The Least of These

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Running is really good for the soul — especially on mountain trails.

A few weeks ago on my long run I watched the snow fall on red dirt, black lava rocks, and dark green junipers and pinion pines. “It is so beautiful out here,” I thought. I only rarely listen to music while I am running. Mostly I just enjoy the scenery and let my mind wander.

During the first mile of this particular run a thought popped into my head: What would I say if one of the Apostles showed up as a patient in my clinic? I don’t really expect this to happen, although I suppose it could. Working as a medical doctor is a great way to meet people from all walks of life; anyone from a homeless transient to the mayor of the town could walk through my door, and it is fun to talk with them all.

My roots are pretty deep here in southern Utah. My ancestors were among the first white settlers in St. George, Kanab, Parowan, and the nearby Alamo, Nevada, and every so often I meet a distant cousin from one of those family lines. I love living in a place where I know I belong, where the work I do feels like serving my own people, my own family.

Specifically, on my recent long run, I imagined meeting Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who grew up in St. George. As far as I know we are not related, but I feel a kinship with him anyway because of our shared experience of living in that beautiful place. Elder Holland is one of my church heroes. I learn almost as much from his style as I do from his substance. In 2007 he led a Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting on the subject of teaching the gospel. As part of this broadcast he taught a live class and led the discussion, unscripted except for his lesson plans. His questions were just right, gently yet directly inviting his students to participate in the lesson. He deftly handled comments from class members, echoing their sentiments, adding his own insights, and using them to transition into his next point. “How did he do that so smoothly, on the fly?” I thought to myself at the time. “That was brilliant!”

A year or so later I was called to teach a Sunday School class, and really struggled through my first lesson. So I watched and listened to Elder Holland’s lesson again and again, many, many times.

“If I, the teacher, want questions from you, the student, I may have to prime the pump a little, as we have tried to do here today. I may try to pose a question that will then take on a life of its own, and all I have to do is direct traffic in order to get the students to participate” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, February 2007).

Over the months and years of his virtual tutelage my weakness gradually became a strength. I learned how to “direct traffic” in a classroom discussion, like he described. Now I approach these teaching assignments with enthusiasm and confidence. As I ran along the trail, leaving footprints in the gathering snow, I thought of how I would thank him for teaching me how to teach.

But then I thought that it must be quite a danger for Apostles to meet people everywhere in the Church who each have some gushing praise for them. It would be hard to keep an ego of appropriate size when people are constantly complimenting you and treating you like a VIP. Maybe it would be better to just focus on whatever the medical work happened to be if Elder Holland were in my clinic, and not mention the fact that I love and appreciate this man for the lasting difference he has made in my life.

Suddenly the stream of my thoughts veered into a different channel. Apostles represent the Lord, I thought, so what if I walked into the clinic room and found Jesus Christ sitting up on the examination table?

Wait, what would he be doing in my clinic? He has a perfected, resurrected body; there is no way that he could have a neurologic disease. And even if he did, the Master Healer would not need the help of a mortal physician. How could my professional skills possibly help my Savior?

And then it hit me:

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Every patient that I see in my clinic is Jesus, at least metaphorically, because the service I render to other people is felt by the Lord to be service rendered to him. Everyone from the VIP to the addict begging me for controlled substances, and every tradesman, single mother, college student, and grandparent in between, is known and loved by the Lord. He sorrows for their pain and he suffered for their sins. He rejoices in their desires for goodness, and in the kindness and mercy that others show to them.

Yes, the Lord has use for my professional skills, if I will use them in kindness to serve others as he would — as if I were serving him.

I rounded the hill and saw the trailhead. My hands were cold, but my heart was warm. I cleared the thin layer of snow off of my car and drove home, feeling like I had learned something new, or something old in a new or deeper way.

Like I said, running is good for the soul.

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist. Podcast music by E-Sandy.

One reply to “The Least of These

  1. Nice run and nice writing. I agree that if we treat others like Jesus Christ, we’ll see them differently—in a much more understanding and kindly way. I use my bicycle for exercise thoughts. Keep up the good writing and running!

    Liked by 1 person

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