Relief Society Lesson 1: Learning by Faith
The emphasis in this chapter is on the one thing that we have absolute control over in bringing with us to the next life: knowledge. In this period of Lorenzo Snow’s prophethood (1898-1901), Emmaline B Wells was editor of the Women’s Exponent from 1877 to 1914 as well as secretary to Zina D. H. Young, who was the Relief Society General President (1888-1901). Wells was educated at New Salem Academy and intermittently worked as a teacher before becoming editor of the Women’s Exponent, whilst Young was a talented and sought-after midwife who worked in the establishment of Deseret Hospital.
To be true, I believe all women are brilliant. So I think this lesson teaches itself, and I think the women involved in the class should be invited at the start to share with each other experiences and blessings from gaining education and learning, regardless of how formal or informal the education and learning.
The material in the manual is good, and I would not hesitate to use any of the many generous quotes. But. Like most church texts, quotes by women are absent. I am adding some general quote from LDS women about education and learning. I recommend reading these quotes and engaging in a very open discussion with the women in your branch or ward. To whit, I suggest having the women in class arrange seats in one large circle (if possible) at the start of the class. Go around and have each sister declare their favourite colour to the whole class. This is a simple “ice-breaker” game that can be played sans-sitting in a circle, but is a way to encourage all women to speak, even if just one word —aloud— which may encourage all to participate verbally in the class. This could open up a greater sense of openness in Relief Society for the year, where the “church mice” are confident to speak as freely as anyone else. The circle also makes the lesson more open, so those who might feel ignored are in seated equally to those who might be considered “popular.” Read each of the quotes and discuss. Suggested questions are included with additional quotes outside of the lesson material.
“It is trite but nevertheless true that each of us is unique. Like a multifaceted diamond, we are polished one surface at a time. Like that precious jewel, no two of us are alike. The Lord certainly never intended us to render the same service or follow identical schedules of personal development. There is an eternal balance not only between people, but in the very rhythm of each individual’s life itself….
“From an eternal point of view it is also important to distinguish between the things of God and the things of man. As an example, formal education degrees –things of man- are relatively unimportant from the eternal point of view. The personal qualities that the education process enhances are not. In the eternities, no one will likely remember –or even care- about the presence of absence of letters following our names. While the earthly medical degree I worked so long and hard to attain has permitted me to render a very special type of service, perhaps even more important are the qualities of compassion, intellectual discipline, decision-making, analytical skills and faith that were honed and enriched by that rigorous professional training. These are portable, eternal qualities that can and will rise with us in the resurrection. Compassion is always employable. Unlike technological skills, faith and intellectual discipline do not become obsolete.”
-Anne Osbourne Poelman, LDS Women’s Treasury, ‘Balance, The Joy of Perspective,’ Deseret, 1997, 116.
Why is it important to remember that each of us is unique in seeking and obtaining learning?
How has “rigorous professional training” helped you to develop skills of compassion, faith, etc.?
Poelman states that technological skills become obsolete in the eternities. Do you agree? (i.e. we probably won’t need sewing machines or cars, but what about the analytical and geometric skill that is necessary for sewing a pattern? Or the patience in hand-knitting a sweater?)
“Though at the time I did not often think of my learning as a religious activity, it clearly was, in the sense that I came to value the inherent goodness in people, to appreciate the world around me, to see the fruits of unselfish cooperation, to increase my sense of self-worth, and to feel I had a capacity to be of service to others.”
-Camilla E. Kimball, A Heritage of Faith, 1988, 8.
How is learning a religious activity for you?
How does education and learning improve our self-worth?
Why is it important to feel able to serve, rather than obligated to serve?
In this system of religion that you and I have received there is something grand and glorious, and something new to learn every day, that is of great value. And it is not only our privilege but it is necessary that we receive these things and gather these new ideas.
The whole idea of Mormonism is improvement—mentally, physically, morally and spiritually. No half-way education suffices for the Latter-day Saint.
How is the LDS “system of religion” a system wherein we can learn something new on a daily basis?
There will inevitably be talk of New Year’s resolutions at this time of year, but consider the phrase “the whole idea of Mormonism is improvement.” How can we effect improvement as a manifestation of our religious devotion? Is this improvement limited to self? What are ways we can learn and grow to imrpve the world around us?
“I’m asking all of us to think of ways to become lifelong learners so that we can tap into the never-ending pleasure of learning- whether it’s a new stitch in crochet or a career change or how to communicate with a grandson. I’m hoping we will remember how the Saviour loves us, years for us to learn of Him, and follow Him. I pray that we will learn so deeply and so well that we will be able, with the psalmist, to read the signs of God’s love all around us.”
-Cheiko Okazaki, Sanctuary, Deseret, 1997, 114.
What are ways that we can become life-long learners?
How can constant learning help us to recognise God’s love all around us?
