Relief Society Lesson #22: Gifts of the Spirit
I taught this lesson about a year ago, from the new manual for our Gospel Essentials class. I started out by sharing this personal story.
Several years ago I had the fantastic opportunity to visit Paris with my older sister. I was fresh out of three years of High School French and was eager to try out the language. I was greatly disappointed when I found out that practically everyone in Paris speaks English.
One day, however I was with my sister going through some touristy shops located near Notre Dame. We came to one that sold table linens and other similar things. My sister, who has a thing for sunflowers, spotted a table cloth with a sunflower border folded up on a hanger on a clothes rack. She wanted to look at the table cloth to see how big it was, and if there was a design in the middle of it. The shopkeeper noticed my sister’s interest in the item and came over to try and offer her help. The shopkeeper asked my sister, in French, if she would like to look at the table cloth.
My sister doesn’t speak a word of French.
“No thank you, I’m just looking at it.” My sister replied
The shopkeeper didn’t speak word of English.
«Let me hold it up for you» The shopkeeper said, placing her hand on the hanger.
“No, I’m not ready to buy it, I just want to look at it.” My sister protested trying to gently pull the hanger out of the shopkeeper’s hand.
It was at this point that I noticed what was going on. They were having a small scale tug of war over a table cloth. On one hand was my highly distressed sister, repeatedly saying in English, “I just want to look at it!” On the other was the exasperated shopkeeper repeatedly saying in French, «I just want to show it to you!» I only had to listen to one round of this back-and-forth before I knew what to do.
I said “Jennifer stop! she just wants to show it to you.” And my sister immediately stopped, said “oh!” and let go of the table cloth. The shopkeeper took stock of the situation, regained her composure, and very gracefully unfolded and held up the table cloth for my sister to look at.
After my sister got a good look at it, and decided she did not want to buy it, the shopkeeper put it away and then came to talk to me. She asked me (in French) about my sister, about why I was there, and where I learned to speak French.
The reason I shared this story wasn’t because this is an example of me using a Gift of the Spirit (because it’s not), but I shared it because this story could be thought of as an allegory, and has several key features of ways that Gifts of the Spirit are made Manifest. In the story I would represent the Holy Ghost, My sister, would represent someone who has received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and the Shopkeeper could represent practically anyone.
The first important thing is that my sister brought me with her. If we are to have access to gifts of the Spirit, we have to be living worthily to have the Holy Ghost with us.
The second important thing is that my sister knew me, and knew about me and my abilities. In that same way we must be familiar with the Holy Ghost. We must have practice at recognizing promptings, and guidance that the Holy Ghost gives us. We must also be familiar with the sorts of things the Holy Ghost can do for us, and through us (hence this lesson).
Next, is two things, but really one thing; there must be some shared goal, and some barrier blocking that goal. That barrier could be practically anything, but the barrier is a key part of recognizing that what just happened was made possible by the Holy Ghost. For example, in the manual is the story of Elder Alonzo A Hinkley
…[A] missionary in Holland who understood and spoke very little Dutch even though he had prayed and studied hard. When he returned to a home he had visited before, a lady opened the door and spoke to him very angrily in Dutch. To his amazement he could understand every word. He felt a strong desire to bear his testimony to her in Dutch. He began to speak, and the words came out very clearly in Dutch. But when he returned to show his mission president that he could speak Dutch, the ability had left him.
In my story the goal was letting my sister get a good look at the table cloth and the barrier was language. It is important to remember that unless we are allowed to struggle with the task for awhile and fail at first we may, innocently, attribute our success to ourselves or something else other than the Holy Ghost. Which brings us to the most important part of the story.
I intervened and told my sister to give up the tug of war, and because she knew me, and knew I spoke some French she trusted me and followed my advice immediately. At that point, the shopkeeper was made aware of me. And what’s more she was very curious about me, and sought me out on her own to learn more.
When the Holy Ghost intervenes in our lives, and we act on those promptings accordingly (which will entail recognizing and trusting those promptings) then the Holy Ghost suddenly becomes the center of attention for everyone involved. At that point the Holy Ghost is able to do it’s job, which is to bear testimony of Christ, and to bring people to Christ. Which is the entire point of the whole phenomenon- to get people to pay attention to and to seek out the Holy Ghost so that our testimonies may be strengthened.
From this point on, most of the lesson is just information transfer, an important point I think should be brought up is this:
Who can exercise gifts of the spirit? If you turn to page 91 and read from the second paragraph:
All faithful members of the Church were entitled to receive gifts of the Spirit. These were given to them according to their individual needs, capacities, and assignments. Some of these gifts were faith, including the power to heal and to be healed; prophecy; and visions. Spiritual gifts always exist in the true Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples that these signs or spiritual gifts always follow them that believe. Many of His disciples performed miracles, prophesied, or beheld visions through the power of the Holy Ghost.
The only limitation on who can exercise these gifts is the person’s own faith. We don’t have to hold the priesthood to exercise any of these gifts, and we should all be actively seeking the faith that would allow us to increase our access to these gifts (as in D&C 46:8 “seek earnestly the best gifts”).
After that I just turned the class loose on the list. I would name one or two at a time, and invite the class to pick apart what the differences between them might be, and to share examples of those gifts working in their lives.