Let me start with some honesty.
I volunteered to write this lesson plan because of the title. I thought it would be full of ideas of how to invite the Spirit in your life and recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
It isn’t. At least not at first.
As I read the lesson, I continued to feel let down: I would read a heading and get excited at what might be next, to read something completely different in the following paragraphs. I found a lot of the quotes to be prophet-venerating, divisive “us vs. the world,” and threatening. Though, if you look at the times George Albert Smith lived in, it makes some sense: he was the son of a plural wife and his young adulthood and early marriage years were times when the Church was trying to get away from polygamy. There are lots of quotes from people who lived through that tumult to assure the members of the Church, “Yes, we thought polygamy was vital for salvation, but now we’re going away from that. And it’s ok. Because the President of the Church said it and he’s getting inspiration. The Church isn’t falling apart. The President isn’t leading us astray. Etc.”
George Albert Smith also lived through the Great War and became President of the Church immediately after the World War II. “Us” versus “them” rhetoric is normal wartime vernacular. Hearing about those dreadful “others,” whether it be another army or another belief system, was probably reassuring that they were doing the right things.
But as I sat down to read this lesson, I kept asking myself, “How is this going to help the women in my ward in their daily lives? Will they feel closer to God after this lesson? How will their prayers be enhanced? How will their actions in their families and with their friends be more Christlike?” And as the manual presents the lesson, I don’t know. But here we go.
At the suggestion of my husband, who was watching my frustration in preparing this lesson, I went through the manual and highlighted the quotes that George Albert Smith gave after becoming President of the Church in 1945. This was sparked by the very intense prophet section. For someone speaking as President of the Church, it’s unusual to plug the “follow the prophet” line, especially with strong language saying that those who don’t, “have fallen into darkness and sorrow, and unless they repent they will not find a place in the celestial kingdom,” because it’s not a very humble position to take. Or uplifting. Going through and finding all the quotes dating 1945 and later revealed what exactly George Albert Smith said while he was president and leading the church. The contrast was fascinating. I’ll share some of my favorites with some questions that could lead to discussion.
I am looking into the faces of a great audience this morning [at a session of general conference], most of whom enjoy the inspiration of the Almighty, and when they pray, they pray to their Father in heaven knowing that their prayers will be answered in blessings upon their heads.
Do we pray knowing we’ll get an answer? Does it change the way you pray to pray with the intent to listen to the promptings of the Spirit during and after your prayer? What could it mean if we don’t feel like answers or blessings are given?
We confidently believe that our Father in heaven has spoken in this day and age. In fact, we know that there is communication with the heavens. We believe that Jehovah has the same feeling towards us, the same influence over us that he had for and over his children who lived in this world in times that are past.
Why would God want to communicate with us? Do we feel that communication in our lives? How does the belief that God has spoken throughout all the ages help us today? What is that “same feeling towards us” and how do we recognize it?
When men, as they have sometimes done in order to win their success along some line or another, have come to an individual or individuals and said, “I have had this dream and this is what the Lord wants us to do,” you may know that they are not on the Lord’s side of the line. The dreams and visions and revelations of God to the children of men have always come through his regularly appointed servant. You may have dreams and manifestations for your own comfort or for your own satisfaction, but you will not have them for the Church. … We need not be deceived.
How do you determine what is revelation for you and your family and what is not? At what point do we need to give our families and children space to determine what is revelation for themselves? Deciding what is right for yourself, despite what the people around you feel, can be both empowering and scary, what if you are wrong about the revelation you received? Have you made a choice based on your personal revelation that has needed a lot of faith to follow through on? Have you succeeded where you didn’t think you would? Have you failed despite feeling God was on your side?
If we were to ask all of you how many have a testimony, not a belief because somebody else has said so, but how many of you have an assurance that this is God’s work, that Jesus is the Christ, that we are living eternal lives, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Living God, you would answer that you have this testimony that buoys you up and strengthens you and gives you satisfaction as you go forward in the world. …
… I learned when I was a boy that this is the work of the Lord. I learned that there were prophets living upon the earth. I learned that the inspiration of the Almighty would influence those who lived to enjoy it, so we are not dependent upon one or two or a half dozen individuals. There are thousands of members of this Church who know—it is not a question of imagination at all—they know that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ and that we are the children of God….
A testimony cannot be given to us by somebody else. The conviction comes from our Heavenly Father.
In this last sentence, what does this “conviction” feel like? How do we find it? What if we don’t feel like we have been blessed with it yet?
The last section is titled, “The Holy Ghost is a safe guide along the pathway of mortal life.” This is where I would discuss what inspiration and revelation feel like in our lives- what I was hoping this lesson would be mostly about! I might take suggestions from the class and write ideas on the board. You will probably get answers that include, “soft,” “quiet,” “comforting,” but I also like to point out that the Spirit speaks to everyone in different ways and someone might not ever feel “comforted” but instead nudged uncomfortably towards a choice- like all those “gnawing” feelings everyone mentions when they go up to bear their testimonies on Fast Sunday. Or someone might be consumed with an idea/project and can’t think about anything else until they do something about that prompting. And there have been times in my life where I feel enthusiasm and excitement, and while those aren’t words we normally associate with the Spirit, I still feel those are promptings from God.
The companionship of the spirit of the Lord is an antidote for weariness, … for fear and all those things that sometimes overtake us in life.
I think that is where we find the balm of this lesson. The spirit of the Lord is the antidote for weariness and fear and our anxieties.
Do we turn to the Lord in our fear? Do we always feel relief when we ask for it? What might be overtaking us in our lives and how do we manage or eliminate that stressor?