Relief Society Lesson 1: To Live With Him Someday

From Lynnette at Zelophehad’s Daughters.

Main Points from the Manual:

 President Kimball recommended that words to “I Am a Child of God” be changed to “teach me all that I must do.” The gospel is a way of life.

 We lived with God in the premortal life, where we had progressed as far as we could. We agreed to come to this life to continue our progression, even knowing that it would be difficult.

 One purpose of this life is obtaining physical bodies. We are here to develop ourselves, and to prepare to meet God.

 The gospel of Christ is the only way to exaltation. Because of the atonement, we are able to repent. Keeping the commandments is the only way to eternal happiness.

 Only those who remain faithful and valiant will achieve exaltation.

Thoughts/Questions:

1. LDS teachings tell us that one of the crucial purposes of this life was to obtain a physical body. How does this influence the way we view our bodies? This seems particularly significant for women, as we live in a culture which encourages us to continually critique our physical appearance. How do make peace with and appreciate our bodies?

2. Why was it necessary for us to forget the premortal life? Are there advantages to living in an existence in which so much is ambiguous? We talk a lot about the importance of faith, but why exactly is it a virtue to believe beyond what we can see, to act without certain knowledge?

3. Christianity is sometimes accused of encouraging people to live righteously in hopes of gaining an eternal prize, rather than pursuing righteousness for its own sake. What do you think about the hope of achieving exaltation (or the fear that one wont) as a motivation for keeping the commandments?

4. What kinds of learning and development can we gain in this life that we couldn’t get in the premortal life (particularly considering that we likely had both superior mental capabilities and greater access to knowledge there)?

5. How does our belief that this life is only a small piece of a much bigger picture shape our attitude toward it? Does belief in a better life to come cause us to value this life less?

6. According to a quote on p. 6 of the manual, “[God] does not want Satan and others to control our lives. We must learn that keeping our Heavenly Father’s commandments represents the only path to total control of ourselves, the only way to find joy, truth, and fulfillment in this life and eternity.” Why is it that if we follow the devil, we are said to be under his control, but if we follow God, we are said to be in control of ourselves (as opposed to being under God’s control)?

7. I have to admit that when I hear statements about “only a few” reaching exaltation (p. 9), my immediate reaction is sometimes to start looking at others as the competition, and to then quickly conclude that there’s no way I’m in that top percentile. What might be other ways of thinking about this?

8. This lesson has a lot to say about the importance of our efforts to be faithful. What role does grace play in this?

Additional Quotes:

“Life isn’t a true-false test. It’s literally multiple choice. On many of the choices, all of the answers are partially right, but none is completely right. The only way we can get that problem wrong on the test is to leave it blank.”
–Chieko Okazaki, Lighten Up (SLC: Deseret Book, 1993), 106

“We are here, in these mortal bodies, because we chose the Father’s plan. This fact should be a source of great hope and confidence to us. We all trusted the Father. We all loved the Savior. We all chose their plan once. This should give us confidence that we can continue to seek the Savior’s way, recognize his voice, and make correct choices.”
–Chieko Okazaki, Sanctuary (SLC: Deseret Book, 1997), 153

“We know why we are here. When we are on the path, we can feel it. The fruits of eternal progress are manifest in joy, peace, love, hope, increased confidence in the Lord. Though the path is narrow, it is sure. It is on this path that we testify daily of our love for the Lord, His children, His church, His counsel, and the richness of His blessings. By our good works we magnify what is mighty in us all, one step at a time, one day at a time, all the time.”
–Elaine Jack, “Walk With Me,” May 1994 Ensign

O my Father, thou that dwellest In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation, Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood, Was I nurtured near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something Whispered,”You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered From a more exalted sphere.

I had learned to call thee Father, Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, truth eternal Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence, When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation Let me come and dwell with you.
–Eliza R. Snow, “O My Father”

“When we make room in our hearts for Christ and his abundant love for us, we are fulfilling the cause of Christ. When we think, speak, and act with love, we are carrying forward the cause of Christ. This is a great cause. It is the greatest cause we will ever know. It is the cause that prompted us in the preexistence to declare our allegiance to Christ, to trust him, and to desire to be like him so intensely that we were willing to take the frightening risks of mortality. We assumed the burden of freedom because we loved Christ so much. And he assumed the burden of being our Savior because he loved us so much. Before we were born, then, we had become part of a web of love, like a cat’s cradle, that sustains and supports us. It connects us with every other spirit and intelligence in the universe. It connects us with God himself and makes the atonement of Jesus Christ operational on our behalf if we will acknowledge the pattern and open our hearts to his love.”
–Chieko Okazaki, Cat’s Cradle (SLC: Bookcraft, 1993), 163

What other thoughts or questions do people have about these topics? What issues would you like to see discussed when this lesson gets taught in Relief Society?

