Relief Society Lesson Plan “The Eternal Everyday” by Elder Quentin L. Cook

by Erika M.

As a teacher, both at church and at the university, I find that the best lessons allow students to discuss ideas deeply and consider their own experience from a new light. This requires me to be in a place where I have myself thought deeply about the ideas while also not being so wedded to my own way of thinking that I am closed off to listening to the perspective of my students. I feel most successful when I spend as much time listening, not merely hearing, to the ideas of my students as I do “teaching.”  For this reason, I often find that many of my lesson plans involve preparing open-ended questions, often more that I might realistically need.  That way if a question just isn’t the right one for the audience, I have other questions prepared waiting in the wings.  My understudies, if you will. It also allows me to quickly change the tenor of the conversation by asking another question if I feel that we have entered a space that will not work for the audience, will bring the spirit of contention, or is too one-sided.

Additionally, I have learned not to be afraid of silence.  People often need more time to think than we might realize; especially during those frightening moments when we hope that our question hasn’t just flopped, and time is going by at a snail’s pace.

I would probably start this lesson by reading the following quote that comes at the beginning of Elder Cook’s talk:

Sometimes man’s purpose and very existence are also described in very humble terms. The prophet Moses was raised in what some today might call a privileged background. As recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord, preparing Moses for his prophetic assignment, gives him an overview of the world and all the children of men which are and were created.

Moses’s somewhat surprising reaction was, “Now … I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

Subsequently, God, in what amounts to a rebuttal to any feelings of unimportance that Moses may have felt, proclaimed His true purpose: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

 

I would then suggest that, as both things cannot be true and, yet, they are, that the truth of the matter lies in the paradox. Some discussion question I might use would include: How might both things be true? How can we live in the paradox between these two truths? How might holding on to this slippery space, this idea between ideas, change the way that we behave? How might this set of concepts help us find humility without being self-deprecating? How might Moses’ privileged upbringing have caused him to place greater value on his position? Why was it important, given his own history, that he first acknowledge his own insignificance to fully understand his true position as a child of God? Why do you think that it was so important to God that Moses be corrected? What does that tell us about our relationship to the Divine? (Depending on your inclination, questions such as the following might be asked; however, they might open up an entirely different lesson. Are there other paradoxes you feel the gospel teaches? If God so often chooses to teach us in paradoxes, what does this tell us about truth? About the importance of balance?)

After sufficient discussion, I would use the comment made by sisters to take us to the next portion of Elder Cook’s talk.  He writes/says:

We are all equal before God. His doctrine is clear. In the Book of Mormon, we read, “All are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female.” Accordingly, all are invited to come to the Lord. Anyone who claims superiority under the Father’s plan because of characteristics like race, sex, nationality, language, or economic circumstances is morally wrong and does not understand the Lord’s true purpose for all of our Father’s children.[1]

 

This quote is, in my mind, one of the gems of the lesson. It has the potential to ask people to do some real soul searching if given time to pause and think rather than glossing over it with a “of course, this is true.” In order to facilitate this deeper soul searching, I might ask the following: How might our actions change if we lived this truth? It is interesting the Lord chooses the word alike here.  What do you make of this word choice rather than either equal or the same? Are there ways in which we inadvertently create a culture in which some might not feel invited to the Lord’s table? How can we work to create a community where all feel welcome and valued? In our wards? In our neighborhoods? In our larger communities? Are there ways in which we internalize these differences ourselves and then use them to undermine our own place in the God’s plan? Do we ever not sit down to the spiritual feast provided by our Heavenly Parents because of we have internalized a misguided view of our own worth?

 

This might also be a place to discuss an anti-racist perspective of the Book of Mormon.  While there are racist verses in the Book of Mormon and the Church’s own history with race is wrought to say the least, there are some interesting cases to be made for an anti-racist reading of the Book of Mormon.  In an article on Medium by Kwaku El (a member of African heritage), he writes the following, in response to the question, “why are there black Mormons? How could any self-respecting African American subscribe to the doctrine of the Latter-day Saint movement?”:

