Relief Society Lesson 2: Tragedy or Destiny?

I prefer to be more of a moderator than a lecturer when I teach Relief Society lesson. The women are more likely to participate, and they often have answers to my questions that are far more insightful than my own. This lesson has the quotes in the order as they appear, but a lot have been cut out for time’s sake. President Kimball’s direct quotes or scriptures are in regular font, mine are in italics.

Eternal Perspective
“We are limited in our visions. With our eyes we can see but a few miles. With our ears we can hear but a few years. We are encased, enclosed, as it were, in a room, but when our light goes out of this life, then we see beyond mortal limitations. …

“The walls go down, time ends and distance fades and vanishes as we go into eternity … and we immediately emerge into a great world in which there are no earthly limitations.” (pg 13)

Even with time and some perspective, we may not know why trials have occurred. Approaching God in prayer and trying to maintain an eternal perspective can help. How have you found solace when dealing with a trial that is difficult to understand?

Finding Explanations

Sometimes, an immediate explanation for why a tragedy has occurred
“I wish I could answer these questions with authority, but I cannot. I am sure that sometime we’ll understand and be reconciled. But for the present we must seek understanding as best we can in the gospel principles.” (pg 14)

I appreciate this statement by President Kimball. All too often, when someone has a tragedy in their lives, others are quick to offer explanations. I wonder—do those explanations serve to help the person suffering or to comfort the person witnessing the tragedy? When can we help others by offering explanations? When is it best just to listen to the person? How can we know the best way to help others when they are struggling through a difficult period in their lives?

Free Agency
…The basic gospel law is free agency and eternal development. To force us to be careful or righteous would be to nullify that fundamental law and make growth impossible. (Pg 14)

What does Pres Kimball mean by this statement? What does free agency have to do with our eternal development?

How can the LDS concept of free agency help us in times of tragedy?

If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith.

If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls.

Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood. (Pg. 15)

How does Pres Kimball’s quote above help us to understand the scripture:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things … righteousness … wickedness … holiness … misery … good … bad. …” (2 Nephi 2:11.)


And Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “No pang that is suffered by man or woman upon the earth will be without its compensating effect … if it be met with patience.”

On the other hand, these things can crush us with their mighty impact if we yield to weakness, complaining, and criticism. (Pg 16)

Is this quote saying that we should never complain during our trials? Can complaining or showing weakness be a good thing? How?

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. …” (Orson F. Whitney) (pg 16)

How have you learned patience in difficult times in your life?

Watching Others Suffer
There are people who are bitter as they watch loved ones suffer agonies and interminable pain and physical torture. Some would charge the Lord with unkindness, indifference, and injustice. We are so incompetent to judge! … (pg 16)

This is a real concern for some people. Sometimes, I wonder how I got so lucky to live in the country I live in, have enough money and food, and it does make me wonder how I can reconcile my life with the life of a woman in a refugee camp in Africa. Is it okay to question the Lord when we see such inequality? What is my responsibility when I question such things?

The power of the priesthood is limitless but God has wisely placed upon each of us certain limitations. I may develop priesthood power as I perfect my life, yet I am grateful that even through the priesthood I cannot heal all the sick. I might heal people who should die. I might relieve people of suffering who should suffer. I fear I would frustrate the purposes of God. (pg 16)

This quote seems to be saying that God’s will trumps any blessing or prayer we can offer. If that’s the case, why pray for certain outcomes?

And, if your Relief Society is open-minded to issues of gender: As women, how does this quote apply to us? Are there benefits to the limitations we have in this life—are they there so that we do not “frustrate the purposes of God?”

For the one who dies, life goes on and his free agency continues, and death, which seems to us such a calamity, could be a blessing in disguise. …

When is death a blessing? Have you witnessed such a death?

If we say that early death is a calamity, disaster, or tragedy, would it not be saying that mortality is preferable to earlier entrance into the spirit world and to eventual salvation and exaltation? If mortality be the perfect state, then death would be a frustration, but the gospel teaches us there is no tragedy in death, but only in sin. “… blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. …” (See D&C 63:49.)

Is this quote saying that we should not mourn the death of a loved one?

I spoke at the funeral service of a young Brigham Young University student who died during World War II. There had been hundreds of thousands of young men rushed prematurely into eternity through the ravages of that war, and I made the statement that I believed
this righteous youth had been called to the spirit world to preach the gospel to these deprived souls. This may not be true of all who die, but I felt it true of him. (pg 18)

This idea needs to be used with caution because it fits in with our discussion earlier about when to offer explanations to people going through trials. The idea of going to preach to people in Spirit Prison may be comforting to some, but it could also make others angry if its seen as a dismissal of one’s grief.

