Gospel Principles 2: Our Heavenly Family

by Aimee

For those of you planning lessons using the Gospel Principles manual for the first time, you may want to look at the great advice Amelia and EmilyCC put together here and here for tips on ways to help flesh out these lessons for meaningful discussion.

Surprisingly, I already had the chance to teach this lesson in my own Relief Society class last week as our Stake decided to combine lessons 1 and 2. As a guinea pig, I was able to learn a few things that worked well in this lesson and am happy to pass them on to you.

We Are Children of Our Heavenly Father

I was really pleased to see this thoughtful question the manual posed at the start of the lesson: What do scriptures and latter-day prophets teach us about our relationship to God? Possible ideas you may want to discuss in answer to the question:

  • Modern revelation teaches that our God is a literal parent. How is having a relationship with a Heavenly Parent different from having a relationship with other notions of God (Heavenly King, Judge, Lord, Creator, Almighty)? You may also want to read the Joseph F. Smith quote here that our “spirit[s] [were] begotten and born of heavenly parents and reared to maturity” in the preexistence. What are the kinds of things you imagine our heavenly parents would have wanted to impress upon us to prepare us for mortality?
  • In my class we also read D&C 93:29 “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” I posed the question of how knowing that God did not create us, but rather organized us helps us better understand our relationship to him and others. What does knowing that our intelligence is co-eternal with God’s teach us about ourselves and our own potential? What does it teach us about God’s understanding of us as individuals? What depth can it add to our understanding of others?

We Developed Personalities and Talents While We Lived in Heaven

I think the most important idea to impress here is the recognition that in Mormon theology, we don’t believe that we enter the world as a blank slate. We each have eternal histories. Rather than focusing on the word “talents” (which I think often makes people think of literal “talent show” talents and it becomes easy to get off topic) I would instead emphasize the notion of having unique personalities, dispositions and abilities that are in part formed by our pre-mortal experiences. An interesting question to pose your class may be to ask if there are particular qualities or personality traits that members of your class feel have been with them for longer than this life? Are some of those qualities things they need to develop? Are some of them things they need to overcome?

Our Heavenly Father Presented a Plan for Us to Become Like Him

So now we’ve gotten to the big question: What is the purpose of life? Although most members of your class will be very familiar with the idea of the Plan of Salvation, there is actually a lot here that deserves rigorous thinking and discussion.

If we take the section heading at face value, the purpose of life would seem to be for us to become more like God. Not just to grow closer to God or obey better, but to begin to become gods ourselves! You may want to read from the manual on page 10: “Our Heavenly Father knew we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left Him for a time. He wanted us to develop the godlike qualities that He has. To do this, we needed to leave our premortal home . . .”

Ask your class why leaving God to come to earth was necessary. Possible ideas you may want to discuss in answer to the question:

  • This is our chance to find out who we really are. Like a teenager leaving home for the first time, there are things you can’t know about yourself until you are making choices for yourself: What do you really love? How do you really want to spend your time? What do you most value? Etc.
  • Read Alma 42:7 “And now ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow their own will.” Emphasize that the purpose of this life is being subject to our own wills, figuring out what our desires are since this is what we’re going to get in the end (Alma 41:5-7).
  • From the manual on page 11, forgetting our heavenly home was “necessary so we could exercise our agency to choose good or evil without being influenced by the memory of living with our Heavenly Father. Thus we could obey Him because of our faith in Him, not because of our knowledge or memory of Him.” How do “knowledge” and “memory” differ from faith?

As the concluding thought to your lesson, you may want to ask how can exercising our personal agency helps us to become more like our Heavenly Parents.

I found the following testimony from a sister in my ward here in Baltimore incredibly moving in making this point: This sister shared a story about a day she was taking the bus to a part of town with which she was unfamiliar. She suddenly realized that she had missed her stop and no longer knew how to get to her destination. Her first impulse was to pray for God to tell her where she should go. But just as she began her prayer, she was impressed not to ask God for directions but instead to trust in the brain God gave her. She was surprised at this turn of events but followed the prompting. After a bit of an adventure that included some wrong turns, she did make it to her destination. Upon arrival her first act was to pray to her Heavenly Father and thank Him for giving her a mind she could trust. She testified that the experience left her feeling closer to God and full of gratitude for His awareness of her particular gifts and abilities.

