On RS Lessons, Vulnerability, and Love

Lost LambPreface

I taught Relief Society this Sunday, with a fully broken heart. It was extremely painful, but it was also moving, to be vulnerable before my sisters, and to witness moments of light, and grace, and burden sharing.

It was Ezra Taft Benson’s lesson 20, “Feed My Sheep,” which Suzette previously posted about here.


We began by singing “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd,” as per a good tip from TopHat and her own excellent RS teacher. I told the sisters that my favorite line in the hymn, and the part I wanted to focus on was this: “Make us thy true under- shepherd[esse]s.” Because it is, and was.

President Ezra Taft Benson suggested that

Sisters also have callings of “shepherding” in the charitable and loving service they render to one another, and to others. Thus, we must all learn to be true shepherds. We must manifest the same love to others that the Good Shepherd has for all of us. Each soul is precious to Him. His invitation beckons every member—every son and daughter of God.

After reading this, I asked a few simple questions, and the sisters answered.

Who are the sheep?

The first said simply, “We are.” Two more added, “Our Relief Society.” “Our Ward family.” Still another said, “Everyone.” I agreed. Lambs are like neighbors, and Jesus showed us who the neighbors are, that we are commanded to love as ourselves.

What then, do they need to be fed?

Again, various responses flooded in: “The love of God.” The word of God.” “Not always, but sometimes, real food.” I paused at the last one, because 1) Jesus did this, when he gave loaves and fishes, and recognized that people could not be fed spiritually until they were fed physically, and 2) I’ve experienced it, when my daughter was born, when Mormon Feminism was due to the publisher, and the very night I taught this lesson, though I had no way of knowing it, then.

What if they don’t want to be fed, or the food doesn’t seem nourishing to them?

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Announcing Changes to the Exponent Facebook Group

mormon-feminist-body-of-ChristOn behalf of the Exponent team, I am announcing that we have changed the privacy settings on the Exponent Facebook group. The Exponent Facebook group is now a closed group instead of a public one. This change will make it more likely that posts to the group will be seen by group members in our news feeds.  It will also make posts and comments invisible to people who have not joined the group.  (The Exponent Facebook business page remains public and visible to all.)

We make this change with no small amount of trepidation. Closed Facebook groups are notorious for hosting the online equivalent of fistfights and we Exponent bloggers are busy people who don’t have any desire to spend all hours of the day and night moderating. A very small team of bloggers has generously volunteered to devote some of their precious, unpaid volunteer time to moderating the closed Facebook group, but we have neither the time nor the desire to treat group members as children in need of a babysitter or hostile enemies in need of a referee. We are starting the closed group on a trial basis for now and if we find that a very high degree of moderator surveillance and intervention is necessary to keep things civil, we will delete the group as a failed experiment. We do have real lives to attend to, after all.

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Book Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles

Samuel Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple is not a very big book, but it took me a big time to read, and a bigger time to think about. This is in part, because I could only read in little bursts of time confetti, one page here, three pages there, on walks to the water with my daughter, or at the nearby park. But, there is a another important part: it’s pages contain multitudes. For me, this meant that it benefited from a slow read, and also that every time I turned to its pages, I felt better–not just about Mormonism, which I might have expected, but about marriage, relationships, and community, which I didn’t quite expect.

It helps to know that First Principles and Ordinances is the second book in Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s “Living Faith” series, with Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon being the first, Steven L. Peck’s Evolving Faith, being the third, and Patrick Q. Mason’s, Plantedbeing the fourth. (If you, like I, noticed that there are as of yet no female authors, take heart, and please consider submitting something. It is a matter the Maxwell Institute is very much aware of, and very much would like to change.)

In this series, each author approaches a matter of faith personally and professionally, meaning that they write both from their life of faith and their life of scholarship, making it a clear and worthwhile attempt at Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding.”

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Relief Society Lesson 17: Keeping the Law of Chastity

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 217–28

Law of chastityChastity lessons are challenging because people’s life circumstances determine the way they live chaste lives.  Giving this lesson to a group of women with varying marital status will require a lot of forethought.  I recommend reading “Two Sides of Being Single and Chaste” and acknowledging that living out your adulthood as an abstinent person is a quite different thing from being an abstinent teenager or young adult.  Chastity and singlehood deserve a serious conversation and in some wards this could be the main topic of the discussion, but I am going to focus this lesson plan on chastity for married women since this is something I can speak to from experience.