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Deborah says:

    Lynnette: Thanks for leading off with this! I’m particularly interested in questions two and four, which seem related. I really love the LDS doctrine of prior existence (though it leads to some wierd folk doctrine — Saturday’s Warrior, this generation were generals in the war in heaven, etc.).

    I am fascinated by the purpose of the veil, of ambiguity, of forgetting. It seems that “life is a test — do you have faith or don’t you?” isn’t the whole picture. Perhaps if we take seriously the commandment to love God — when we have forgotten the look of their face and feel of their touch — we are better attuned to love those we can touch (and those many more we can see but who seem untouchable).

    What do you see as spiritual benefits of forgetting?

  2. Anonymous says:

    As my “senior moments” increase, I’m beginning to wonder if the veil of forgetfulness isn’t an ongoing quality of our lives. The scriptures keep telling us over and over, “Remember!” And yet I’m always forgetting–my check book, my groceries (but never my children at Wal-mart…yet), my blessings, my responsibilities, the eternal nature of my family relationships, my Savior’s love, my own divine potential. I wonder if the challenge is to overcome the fog of forgetfulness that surrounds me, and remember what’s important?

  3. Caroline says:

    Lynnette,
    This is AWESOME! I’m not a teacher (sadly) but this is still so neat for me since it actually has me looking forward to attending this lesson. And I now have a headstart in coming up with thoughtful comments.

    I LOVE the quotes by women at the end.

  4. Téa says:

    Quick thought on #7–
    I have a friend who was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and as she tells it, they have a specific number of those who would be exalted (144,000) and since she knows she’s *not* one of the elect she doesn’t really bother much with God anymore. I think too much emphasis on ‘the higher, the fewer’ works to Satan’s advantage in that respect.

    In the lesson I taught last month on the Second Coming, a good part of our discussion centered around the comments from sisters who feared the Savior’s return because they were keenly aware of their own imperfections and unworthiness. I think the answer to #7 lies in the discussion of #8 and Christ’s Atonement, carefully and thoroughly rejecting the idea that exaltation is some sort of limited zero-sum process or that it has anything to do with anyone else besides you & Christ.

  5. Lynnette says:

    Deborah, I too am fascinated by the spiritual benefits of forgetting. Something I’ve thought about is that there’s something particularly powerful about choosing to love in the face of uncertainty, when we don’t really know for sure how things will all turn out–and I wonder if such a choice would be as meaningful if we had a clear and certain vision of the whole picture.

    Anonymous, I hadn’t thought of the repeated command to “remember” in this context; that’s an intriguing observation.

    Thanks, Caroline–I’m glad you found this helpful. I too really like the quotes–especially that last one from Chieko Okazaki, which gave me a different way of thinking about a topic which I have to confess has at times seemed overly mechanical to me (kind of a “here’s the plan of salvation: jump through hoops a, b, and c.”) I love her image of a web of love.

    Tea, I really like what you say about focusing on the atonement and rejecting any notion that this is a zero-sum game. I’ve also found it helpful to remind myself that God isn’t someone dispassionately testing us to see where we end up (which is the image that sometimes comes to mind when I hear that life is a test), but rather someone who wants to help us get as far as we can.

  6. Julie P says:

    What Tea mentioned about the the JW’s 144,000 was the first thing I thought of when I read #7, as well. I think I’d be in the same boat as Tea’s friend, if I were a JW and just give up…guess that’s not saying much about myself, is it?

    I need to think about #1 a lot more. I’m guilty lately of being overly critical and less thankful for my body and the reason I have it.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about #3 lately – why do I choose to do what I do in the gospel? Out of fear of not being with my family forever? Duty because it’s what I should do? Following through with what I said I’d do when I married my husband? It’s been a more searching question for me to answer than I would have liked it to be (which would have been easy, which would have made asking it near worthless – but still…).

  7. Rob Osborn says:

    In response to #7,

    I think one of the frailties that still exist in the church is that only a “few” will be saved. The truth is that alomost everyone will be saved and receive eternal life on the right hand of god. The devil has power I believe to convince us of our errors in doctrine and teach them as facts to his advantage. Statements like “only a few” work into satans hands. This is not god’s words on the matter.

    Semantics also play an important role in doctrine. All too often we use the word “exaltation” synonymously with “salvation”. Exaltaion as it pertains personally to man is only mentioned in D&C 132, and is meant to refer specifically to “eternal marriage” in heaven. Eternal life comes to all believers who are saved and thus salvation is synonymous with this term.

    We as a church think that we are the priveledged few who will be saved in the kingdom of god when in fact almost everyone who has ever lived will be saved in that kingdom. Again satan uses our own errors to his advantage. How often do you hear someone in sunday school say that “god must not do a very good job then” after Moses 1:39 is repeated?

