Our son’s freshman year in college, he had a professor who took an instant dislike to him. It was mutual. Unfortunately, the professor was department chair of the subject our son felt impelled to keep learning, though it wasn’t his easiest subject. In praying together, it became clear not to take the antagonism personally, but to see it as conflict between spirit and material thinking.
The antagonism intensified when our son chose not to minor in the subject. At one point he became quite ill. My husband traveled to care for him for several days and we prayed. Healing came as we claimed our son’s innocence and saw that he, like Paul, could shake off the viper, i.e. remain untouched by the poisonous atmosphere. He could carry the atmosphere of Love divine around with him like an underwater air-tank, and live and move and breathe safely in the atmosphere of God’s Love, even in a toxic classroom.
Sophomore year, our son had no classes with this professor. But when he had an opportunity to represent his college nationally, which would necessitate missing two days of a class taught by a teaching fellow in the professor’s department, the professor threatened dire consequences. Through prayer, our son was led to handle the threat impersonally. The dean agreed to email his professors, excusing him from two days of classes without penalty if he completed his work.
That spring, our son was asked by his own department to apply for two international fellowships. When he learned that the professor sat on both college-wide deciding committees, his heart sank. Asking God for direction, he was led to Proverbs 18:16: “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” He realized that his job was to glorify God and to go forward through whatever doors God opened. We worked specifically and persistently with two ideas: 1) God’s men are neither victims nor victimizers, but fellow children of God. 2) “A Rule for Motives and Acts,” especially “Neither animosity nor mere personal attachment should impel the motives or acts of the members of The Mother Church. In Science, divine Love alone governs man…” (Man. 40:7–8).
Our son received both fellowships, despite the negative comments and questioning of the professor. At this point, the professor’s antagonism was so great that other students and professors began commenting on it. Our son decided not to comment publicly on the professor nor to magnify the error in any way, but instead to strive to see that error is “that which seemeth to be and is not” (S&H 472:19), no matter how ugly or powerful it looked. The error (not the professor) was still just a Goliath that God would defeat.
Every day that summer, we all had to really separate the error from the person. Our son learned that one of the conditions of the fellowship was that he would have to take a class with the professor in the fall and that the professor would be his supervisor for the fellowship while he was overseas. Moreover, the professor imposed additional conditions on our son (but not on the other five students on the fellowship), such as requiring him to take another class in the professor’s department (and receive at least a B+).
At this point, our son considered relinquishing the fellowship, since these additional requirements seemed too much for a student who was already taking extra classes and working a campus job. In praying, a Bible promise reassured and sustained him: “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (Rev. 3:8).
Two weeks into the semester, the professor added another requirement—our son had to attend a weekly tutorial with a teaching fellow and prepare a weekly “talk” in this foreign language. The professor actually attended the tutorials, intimidating our son with his presence. This was too much. Our son went to the dean, who reassured him that although he couldn’t prevent the professor from making these unreasonable requirements, the dean and professors from the other departments supported our son’s nomination and would back him up if needed.
For our son, my husband, and me, this was the real turning point. Mortal mind had simply gone too far. It was finally clear that we couldn’t just turn to God to heal each challenge as it came. We had to deal with the underlying belief—that hatred could use any person, and that we, as children of God, could have enemies or see others as anything less than God’s man. We turned to “Love Your Enemies”: “Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception?…Simply count your enemy to be that which defiles, defaces, and dethrones the Christ-image that you should reflect. Whatever purifies, sanctifies, and consecrates human life, is not an enemy, however much we suffer in the process” (Mis. 8:11–13,17–21); and the Biblical promise, “All things [even those things that aren’t good] work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
It became clear to our son (and to us) that the real issue wasn’t whether he would get to go overseas on this fellowship, but the need to see the professor as a loved child of God, to see that divine Love alone governed him, his professor, and his classmates. For the rest of the term, my son just strove to love that professor and to correct his every thought about him—to do the additional work without resentment and to see that Love alone had power to guide and determine the experience of everyone involved. It wasn’t easy. There were some tearful phone calls, and some real wrestling in prayer by all of us.
At the end of the term, the professor called him in. Our son said he felt something had melted. There was genuine respect and rapport between them. Although our son had gotten a B rather than B+ on the final, the professor acknowledged his good work and gave him the go-ahead, provided our son met the other fellowship requirements. During his term overseas, the professor became one of our son’s greatest supporters, and they exchanged emails about items of mutual interest.
Additional blessings from this experience: 1) We all grew spiritually. 2) Students who saw the way our son handled the overt aggression came to him for help in resolving their own challenges. 3) Through his handling of the situation, our son gained the respect of the dean and was one of 17 men selected to live in the honors house and receive mentoring from deans and college alumni.
This experience continues to bless our family, and lessons learned continue to inform our prayers in other situations. In particular, the two lessons learned—“Neither animosity nor mere personal attachment”…but “divine Love alone governs man,” and the need to meet animosity by going the extra mile—helped bring healing in several situations involving a disgruntled church member and a potentially divisive situation in our branch church.
We are so grateful for the power of God’s word and the wisdom of our Leader, showing us how to meet the challenges, or “enemies,” we face—by identifying error as “that which seemeth to be and is not” and refusing to react to it.