When Healing doesn’t happen
We are assured by the Lord that the sick will be healed if the ordinance is performed, if there is sufficient faith, and if the ill one is “not appointed unto death.” But there are three factors, all of which should be satisfied. Many do not comply with the ordinances, and great numbers are unwilling or incapable of exercising sufficient faith. But the other factor also looms important: If they are not appointed unto death. (pg 19)

How do we comply with ordinances?
How can we be sure that we have sufficient faith?
Are these two factors always necessary when it comes to healing? What about non-members and ordinances?

God controls our lives, guides and blesses us, but gives us our agency. We may live our lives in accordance with his plan for us or we may foolishly shorten or terminate them.
I am positive in my mind that the Lord has planned our destiny. Sometime we’ll understand fully, and when we see back from the vantage point of the future, we shall be satisfied with many of the happenings of this life that are so difficult for us to comprehend. (pg 20)

Going back to a question asked earlier, if God ultimately decides (assuming faith and ordinances are in order), should we ask for specific things or should we just be asking to accept God’s will?

What are some of your favorite scriptures or hymns that help you through trials?

Other helpful scriptures:

Ether 12:6
Psalm 30:5 (2nd part)
Mosiah 24:13,14
Philip 4:13
Matt 11:28-29
Matt 6:27-33


Though Deepening Trials by Eliza R. Snow
Where Can I Turn for Peace? By Emma Lou Thayne

Additional quotes:
Life is full of frustrations and challenges, and often we feel inadequate to deal with them. It is important that we recognize where help lies. A courageous divorced sister with the responsibility of raising six children wrote, “Gradually I am coming to realize that God is as close or closer to us when we don’t feel good as when we do. … He relates to each of us intimately, personally, and with unvarying attention. We only need to ask. He is unchanging, eternal, and immovable in His tenderness, His forgiveness, His absolute love. … We can call on Him for guidance, comfort, and support. We can feel His arms about us, His smiling eyes encouraging us, at any moment, no matter how stupid or inept or impatient or selfish we may have been.” (Frances Warden, Single Sheet, Utah Valley Single Adults, Jan. 1987.) He will be there.
Relief Society General President Barbara W. Winder, June 1988

Adversity is an important part of the preparation for at least three reasons. One, God knows whom he can trust and who, like Job, will stand firm and love him unconditionally. Second, adversity well handled can increase our understanding and compassion. And we will be more effective in helping others when we’ve had a few challenges of our own. We just may need to be an answer to somebody else’s prayer. And third, we draw closer to our Heavenly Father when we are in deep need. Our prayers of thanksgiving and joy of course should be part, and are a part, of our worship, but I guess there isn’t anybody here who won’t admit that we pray more fervently when we’re under the press of problems. Attitude in adversity turns hopeless to hopeful.
–General President of Young Women Elaine Cannon, May 1982

This is a long quote, but it covers so many groups of people not mentioned often in the Church, so I included it all, but it could be shortened to fit your Relief Society class.

Today there are sisters in many places living in poverty, with hunger and disease taken for granted and with infant mortality high and life expectancy low. In some places fewer than 50 percent of the adult population can read or write; 70 percent of these adults are women.

There are those who have no pure water—some who have no water at all except that which they carry on their heads, often for long distances. There are some who live in the shadow of war. What gives these sisters the courage to endure? As with the pioneers, it is their faith that their Father will come, their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Single women in the Church continue to be included daily in the prayers of Church leaders. Many single sisters are living rich, full lives. They have made happy homes for themselves, their families, and friends. They serve as auxiliary leaders and teachers. They serve missions. They attend the temple and do genealogy work. They give compassionate service. They make the world better for their being in it.

There are those in this group who have never married, although most of them would like to do so. There are widowed sisters who live alone and those whose marriages have been shattered by divorce… There are lesbian women, as well as homosexual men, in the Church. The Lord God has decreed, “Thou shalt not.” And however hard the task, these people must likewise keep the commandments….

Many have difficult decisions to make regarding their choices in life. Should they pursue a career? Can they be successful in what is traditionally a man’s business world? Should they try to be? How do they balance their expectations with the reality of their lives? How do they find worthwhile relationships that do not have sexual overtones? How can they best fulfill the role given by the Lord to women?

Some of these sisters are single parents. Their challenges are many as they try to be both father and mother on what is most often a diminished income. If they are employed and trying to be self-reliant, there is great concern about quality child care. Even when their children are grown, single mothers are still mothers and share in the trials as well as the joys of their children. These are sobering realities for many sisters.

