Relief Society Lesson 13: Obedience: "When the Lord Commands, Do It"

by EmilyCC

Sadly, our scheduled lesson provider is moving across the country this week and isn’t able to get tomorrow’s lesson up. So, we thought we’d offer an open-thread of thoughts and suggestions for how to teach this lesson. Here are some ideas we thought of (just off the top of our heads).

Questions to ask yourself and the class:
In the spirit of Exponent II, have you had an experience where you were asked to be obedient? What happened?
What traits are required to be obedient?
What is the difference between be being thoughtfully obedient and blindly following? When do we question and when do we just follow? Julie M Smith’s post, “Blood on the Doorposts,” regarding SSM in California has got me asking myself these questions ever since I read this.

Some resources to inspire you (or your class):
Emma Smith: My Story
Speaking of Faith podcast with Sister Joan Chittister (because we love our Catholic sisters)

What ideas do you have? Favorite scriptures, songs, stories?


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Obedience… this is not the most inspiring topic to someone like me. I see it as a pretty low level motivation for action. For instance, if Jesus commands us to be kind to the oppressed, it’s good to do so out of obedience. But it’s infinitely better to do it out of love because you’ve made God’s values your own. There’s a reason, in my mind, that obedience is the first covenant you make in the temple. It’s a lower level thing, I think.

    One question I think of: What happens when obedience to Church leaders/policies is in conflict with what you see as obedience to God’s laws? What should one do? How to go about solving this problem?

  2. Caroline says:

    The Sister Joan Chittister interview is fabulous. She’s a Catholic nun who has a very interesting definition of obedience. In short, she thinks that obedience is about dialogue rather than control in a spirit of co-responsibility.

    She says, “Of course. That whole notion of the military meaning of obedience [in the convent] had, whether we realized it or not, begun to consume us. And worse than that, we were women, and women were expected to conform. So it’s not until after World War II when education itself became as possible, at least in some ways, for women as for men and then became as important for women as for men, as it is now, that you begin to see this shift from military conformity to a sensitivity to the impulses of grace in our lives. The word “obedience” comes from the Latin word oboedire, “to listen.” And the first word of the Rule of Benedict is “Listen, my children, to the precepts of your teacher.” Listen to them, learn from them. Not “Jump.” “How high?”

    Also from Sister Joan on the topic of obedience and conformity…….”As the years went by and Vatican II came with it, we discovered that the individual is a precious resource and that simply cookie-cutter people is not the goal of our life, that that doesn’t make you holy or holier. To be other than you can be is no sign of great spiritual valor. So as we discovered this synthesis of the gifts in the individual and the needs of the times, as well as the nature of the community, we discovered that we were a more active, more effective, certainly happier and freer group if we were following the gifts of the members.”

  3. Caroline says:

    Sorry, I’m going to shut up now. But one last thing.

    Last year’s lesson suggestions on obedience may be helpful to some of you:

  4. sarah says:

    I have a friend who thinks of obedience as her offering of love to God. She may find a particular “rule” chafing, but has decided to obey every word out of every church leader who presides over her. A good example is when a Stake leader gave a talk emphasizing the need to take the sacrament bread and water with your right hand, so as to solidify the covenant aspect of the act. My friend is left-handed, and so it required a conscious effort on her part to make the switch.

    I find her “blind obedience” lovely. She has given great thought to how she will react to words from leaders, choosing to heed their words on the basis of their merit as being called from whatever higher up levels. She believes that since they preside over her, they may have insight (or revelation) that pertains to her and her family, but not necessarily the church as a whole. Her decision is an active display of her devotion, but is not, in the usual sense, blind obedience, since she decided beforehand to obey for greater reasons than simple obedience.

    I cannot follow the same path as my friend, but I admire her nonetheless. I think of the sacrament with the right hand thing as a ridiculous relic, much like how I view the assumption that men should wear white shirts to church. If there is no other reason to do something than pure obedience, I can’t make myself do it. I like to know why, and I like to understand the cultural and historical precedents. Then again, I’m just not any sort of good example of obedience.

    My friend is happy and content with her choice, and it is therefore beautiful to me.

  5. Violet says:

    I am sooooo glad that I looked at this lesson. This topic is not an easy one for me. Actually Relief Society is not easy for me especially given that the lesson manual is one long quote after another by men. I recently started attending RS after a long stint in primary and almost three years in nursery. I loved nursery. I am probably one a few people who left nursery kicking and screaming besides maybe some reluctant new Sunbeams. I was not happy about leaving nursery, it meant I actually had to go to RS. I guess as a feminist I didn’t want to listen to RS lessons based on quotes by men. Not to mention I didn’t think I fit in with my ward as a feminist. I don’t actually teach in RS, but I love to read the lesson plans people put up and the discussions. It gives me good ideas about how to approach the lesson and RS. I love to make comments in RS. I especially liked the post about the role of faithful feminist by Jessawhy and the list that I think Caroline put up about things feminists can do at church. Seriously, that post enabled me to go to RS feeling that I could still belong to the LDS church as a feminist. Thank you Exponent!!!!!!!

  6. Jesica says:

    Thank you all so much for you comments. I do feel that, we as members of the lds church, are much more obedient than we give ourselves credit for, but I do think that to be obedient we must have faith and humility. Those are the sole ingredients of obedience. Sometimes we are asked to do something and may not understand the whys or even the hows, but I do believe that if we trust and ask for help to understand, that the answers will come-even if it’s not right away.

