I was in charge of teaching all of our Young Women this last Sunday and I got permission from our president to go off manual and instead teach a lesson relating to Christmas. I divided our girls into three groups and assigned them scriptures relating to Mary, Elizabeth and Anna respectively. They had discussion questions and after about twenty minutes we reconvened and the girls presented what they had learned and we talked about the bigger picture lessons these women’s lives had to offer. I thought I would share some of that discussion here, in the spirit of Christmas.
-Mary, Elizabeth and Anna did not have lives that fit “the plan.” If the ideal (as is often presented in youth lessons) is getting married, having children, and living happily ever after none of these women got the perfect family life. Mary had an unplanned premarital pregnancy. The biological father was not present at the birth and did not participate in raising her son. Elizabeth lived to be old without having children in a culture that put even more emphasis on female fertility than our present church does. Anna was a widow for a staggeringly long time, enjoying only seven years of marriage. Instead of remarrying she chose a life of prayer and fasting, arguably a career of sorts. Nobody had the sort of Ensign-cover perfect looking life.
-All three women had to be patient in serious trials and endure.
-God had not somehow forgotten these women because their lives didn’t follow the plan. On the contrary, they prepared themselves for some of the most important missions ever performed by people on earth. They were the first to witness of Christ’s divinity, the first disciples and the first missionaries.
-Mary and Elizabeth had extraordinary faith – they believed the impossible. Many of the things we are asked to believe on faith have been taught to us our entire lives and we are prepared to try to believe in things like resurrection and eternal life. While logically these might also seem impossible, we are taught and encouraged to gain a testimony helping to make faith easier. Believing that a virgin or a post-menopausal woman could conceive children is not a central religious tenet (at least from the perspective of Mary and Elizabeth, in their time period). They were asked to believe the impossible and their faith was great enough that they did.
-Mary was rational – she asked how it was possible that she would be pregnant given that she was a virgin. I thought this was particularly interesting as I was studying because Zacharias also questions – he says, “whereby shall I know this?” and the angel strikes him dumb. I thought maybe the difference was that Mary wasn’t questioning the truth of the message; she was asking to understand the mechanism of its fulfillment. Thoughts?
-The first people to gain a witness of Christ as a human person on earth were women. Even before Joseph learned of Mary’s divine pregnancy Mary and Elizabeth shared a prophetic moment. Likewise the Savior first appeared to women as a resurrected person. We talked about what this says about how God feels about women and their importance in eternal plans.
-Mary, Elizabeth and Anna all had the gift of prophecy. A few weeks ago we talked about spiritual gifts and we discussed how none of them are gendered. In our day we think only of the prophet and apostles as having the gift of prophecy, but very clearly all three of these women prophesied about the mission of the Savior on earth. It was a nice tie-in to an earlier lesson about spiritual gifts.
-Anna and Simeon helped to prepare Mary to be a mother who would endure unimaginable emotional pain. Simeon warned her that “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” and Anna likewise testified of Christ’s ministry. During the Atonement Christ felt forsaken. His apostles fell asleep and he even felt that Heavenly Father had withdrawn. His mom stayed by him to the bitter end though, she stood right beside him as he died. She had been prepared from his infancy for his mission.
-Mary “pondered in her heart.” She thought about what she saw and heard and thought carefully about it. She was introspective and cherished the spiritual experiences she had.
-Anna was a missionary. The first thing she did after seeing the Savior was to go out and share the message with those that were looking for redemption.
I don’t remember everything we talked about, these are just some of the insights that the girls and leaders shared. It was a sweet and powerful lesson, I love to see our girls stand up and teach about the women of the scriptures. I love that we can talk about how hard life really can be and that they should be preparing spiritually to handle difficult realities. I love that the women of the scriptures were real people living real lives and that we can come to know them.