The Holy Bible has a severe lack of verses condemning racism. The clearest the Bible gets in regards to the sin of racism is arguably Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28. “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” (R10:12) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (G3:28) For a people who view religious truth on a close par with racial justice, there is a serious lack of clarity among racism in The Holy Bible. These verses preach unity in the savior through grace and salvation, however not in social status or political protection. For the slaves of the ancient biblical period could have salvation in the next life, but not equality in their current.  The Apostle Paul never condemns the actual teaching of slavery, or condemns racism itself. He seems to be preaching of an inclusive gospel spiritually, but not doctrinally preaching the importance of inclusivity in all societal measures, which would follow the law of Christ more accurately.  The Book of Mormon however condemns racism and prejudices in a much more specific way, 2 Nephi 26:33… “…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none to come unto him, black or white, bond and free, male and female; and he remebereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2N26:33) The words “all are alike unto God” is a very powerful phrase. Not only are we all one in Christ Jesus, but in general all are alike. We become equals without any debate when we are in the body of Christ, yet even without such, we are created the same, and are alike.[2]

 

I think that it is really important to emphasize that this doesn’t mean that we should pat ourselves on our back and avoid confronting our own racisms. Nor does it mean that we don’t need to look closely at our own history but, rather, that we should hold ourselves to this higher standard and repeatedly ask ourselves, “What lack I yet?”

Elder Cook then goes on to say: “When we really contemplate God…, and Christ the Son, who They are, and what They have accomplished on our behalf, it fills us with reverence, awe, gratitude, and humility.” It would be interesting to use this statement to help sisters consider the ways in which considering their relationship to the Divine, their gratitude for the plan, and the sacrifice of our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ fill them with reverence and awe. You might ask: When you consider the Plan of Salvation, how does it fill you with reverence and awe? What about it do you find especially miraculous, beautiful, or compelling? How does this knowledge help you reverence God? The Savior? Ourselves? Those around us? I think too often we skip over this kind of reflection because we feel like we will just get Sunday School answers but if we, with our questions, ask the sisters to dig deeper into their own experiences with the Divine, I find, we are often rewarded with some of the richest discussion, the most powerful spiritual feasts.

Once Elder Cook has spent time establishing who we are and our relationship to God, he uses the lives of both ancient and modern members (Alma, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde) to discuss the importance of humility in our pursuit of righteousness.  He exhorts:

Sometimes humility is accepting callings when we do not feel adequate. Sometimes humility is serving faithfully when we feel capable of a more high profile assignment. Humble leaders have verbally and by example established that it is not where we serve but how we faithfully serve. Sometimes humility to overcoming hurt feelings when we feel that leaders or others have mistreated us.[3]

 

Here again is a paradox.[4] We are humble when we accept callings that we feel are “too big” for us but we are also humble when we serve in callings we feel don’t fully utilize our skill sets. What is Elder Cook really trying to say here? What is he trying to teach about service? What is he attempting to demonstrate regarding our relationships to our assignments in the Church?

 

I would also open up a conversation about how we can humbly forgive those who have hurt us without humiliating ourselves. Elder Cook asks us to be humble in our forgiveness not to allow ourselves to be humiliated.[5]  When we talk about humility in the scriptures, we are talking about humility before God. He also says that it is important that we overcome hurt feelings but not that we place ourselves in a position to continue to be hurt. With that clearly articulated, I would ask the sisters: How does one find peace when they have been hurt by another? How are humility and the ability to forgive related? How might humbling ourselves before God help us to find the strength to forgive? If appropriate, I might share an experience where I found strength to forgive through turning to the Lord.

 

In a related matter, I would also turn to a talk given by Virginia H. Pearce. In the talk, “Prayer: A Small and Simple Thing,” Sister Pearce shares an experience she had while visiting the BYU Museum of Art.  She describes the following while examining Christus Consolator by Carl Block:

 

( Consolador Carl Heinrich Bloch 1882. Palacio de Frederiksborg, Copenhague, Dinamarca)

 I love to look at each individual who seeks consolation from Christ. You can see the troubles of mortality on their faces. These are they who know they cannot do it alone. Bloch described the joy we can take in adversity when we know it brings us to Christ. He said: “When things are at their worst they can then become their absolute best. I think then that I have so much to thank God for, and it would be foolish to demand that one should be happy in this life. By that I mean always sparking, always seeing the ideal under the light sky.”[6] “No, grey skies and rain splashing are part of it – one must be washed off thoroughly before one goes in to God.” I like that artist’s image – being washed off thoroughly by the grey skies and rains of life as we kneel in humility, in our fragileness, asking for God’s help. “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.”[7]

 

How can being humble help us to use the trials we face as a refreshing, or, at least, cleansing rain?

