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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Relief Society Lesson 22: Carry the Gospel to the World


The manual lesson may be found here. It gives us a glimpse of the heritage of missionary service President Ezra Taft Benson inherited, and the importance he places on the work, both for himself, and for all of us. His teachings offer calls for more (and better) missionaries, from full-time young men, young women, and senior couples, to non-full-time member missionaries. He also offers suggestions for preparing children to serve missions, and for four things we all need, as we engage in the work.

If you are going to teach this lesson, pause for a moment, and consider the makeup of your Relief Society. Maybe it has several young sisters who are eager and ready to serve full-time missions. Maybe it has several older sisters, who are preparing to go by themselves or with their spouses. Maybe it has several mothers who hope their children might go, who could use tips for encouraging them without unduly pressuring them. Maybe it has several mothers who despite hopes and encouragement, have children who didn’t go, and feel undue pressure and guilt, themselves. Maybe it has some combination. Your Relief Society, ward, or stake might also have a strong emphasis on member missionary work. These considerations will help you know how to allocate your time during the lesson.

A Missionary Heritage

As mentioned, President Benson came from a family with a strong missionary ethic. He was old enough to live at a time when fathers could still be called away from their family’s for full-time missionary service. His own father was one of those fathers. “As the eldest son,” President Benson remembered “the letters that [his father] wrote from the mission field in the Midwest. There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that has never left it.” Perhaps because of this, he and all ten of his siblings “filled missions,” as did his wife, who “had the pleasure of her widowed mother serving with her for the last six months.”

That he mentioned his wife serving a mission is important to me, for two reasons. 1) When I was preparing to go on a mission in 2004 and 2005, I always appreciated hearing Elder Richard G. Scott talk about his wife, Jeanene Watkins Scott’s, missionary service, and how much it meant to her, to him, and to their children. 2) There is a history of discourse from male General Authorities going back and back, that essentially tells men that it is their priesthood duty to go, while women are “not invited, but welcome.” I embrace any discourse that highlights and encourages female missionary service, and believe such speech is even more crucial as the age change has shifted the percentages of male and female missionaries. (I rejoiced the day my friend text me, that for the first time ever, there were more female missionaries entering the Provo MTC than elders.)

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Teaching, No Greater Call: Using the Scriptures Effectively

hey-girl-a-feminist-hermeneutic-of-suspicion-uncovers-new-understandings-of-the-bible-and-me-thumb“I know this passage is really long, so I’m going to go around the room and have each people take two verses so we can get through it all.”

This is the kiss of death for my ensuing participation in Gospel Doctrine.

There are many beautiful passages in our scriptures. Some are long, most are short (I think that’s why they’re beautiful—articulate, succinct, with imagery that touches my heart in just a few phrases). There is never a reason to have people go around the room reading scriptures unless you’re trying to kill time.

Have you ever heard the adage, “Show me, don’t tell me?” I think this applies doubly when it comes to using the stories in the scriptures for teaching.

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Relief Society Lesson 21: Principles of Temporal and Spiritual Welfare

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

moneyMoney is a stressful topic for any individual, couple, group or organization to discuss. Keep in mind that there may be members in your congregation who are reliant on government support, church support, are financially supporting adult children and grandchildren or are dealing with financial issues which you are not aware. Be sensitive to the spirit as to not disengage anyone based on whatever their financial needs and situation at the moment might be. Invite everyone to resist judgment in the lesson, and focus on ways in which this lesson is designed to help them as individuals and in their individual families.


 “Everything that concerns the economic, social, and spiritual welfare of the human family is and ever will be the concern of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Why do you think “economic” is listed by Benson as the first concern of the church?

Some responses might be:

  • ensure members are cared for
  • unpaid local leadership means there is needs to be a source of income for the church to operate at a local, and therefore, more personal level
  • tithing supports the church
  • because Christ wants us to ensure we look after each other


The church manual includes a history of one of the first church-based welfare programs called the Church Security Plan in 1936. But before the Church had this program, the reporting of families in need was largely monitored and regulated by the Relief Society. When the Relief Society first started, one of the consistent topics was assisting those in need in the community. From Daughters in My Kingdom

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Relief Society Lesson 20: Feed My Sheep

“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.” from the Life of Ezra Taft Benson

Thoughts on Less-Active Saints

This lesson is very firm on our “duty” to bring less-active members back into full activity in the church. To this point, we read quotes such as these:

“As followers of the Lord, part of our mission is to reach out to our brothers and sisters who have separated themselves from the Church.”

“The challenge before us is great. … We must exercise great faith, energy, and commitment if we are to reach these brothers and sisters. But we must do it. The Lord expects us to do it.”

“This challenge will never be met until stake, ward, quorum, and auxiliary leaders and faithful members everywhere exercise their will and faith to bring the less active back into full activity in the Church.”

I was taught a similar duty when I was a young girl in the church. I remember, particularly, as a newly called Mia Maid president, being taught that my stewardship included the less-active girls in my class. I understood that I would be held accountable for their choice to come to church – or not. This is a tall order for a 15 year-old girl with limited resources.

Since that time, I have left behind the idea of “accountability for others” – and hold more to the idea of simply loving others and accepting them where they are.

The early quotes listed feel harsh to me and I prefer to think of work with all church members (active or otherwise) – feeding the sheep – as an exercise in love, compassion, and following the Savior.

How do we best love God’s flock? How do we best feed His sheep?

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Relief Society Lesson 19: Leadership

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

This Relief Society lesson which can be found here can be an empowering discussion about how to strengthen our leadership abilities as women.  I would start this lesson by asking the sisters to think about times in their lives when they have been leaders and to contemplate what it was that made them a leader.  Was their leadership effective or powerful?  What qualities helped them to be powerful?

You might share a personal experience to help them to begin the process of self-inquiry.  Last spring I had an experience with my son in which I needed to step up as a leader.  My kids and I were visiting my parents at their home while I was doing some training to become a licensed yoga instructor.  One morning my son was playing the wii and accidently threw the remote control into my parent’s big screen tv, shattering the screen.  When I came upstairs I could feel the charged emotions.  My parents were in shock and didn’t know what to do.  My son looked like his heart was shattered along with the tv screen.  My first thought was that I wanted someone else to take charge of this one, but the mantle of leadership fell to me as the parent.  I had spent all weekend in training, learning how to be a powerful leader.  I had learned how to keep my feelings neutral in order to neutralize the charged emotions of others.  I sat down with my son and talked to him about how this was a big deal and it was going to cost a lot of money to fix.  But I told him that I loved him more than I loved the money or the tv.  I told him that mistakes happen, that there is nothing we can do about it now other than to move forward, and make efforts to be sure it doesn’t happen in the future.  I also shared with him some big expensive mistakes I had made in my life too, like breaking grandma’s car.  I could see the relief flood over him.

My ability to be a leader at a moment when I wanted to scream at my son or hide in my room, came from love, as well as spiritual strength that I had built up through twenty-five hours of yoga training over the course of the weekend.  My ability to be a leader at that moment empowered me to change a bad situation into positive one.  I found that I had power to influence everyone involved.  At this point I would write the words “Love,” and “Spiritual Strength” on the board and ask for more suggestions of qualities that make up powerful leadership.  Some qualities suggested by this lesson are: humility, spiritual strength, knowledge, loyalty, unity, love, and delegation.

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