For all of them, there are no simple answers except, as for all sisters, to do the best they can every day—to look up; to learn; to evaluate resources within themselves, their families, their communities; to pray with faith; to search the scriptures; to find ways to be of service; to keep their own lives clean and pure, their relationships true; to forgive those who have caused the hurt.

Even as this is so, however, may every sister feel the warmth of friendship from her sisters in the Church and priesthood support from home teachers and bishops who care. May she be included, welcomed, given opportunities to serve.
First Counselor of the General Relief Society Presidency Joy F. Evans, Nov. 1987


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. whitterbit says:

    Thank you. I was beginning to prepare my lesson for Sunday and found your insight very helpful.

  2. Sally says:

    Pres. Kimball says “I am confident that there is a time to die, but I believe also that many people die before their time because they are careless..”
    I read somewhere (I thought by a GA) that no righteous person dies before his time. Anyone know anything about that?

  3. older singer says:

    Sally–I know Harold B. Lee believed something like that (that no righteous person dies before his time) but I think it is false. One of the most touching funerals I’ve ever attended included a talk by the deceased man’s father-in-law, who had had a dream of this man meeting either an angel or Christ, and being told that his death had indeed been an ACCIDENT, that there were callings for him on earth which would not be given now, that death DOES happen without planning–that it is ALLOWED to happen.
    I believe that many deaths come precisely at the right time, but in the eternal perspective, the “right” time is simply when it happens.
    I HATE being told that a loved one was “more needed” on the other side than on earth. That seems to me to dismiss the very real grief the family is suffering.

  4. Deborah says:

    This thread at FMH works in moving tandem with this lesson.

    My husband and I are rather suddenly dealing with the terminal illness of someone very close to us. My husband lost his mother to cancer a few years ago and has a simple summary of the suffering, “It’s sh*t sh*t.” I appreciate both the faith and uncertainty present in this lesson — especially that quote under “finding explanations.” Sometimes there are no tidy lessons to learn. I imagine that, if taught with sensitivity, this lesson could have some healing power on Sunday . . .

    Now I have to go pick the hymns to accompany the lesson. Any suggestions?

  5. Sally says:

    I’ve been thinking about Talmage’s quote “No pang that is suffered..will be without its compensating effect if it be met with patience.” what is a compensating effect? Is this the growth that comes through enduring trials well, or the healing power of Christ (or both?”
    For music, How firm a Foundation has such great lyrics, especially verses 4-7 that don’t get sung as much.

  6. Caroline says:

    Emily, this is fantastic! I’m going to email all the R.S. teachers in my ward and tell them to come check this out.

  7. Deborah says:

    Margaret/Old Singer: I imagine it is our own discomfort with mourning that prompts our platitudes.

    Last night I started was my first group therapy class (for my counseling psych degree). The professor, whom I love, noted that it is a therapist’s job is, first and foremost, to be *present.* We need to train ourselves to resist the impulse to jump in with advice — but to first “sit with them in their pain. Do not rob them of their right to feel grief.”

    It got me thinking about the covenant to “mourn with those who mourn” — it’s not “help those who mourn” or “teach doctrine to those who mourn or “give advice to those who mourn.” In some ways, the covenant is asking us to sit shiva . . .

  8. AmyB says:

    I think being present and sitting with someone in their pain is sometimes all we can do. I find this in my work with children . . . when one little girl told me the other day that she cries for her mother, from whom she is separated at the moment, I wanted somehow to fix it. All I could do was acknowledge her sadness and be with her.

    I read something a while ago that stuck with me. It was an account of a man who’d gone through a very deep dark depression and was barely functioning. He had a friend who would come and rub his feet. The friend said nothing at all, but just spent time with him offering physical presence and touch. Sometimes even holding someone’s hand or offering a hug can offer a great deal of solace.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! for all of your wonderful insights. I was just called to teach relief society and tomorrow is my 1st day. I am very nervous. As I was preparing i kept wondering how i was going to present this lesson and as i was looking for any suggestion i came onto this sight. I read everyone’s comments and it has given me some ideas as to how i might present the lesson. It has been very helpful.

  10. Amy says:

    Hi. I just wanted to post a comment to thank you for this discussion. I have often wished I could talk with others who were teaching the same lesson and this discussion had the same effect. Thank you! I feel both less lonely AND more ready to teach in the morning!

  11. Deborah says:


    So glad you found this helpful! This will be a regular feature (posted on the Tuesdays before the 2nd & 3rd Sundays of each month). I hope you come back again and chime in with your thoughts.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is really great! Hope it’s okay for Elder’s Quorum to use this too. Tomorrow is my first day of teaching and I’m nervous. Alot of good insights here I would like to share with them. Just can’t tell them where I got the info. 🙂 Next, they might expect me to use a centerpiece or something. This will be our little secret.

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