Relief Society Lesson 17: The Strengthening Power of Faith
I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven.
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the checks were given.
I figure there are two approaches to this lesson. 1) you can tell the faith-affirming stories of George Albert Smith and ask your class for their own stories of faith and how it has grown. If you choose this approach, I hope you’ll consider reading or summarizing Emma Lou Thayne’s magnificent essay, “Seeing Without Seeing.” I cry every time I read it, starting with “Someone asked her [Helen Keller], “Do you see colors?”,
OR 2) you can try to have a conversation about what happens when one struggles to have faith.
If you’ve read some of my earlier lessons from the George Albert Smith manual, you’ll know I’m a fan of his. I’ve quite enjoyed reading his work, but I am troubled by the parting statement in this lesson:
Our faith is conditioned upon our righteous lives. We cannot live improperly and have faith as we should, but if we keep the commandments of the Lord, we can have faith, and it will grow and increase as our righteousness increases.
If there are any of us who lack faith in this work it is because we have not kept the commandments of God. If there are any who do not know that this is the work of our Father, it is because they have not done their duty. I know as I know that I live that this is the Lord’s work, and that knowledge comes as a result of keeping His commandments.
I’ve struggled with faith, and I’ve seen too many good friends struggle in their unbelief to think that there is a magic equation that seems to be implied by the quote above: living righteously + keeping the commandments = faith.
I often think of the scripture in Mark 9:24, “[The] father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief.”
What does this scripture say to you?
For me, this scripture shows that many of us struggle with faith at some point in our lives; some of us struggle throughout our lives.
That said, I have many other friends and family members who can read the Emily Dickinson poem that starts this lesson and say, “Yes! I agree! I am certain!”
What does this poem say to you?
For years, I thought I was unworthy and that I probably just wasn’t reading my scriptures or praying deeply enough to have that burning in my bosom that is so often mentioned in the scriptures and in our church. So I worried and tried to think ways that I could try harder to get that elusive faith.
It helped when I started thinking of faith as the spiritual gift that Moroni 10:9-11 lists:
9 For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom; 10 And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
11 And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit…
What does the gift of faith look like to you?
When I think of faith as a spiritual gift, I realize that unfortunately, it is not my gift, but I don’t think that means that I’m a lost case. I like how Sister Chieko Okazaki talks about doubt as part of the process of faith:
God isn’t in the business of making us believe him. Faith cannot exist if there is no freedom to doubt (Chieko Okazaki, Aloha, pg 119).
What role has doubt played in the building up of your faith?
Here is where I would encourage a few faith-promoting stories. If there aren’t any (or even if there are), take the time to read or summarize Emma Lou Thayne’s essay that I mentioned earlier.
What role does faith have in your life, i.e. what can it do to help you?
I love Chieko Okazaki’s answer here:
I don’t believe that faith means God will remove all tragedies from our path or solve all of our problems for us. I believe it means that he will be with us, suffering with us and grieving with us and working with us as we deal with our own tragedies and work our way through those problems (Aloha, pg 119).
Earlier I talked about the people who are blessed with the spiritual gift of faith, and we’ve talked a bit about those of us who don’t have that spiritual gift, so…
How can these groups help each other?
I have a sister who has inspired me my whole life with her spiritual gift of faith. Sarah was born with some significant disabilities. Due to the nature of her disabilities, she has very little reading comprehension, yet she reads her scriptures every day. She has health challenges, but she never complains. (The joke in our family is that after Sarah has any of her surgeries, no matter how rough, when you ask her how she’s doing, her answer is always, “A little better.”)
Sarah knows her Savior, the Gospel, and the truth of the scriptures in a way that I have little hope of attaining in this life. So, I appreciate the role model she is to me. I think D&C Section 46 outlines our roles well here:
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
I may not have the concrete faith of Sarah’s, but I choose to believe her words and the words of my other friends and family when they share their testimonies with me.
I have some friends who have that great faith, too. When they react with disbelief that someone could struggle with x, y, or z, I offer myself as an example. When I tell the story of my struggles, of my doubt, I’d like to think that I can help them gain some empathy and to show them something of the complexity of belief for those who do not have that spiritual gift of faith.
What other ways can those with faith and those without help each other grow?
I believe that we have all been given the spiritual gifts that will help us thrive and grow closer to our Heavenly Parents in this world. It helps me to remember that we all must struggle with different things in our eternal development, which is why I believe we were sent down to Earth as sisters and brothers. When we are willing to share those spiritual gifts that God has blessed us with like faith, healing, teaching, etc, we are building the Kingdom of God as we build each other up to be more divine.