Joseph Smith Lesson 20: A Heart Full of Love and Faith

By Eve

(1) From the life of Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith’s life and experiences must have been profoundly disruptive to his family life. In terms of predictability, security, and financial and social stability, his family circumstances were anything but ideal.

(1) In the church we have ideals about how families should be—parents married in the temple, father working, mother at home full time, both parents active, committed members of the church, and a house full of happy, well-adjusted, obedient children. But many—maybe most—of us aren’t living this life, due to singleness, divorce, widowhood, spousal inactivity, infertility, health problems, unemployment, or other financial difficulties.

How can we develop healthy (not self-punishing) relationships to gospel ideals? How can we focus on the things we can control, such as healthy relationships, love, and respect, rather than on circumstances beyond our control, such as health problems, unemployment, divorce, or military deployment?

(2) How can be build and maintain family routines and traditions even in the face of disruptions such as job loss, separation, military deployment, or divorce? How can we make our homes places of refuge, safety, and solace for children, and for ourselves, even in the face of such uncertainties?

(3) What can we do to strengthen and unite our families when we face disruptions such as job loss, long-term unemployment, long separations due to work or military deployment, or divorce? What have you found helpful in preparing for and facing such challenges?

(4) Joseph Smith was often separated from his children for long periods of time. How can we help husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers, who are living away from home maintain relationships with their spouses and children? How can we help children whose fathers or mothers are physically distant maintain relationships with their parents?

(5) How can we support extended family members, friends, or ward members undergoing financial uncertainty, unemployment, long-term separation, or divorce? If you have undergone such challenges, what kinds of assistance did you find most helpful?

(6) In the church we place a lot of emphasis on family relationships. But people who don’t have immediate family relationships, who don’t have spouses or children, face the same setbacks and challenges (unemployment, health problems, military deployment), and often face them largely alone. How can we include and support people who aren’t living in traditional families?

(2) Family members pray for, comfort, and strengthen one another.

(1) Joseph and Emma used letters to maintain their relationship and comfort each other. How can letters, emails, phone calls, and other contact sustain long-distance family relationships? What kinds of contact have you found particularly helpful in keeping your family close—whether you experience long-term separation or not?

(2) How can we pray for one another in ways that are sustaining and supportive rather than manipulative? (for example, how can we avoid trying to “pray away” someone else’s agency?)

(3)The responsibility to teach our children is always with us.

(1) We hear a lot at church about teaching our children the gospel and what an important responsibility it is. How can we teach our children effectively and avoid preaching, threatening, or other approaches that alienate them? How can we make sure that we’re teaching by the example of our lives, which is of course the most important approach?

(2) What particular challenges do single parents or those separated from their spouses for long periods face in teaching and raising their children? If you are a single parent or separated from your spouse by work or military deployment, what kinds of assistance have you found most helpful in raising your children?

(4) God us our friend, and we can trust Him in our times of adversity.

(1) How has trust in God sustained you during difficult times? How have you been able to maintain and build your faith in God even when you experience hardship?

(2) How can we teach children to find comfort in prayer and a relationship with God when family life becomes difficult or uncertain, or when they face other problems?


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. mmiles says:

    Thanks for posting this. I am set to teach this lesson on Sunday. It has been a very difficult lesson for me to prepare. While I understand we can glean good from all around us including Joseph and Emma’s relationship, it is hard for me to paint such a perfect picture of their marriage when it was far from it.
    Has this been difficult for anyone else?

  2. Tammy Myers says:

    Yes I agree. I have to teach the next lesson and I’m having a hard time finding resouces for chaper 21 Joseph Smith Letters to Emma. How do I teach about letters he wrote to her? Any feed back would be welcomed.

  3. Rebecca Knight says:

    Tammy … just an idea I thought of for this week’s lessons. I bought the book from the bookstore titled, “Love Letters of Joseph and Emma”. It has beautiful pictures, along with qoutes from some of the letters mentioned in the lesson. I actually bought two books to pass around our RS, as we do not have a huge amount of sisters and I want everyone to have a chance to look at the pictures. The art is done by Liz Lemon Swindle.

    Also … Instead of reading the letters straight from the book, I am typing each (or part) of the letter on cream parchment paper. I am also using a font that looks like it would come from that time period. I will fold it as I know they folded them in those days, distress them and then will seal them with hot wax.

