May Young Women Lesson: Why is it Important to Listen to and Follow the Living Prophets?

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I would begin this Young Women Lesson by reading Article of Faith Nine:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. Articles of Faith 1:9

Begin a discussion on this Article of Faith by asking some questions: What are some things that God has revealed?  How were those things revealed?  Do we have all the truth that God has to offer us?  Share with the girls the beautiful aspect of this article of faith, that God’s knowledge is continually being revealed to us.  You could use Elder Uchtdorf’s April 2014 talk “Are You Sleeping Through the Restoration?” to help with the discussion:

Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized.  In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now.  It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the many great and important things that He will yet reveal.”  [Sisters], the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Are You Sleeping Through the Restoration? April 2014 Conference (word change to fit gender of audience).

Why is it important for us to be open to new knowledge that comes from God?  Drawing a diagram on the board could be a good visual to illustrate this importance.  Draw a pie chart and ask the girls how much of all the attainable knowledge they think they already have. It might look like the little blue sliver in this chart.  Then ask them how much they know that they don’t know.  For instance, I know about doctors, but I don’t know how to be a doctor.  In gospel terms we might say that we know about an afterlife, but we don’t know what that life looks like.  This knowing that we don’t know goes in the red sliver on the chart.  What is the rest of the pie chart?  It’s the knowledge that we don’t even know that we don’t know.  That is the significance of being open to new revelation.  If we live in the first two slivers, thinking that’s all there is, we miss out on so much more that we could have.  There is far more of God’s knowledge that we don’t even know we don’t know.

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God is ready and willing to reveal these things that we don’t even know we don’t know when we are ready to receive them.  This would be a good opportunity to discuss some examples of times when the unknown was revealed.  Using Joseph Smith History, you can talk about the struggle Joseph Smith went through before he was ready to receive the truths God had to offer him.

While I was laboring under extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Joseph Smith—History 1:11

Joseph Smith was gaining an awareness that there were things he didn’t know.  Previously these were things he didn’t even know he didn’t know.  Now they were coming into the realm of his knowing that he didn’t know them.  That is the beginning of the revelatory process.  But it doesn’t end there.  Joseph himself said that he was “laboring under extreme difficulties.”  Through reading this scripture in James, he became aware of the fact that God was willing to open up his understanding and give him the knowledge he was lacking.  Revelation came to him through an immense struggle.

Another great story of the process of revelation through struggle is the story of Enos in the Book of Mormon.

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.

Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yeah, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. Enos 1:2-4

Coming to know the knowledge that we don’t even know we don’t know is a struggle because we can’t comprehend it in our current minds.  It requires an awareness that there are things we don’t know we don’t know, like Joseph Smith gained.  It requires a wrestle with God and a hungering to know more, like Enos had.

Some of the great and important truths that were hidden in the vast knowledge of the green section of the pie chart were revealed to people who went through this struggle and this process of revelation.  We call these people prophets.  Their knowledge did not come to them magically, but through a wrestle with God.   Do their revelations mean that they instantly knew everything there was to know in the green section of the pie chart?  They received revelation for those things with which they wrestled, but there were far more things that they hadn’t yet contemplated.  The process of receiving revelation is long and messy, and mistakes can happen.

In a talk “Chosen to Bear Testimony of My Name” Elder David A. Bednar shares his insights into this process as he has observed the leaders of the church go through it.

Several years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon with Elder Hales in his home as he was recovering from a serious illness.  We discussed our families, our quorum responsibilities, and important experiences.

At one point I asked Elder Hales, “You have been a successful husband, father, athlete, pilot, business executive, and Church leader.  What lessons have you learned as you have grown older and been constrained by decreased physical capacity?”

Elder Hales paused for a moment and responded, “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.”

I was struck by the simplicity and comprehensiveness of his answer.  My beloved apostolic associate shared with me a lesson of a lifetime—a lesson learned through the crucible of physical suffering and spiritual searching.

I have observed in my Brethren at least a part of the Lord’s purpose for having older men of maturity and judgment serve in senior leadership positions of the Church.  These men have had a sustained season of tutoring by the Lord, whom they represent, serve, and love.  They have learned to understand the divine language of the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s patterns for receiving revelation.  These ordinary men have undergone a most extraordinary developmental process that has sharpened their vision, informed their insight, engendered love for people from all nations and circumstances, and affirmed the reality of the Restoration.

I have witnessed repeatedly my Brethren striving diligently to fulfill and magnify their responsibilities while struggling with serious physical problems.  These men are not spared from affliction.  Rather, they are blessed and strengthened to press forward valiantly while suffering in and with affliction.

Serving with these representatives of the Lord, I have come to know their greatest desire is to discern and do the will of our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son.  As we counsel together, inspiration has been received and decisions have been made that reflect a degree of light and truth far beyond human intelligence, reasoning, and experience.  As we work together in unity on perplexing problems, our collective understanding of an issue has been enlarged in marvelous ways by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I am blessed to observe on a daily basis the individual personalities, capacities, and noble characters of these leaders.  Some people find the human shortcomings of the Brethren troubling and faith diminishing.  For me those imperfections are encouraging and faith promoting.”  David A. Bednar, Chosen to Bear Testimony of My Name, October 2015

What are some words and phrases that Elder Bednar uses to describe the process and the struggle that he and the other leaders of the church have experienced in receiving revelation?  You might write the answers on the board to illustrate the immense struggle to bring hidden knowledge to light: Crucible of physical suffering and spiritual searching, tutoring, learned to understand the divine language, extraordinary developmental process, sharpened their vision, insight, engendered love for people, striving diligently, struggling, discern, counsel together, inspiration has been received, decisions have been made, degree of light and truth far beyond human intelligence, reasoning, and experience, perplexing problems.