    As to Caroline’s question of what to do when there may be a conflict. I would hope that our leaders and policies would not conflict with God’s laws. They should always be in line with them. Some may see that as naive, but if our leaders are doing what they should be, there should be no conflict.

    As for military obedience that Sister Chittister talks about-well, that just doesn’t work. That would be following the plan of Satan, and not the one of our Savior. Elder Packer said it this way, “Obedience to God can be the very hightest expression of independence. Just think of giving to him the one thing, the one gift, that he would never take…Obedience-that which God will never take by force-he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of-the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. Stangely enough, the key to freedom is obedience.”

  7. Omamel says:

    I am slated to teach this lesson tomorrow. After reading Julie M. Smith’s post referred to above I find myself eve more trepidacious than before. Currently I am still am member of the church in full standing, however I identify myself as an agnostic. I read all 106 responses to Julie’s post. I cannot agree with her decision to support the church in the California Prop 22 situation whil her conscience (my word, not hers) is telling her otherwise. I am a convert to the church of 40 years. One of the reasons I joined was the fact that I was encouraged to “ask of God…” and get my own answers just as Joseph Smith did. I believe it is most important to live true to what the spirit or one’s conscience is saying. Hopefully that coincides with what the prophet is saying at the time, but I cannot live an authentic life if I disregard what is being given to me personally. That has never turned out well for me even when it was in the name of following the prophet. I will let you know how my lesson goes tomorrwo and whether I am still a member of the church. 🙂

  8. CTD says:

    I’m teaching this lesson tomorrow as a substitute teacher. This will be the first lesson I’ve taught in this ward. I want to teach this honestly and thoughtfully, but I feel, to a certain extent, that I live a “double life.” I left the church for several years, and have since chosen to return because I believe in the teachings. I’m still thoughtful about my beliefs, but don’t share them because I think some of my questions and ideas would shock my RS sisters if they knew I really thought those things (not that I hold shocking or radical beliefs!) I want to be a fully participating, fully accepted member of the ward and the church, and I believe that my faith is as strong as the most devoted member’s faith, but I think many would view me with suspicion if I brought up some of these ideas for discussion.

  9. Omamel says:

    I taught the lesson. It was good. I started out by appealing to the sisters who have no problems with obedience and they discussed for quite some time what it means and how they feel about being promised something specific if they are obedient and the promise does not seem to be fulfilled. Then we played “Simon Says” for a few minutes. Then we played “The Prophet Say” where I substituted real things the members of the church have been asked to do in the past and asked the sisters to think about what they would do if they were asked to do thiose same things now: practice polygamy, donate wordly possessions to build a temple, leave home and head across the plains to Missouri. I could see that it got some mental wheels moving.

    Next I shared with the sisters a great story from one of the comments on Julie Smith’s post. It was about two ancestors of the commentor who were asked to practice polygamy. They were both prayerful about it and each got a different answer from the other. More wheels were turning.

    My husband had suggested sharing the story of Helmut Huebner, who was excommunicated during World War II for publicly opposing Hitler and the Nazis. All eyes were alive with thought when I related that story. Time was up so I closed with a quote from Brigham Young in which he said that we should make sure we find out from the Lord if what our leaders are telling us is right.

    I felt good about the lesson. I hope the sisters did, too, or at least they have been thinking about it. Thank-you for the ideas.

  10. Kiri Close says:

    The “O” word.

    I’m not even sure I’m fully, totally obedient with the “C” word: commandments.

    I think I just kinda do what feels good, and if what I feel is limited to my experiences in this material world (conscious or unconscious), than I can’t escape my sense of ‘good’ from that which my senses tell me are a result of obedience.

    In other words, read Immanuel Kant (lol!).

  11. Kiri Close says:

    And if that’s true, then the notions of God (in the organized religious sense of earthly, material world senses) and God him/herself are only constructs of what ‘feels’ good. We cannot know out of this unless we think/UNthink as artists, laboring ‘above’ the known and braving into what is not known (of God and obedience to him in the organized religious sense).

  12. Kiri Close says:

    In other words, we only know what we know, and do what we know. We do not know or do what we do NOT know. Therefore, we do not DO what we do not know how to do.

  13. Kiri Close says:

    Hence, blind obedience WITHOUT the ‘proper’ creative, open ended reflection (dare I say of that great Spirit?) makes us NOT beautifully obedient full of creativity in obtaining deeply artful, meaningul lives.

    Blind, unreflective obedience cannot offer that great portion of aesthetism that gives us reflective pleasures. This ‘dumb animal’, herd mentality obeisance in/for a group order does not and cannot lend over to us an artful appetite for more beauty nor ‘higher beings’ who offer ‘commandments’ in the first place. Doctrine such as this is a lie.

    It only ‘herds’ as sheep or cows are herded without a meaningful say or expression or correspondence between us & a heavenly being who I believe awaits for us to think/UNthink through his/her suggestions in making this facticity called life more or less enjoyable.

    I apologize for the spewing: I feel classically critical tonight and though I feel what I’m trying to type here, I’m too lazy to edit.

  14. Tosca says:

    Because of a mix up, lesson 26 had been given instead of lesson 13. So now I have to teach lesson 13.
    I have a really hard time with obedience. And now I have to teach others about it.
    I am preparing to go on a mission and I was reminded by my boyfriend (who is not a member actually) that I will have to teach others on my mission principles that are hard to me anyway (like fasting).
    Since I really dislike the lessonmanual I used preach my gospel for the scriptures.

    Thank you sisters for sharing your ideas here for this lesson. It’s giving me a better idea in how to handle it.

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