Math at General Conference! Geeks of the Church unite! Elder Gilbert’s talk, “Becoming More in Christ: The Parable of the Slope“, doesn’t explore the definition of a line or its equation “y = mx + b”, but it does look at two key components of that equation and how they apply to our lives. Those components are the Y Intercept and the Slope of a line.
The Y Intercept
In the slope equation of a line, the y-intercept is where the line crosses the y axis. In our mortal lives, this is where we start life. It is the environment, country, culture, and all things that make up the context we start from.
For me, this was a small town in Western New York, to loving parents who valued family and always wanted the best for their children. It was also a place where I was taught the value of hard work, not only in a career, but also in the home and yard. We didn’t have all the new gadgets, but we weren’t what I would consider poor. I was very fortunate to have a good starting place for my life.
Not everyone is as blessed as I was. I saw that while on my mission to Santiago, Chile. My first area was in the countryside in a small town called Paniahue. A few years before I arrived there was a flood that decimated several dwelling places. Those places were replaced by what amounted to tin sheds. I remember entering these abodes that had dirt floors, gaps that let in nature’s elements and wildlife. I also remember smiling faces and the generosity of a people that had been hit by tragedy. I was grateful for my y-intercept as I taught the restored gospel to these wonderful people.
The Savior knows our y-intercepts and understands the struggles we have no matter where we start. He loves us and is there to encourage us. It makes no difference where we start our journey. We all have our struggles and our obstacles to overcome. This is why we shouldn’t put our focus on our starting point, but rather on where we are headed. Where we are headed depends on our slope.
The slope of a line determines two things, its steepness and its direction. A slope’s steepness can mean everything from horizontal (flat or 0) to vertical (straight up and down or infinite). The slope’s direction is either positive (moving up), zero (flat), negative (moving down), or infinite (vertical). Slope can also be measured between any two points on a line. This means that at different points the line can be steep or flat, positive or negative.
Our lives are similar. We have moments of positivity and great steepness (vertical would be perfection and not likely in this life). We also have moments that are flat or negative where we are not progressing.
Most lines of the equation “y = mx + b” are straight and have a single slope and direction. Our lives on the other hand look more like a zig-zag. That’s OK because that’s what we are here for. The thing we want to see is a continuous movement towards heaven (positive slope).
Make God Our Partner
Elder Gilbert states “Regardless of whether we start in abundant or difficult circumstances, we will realize our ultimate potential only when we make God our partner.”
My second year at BYU was not a great year academically for me. I struggled with my classes and the second semester had a low GPA. It was so low, that I had to discuss with the Dean of the Computer Science department after returning from my mission what it would take to get into the major. That first semester back, I had to take three difficult courses (one of which I was retaking to get a better grade). I struck a deal with the Dean that if I got a B+ or better in all of them, I would be let in. I took the plan to the Lord and asked for help. I learned on my mission better study habits and put them to use. I relied on God to be my partner in helping me to remember the things that I studied and to have confidence in my abilities. With His help and my effort, I achieved my goal of getting into the Computer Science department and was able to finish my Bachelor’s degree a couple of years later.
What can we do to ensure a positive slope with increasing steepness?
- Involve God
- Approach Him in prayer and ask “what lack I yet?”
- Identify where I can be better
- Make a plan to improve, maybe using the 1% objective that Elder Dunn discussed
- Record impressions
- Write down the impressions you get and use them as a reminder when things don’t go your way.
- Track Progress
- Set goals and measure progress towards them
God is more concerned about where we are headed than where we started. Take the time to identify the direction of your slope and make a plan to put it positive and then increase its steepness. As you do so, you will be rewarded and blessed.
What ideas do you have for increasing slope and making it positive?