As the ultimate parent, God understands there are qualities and understanding we can only develop through our own experience. It is important for us to remember that often what we experience in life is the direct result of a world organized around personal agency and chance. When we signed on for the plan, we knew it was dangerous and it would hurt. Satan’s plan spared hurt, but forfeited divine progression. By remembering that the particular events and circumstances of our lives are less about God’s will and more about the will and randomness of this widely peopled earth, we can respond better to our experiences while learning more about our eternal selves and hopefully better develop the godlike qualities that our Heavenly Parents most desired would be the product of our time here.

Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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30 Responses

  1. Sharon T says:

    Great lesson! Thanks so much for sharing. Does anyone have an attention grabbing opener for this one? I’d love ideas on that.

  2. Ashley says:

    I am SO grateful that I came upon this site. I was just called 3 weeks ago to begin teaching relief society. I can’t tell you what a terrifying call this is to me. I am only 25 years old, and I feel like I have so much to learn…how can I possibly teach? Anyway, through prayer and studying I feel a little more prepared, and now thanks to this site, so much more has been opened to me. Thank you!

  3. lesli says:


    Just so you know–you always come through for me. I have to teach this lesson and it is my first time back in RS after a 2 year hiatus. I especially like your usage of Alma’s thoughts on learning to be subject to our wills. That is really something to think about.

  4. Aimee says:

    Thanks Sharon and Ashley for your kind words. I’m thrilled you have found this helpful. As for an opener, I’m not that creative when it comes to teaching activities. In class we opened the lesson by practicing Eliza R. Snow’s “O My Father,” which was really helpful for helping people start thinking about much of what we would discuss. Other than that, I’m all ears for other suggestions.

  5. Aimee says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Lesli. That point is compelling to me as well. I’d love to hear how people respond to that idea in your class.

  6. eljay says:

    You have some well thought out ideas here. I really appreciate them. I find teaching RS lessons very difficult. I no longer have time to prepare as I would like to, and your ideas help get mine going a lot faster.

  7. Jerry Young says:

    In pursuing the concept of mortal life as a probationary (trial) period, I thought back to Sister Dibb”s “Hold On” Oct 2009 Conference address.
    She noted:
    “Heavenly Father has not left us alone during our mortal probation. He has already given us all the ‘safety equipment’ we will need to successfully return to Him.”
    We indeed are not alone.

  8. sylvia Thomas says:

    Grandma Sylvia is so proud and impressed by your spirituality and growth in the church. Your testimony glowingly showed forth in your lesson,and my love for you also showed in my tears shed for every word that I read with great pride. I love you! –**Grandma**

  9. Karen Goodey says:

    Love your lesson helps. There is a DVD
    on Doctrine and Covenants and Church History lesson 19 on the plan of Salvation that is 4 minutes and works well with this lesson

  10. MSW says:

    To Sharon T.
    I do have one I will use this Sunday. I will start out with diversity within the room. I’ll begin with my own ancestry of my Mother who was British, but was born and raised in South America and moved to SD as a young widow with two small children; my Father on the other hand was Norwegian and was born in SD. I am the youngest child of their union. Then I plan on asking the sisters if they would like to share their ancestry, briefly, without taking too much time. I will then emphasize the fact that our bloodlines cover many countries of origin, but the one thing we all have in common, that binds us is our spiritual ancestry. We ALL are sisters in spirit, born to Heavenly Parents. I hope that may be of help to anyone. I love this sight – thanks for the ideas!

  11. AKT says:

    Thanks for the good ideas. Thanks to MSW for the good opener. I think I’ll start off that way as well and then talk a little bit about the sisterhood we can feel in our ward or even around the world with other people. I will add how our Heavenly Family takes work to serve and get to know each other just like our Earthly family. Then after establishing that we’re all sisters part of an eternal family, I’ll say how could I not share some homemade cookies with my sisters of my Eternal family and pass out cookies.