 

Looking at other ways in which humility helps us to develop, Elder Cook also emphasizes the importance of humility in doing missionary work. How does humility help us do missionary work? Why does God think it is such a key trait in having success teaching the gospel to others?

 

Finally, Cook looks outside of the church to the ways in which a lack of humility has harmed communities and nations.  He exclaims:

 

The widespread deterioration of civil discourse is also a concern. The eternal principle is also a concern. The eternal principle of agency requires that we respect many choices with which we do not agree. Conflict and contention now often breach “the boundaries of common decency.” We need more modesty and humility.

 

I would pair this statement with one of these from Gandhi – “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err” or “the first condition of humaneness is a little humility and a little diffidence about the correctness of one’s conduct and a little receptiveness.” And then I would ask: How do humility and modesty breathe life into discourse? What are their benefits? What are their limits?

 

Elder Cook ends by again linking humility and forgiveness. He directs that we must be cautious of “any form of arrogance.” This would be a good place to then discuss the distinction between arrogance and self-worth. In an Ensign article from January 2005 entitled “Confidence and Self-Worth,” Elder Glenn L. Pace writes:

 

To be humble is to recognize our utter dependence upon the Lord. We are conscious of our strengths, but we do not exalt ourselves and become prideful, for we know that all good things ultimately come from God. We are conscious of our weaknesses, but we know the Lord can use those very weaknesses to bless our lives and that through Him, as we learn from the book of Ether, our weaknesses can become strengths. To lack confidence is to have feelings of low self-worth. We are preoccupied with our weaknesses, and we lack faith in the Lord’s ability to use those weaknesses for our good. We do not understand our inestimable worth in the eyes of God, nor do we appreciate our divine potential. Ironically, both pride and a lack of self-confidence cause us to focus excessively on ourselves and to deny the power of God in our lives.

 

How might do we develop self-worth while avoiding the sin of arrogance? How might humility, paradoxically[8], help us to develop greater self-worth.

 

Finally, Elder Cook bears his testimony of the Savior.  He “bears a sure witness of the Savior and His atonement and the overwhelming opportunity of humbly serving Him each and every day.” This turn of phrase “humbling serving” the Savior creates a wonderful space to both connect the ideas shared by class members and bear testimony of Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Depending on your ward, it is important to note that the historical context for this statement is a rebuttal of Ayla Stewart, the rise of the Alt-Right in certain Mormon circles, and the gathering of Neo-Nazi’s that took place in Charlottesville.

[2] This article goes into great detail regarding the Book of Mormon’s references to dark skin and the Lord’s rebuke of members who engaged in racism because of this “curse.” It is an interesting read – by no means complete – but interesting nonetheless. https://medium.com/@kwakuel/perhaps-among-the-most-controversial-of-sentiments-surrounding-the-doctrines-and-history-of-the-590bfb28a94

[3] He does not say it here but I would have no problem adding – Sometime humility is accepting that we have inadvertently (or, perhaps, advertently) hurt someone else.

[4] In case it isn’t obvious, I love unpacking paradoxes.

[5] Eugene England writes, in his article “Healing and Making Peace,” that Christ’s solution to violence is “contained in the Sermon on the Mount…; in Christ’s maledictions against the Pharisees (Matt. 23:13-29), which required Jews to recognize the violence in themselves – that they have always killed the prophets who bring the message of peace and will kill him also; and supremely and finally in Christ’s death. Christ does not die as a tradition, guilty scapegoat, who hides the sins and violence of the community. Rather, Christ insists upon being recognized as an innocent victim, a sacrifice whose perfect forgiving love clearly reveals the cost of our violence and the only way to stop it. He lived out his teachings and sealed his testimony with the divine authority of his perfectly innocent blood” (Making Peace: Personal Essays, 8)  England also goes into great detail on the true meaning of turning the other cheek in his essay “The Prince of Peace” – also in Making Peace: Personal Essays. It makes a good anecdote to the idea that, in order to be forgiving or to work for peace, we must allow ourselves to be a doormat.

[6] This quote might open up an interesting conversation about the paradox of “Man (and woman) is that (s)he might have joy” and the importance of trials to our individual development. But, again, with the paradoxes.

[7] Taken from At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-Day Saint Women

[8] There is that word again.

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1 Response

  1. Dani Addante says:

    Great lesson! I especially love the parts about discussing the paradoxes.

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