Every manual in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals has at least one lesson on Joseph Smith. Before going into the lesson, I’ll link to a few other RS lessons we’ve done here at the Exponent on Joseph Smith.
The Prophet Joseph Smith from the Spencer W. Kimball manual
The Prophet Joseph Smith, God’s Instrument in Restoring the Truth from the George Albert Smith manual
Relief Society Lesson 47: “Praise To The Man”: Latter-Day Prophets Bear Witness Of The Prophet Joseph Smith from the Joseph Smith manual
I would like to start with a quick personal story and some feelings I had while first skimming the lesson to get a sense of it.
Last year when I was meeting with my stake president to renew my temple recommend and going through the appropriate “yes” and “no” responses, there was one question where I stopped and said, “Well, I try…” The stake president looked at me and said, “I don’t want any answers other than ‘yes’ or ‘no.'” So I rephrased my answer into “yes” and was given a recommend. What was the question? “Are you honest in your dealings…?” The honesty question feels a bit like a trick question- who really is 100% honest in everything? Saying you are is obviously a lie! It’s a catch-22. I am not honest with my fellow people at all times, though like I originally stated, I do try.
So when first skimming this chapter and reading headings which included phrases like, “he was a pure, sincere, honest young man,” “maintained his honesty and high moral character,” and “free from hypocrisy,” I felt that either Lorenzo Snow wasn’t being fully honest himself, or the compilers of this manual weren’t. Because claiming a person to be that honest is unreal and even suspicious to me. But amidst some mental eye rolls, I gave Lorenzo Snow a bit of a pass: after all, he was remembering experiences decades later and it’s human nature to remember our heroes as “larger than life.”
While reading the lesson closer, the stories that struck me most gave Joseph Smith more dimensionality. The opening story shows Joseph Smith as both a person who was jovial and sociable as well as power speaker who “spoke with great force and eloquence.” When Lorenzo Snow describes his first experience listening to Joseph Smith speak he states, “At first he seemed a little diffident [hesitant] and spoke in rather a low voice, but as he proceeded he became very strong and powerful, and seemed to affect the whole audience with the feeling that he was honest and sincere.” Still later Snow states, “At times he [Joseph Smith] spoke lightly, and at other times he explained the mysteries of the kingdom.” I would say that these personalities of Joseph Smith give us a better picture of the humanity and approachable nature of Joseph Smith. I can’t relate to a person who is “free from hypocrisy” but I can relate to a person who shows his anxiety while speaking to a group and gains confidence as he continues.
In a classroom setting I would probably have volunteers read the stories referenced above and then discuss the many faces of people. “Can you share an experience when you were intimidated by a person, but then getting to know them found them personable?” Ask the class to evaluate themselves and how they portray themselves in different situations. Do you take on personas? When do you feel most like yourself and what is special about those situations?
A good portion of this lesson is devoted to highlighting Joseph Smith’s lively and playful nature. There are stories of Joseph Smith roughhousing and playing sports with his friends and with children. The story where he responds to his brother’s concern that play was not approrpriate for a prophet by stating, “Brother Hyrum, my mingling with the boys in a harmless sport like this does not injure me in any way, but on the other hand it makes them happy and draws their hearts nearer to mine” reminded me of Luke 18:16, “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Ask the class what they like to do for fun, what makes them laugh. List all these things on the board. I imagine this will encourage a lot of participation; we love to talk about the things we love! If you need to trigger some ideas, this can include sports, music, dances, shows, movies, arts, games, classes, tasks, goals, vacations, holidays, traditions, etc. Ask the class to think about the last time they had a good laugh or had the thought, “Wow, this is really fun!” Perhaps challenge the class to schedule or plan to do something they really enjoy this week or meet up with someone who is really fun to be around.
The last third of this lesson is devoted to Lorenzo Snow bearing testimony of Joseph Smith. You can bear your own testimony of Joseph Smith or share quotes from the lesson. I particularly liked the paragraph, “What is the nature of our testimony?…” and the sentence earlier in the lesson, ” There never was a man that possessed… more devotedness to the interest of mankind than the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
I hope that this lesson helps make Joseph Smith more accessible as well as let us think about how we can open up to the people around us, enjoy life, and work towards building the relationships that are so important to building Zion.