hope to be able to express in writing some of the thoughts that have come to me. I have felt at times that God has made me “deaf” or “blind” and I do not react in kind loving ways. Now Helen was frustrated at her surroundings and she hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. Sometimes I feel like my complaining to God is spiritually punching, hitting, and kicking. I feel like a child in a dark world not understanding why this would happen. Why he would change my whole life so dramatically. Why he would want my experience to be so profoundly different from others. I feel so isolated and that no one can really comprehend all my sorrow.
When finally a teacher comes into my life I resist the teaching. I do not fully understand. I feel the heat of the refiners fire but do not understand the process of burning off dross. I focus on the moment of burning and not on the outcome. I scratch at a loving, patient Teacher who is trying to help me. It’s only when I humbly, willingly start embracing the teacher can real learning begin. When I open the door, to Him who patiently knocks, I start to reframe my narrative about the teacher. I start to understand that the letters He keeps forming in my hands are ways to understand the environment around me.
Helen’s first moment of understanding comes when she is at a water pump and Anne spells the word water. In her own words she says,“‘Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten … and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!32 Isn’t is wonderful that the first word she learns is water… symbolic of the Living Water available to all.
When those “aha” moments of my life happen there is a rush, an enlightenment, a cleansing, a healing, an awakening to something bigger. A realization of a process greater than burning… but refining, purifying process. An appreciation for a Teacher who has gone below any feeling or emotion I have felt and will patiently wait for me to be ready. There is a deep love felt from Father who loves me in each stage.
There is a scene in the movie of Helen Keller’s life where her parents are satisfied with the domestication of their wild daughter. She can behave properly. Anne’s teacher can see so much more potential in Helen and felt “that she had significant contributions to make” (Christofferson, 2016). Sometimes I wonder if I am satisfied with behaving satisfactorily. I am comfortable, I don’t stand out for good or bad. I feel like when I completely trust the Teacher, He can heal my blindness and help me hear the melody that needs to be sung.
Helen Keller stated while addressing children, “It has been said that to attain what is noble is difficult, but the very effort to gain it creates character, strength and grit. Only through perseverance and overcoming obstacles can you accomplish anything worth while. We think little of what we win easily. It is struggle that gives victory its preciousness.”
It’s true I think little of what I win too easily. There is a preciousness in a victory that comes through blood and tears.The character, strength and grit created is invaluable. That is why a loving Savior made the infinite sacrifice. His victory over death, over sin, over temptation came at the ultimate price. His blood was spilled, He descended below all… that He may know how to really become a Master Teacher and how to perfectly succor all His children.
I love when Elder Christofferson proclaims, “What a precious gift is divine love! Filled with that love, Jesus asks, “Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?”42 Tenderly He reassures, “Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come … will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.”43
I am grateful for a loving Teacher who sees a glorious potential and patiently waits for me to catch the same vision. May we all look to Him who knocks at our door of beautiful opportunities… and may we be willing to “attain what is noble” even though the way is difficult. May we not fight the Teacher but realize the opportunity to become as He is. I will give Elder Christofferson the last word, “God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love.”
My ideas were inspired by this conference talk.