    If we were to believe like book of Mormon prophets maybe we wouldn’t fret so much. Maybe we would come to a better understanding of the gospel and how far reaching it really is on both sides of the veil. I believe this set of verses the best-

    23 Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.
    24 And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.
    25 And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;
    26 Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.

    (Book of Mormon | Helaman 12:23 – 26)

    If we were to adopt that attitude, maybe our sayings would go like- Let us worry about the few who are cast out and do not receive eternal life! Maybe we as a church would look at more people as savable rather than just the competition of only a “few saved”!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m curious about what you say in question 4. “… we likely had both superior mental capabilities and greater access to knowledge [in the premortal life]” I know this is a commonly held belief, but where does it comes from? I’m not sure I buy it.

    Sure, we had access to Heavenly Father and all his knowledge, but I’m not convinced that we are defacto less mentally capable now with bodies than we were then. In fact I tend to believe that having a body- even a weak mortal one- does nothing but increase our capacity to learn and grow. I’ve always had the impression that having a physical body makes learning of *any* kind easier, esp. from D&C 130:19.

    I’d compare it to an infant living with Einstein as opposed to an 8 yr old at a boarding school. The 8 yr old has a higher mental capacity even though they don’t have access to a genius.

  9. Lynnette says:

    Julie P, I’ve also thought a lot about that question of motivation. I find it complicated because on the one hand, it seems unlikely that I’m ever going to have a “pure” motivation to do anything–and I don’t think it’s a good idea to refrain from engaging in service, from example, simply because my motives for doing so are inevitably mixed. On the other hand–as is doubtless evident from the fact that I posed the question in the first place–I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that we should live righteously here so that we can procure for ourselves a celestial reward of some kind.

    Rob, I must confess that I’m not without some universalist sympathies. The lesson manual, though, does have a quote about only a few making it, and I was trying to think about how I would approach that in the context of teaching RS. Which raises a challenging question: how do you teach material if you’re not sure what you think about it? In this instance, my personal approach would probably be to not focus so much on the theological question of how many get saved (as fascinating as I find that discussion!), but on things that others have mentioned like the importance of grace and the atonement, not worrying about ourselves in relation to anyone else, etc. I do really like what you say about viewing everyone as savable; that seems like it would be a nice thing to tie in.

    Starfoxy, you’ve got me there. I’ve always assumed that was the case, but I really don’t have much of a basis for it beyond my own speculation. It makes sense to me that we would have had more access to knowledge there, at least in theory, but I’d never considered to what extent we really had the capacity to appropriate it. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  10. Rob Osborn says:

    lynnette,

    Thanks for getting back to me. Situations that arise for myself in teaching where I do not either agree with the manual or it is unclear I like to bring up deep and thoughtful questions coupled with scripture. It is hard to present material that conflicts with the manual as everyone sees the manual as the “official” doctrine of the church iregardless of what it might teach. What I might do in this situation on this topic is present what the book says and then bring up that the work of God is great however and that he will lose but very few over to the devil. I would then bring up a scripture like the one in Helaman 12:23-26 and then open up for discussion what is meant by the apparent contradiction between the two. This takes a lot of preparation and guts on your part, but the conclusions you and others will come to agree with is that the scriptures really do need to be the end say or the foundational structure to base opinions and ideas.

  11. Ann says:

    I have heard the little couplet “Salvation without exaltation is damnation.” Rob, you are right. ITMSOT, so is the manual. For to be saved without being exalted is to be damned.

  12. stacer says:

    I just taught this lesson today, and in my flurry of being completely unprepared until the last minute, never got a chance to comment. I find it interesting that in the same lesson in which President Kimball says “only a few” shall be saved, he also says that, in answer to someon who said that the “only thing he didn’t like about the Mormon Church was that it claims to be the only one through which a man could be saved,” President Kimball notes that’s not true at all, and says that “every good religionist and every good man who is not a religionist will be saved but there are degrees of salvation.” (p. 7)

    I think it’s the same thing about the works vs. faith idea–there is an answer in there somewhere that brings both ideas into harmony. I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s healthy to discuss.

    In answer to #8, we had a really nice discussion of that in my RS today, and as I’ve been pondering this, one thing that a sister in my class said sticks out. She used as an example President Kimball’s experience growing up on a farm. He could have faith all he wanted that the cows would be taken care of (milked), but until he got up and actually did it, it wasn’t going to get done. There are things that our faith requires us to get up and do, and I think these are the things that President Kimball is talking about. We can’t save ourselves–he talks specifically in this lesson about how the atonement is what saves us–and he also talks about the need for repentance, because we’re not perfect. But we have to balance that–something we can’t do for ourselves–with the responsibilities that having faith then puts upon us. Faith should move us to action, he’s saying, I think. To do our part, and repent when we don’t measure up to what we would like (and to avail ourselves of the atonement and God’s grace when we have done everything we can do, and it’s still not enough).

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