As a physics professor at BYU-Idaho, J. Ryan Nielson has learned that the best way to really learn is through experiences and mistakes. In today’s BYU-Idaho devotional address, Nielson taught that the same applies to our mortal life.
“Generally, students learn the most when they incorrectly predict what will happen. When they make their own honest mistakes and correct them. This learning tends to be meaningful, deep, and lasting,” Nielson said. “One of the purposes of this life is to learn by our own experience that we need to make mistakes and resolve them.”
Nielson focused his remarks on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which enables us to overcome and learn from mistakes. To illustrate the importance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us, Nielson shared an experience with his father.
“My dad carried some great burdens himself because of his service in World War 2,” Nielson said. “The only radio operator for an artillery unit, he experienced very difficult things in Saipan and other campaigns in the South Pacific.”
Despite the trauma he faced in war, Nielson’s father wanted his son to have the opportunity to raise a family and pursue an education.
“I would volunteer to go in your stead,” his father said. “I have been in combat and would better be able to survive than you.”
Nielson compared the love and sacrifice from his father to the love and sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us.
Many years later, Nielson’s father felt the power of Christ’s Atonement as he worked to overcome past struggles and help others do the same. Nielson shared that story in an interview with BYU-Idaho Radio.
Fifty years after serving in the military, Nielson’s father was trying to help someone else who had similar struggles. After counseling with his bishop, he felt prompted to pray and ask forgiveness for something he didn’t realize was wrong. After the prayer, he said that for the first time in 50 years he had a good night’s sleep.
“We don’t understand what war does to people but that the Atonement is built for those kinds of things,” Nielson said. “Not just the things that we’ve done that are wrong, but things that can happen to us.”