Here is an experience I had last fall, when I was taking a very challenging class at Harvard University. The class was known for its hard tests—tests that were very limited on time and very challenging in content. It was said that many people did not pass the tests and had to retake the course.
My grade in the class would determine if I could get into a masters program. In addition, I was taking the class as a student on the GI Bill, which funds classes only if you pass them. If I flunked the course, I would be on the hook for $2,000!
Well, the day of the first test came, and I felt a lot of pressure. I viewed my performance on the test as pretty much determining my “planned” future. I called my Dad, who is also a Scientist, and he comforted me. He told me that human plans aren’t that important, anyway.
As I was walking to the testing hall, I was at my lowest point. I felt unprepared and incapable. Fortunately, I passed by the Christian Science Reading Room of the Cambridge Church. I’ve often enjoyed studying in this Reading Room, but this day I didn’t have time to go in. As I looked in the window, hoping for some inspiration, my eyes fell on a card that reminded me of what Jesus said: “I can of mine own self do nothing… (John 5:30).” It was like a branch lowered to me in a rushing river. I held onto the spirit, or angel, that came to me in that moment as I continued my walk to the test.
The test was very challenging. When I was just over half done, I looked up at the clock and realized there were only ten minutes left. I knew it would be impossible to finish. That’s when I finally gave up any ego-sense of doing well. And with giving up, the ideas came! Suddenly my pencil started flying across the page, writing down answers that were at least partially, if not completely, correct. The stress was greatly diminished and I could think again.
I ended up doing very well on the test. But the real lesson from this experience is that we never really do anything “of ourselves.” It showed me how much is possible when we finally do give up our own weak mortal efforts.
By the second test in this class, I was praying to calm not only myself, but also everyone else taking the test. I was grateful for the support the first time, and endeavored to pass it on the second time.