By Lauren Madsen
Think back with me for a minute to your middle school days. Do you remember how you felt when you were assigned to be part of a group project? Were you one of the kids who would roll their eyes with an “ugh” or were you excited to not have to work alone?
A few weeks ago my 7th grader was given a group assignment in her science class. The four of them were asked to design and build a Rube Goldberg machine. Basically, they needed to gather materials from home and rely on various laws of motion to trigger these materials to perform a simple task. My daughter’s group decided to design an RGM that would pop a balloon (picture lots of dominoes, balls, magnets, toys cars, ramps, tape, and a needle attached to a train car). The assignment was completely out of my daughter’s comfort zone and unlike anything she had done before. The real kicker: each student had to build their own sections of the machine first and then figure out how to connect them together as a group. Because this group had been doing school online, they could only plan through online chats and calls. They would have just one hour to work all the kinks out in person at the school on demonstration day.
After many hours of planning and building (and starting over!), the big day finally arrived. I sat back with the other parents and watched the students as they built their own sections and worked together to make sure each part would trigger the next. They set everything up over and over again, testing certain sections and then the entire machine from start to finish. Even though they spent countless hours practicing at home, sometimes a domino just wouldn’t fall. Sometimes a car would get stuck. It didn’t seem to matter how many times they had tweaked their section--sometimes things just didn’t work the way they had planned.
What impressed me the most on demonstration day was how these four students interacted with each other. If someone’s section didn’t work, no one blamed anyone else for the balloon not popping. They weren’t frustrated with themselves or each other. Every time something didn’t work, they encouraged each other and offered suggestions. They JUST KEPT TRYING. Each student understood what went into the project. They knew the planning, the hours and perhaps even the tears that were involved. Each had done their part in the best way they could and knew everyone else had too. When someone else’s part didn’t work, they recognized it could just as easily have been them.
As I watched each new attempt from my seat in the science classroom, I began to see connections with what was happening and what it can look like as we live and work together as disciples of Christ. Here are a few observations:
- Like the group assignment of building a Rube Goldberg machine, we humans have a common goal. Our objective of becoming like our Heavenly Parents is the same. Even with the same objective, however, we have our own work to do--work that is for us and us alone. No one else can do it for us, and yet having each other’s support can bring about the best outcomes.
- What we do individually and how we do it has an effect on those around us. Each of the little adjustments we make impact others, for good or for bad. The load of our assignments feels lighter when we work together with patience and understanding.
- Sometimes what we know isn’t reflected well in our performance, despite our preparation. The learning process has the potential to bring joy when we choose to operate without judgment, both for ourselves and others.
- Our pathway of growth and progress is full of changes and adaptations. Receiving support and encouragement can make the difference between someone wanting to try again and giving up completely.
Think about who God has assigned you to work with right now--your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors. How is it going? How can you improve the group? Although the process of becoming like our Heavenly Parents is up to us as individuals, it requires patience and understanding to get each other there. Do you find it difficult to show patience with others? What about with yourself? Do you appreciate the process of learning and growth, as well as the many attempts we are each given to learn and progress?
As disciples of Christ we have the opportunity to work together as we seek to better ourselves. I love these words from Marvin J. Ashton: “If we use the talents that are ours. . . if we help others, strive for peace, avoid being overly sensitive or overly critical--strength upon strength will be added unto our own abilities and we will move straightway toward greater growth, happiness and eternal joys.” Let’s all do our part. Let’s act with patience as we each make progress on the path back home.
Lauren Madsen is a photo-taking, scrapbook-making, kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom of four. She loves reading, writing, family history work, spending time outside with her kids, and Friday night dates with her husband. Lauren currently works as a member of the SALT Gathering team. You can connect with Lauren on Instagram @a.lingering.light