As with all lesson plans I come up with, my ultimate goal is to foster an open environment that leads to authentic sharing of personal stories and perspectives. As always, please encourage the sisters to read gender inclusively. (i.e. sons [and daughters] of God).
Beginning the Lesson:
I’d break the ice by throwing out a brainstorming question: What words come to mind when you think of charity? ( service, love, Jesus, grace, kindness, money, poor, Mother Theresa, etc.). Consider putting the words people throw out into at least two columns. One for physical, action oriented things and one for more ephemeral things or state of being type words, and maybe one for some other category that you come up with or that comes up organically in the discussion. Comment about how charity, in our common modern day usage, envelops both sides of the spectrum (both action and attitude), and perhaps other aspects as well that you hadn’t thought of before.
Also, throw out this thought question. Writing it on the board might be a good idea. Reflecting back on your life, what is the most charitable act you have ever done or received? Tell them that you’d like them to mull over this personal question throughout the lesson, and to consider sharing their story with the class at the end of the lesson.
Section 1: A person filled with the love of God is anxious to bless others.
Joseph Smith said:
“ Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons [and daughters] of God. A [person] filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his/her family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” P. 426
The editors of our manual clearly connected this paragraph with the idea of ‘charity,’ though JS never actually uses the term. Ask the class how JS’s statement fits into the columns that you created on the board. Is it more of a state of mind for JS? How does it also include the idea of service and action? If those questions seem obvious, you might just want to make your own commentary on how this quotes fits into the framework you have on the board.
Section 2: We have a special obligation to love and care for those in need
“[A member of the Church] is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he [or she] finds them.” P. 426.
I love this quote. If you have a talkative class you may just want to have someone read this and then ask about what jumps out to them about the statement. A couple of things jump out to me.
1) it says ‘a member of the church’ rather than ‘The Church’, so charity is an individual responsibility. It’s up to us to do all these things on an individual level – we can’t rely on the Church to always organize us and point us towards service opportunities.
2) I love how expansive his vision is towards showing charity towards EVERYONE, Mormon or not.I think that this is something that it’s very important for us as Christians to think more about – how to show charity to those who live outside our LDS communities. Throw out the questions:
-How can we do these things (clothe naked, comfort afflicted, etc.) for our brothers and sisters outside our Church?
-How can we broaden our vision and find opportunities to help our neighbors in need?
-Has anyone had any personal experience of charity or service outside an LDS context that was particularly meaningful? Tell a story yourself about giving or receiving service or charity from non-members. Alternatively, invite a person beforehand who has worked or volunteered with humanitarian or service organizations to share their thoughts about reaching out in love and charity towards others.
Section 3: Charity is long-suffering, merciful, and kind
The previous paragraph highlighted the action or service component of the idea of charity, but notice how the next section is more about attitude and state of mind.
Eliza R. Snow quotes JS as saying,
“ … don’t be limited in your views with regard to your neighbor’s virtue, but beware of self-righteousness, and be limited in the estimate of your own virtues, and not think yourselves more righteous than others; you must enlarge your souls towards each other, if you would do like Jesus and carry your fellow-creatures to Abraham’s bosom.” P. 427 – 428
I like this quote as well, because I think an important facet of charity is to see and recognize the virtues, not just of people in our own circles, but also of people of other faiths and cultures. And also to recognize our own limitations and flaws, since it’s so easy to fall into judging others.
Lead a discussion about how and why we struggle with showing charity towards others, and how we can work towards overcoming our fears and difficulties. Talk about the aspect of charity that you struggle with the most. (For me, I think I’m pretty good at being compassionate towards the vulnerable and marginalized in society. If someone was born into a less privileged situation and struggles, I’m more likely to try to compassionately locate their choices and actions within the context of their situations. HOWEVER, it is difficult for me to have a charitable attitude towards people who I see as hurting or victimizing the vulnerable, the weak, or the marginalized. This is a real struggle. I truly want animal abusers to burn in hell.)
-Have you found ways to tamp down on mentally condemning others and to instead develop a greater appreciation for another’s virtues?
-Are there any figures or stories that have inspired you to be compassionate towards those you disapprove of or don’t agree with?
Section 4: We express charity through simple acts of service and kindness.
Lucy Mack Smith tells this story about a terrible sickness that hit the Saints in Nauvoo.
“Joseph and Emma had the sick brought to their house and took care of them there. And they continued to have them brought as fast as they were taken down until their house, which consisted of four rooms, was so crowded that they were under the necessity of spreading a tent in the yard for the reception of that part of the family who were still on their feet. Joseph and Emma devoted their whole time and attention to the care of the sick during this time of distress.” 430
I love stories like this. I am, occasionally, however, overwhelmed with a bit of guilt that I don’t put myself out like Joseph and Emma did here in this story. I don’t open up my home to the sick and sleep out in my backyard to give the sick more space. Life today seems so much less community oriented and more compartmentalized than life was back in Nauvoo. The sick go to hospitals, the poor go to shelters, etc. But are there opportunities like this out there and should we be trying to seek them out? Is it even feasible in this day and age? And how do we deal with the guilt that we don’t do as much as other extraordinary people do?
A couple of points that I would try to bring out in the discussion are: 1) I don’t know if this type of charity towards strangers is as feasible today as it was then, though opportunities are out there (consider doing some internet research on families that opened their homes to Hurrican Katrina victims for weeks and months). 2) even if these expansive and amazing gestures of kindness are not feasible for us, what is possible is opening ourselves to vulnerability on some level. Maybe not as grand as this, but we can all extend ourselves a bit so that we put ourselves in a position of vulnerability in order to try to help. Just offering a smile to the homeless man is opening ourselves up. Or calling someone struggling up and offering to watch their kids might open us up to rejection. But I think this opening up ourselves towards others is an enormous part of charity. 3) Perhaps a way to overcome some of our fears and vulnerabilities is to work together in charitable causes. Nothing is as scary when you’re not alone.
To illustrate that last point, read from Chieko Okazaki’s Aloha book about ways groups of LDS women have extended themselves in their community to help others
*In South Africa, the Benoni Ward visited and served at a home for old-age pensioners.
*In Australia’s Gosford Ward, sisters worked to establish a youth detoxification center.
*The Ashford Ward of Rhode Island Stake provided service at a camp for children with cancer
*Southington First Ward in Connecticut coordinated a soup kitchen with the local council of churches.
*A group of sisters in Tennessee helped adults who are trying to pass their high school equivalency examinations. P. 19
All these are great examples of ways we can come together to serve and make meaningful difference in our communities.
Regarding the topic of guilt and discouragement, Chieko also brings up this point when she talks about charity. I think this is an important point, because I am sometimes left feeling hopeless when I sit back and really consider all the needs in the world. She says, “Sometimes we get discouraged because the needs in the world around us seem so great and our resources seem so few. We think, “We’re not doing enough. We can’t do enough. Nobody could do enough.” When we think like that, we focus on what is left undone, and we lose the joy that comes with service… We can do great good when we work as a united sisterhood, as long as we don’t burden ourselves with unrealistic expectations that rob us of the joy of achievement.” 21
Charity is the backbone of Christ’s message and vision. When we practice charity, our souls are enlarged. We act towards others as Christ would. As JS says, “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast sins behind our backs…” 428-429.
Invite the women to close the lesson by sharing their personal stories of charity and what it meant to them.
Songs: Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief, Because I Have Been Given Much