    I am then going to hand them out to some sisters and have them open them up and read them. I want the sisters to get the impression that it is really a letter that Emma was receiving and I like the thought of having a visual stimulant, too.

    In between reading the letters, I am going to ask some of the questions from the back of the lesson. Mostly focusing on the ways we can improve our relationships with our husbands and our responsibility to teach our children and to trust in Heavenly Father, especially in our times of adversity.

    I have kept every card and letter my husband has ever written or sent to me. It is entirely a coincidence that he has also done the same. I will have these placed on the table for another visual.

    I hope this helps you out with your lesson. I always get such great ideas for my lessons from this website and all the comments that are made. I am just returning the favor to so many who have helped me understand what we are teaching!

    Good luck!!!

  4. Peggy says:

    I just taught this lesson in our Riyadh, Saudi Arabia ward. We have a large number of sisters (and brethren in the priesthood quorums) who are away from their husbands (and wives) and children. In RS, I presented the lesson as a reader’s theater with one of the priesthood brethren reading the letters to his wife as if Joseph writing to Emma. We paused at each section and discussed ways in which we can stay in touch with loved ones while far apart.
    In some parts of the world, this lesson is incredibly meaningful. Our RS was full of tears as the letters were read and the sisters could relate to their own trials of physical separation, loneliness and longing. We discussed ways that we can remain connected to our loved ones and ways that sisters can support each other.
    I’m grateful for these lessons and continue to be amazed by their application to our lives wherever we are in the world!

  5. Tammy Myers says:

    Thank you so much for your feed back it was so helpful and now I’m ready to go.

  6. Peter says:

    I am also preparing to share this lesson with the Elders Quorum this Sunday. Are there any additional suggestions of how to present this lesson to bunch of guys? I have discovered that it is sometimes very difficult to get the Elders involved and participate. Thank you in advance for any feedback.

  7. Lydia Banks says:

    I have to teach this lesson as well, and one of the issues for me is that the prophet had other wives besides Emma. I just can’t help but wonder if he kept in touch with them as well via letters … I wish I knew a little more about that part of his life to have a more complete understanding. I know it doesn’t really matter, and that he did love Emma with all of his heart and was sacrificing tremendously to do the Lord’s work, and these letters do serve as a great example for us in times of trial and in maintaining relationships.

  8. Andy says:


    I’m also teaching this lesson in EQ today and struggling with how to present to a bunch of guys…hence, I did this internet search and was interested to see how the sisters are approaching this.

    My thought…why not take the last 15 minutes of class and give each elder the opportunity to pen a letter to his wife and family? They could do this while imagining that they will be away from their family for the next month. It’s so rare that we communicate with each other this way with cell phones and email.

  9. Kiri Close says:

    Yup! Brother Joseph had lotsa love…for other mens’ wives…yup! lotsa love…

  10. Betsy says:

    Love all the lesson help. When are you posting lesson 21? I teach that next Sunday and was looking forward to your help!

  11. LTanner says:

    We are on lesson 21, I was hoping for some help on it. Are we ahead of everyone else?

  12. Clionton Matthews says:

    This has been a trobling lesson for me. I suppose it has been because i was not an ideal parant or husband. Never the less I will endever to try and express those ideias out forth from the lesson. I appreciate those letters between Joseph and Emma, but joseph had other wives. It would be good to read letters that i suspect joseph wrote to his other wives, thus giving a more rounded and fuller understanding of Josephs rerlationships with all concerned in his family, or families.

  13. Caroline says:

    we should get the next lesson up by Friday.

  14. Jason Taylor says:

    Thank you so much for your insightful suggestions for these lessons. I am teaching this lesson on Sunday at the Bagram Afghanistan Branch Elders Quorum to servicemen separated from their families. I have limited hard copy resources. I use my laptop and create powerpoint presentations with quotes from the manual and pictures to help the lesson flow better. Your ideas are very helpful. I am excited to hear the different ideas and comments presented by these good brethren who are sacrificing much along with their families.

  15. amelia says:


    thank you so much for your comment. it made tears well up in my eyes to picture the service men you reference in your priesthood meeting. i’m a liberal borderline pacifist so i’m sure there are some pretty strong political differences between myself and the men in your class. but i honor the men and women who serve in the military; i know they make enormous sacrifices. and i’m glad that our blog can be part of making this material available to them. thanks for sharing.

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