We must not neglect our spiritual improvements while we seek for worldly wealth. It is our duty to make every effort for the purpose of advancing ourselves in the principles of light and knowledge, as well as of increasing around us the temporal blessings and comforts of this life.
In consideration of the above quote from Lorenzo Snow, also consider this:
“I decided that if God was omnipotent, the He knew everything there was to know about statistics, so what better tutor could I have for this subject but God?”
–Jules Law, Finding Our Individual Path, 1997.
How can our Heavenly Parents help us in any aspect of learning? Do you have examples wherein faith, prayer or spiritual insights assisted you in learning something new, especially something that might not necessarily be positioned with religious study, such as statistics?
“Facing a particularly difficult problem [a friend] asked Elder Boyd K. Packer for direction. In giving his counsel, Elder Packer asked, “Would it make any difference if you remember that this is truly the Church of Jesus Christ?” Set clearly against the reality of truth, the problem was easily confronted. Perhaps we could apply this same kind of test to a Relief Society problem: does a woman need an education or career-related training if she is to be a housewife and rear a family? Would the answer to the question become clear if we remember that we are children of an Eternal Father [and Mother], striving to return to his presence?”
-Shirley W. Thomas, “The Doctrines of the Kingdom,” October 1980 General Conference
It is unlikely that any Mormon woman today would think that she could wholly avoid temporal employment. But it is interesting to consider what it means to strive to be in position to return to Heavenly Parents. Juxtapose this quote with the wealth of information we can obtain today on the Internet, through the vast free public libraries and otherwise- would our Heavenly Parents assigned us to live in this period of time without the anticipation that we would take advantage of the vast amount of free knowledge available to us? I think not. In considering education in this light, as children born in a day and age with free libraries and Project Gutenberg (among others) online, what would God have us learn?
It is with us as with the child learning the alphabet. The teacher says to the child, “Here is the letter a; will you try and remember it?” The child replies, “Yes, I will try to remember it.” The teacher goes to the next letter, and says, “This letter is b; will you look upon it and try to remember it?” “Oh, yes,” says the child. Then the teacher turns back to the letter a. “What letter is this?” The child has forgotten it. The teacher once more tells the child that it is a, and turns to the letter b, and discovers that the child has forgotten that also, and again has to be instructed on the letter b. This is in the morning. In the afternoon the child is again called up and questioned, and the teacher once more finds that the child has forgotten the letters and has to be taught over again. And so the lesson has to be repeated over and over again, so much so that if the teacher had not had experience, and knew what to expect, he certainly would be discouraged. So it is with the Latter-day Saints. Though we may get tired of hearing things repeated, they have to be in order that we may learn them thoroughly. We must learn them.
Lorenzo Snow spent some time emplyed as a teacher, so this quote is clearly a teaching style that he employed. This approach will appeal to some, but not to others as we all have different learning styles. It is clear that one purpose for this first lesson is to engage us in learning about Lorenzo Snow, and about basic gospel principles that many of us have heard since youth. Discovering your learning style is could make topics that might be considered “old hat” more interesting to study, or engage in learning through a different lense. With this in mind:
What learning style do you have? Are you and audio learner? A visual learner? A Kinesthetic learner? (I think this is a good resource to use in your lesson if you have time to help the students learn how they learn so they can be better learners.)
Audio learners learn best through hearing. To be effective learners, when they read, they need to “hear” the words in their mind. They may also memorise or learn information by saying it out loud (I am an audio learner, so sometimes I read out loud — even math equations– then I process them better than if I just looked at the words and/or numbers.)
Visual learners learn best by envisioning or watching. They are often encouraged to create graphics in their minds wherein they can envision categorizing information. In doing this, they make use of a visual memory. My father worked with a man who had a freakish skill of remembering very long lists. When my father asked him how he did it, the man said he would visualize each item mentioned, make it unusual in his mind, then link the next item to that item. For example, if you asked him to recall: pencil, apple and Abraham Lincoln, he would envision the largest pencil known to mankind- on the point of the sharpened end, would be sticking an apple– from the apple would be spurting juice in the shape of Abraham Lincoln’s face.
Kinesthetic, or tactile learners are the smallest portion of the population, they learn in doing. These learners may struggle to learn in just reading or listening. They learn better or even read better when they are doing something. Working out at the gym can be a study place for tactile learners– reading or listening to audio books whilst moving helps them to retain the information because the information gains physical properties in their minds.
How can understanding one’s learning style help us to focus on the study of gospel material this year? What are areas where you want to learn more and study more in this year?
It is not always the lengthy discourse that affords to the Latter-day Saints that which is the most profitable; but in the various discourses delivered we may gather some idea, or some principle may flash upon our understanding which will prove valuable to us afterwards.
Does learning need to be a grand task? How can we position ourselves as learners, in light of all of the other responsibilities we have right now?
What is your learning style?