Relief Society Lesson 40: How Glorious Are Faithful, Just, and True Friends
“Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism.’ … It unites the human family with its happy influence.” –Joseph Smith
When I’m preparing a lesson, I like to begin with the end in mind: when the women leave class today, what will they have to take with them?
This is a great topic for discussion among adult women. By the end of 40 minutes, I would hope to help generate . . . memories of acts of friendship that have been sustaining, a discussion of the spiritual and practical nature of friendship, and a renewed desire to reach toward others and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”
Possible Starter Activity:
Option 1: Reflection question — “Think about a person, past or present, who has had a lasting positive influence on your life — who became a true friend. How did this friendship grow? What nurtured it?” Discuss.
Option Two: I’ve used this activity in my consulting work, and it usually yields an interesting opening discussion.
- Pass out paper and pencils.
- “I’m going to time you for 30 seconds. In that time, list five classes, talks, or presentations that have had a profound and lasting influence on your life. Feel free to use short hand.”
- After thirty seconds, see who made it to 5, 4, 3, etc. Typically, only one or two people out of fifty can list five. Most come up with one or two.
- “I’m going to give you another 30 seconds. This time, list five people who have made a profound and lasting influence on your life.”
- As they write, I usually add: “If you get to five, you can keep going.” You can guess how the numbers differ (sobering when you think about how many church meetings, lessons, and talks we sit through . . . makes you think that all that time at church might be really about . . . relationship forming . . . )
- Ask them to reflect, “Most of you found the second exercise easier than the first. Why? How did your thoughts and emotions differ in the two exercises?”
Extension: Have them pick one person on their list and have them jot down a couple of words that come to mind when they think of that person. Begin to list some of these words on the board. Generally, you’ll find that people begin to describe the *character* of others – words such as integrity, kind, compassion. Aristotle believed that the highest form of friendship – “friendship of virtue” – could only be formed between people of character, because friendship requires a kind of reaching out that is not always self-serving. In that sense, when you consider Jesus’ lifetime of reaching out to those who were grieving, hurting, rejoicing, and hoping, you see that Jesus gave us an incredible model of friendship – from stepping in to protect a woman from abusive men, to feeding the crowd even when he was exhausted, to weeping when his friends wept (you could insert some scriptures here, if you want).
Onto the lesson . . .
Section 1: “True friends ease one another’s sorrows and remain faithful even in times of adversity.”
In this section, Joseph Smith describes his joy at a being visited by friends while in hiding. But he takes it even further and begins to describe specific names and qualities of his friends and notes that he takes strength from remembering specific moments of kindness. “I find my feelings … towards my friends revived, while I contemplate the virtues and the good qualities and characteristics of the faithful few . . . of such as have stood by me in every hour of peril, for these fifteen long years past”
Joseph Smith pays tribute to those who “have stood by me in every hour of peril, for these fifteen long years past.” What are the challenges of “remaining faithful” to friends during extended times of adversity? What types of support and friendship have you found most helpful during your own long “dark nights” of the soul? (As a Relief Society, I find that we are often most efficient during moments of acute need – childbirth, moving, short-term illness. But what about long-term needs – the woman whose husband has had Alzheimer’s for four years, or whose chronic pain limits her activities, or whose child needs constant care?)
Section 2: “Friendship unites the human family, dispelling hatred and misunderstanding.”
In this section, Joseph Smith offers a bold vision of friendship’s power to unify the church, end contention, and promote unity among all peoples. And there’s this beautiful passage: “One token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling; it brings up in an instant everything that is past; it seizes the present with the avidity [eagerness] of lightning; it grasps after the future with the fierceness of a tiger; it moves the mind backward and forward, from one thing to another, until finally all enmity, malice and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings and mismanagements are slain victorious at the feet of hope.”
Test the strength of that assertion. Think of a recent “token of friendship” you’ve received – from a friend or a stranger. Perhaps an unexpected kindness. How did this affect you? This would be a good opportunity to share moments of kindness that have “made a difference.” I think we sometimes underestimate the power of small moments. . . and hearing them can be motivating. (For example, last fall, I received a note on Facebook from a woman whose name looked vaguely familiar. She wrote that I probably wouldn’t remember her but wanted to thank me for a moment – over ten years ago in a college class – when she had shared her experiences of living with a hidden disability and I had approached her after class to thank her for sharing. I have no recollection of this exchange. But I have vivid recollections of people reaching out to me in similar ways after a class, when I have shared something that made me feel vulnerable . . . I have often felt God’s love through the small gestures of friends).
Section 3: “Saints of God are true friends to one another.”
In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith told the saints: “We should cultivate sympathy for the afflicted among us. If there is a place on earth where men should cultivate the spirit and pour in the oil and wine in the bosoms of the afflicted, it is in this place; and this spirit is manifest here; and although [a person is] a stranger and afflicted when he arrives, he finds a brother and a friend ready to administer to his necessities. I would esteem it one of the greatest blessings, if I am to be afflicted in this world, to have my lot cast where I can find brothers and friends all around me.”
In Matthew, Chapter 9, it reads: “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’
Combining this scripture with the Joseph Smith passage: What’s the practical application for us, now? Are our meetings hospitals for the spirit? How can we make church/Relief Society a place that is safe for those who need ministering?
The last section reminds me of this favorite passage from former general Relief Society Counselor Chieko Okazaki:
Everyone has days when it is possible to carry the burden; there are other days when the burden seems to have a crushing weight. Some of you already know the enormous strength that comes from sharing your burdens with someone else who cares for you. Some of you are trying to carry these burdens alone or are struggling with the even heavier burden of denial and pretense that there is no burden.
Please, sisters, recognize that no one can carry your burdens for you except the Savior, but also recognize that each one of us can make a burden lighter by sharing it. Please, don’t try to carry your burdens alone, and don’t make a sister do it alone. Recognize that we are here in mortality as a free choice to have experiences with both joy and sorrow. I ask you to be sensitive to the struggles of your sisters, to offer a hand to lift a burden where you can, to be a listening ear when speaking will ease an overburdened heart, to seek that compassionate friend who will understand and reassure and strengthen you at times that are difficult for you. In this way, we tend our nets, strengthen each strand, and keep our sisterhood whole, healthy, and healing.