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Lessons from Life's Laboratory

Greg Burton, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, spoke to students Tuesday in a devotional address titled “Lessons from Life’s Laboratory.”

In explaining the process by which scientists make hypotheses and test them to find conclusions, Burton likened the method to the way students can learn from their experiences in life. He used one example to show an experiment that turns out the way you expect and another to show an unexpected outcome.

“While these types of experiments have surprising conclusions, such outcomes can be truly enlightening because they lead us to think more deeply and often generate important new understanding and knowledge,” he said. “However, they can also be discouraging because we don’t immediately understand what has happened. In this case we may give up, and in doing so, fail to gain the understanding and new knowledge that we could have received.”

Just like the science experiment that did not go as planned, Burton said that “sometimes what we experience is not what we expect or predict or even desire…. Applying this to life as a college student, examples of things not going as planned might include a low exam score after hours of studying, or a relationship that doesn’t turn out as we hoped, or a disappointing response to applications to graduate or professional schools…. These unplanned and unexpected results in life’s laboratory can be at times confusing, frustrating and discouraging.”

One of the lessons Burton shared from his life is what he called “the lesson of the green table.” The green table was where he learned from his parents to pray, and where he learned that the Lord answered his prayers.

When he was about 10 years old, his father fell from a ladder and hit his head. After Burton prayed for his father’s recovery, his father healed nicely. However in another experience, Burton prayed to be accepted into medical school. The Lord answered him that “all would work out well” and he received an intense feeling of peace.

“I interpreted this answer as meaning that I would be accepted into medical school and live happily ever after,” Burton said.

Medical school, however, never happened, and Burton made plans for a different career.

“Everything did work out all right, just as the answer to my prayers indicated,” Burton said, “even though it didn’t work out in the way that I initially expected nor nearly as soon as I had anticipated. As I look back upon my life, great blessings have come to us because I didn’t go to medical school. I am involved in a career that I absolutely love and it has brought great blessings, wonderful people and fascinating experiences into my life.”

Burton shared a second lesson he caled “the Berlin Wall lesson.” In 1989, no one expected the Berlin Wall to ever come down, not even a leader in the Church with years of education and experience in the secular world. When it did, Burton said he learned “that events can and do occur in our lives that are unexpected and often, on a timetable that is not our own. Whether different than expected or faster or slower than anticipated, the Lord works on His own time schedule and in His own way.”

In this experience, Burton learned “to wait upon the Lord.”

“It is important to note in the case of the Berlin Wall, that the time frame of its coming down was much more rapid than anyone might have conceived. In contrast, there are many instances when the Lord’s time schedule is much longer than what we might predict or desire.”

This third lesson Burton shared was that the healing power of the Savior is real and that it can touch our lives.

“Because I have felt His healing power in my life and in my family’s life I have learned that He who is our Savior is the friend of the comfortless and of those who are having problems—whether they are problems with classes, with dating, or with any of the significant challenges that specifically trouble you and trouble me,” he said.

Burton ended the devotional with an example of another science experiment, in which a mixture changed from clear, to black, to muddy brown, and then silver.

“The mixture started out as clear, much as our lives do when everything is going well,” he said. “It then changed to very dark—almost black—similar to the storms that come into our lives. These storms may consist of low exam scores, personal relationship problems, failure to meet a goal, or feeling all alone with great personal challenges. The dark then lightened and became a muddy brown color, similar to the storms passing and things seeming a bit better yet we may still feel confused or in need of further help. Lastly the brown color gave way to shining silver, the silver lining at the end of the trials. The silver lining comes when we gain understanding and the Savior’s influence and love enter our lives. This didn’t occur until after the dark period had transpired.”

“The experiences of my life, a few of which I have shared today logically teach me of a loving Heavenly Father and Savior. However, far more important than logic, is the witness of the Holy Ghost that allows me to testify that we have a living Heavenly Father who loves us and is vitally interested in us.”


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