1. Attraction

“The natural desire for men and women to be together is from God. But such association is bounded by his laws. Those things properly reserved for marriage, when taken within the bonds of marriage, are right and pleasing before God and fulfil the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.”

One of my grandmothers remarried when I was in college, and I remember her saying she didn’t think she could still feel giddy when a man called, but she did.  I was surprised, too, that someone her age could still have those feelings.  But the fact is as we age our brains remain totally capable of that dopamine surge that gives us the euphoric feeling of falling in love, and the adrenaline-driven pitter-patter we felt as teenagers when we made eye contact with a crush.

We are wired for falling in love, and a brain in love is often compared to a brain on cocaine.  As the brain becomes tolerant of those highly stimulating hormones, and love changes to secure attachment, vasopressin and oxytocin give a sense of well-being conducive to sticking together.  Finally, your hormones return to normal.  The ideal for Mormons is not to ride this hormonal roller coaster over and over, it’s to form lasting, even eternal, marriages. The main challenge for unmarried people is getting dopamine hits with your loved one without going “too far,” whereas a real challenge for married people is living in long term relationships without the hormonal roller coaster.

“Most people fall into sexual sin in a misguided attempt to fulfill basic human needs. We all have a need to feel loved and worthwhile. We all seek to have joy and happiness in our lives. Knowing this, Satan often lures people into immorality by playing on their basic needs. He promises pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.”

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Relief Society Lesson #16: The Elderly in the Church

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

In all stages of our lifes there are joys and difficulties – and the older years are no different.

I’ve listed some of the joys here for class discussion. Some are in the lesson manual and some are my own.

  • Continued association with a spouse or other close family member.
  • Children: great nieces and nephews, grandchildren, friends and ward members.
  • Peace: there can be times of rest and peace in later years. A great blessing.
  • Time: often there is more time in later years – to be used for interesting travel, new hobbies, renewed friendships, etc.

Here I’ve listed difficulties in the same way.

  • Unresolved past problems: relational, spiritual, or temporal – these problems can weigh on the mind and heart.
  • Financial difficulties. Financial problems can come in many forms and are not always the result of poor planning. These can be difficult to resolve in later years.
  • Health Concerns – Illness and Pain. As we age, our bodies break down and the elderly can be plagued with many illnesses and also chronic pain. Poor vision and hearing loss can also create frustration.
  • Losing loved ones – including spouses. Many close friends and family members pass away as we age. This can be emotionally painful and lonely.
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Anxiety in Speaking in Sacrament Meeting

Years ago, in preparing for a Young Women “Values” themed sacrament meeting, I mentioned to a member of the Young Women presidency that I was not sure what to speak about. “It doesn’t really matter,” she assured me. You know what the value is that you’ve been assigned to present, so just tell us a story about it. You’ll do great anyway. We start children giving talks in primary, so by the time you are a (14 year old) Mia Maid, you’ve been speaking in public for a decade! This is why Mormons are great public speakers. You’ll do fine!”


At the time, her words did calm me. I thought, “I can do this! I’ve been giving talks for 10 years!” I had not been afraid of giving speeches on the debate team or in English class, and as a rule, wasn’t nervous but for that last burst of excited anticipwoman-podiumation that strikes me just before the words came out. But church talks were and are different. To be clear, I could do them. But they made me more nervous than addressing almost every other kind of audience.


As the years passed, and even to this day, when I speak in public- (the thing that is listed as the greatest fear, even over death)  I remind myself that I can do this because “I learned to not be afraid of speaking when I was in primary.” I’ve presented at conferences and meetings and even been disappointed at the smallness of the audience upon occasion; I am a good public speaker and I know it. But. When church speaking assignments came…. the butterflies and anxiety started. I became cranky and argue with my family. I fret and fast and pray for calm. No matter the topic, no matter how well I know it or how many hours I spent in preparation, I became anxiety-ridden. So why is that?

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