Dawn works miracles

Dawn works miracles

Teaching Primary can be a wild mix of diligent preparation and seat-of-the-pants improv. Here’s an experience I had with inspiration. Some might think the source was odd, but, hey, I’m not questioning it.

A couple weeks ago in the CTRB class I co-teach, we were talking about the lofty concepts of repentance and the need for atonement. Because the kids we teach are 5 and 6 we sometimes lift their eyes to the future when they turn 8 and will be baptized. How wonderful it will be to be made clean by that covenant.

Such esoteric stuff!

Then one of the precocious tots asked, “But what happens if you do something really wrong after you’re baptized. Do you have any chance to get clean then?

My mind turned immediately to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

I had heard the NPR host Ira Glass tell a story back in the late 1990’s about a surprising discovery made in the aftermath of that catastrophe. I knew I had to share this with the kids. So suddenly these words (more or less) poured forth….

Once many years ago (I told the children) there was a boat that broke apart on the water. It was full of thick, black, oozy oil that spilled for miles and miles out onto the ocean. It made the water dirty. It made the shore dirty and the sand and the rocks and the seaweed. The oil even covered the ducks and seagulls who lived by the sea so they were sticky and messy and couldn’t swim or fly because their wings and feathers wouldn’t work right anymore. How would they ever be able to clean the creatures up again?

Scientists who went to help the birds tried different kinds of soaps but none of them worked very well. Sometimes the birds looked cleaner but there was still oil on their feathers. Birds like to poke their feathers with their beaks – it’s called preening – to straighten their feathers and clean them. The birds would preen their feathers and swallow some of the oil that was still on their wings and get sick. If they looked cleaner but weren’t really clean in a way that made them healthy and strong, how would they ever get completely clean?

This is when the scientists discovered something wonderful. They discovered Dawn dishwashing detergent. Unlike all the other kinds of soaps and detergents they tried, only Dawn got the birds really clean. There was something about how Dawn was made and how it reacted to the skin and feathers of the bird that made it able to get the birds cleanest of all.

Jesus is like Dawn detergent for us. He’s the only one who can get us completely clean in our souls and spirits. When we get baptized, our covenant with Jesus makes us completely clean that way. And after that, every time we come to Jesus for his help, he can make us completely clean again. Every time we take the sacrament we can remember how Jesus is the only way we can get fully clean again – like the Dawn detergent for the oily birds.

The kids were so engaged in this story. They were worried for the animals, gripped by their desperate plight, wide-eyed with relief when they heard about the, um, saving effects of Dawn dishwashing detergent. Cool!

So God works through NPR and Ira Glass. And Dawn works on ducks. And Jesus works on me!

(You can read more about Dawn here.)

Where have you found surprising inspiration for your callings or for your life, for that matter?

November 8, 2013


  1. Lisa G.

    November 8, 2013

    This is so cool! Next time you teach, try this follow-up object lesson. Take a pan of clean water (our clean spirit), sprinkle black pepper on top (sin) then drop one drop of Dawn (or any detergent, really, but for your kids, definitely Dawn)in the pan (Jesus and the Atonement). The pepper will immediately scoot out of the way of the Dawn.

  2. Heather B from SC

    November 8, 2013

    See, this is a wonderful example of an object lesson: clear, simple, and true. No hinky science, no troublesome doctrine. Just right, and taught with the Spirit. A great parable.

  3. Cheri

    November 8, 2013

    Fantastic, Linda! The way you tell the story so thoroughly but accessibly is perfect for kids that age. The details keep them riveted, and also help bring out the analogy. I’m totally borrowing this some day!

  4. Left Field

    November 8, 2013

    …except there’s no penguins in Alaska.

  5. carriem

    November 9, 2013

    I love This American Life.

  6. Catherine

    November 9, 2013

    Love it! And your clever title . . .

  7. Sara

    November 10, 2013

    I LOVE this! NPR & Ira Glass. LOVE it.

Comments are closed.