In Elder Bednar’s description of this process to receiving revelation, he mentions the imperfection of the process and the leaders.  In a conference talk called, Come, Join with Us, Elder Uchtdorf also mentions this imperfect process.

And to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.  There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings.  God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure.  But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Come, Join with Us, October 2013

The prophet and apostles speak often to us.  If the process of receiving and declaring revelation isn’t perfect, even for our leaders, how can we know when to follow their words?  Are they always right in their counsel to us?

I would get very real and authentic here, and describe an experience in my life where following the prophet’s words didn’t bring about a positive result.  Because this lesson is for young women, I would use an example that especially pertains to them.  For instance, I chose to put marriage and children way ahead of my education because I had heard the prophets and apostles counsel young women to do that and I wanted to follow their counsel.  However, in hindsight I can see that that wasn’t the best choice for me and it didn’t need to be my choice because I wanted both things and I could have done both.  The prophets’ counsel didn’t work for me because they didn’t know my individual circumstances which for them are part of the big green section of the pie chart above.  That is why our Heavenly Parents have given us each individually the ability to work through the same process of revelation that the leaders of the church go through, so that we can know how and when to apply their counsel in our lives.  Chieko Okazaki described it this way:

We have faith in our prophets.  They have counseled us that mothers with young children are especially needed at home.  They remind us of the great needs of our children and our vulnerabilities during their growing years.  The importance of the mother in building a secure, loving, stimulating environment in which children can grow up as healthy and self-reliant individuals is very important.  The ideal family for raising children, we believe, is a stable, loving, two-parent family where young children receive full-time parenting.

But not all situations are ideal.  Not all women are mothers, and not all mothers have children at home.  Furthermore, not all mothers can make the choice to be home with their children all the time.  Often circumstances constrain their choices.  At other times, other responsibilities and opportunities require that difficult decisions be made.  Women and families will be happier with these decisions if they are made using both study and faith. Chieko N. Okazaki, Rowing Your Boat

I would echo Sister Okazaki’s thoughts that we will be happier when we make our decisions with study and faith.  We can study the words of the prophets, we can learn from them, and we can go through our own wrestle with God to develop faith and grow in our ability to discern truth.

Jenny

Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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12 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    It seems that you are suggesting that YW leaders teach their charges not to follow the prophets. If their counsel can and should be called into question because they don’t know the individual life circumstances of everyone they are counseling, then of what use is anything that they say? Your last paragraph is reminiscent of Prof. Higgins, from My Fair Lady, “She will beg you for advice, your reply will be concise, and she will listen very nicely, then go out and do precisely what she wants!”

    • Liz says:

      I don’t think it’s an either/or that Jenny is describing – it’s a both/and. You can follow the prophets and seek your own inspiration to your own situation, because they are called “general authorities” for a reason – their counsel is general, and we’re encouraged to seek our own inspiration with their words in mind to find out what God wants for us. I think it’s important to develop our own relationship with God so that we know which pieces of counsel are specifically applicable to our lives and which aren’t going to be useful in our circumstances.

      • Moss says:

        This is what Elder Oaks said! He said, don’t ask me about your exception- I am a General Authority and I teach general principles. You gave to work out your exception with The Lord.

        I think this lesson plan presents a faithful way to discuss that sometimes leaders make mistakes. This understanding will go a long way towards giving the girls mental flexibility and get them through faith crises down the road. Well done.

      • Andrew R. says:

        >>they are called “general authorities” for a reason – their counsel is general<<

        They are called general authorities because their authority is general – ie for the whole world, as opposed to area or local authority. It has nothing to do with their counsel.

      • Jenny says:

        I don’t think those two things are all that different Andrew. You’re still talking about authority to give counsel based on the understanding they have gained through the process of revelation right? I hope you’re not talking about an authority to determine and dictate life choices for an individual. That is still between the individual and God. I don’t believe God runs the world through dictatorial authority. In that sense, the authority is still general, based on a stewardship of the church, not a perfect understanding of each individual circumstance. Only God has evolved to be able to understand each individual, thus the need for an individual relationship with God concerning these matters, as Liz pointed out.

    • Wilt Wiltfong says:

      It doesn’t seem as though we read the same item. I saw it as thoughtful, insightful and fully in line with Church standards.

  2. christiankimball says:

    This seems very straightforward, a good lesson, and a nice way to handle the topic, to say “listen and follow, not slavishly but with study and care.”
    But you say (elsewhere) “I would probably be released in my ward if I gave this lesson” and I read the comment from Michael above, and realize that my opinions must have veered away from LDS Church norms. So what do I know?

    • Jenny says:

      To clarify, I was released from my last calling in the Primary presidency because I said “Heavenly Parents” in my lessons. There’s a certain amount of crazy in the particular ward I’m in, so sometimes I have a hard time gauging what it’s like in other areas.

      • Andrew R. says:

        That is way crazy. If that is really the reason I would have brought it up with a member of the stake presidency – especially since we have heard similar statements in GC.

      • Jenny says:

        I met with both my bishop and stake president over the issue, and I showed them specific quotes about Heavenly Parents from church leaders.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    I LOVE this lesson. So well done, and I love this statement of Elder Hales that you listed, “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.” This means a lot to me at a time when I have a difficult time fully participating in/at Church.

    When I was growing up a lot of Young Women were going on missions, the general authorities always said, “Pray and decide if it’s right for yourself.” I don’t think this is any different with how we should take the council of leaders today.

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