I teach teenagers for a living, and so my teaching preference is to let students lead a discussion, to discuss ideas rather than talk at them. So I hope this lesson can give you jumping off points to have in-depth, helpful conversations with your young women, based on their needs and the needs of your community.
It took me years to figure out what it meant when people referenced “keeping your baptismal covenants.” At age 8, I had no idea what I had promised to do, but from that point on it felt as though all my teachers and leaders assumed I knew what my baptismal covenants were without explaining them. So, drawing on my own history, I like the idea of focusing a lesson on baptismal covenants, so they know what promises they have already made. I also think that there is so much focus on future covenants that the young women miss that they have already made promises to God and have received blessings in return. They are already in a relationship with God; they don’t need to wait until they are adults to have the covenant relationship where promises are made and received.
What is a Covenant?
I would start with a discussion of what a covenant is “A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and His children. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey these conditions. Making and keeping covenants qualifies us to receive the blessings God has promised.” (From Why are Covenants Important in my Life?) Our Heavenly Parents have made promises to us, and they will keep them. D&C 82:10 says ” I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” This is not a matter of maybe being blessed for doing the right thing; our Parents will keep their promises to us.
What Covenants Have You Already Made?
What promises to we make a baptism? Mosiah 18:8-9 says “…And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death…” At baptism, we promise to mourn with those that mourn, to bear one another’s burden, to stand as a witness of God.
These are beautiful promises to make. We promise God to take care of each other and to treat each others as Christ would treat people. (Spunky wrote a wonderful lesson on taking Christ’s name upon us that could be incorporated well here.) How do we bear one another’s burden? What can we do to take care of each other? How would Christ want us to treat those around us?
This could be a good time to get specific to community issues. I grew up in Utah Valley where nearly everyone was LDS. We often talked about converting others, but rarely talked about how to show love and support for those different from us without having an alternate agenda. Are there people in your community that need support? Are there young women in your ward or other members that have burdens you could help them bear? I feel the more specific you can get, the more helpful lessons will be. Everyone can list the Sunday School answers, so how can we expand our understanding of bearing others burdens.
The same is true of standing as a witness of Christ. What does that mean, besides inviting people to church or giving them Books of Mormon? How can we stand as witnesses of Christ to those of our own faith? How can we do it without explicitly sharing our religion, since there are many circumstances where discussing religion is inappropriate or off-putting. Is the way we treat others the way that Christ would treat them?
What did you promise? What did God promise?
We have promised at baptism to stand as witnesses of Christ and to take care of those around us. In return, what has God promised us? True to the Faith says “Some of the blessings your receive [from keeping your baptismal covenants] are the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, the remission of your sins, and the privilege of being spiritually reborn.” In return for treating others with kindness, we are granted the Holy Ghost to guide us, forgiveness and a personal relationship with God.
Why would we want these things? What is the advantage in keeping our covenants?
What do we learn from keeping covenants?
Why does God work in covenants? Why not just bless us regardless of our actions? Or why not demand we do the right thing? There are many things we can learn from keeping covenants. First, we can learn from what we promise to do. Our baptismal covenants teach us to act like Christ would, to be compassionate and to think about people outside of ourselves. As President Parkin said in the following quote, covenants teach us to be like our Heavenly Parents.
Covenants—or binding promises between us and Heavenly Father—are essential for our eternal progression. Step by step, He tutors us to become like Him by enlisting us in His work. At baptism we covenant to love Him with all our hearts and love our sisters and brothers as ourselves. In the temple we further covenant to be obedient, selfless, faithful, honorable, charitable. We covenant to make sacrifices and consecrate all that we have. Forged through priesthood authority, our kept covenants bring blessings to fill our cups to overflowing. How often do you reflect that your covenants reach beyond mortality and connect you to the Divine? Making covenants is the expression of a willing heart; keeping covenants, the expression of a faithful heart.
Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society President
“With Holiness of Heart.” Ensign, November 2002
Second, we can learn from the process of keeping covenants. President Parkin also said “Covenants not only coax us out of comfort zones and into new growth but lead others to do the same. Jesus said, “The works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do.” His covenant keeping encourages ours. (Bonnie D. Parkin, Relief Society President “With Holiness of Heart.” Ensign, November 2002) The practice of keeping covenants teaching us to stretch ourselves, to do difficult things and to follow Christ’s example in all things.
I love this quote from Chieko Okazaki about what keeping covenants teaches us.
Covenants are deceptively simple, clear symbols that we can all grasp intellectually with ease. But only as we live with them and return to them often for meaning in the joyous and sorrowful passages of our lives do we begin to understand how deep their roots go. … The many levels on which we can understand our covenants suggests two things to me. First, we cannot judge other people. We do not know where they are in their spiritual journey. There may be parts of the gospel that are a great joy and strength to us but that seem mysterious and uncertain to someone else who is involved in learning about other aspects of the gospel. And second, all experience is for our good because we learn in no other way.
Chieko N. Okazaki, Relief Society Presidency
“Aloha.” 1995, p. 164-165
I feel that this quote could lead in many interesting and helpful directions, depending on what the needs of your class are. Covenants can make us less judgmental as we understand that we all make individual promises and form personal relationships with God. It reminds me of President Uchtdorf’s call that we don’t judge because we are all sinners, we just sin differently. Covenants can also teach use to take an eternal perspective and view the good and the bad that happens to us as learning experiences.