Relief Society Lesson 18: Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line
In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks made a choice to violate a local ordinance that required African Americans to give up their seats to White passengers.
In retrospect, this was a very good choice. Although it cost her personally, by resulting in her arrest, her choice accomplished a much greater good for her country. Her actions motivated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the greatest civil rights movements of American history, and caused the United States Supreme Court to strike down the bus segregation ordinance in 1956.(Reference a)
Parks reported that her actions on the bus that day were spontaneous, not planned. However, to say that she refused to move because “she was tired” is not the full story. Fatigue alone does not inspire such nation-changing choices. Although she did not plan that specific event, Parks had prepared herself for the choice she made that day. She had been one of the first women to join the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and had participated in campaigns to overcome Jim Crow laws blocking voter participation. Most importantly, she had developed courage through her faith and lived a life above reproach that made her a sympathetic figure to motivate the anti-segregation movement. She was prepared to make a choice that put her in a unique position to affect American history.(Reference a)
George Albert Smith has encouraged us to: “See that you learn the desires of the Master toward you…”
How can we learn what the Lord desires for us to do?
How can we prepare ourselves to make the right choices, even when we cannot always plan the opportunities or trials that may present themselves to us?
Knowing right from wrong
George Albert Smith emphasized that whenever we make a choice, we must make sure that we are on the “Lord’s side of the line.”
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to ajudge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the aSpirit of Christ is given to every bman, that he may cknow good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do aevil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
According to this scripture, it is possible to judge good from evil with “perfect knowledge.” How can we become this confident in our decisions?
Sometimes we can become distracted from reaching our potential by succumbing to our own weaknesses. George Albert Smith exhorted us:
We must learn to overcome our passions, our evil tendencies. We must learn to resist temptations.
He used 2 Nephi 28 to illustrate how people may become distracted from reaching their potential and trapped in temptation. As we read these scriptures, look for examples of traps that lead to sin. After reading these scriptures, ask the class to tell you some of the ways people become confused or trapped in sin and list them on the board.
2 Nephi 28: 7-8, 20-22
7 Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: aEat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
8 And there shall also be many which shall say: aEat, drink, and be bmerry; nevertheless, fear God—he will cjustify in committing a little dsin; yea, elie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a fpit for thy neighbor; there is gno harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
21 And others will he apacify, and lull them away into carnal bsecurity, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the cdevil dcheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
22 And behold, others he aflattereth away, and telleth them there is no bhell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful cchains, from whence there is no deliverance.
Answers may include:
Can you think of any examples of how these confusing influences affect us in modern life?
How can we overcome these confusing influences and reach our full potential?
Elder Lynn G. Robbins described how such confusing influences can lead us to give in to a common temptation: losing our tempers. I look to Rosa Parks as an example of how to control anger. She was not the first person to be arrested for violating the Montgomery bus ordinance. However, civil rights activists of the time felt that they would only have success at challenging the law with a defendant who behaved impeccably, even in the face of an obviously discriminatory law. Although she was angry, Rosa Parks chose to remain calm and controlled while she protested the offensive law. This is one of the reasons the organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott rallied around her and chose her to be the face of the movement.(Reference a)
A cunning part of his strategy is to dissociate anger from agency, making us believe that we are victims of an emotion that we cannot control. We hear, “I lost my temper.” Losing one’s temper is an interesting choice of words that has become a widely used idiom. To “lose something” implies “not meaning to,” “accidental,” “involuntary,” “not responsible”—careless perhaps but “not responsible.”
“He made me mad.” This is another phrase we hear, also implying lack of control or agency. This is a myth that must be debunked. No one makes us mad. Others don’t make us angry. There is no force involved. Becoming angry is a conscious choice, a decision; therefore, we can make the choice not to become angry. We choose!
To those who say, “But I can’t help myself,” author William Wilbanks responds: “Nonsense.”
“Aggression, … suppressing the anger, talking about it, screaming and yelling,” are all learned strategies in dealing with anger. “We choose the one that has proved effective for us in the past. Ever notice how seldom we lose control when frustrated by our boss, but how often we do when annoyed by friends or family?” (“The New Obscenity,” Reader’s Digest, Dec. 1988, 24; emphasis added; quoted by Lynn G. Robbins, April 1998 General Conference).a
George Albert Smith also reminded us to take responsibility for our own mistakes:
We choose where we will be. God has given us our agency. He will not take it from us, and if I do that which is wrong and get into the devil’s territory, I do it because I have the will and power to do it. I cannot blame anybody else, and if I determine to keep the commandments of God and live as I ought to live and stay on the Lord’s side of the line I do it because I ought to do it, and I will receive my blessing for it. It will not be the result of what somebody else may do.15
Would anyone be willing to share some strategies that have helped you overcome temptation or develop better self-control?
While recognizing the role of agency in overcoming temptation, it is also important to note that current research emphasizes that a series of bad decisions can lead to addiction. Addiction compromises agency because chemical changes in the brain impede rational decision-making. Like any other disease, addiction causes biological changes that necessitate intervention. A person who is addicted may need medical and behavioral intervention before he/she can fully exercise agency again.b,c
Alan I. Leshner, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at U.S. National Institutes of Health, explained that while addiction is a disease, agency also takes a part in addiction prevention and recovery:
Does having a brain disease mean that people who are addicted no longer have any responsibility for their behavior or that they are simply victims of their own genetics and brain chemistry? Of course not.
Addiction begins with the voluntary behavior of drug use, and although genetic characteristics may predispose individuals to be more or less susceptible to becoming addicted, genes do not doom one to become an addict.
This is one major reason why efforts to prevent drug use are so vital to any comprehensive strategy to deal with the nation’s drug problems. Initial drug use is a voluntary, and therefore preventable, behavior.
Moreover, as with any illness, behavior becomes a critical part of recovery. At a minimum, one must comply with the treatment regimen, which is harder than it sounds.
- Treatment compliance is the biggest cause of relapses for all chronic illnesses, including asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and addiction.
- Moreover, treatment compliance rates are no worse for addiction than for these other illnesses, ranging from 30 to 50 percent.
Thus, for drug addiction as well as for other chronic diseases, the individual’s motivation and behavior are clearly important parts of success in treatment and recovery.c
I will close by sharing a video about a church member named Sally Marks. I like this video because of the hope she shares for people who struggle with addiction and also because I think she is a good example of a person who, like Rosa Parks, has noticed a need and taken personal initiative to address it.