  12. Ashley says:

    I decided to read my patriarchal blessing to my self and write down different talents and personality traits that I possess. This was a great reminder to me and I will share some of those with my class and urge them to read their own blessings.

  13. JJT says:

    I found a book online at Deseret book that goes along with the manual. It is called The Ready Resource for Relief Society. I paid about 13.00. It does have great openers, object lessons as well as handouts for every lesson. It had a suggestion for a demonstration to represent the 3 degrees as well as outer darkness. Outer Darkness: No Chocolate, Telestial Kingdom: unsweetened chocolate, Terrestrial Kingdom: bitter chocolate, Celestial Kingdom: Milk Chocolate.. Instead of having sisters taste various choc. I am going to tell about what the different represents and give everyone a kiss with their handout reminding us of the plan of salvation and to strive for the Celestial Kingdom.

  14. Linda Morgan says:

    Thank you for the lesson helps. My Husband and I will be teaching from the same lesson manuel and this has been a great help on how to get started on the new formated lessons for Priesthood and Relief Society. Linda Morgan

  15. Jane says:

    Thank you! Great thoughts and scriptures that really helped me prepare my lesson. I especially appreciate the sentiment in your last two paragraphs.

  16. JO says:

    Thank you so much for the lesson ideas and comments. I was just called last week and felt overwhelmed b/c of short lessons. Those ideas are wonderful 🙂

  17. Sharon T says:

    Thank you to everyone that suggested some lesson starters. All are awesome! I’m excited to put the last finishing touches on my lesson using them.
    Thanks again so much.

  18. Alisa says:

    What a beautiful lesson and message that we have the opportunity to share tomorrow. I am going to use the youtube.com video “My Heavenly Father Loves Me” from davidkat99- it is a beautiful song and very applicable to this lesson.

  19. dyejo says:

    Great lesson and ideas!

  20. Merrilyn H says:

    I really like the analogy about the teenager leaving home and that there are certain things that we can only learn when we are making decisions on our own. I have taught R.S. FOREVER and am glad to get some different ideas from others. I teach this lesson next week because we had stake conference this week. At least I’m getting started on it the week before this time and not the day before or day of my lesson. Thanks for the added insights and suggestions.

  21. laura says:

    I used many ideas from your lesson and got compliment after compliment after I taught. Thanks for the taking the time to share your thoughts.

  22. Aimee says:

    Thanks to everyone for your kind comments and sharing of ideas. For me this discussion has proven to be a great example of how useful we can be to each other in the cyberworld! I really would be delighted to hear how your lessons went and what points your classes particularly responded to.

  23. Valerie says:

    I wish I could have been in her class and heard the discussion and testimonies. As it was, I was at home with my husband who is recovering from surgery. The author’s comments will be a wonderful impetus for a discussion with him. Thank you.

  24. Kathy Stewart says:

    Thank you so much. I was just called to teach RS I’ve been in primary or YW most of my adult life . Do you have anything on lesson 3 yet.. THEY ARE WANTING HANDOUTS help

  25. Cathe T says:

    Is an outline for Lesson 3 coming soon?
    Need a good opener and I just love your
    ideas and suggestions.

  26. Karen says:

    I am anxiously waiting for your comments on lesson 3. When will you have it posted.
    I love your outlines.

  27. Kelly Ann says:

    My apologies for the delay in lesson 3. It will be up later tonight.

  28. Sandra says:

    I did’t know we developed personalities in the preexistence. I have often thought, ” How did I develope such a cheerful positive attitude?’ My life has been rough. I was raised poor.A father who was sexually abusive and a Mother who said it was up to me to stop it.And then as an adult, I have various health problems.Without my personality I would not be able to withstand these. I aldo believe that we decided what kind of challenges we would face on earth.I believe free agency also existed in the prexistance.

  29. lene says:

    why God call FATHER???FAther means he has children also if Father exist surely MOTHER should be exist!^we have god our father but do we have a mothe rof our spirit??the bible also testifies about it…^^

  30. Jessica says:

    I don’t teach RS, but I do teach the new member lessons and we use this same book. I have searched the web a few times for lesson helps, and yours are the best I’ve found! Thank you for this resource to help me as I teach the newest members of the church.

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