Relief Society Lesson 1: The First Vision

New year, new manual! Last January, bloggers from Exponent II and Zelophehad’s Daughters joined forces to provide lesson plans based on the Relief Society manual. These quickly became our most popular feature (in particular, we receive hundreds of google hits on Friday and Saturday night . . . . good to know I’m not the only Mormon procrastinator!). We try to post lessons the Tuesday before the 2nd and 3rd Sunday of the month. We hope you’ll check in and join the conversation.

Lesson 1
The First Vision: The Father and the Son Appear to Joseph Smith

The first section briefly lays the groundwork for Joseph Smith’s remarkable vision — geography, time, the “spirit of religious fervor” sweeping through upstate New York. The subsequent sections draw exclusively from “Joseph Smith–History.” Because of its narrative form, I’d recommend reading key quotes in chronological order, stopping to discuss at key junctures.

Question 1: Notice “Joseph Smith–History” is located in the Pearl of Great Price . . . which means that Joseph’s memoir of his early life is part of the LDS canon of scripture. What constitutes scripture? In what way is Joseph Smith’s story similar to other men and women whose lives are discussed in scripture? (I can see parallels with Samuel, Abraham, Mary, and Moses — among others — people who received revelations in their youth, people who took personal risks based on their revelation, people who sought to bridge the relationship between deity and humanity).

Question 2: Joseph Smith was 14 at the time of his seminal vision — about the same age as Mary when the Angel Gabriel appeared with his startling message. This stands in contrast to the examples — past and present — of elderly prophets. Does this provide any insights about revelation? About intergenerational relationships? (I love this from Joel 28:8-9: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”)

Question 3: Note the emotions and thought Joseph Smith describes in the months leading up his vision (see pages 29-30 of manual — “serious reflection”; “great uneasiness”; “deep and poignant” feelings; “desire”; “at times my mind was greatly excited”; “I often said to myself: What is to be done? . . .how shall I know?”; “extreme difficulties”). Reflect on these phrases. What application do they hold for us? For me, they seem acknowledge the role of uncertainty — even confusion — in our spiritual lives. He engaged in serious reflection, he allowed himself “deep and poignant” emotions, he listened to diverse opinions — he hungered. And then he took it to God. He went pour out his soul in his “wilderness” — literally (the woods) and figuratively (see Alma 34: 26).

Question 4: Building on question three, Joseph Smith “retired to the woods” to pray. While we can’t do such a thing every day, are there ways we can “retire to the woods”? What do our woods look like — how do we find time apart, on occasion, to lay ourselves bare before God?

Question 5: Before his vision, Joseph Smith felt “thick darkness” surround him. Compare this experience with the record of Moses in The Pearl of Great Price (See Moses, Chapter 1).

Question 6: The substance of Joseph’s vision — two distinct personages — is at the crux of some of the arguments that insist Mormons are not “Christian.” In the last conference — October 2007 — Elder Jeffrey Holland discussed this at length. May be worth reading through that talk.

Question 7: When Joseph spoke with adults outside of his family about his vision, he experienced “prejudice” and “great persecution.” This parallels the story of many preachers and saints. But how is it instructive for us — both as potential objects of ridicule (even occasionally in the national press) and as potential ridiculers. When people come to us with their deep beliefs — even beliefs we do not agree with; how should we , as followers of Christ and progeny of Joseph Smith, respond?


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

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  1. ann marie says:

    I am SO glad you do this. I read them every month and use them to guide my teaching. I sure appreciate it. I have struggled with this lesson just because the whole lesson is basically scripture. I’m trying to find out how to do this. We’ll see how it goes. I just don’t want to read the whole thing. Thank you so much for your posts!

  2. Anonymous says:

    excellent questions to consider.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I’m also so glad that you post an guide in helping teach these lessons. I got the call to teach in RS a few months a go and when seaching the net to find any help, i came a cross your site. Thank you to all those who take the time and post their ideas, thought and lifes issues. I enjoy reading your posts and using your ideas. Rebecca

  4. trixy says:

    I needed to say thank you for this site for some time. I love these open-minded lessons! It’s nice to know there is a community of “thinkers” out there among us LDS women. This lesson has been covered so many times, it’s hard to find a new angle. Again, thank you.

  5. Deborah says:

    Thanks for your kind words — it’s been fun to put these together. We are so glad people are finding them useful!

  6. pink says:

    Wonderful! I love you for doing this! I’ve been struggling to figure out what kinds of questions to ask, other than the two or three I could think of, so this is a real life saver for me. Thank you so much! I’ll be checking in now every week to follow along with discussions and ideas 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for all the work you do in preparing these questions. It makes Relief Society more thought provoking and allows the lessons to take simple concepts and dig deeper!

  8. Janet says:

    The correct scripture from Joel is Joel 2: 28

  9. Anonymous says:

    Deborah: I found these questions extremely helpful for discussing the First Vision. Thank you! And also, I really loved the scripture in Joel you cited. It goes so well with the fact that Joseph was just a teen.

    I hope you guys keep posting these wonderful lesson summaries & questions.

  10. Renzello says:

    I was just asked to teach this Sunday for the first time. I am nervous, but glad to find your website. Do you do it every week?? Are you doing it for this SUnday? (lesson 2) I am so excited. What a neat person you must be to do this to help others. Thank you!!!!

  11. Deborah says:

    Renzello: There are a group of about six of us that rotate planning and posting these lessons. The next one will be up soon!

  12. makakona says:

    really, this is an amazing source. i didn’t need it so much in our last, very progressive ward. however, we’ve since moved and it’s pretty… yeah. that. and we even had one lesson that was literally read straight through in a bored, monotone voice. GAH! so, now i make sure i have the page loaded on my cell phone and i can refer to it as we go, in case we need some better discussion. you’re real movers and shakers, you exponent women!

    any other men use this as a source? my husband loves checking it before he teaches eq and i love that he uses it! ordinarily, i think i would feel like it was cheating or lifting lessons, but in this case, i just feel like it’s furthering a cause. it’s especially fun when my husband gets to drop the exponent name. y’all are opening minds, even in a backcountry elders’ quorum!

  13. Nola says:

    Just discovered your blog and was wondering if you will be posting lesson 3 any time soon. I will be giving that lesson the 2nd week in February and would love to read your teaching suggestions. Please let me know when it will be posted. Thanks

  14. Deborah says:

    Nola: Caroline is writing that lesson and will post it on February 5th (the first Tuesday).

    Makakona: Just read your comment — it made my day!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I was so happy to find your site. I have been struggling with the new manual because it contains so much history and dialogue. It is interesting to read, but difficult to teach. Your lesson plan made my lesson so much more effective. Our ward combined lessons 1 and 2, so we had #3 yesterday. I have to teach the 2nd sunday of February on lesson 4…will you be doing that lesson (on the book of Mormon) before then? I am afraid we will always be one week ahead of your website. Thanks!

  16. Caroline says:

    Sadly, I think we will be a week behind you. But perhaps you’ll have stake conference soon and that will push you back onto this schedule sometime soon…?

  17. Anonymous says:

    I am wondering if your going to post lesson #3 soon? would love to resourse it for my lesson.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I was hoping to view lesson #3. Will you post it soon?

  19. Caroline says:

    check back in about 3 hours… I’m working on it right now.

  20. Anonymous says:

    This is such a great help in preparing my lessons. Thank you for taking the time to do it. I only have one question – could you post it earlier? I teach the 3rd Sunday (and sometimes the 2nd also) but I try to prepare my lessons 2 weeks ahead and finalize them the last week. Whatever happens – it’s great and thanks again.


  21. Anonymous says:

    thank you!!!

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