Relief Society Lesson 42: Family: The Sweetest Union for Time and for Eternity

This has the possibility of being a wonderful lesson. It’s got love at the root of it and it’s got family at the center. Love and Family. The two big things in life are all about loving and all about families. This is the opportunity for the women in Relief Society to learn more about each individual’s family and their trials and their joys in their journeys of life. Reading through the lesson it is apparent that sharing personal family stories will bring the spirit, unite the class, and also remind us that each of us are facing different situations but we all have the end goal in mind.

What would ruin this lesson is to teach ONE ideal family and make everyone feel that if their families DON’T fit the mold, then they are doomed in the eternities. That’s not uplifting, nor is it helpful.

And yes, after reading through the lesson–I know what you’re thinking! It’s the same thing I thought as I read this. This lesson has been taught often and usually in the same way. The ideal family is presented, the ways of securing that ideal family in heaven are talked about, quotes are read, and the reminder that your ideal family cannot be together forever unless temple covenants are lived up to wrap up the lesson in a neat little bow. The one thing that is often not talked about is the fact that hardly anyone has an ideal LDS family. We are all so unique, with various family situations that it is imperative to be very sensitive to any and all issues that each person may be dealing with individually. I know these lessons have depressed my mother in the past because growing up I was the only active child (out of five) that she had. It caused her undo stress and anxiety. I think if the focus can be brought back on loving the family instead of looking to children and spouse as products, then the lesson will be a success!

If the center of the lesson is learning to love unconditionally, then the spirit will be there. If the center of the lesson is to focus on who is being “faithful” in your family and worrying over who is not, then only sadness will permeate the room.

An interesting quote brought out briefly in the lesson is the deepened love the gospel can give us for our families. It says:

For Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve, a knowledge of this doctrine deepened his love for his family: “It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore. … I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean. … In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also.”2

Now, I am not sure if I would read and concentrate on this exact quote, but I would definitely talk about viewing the members of our family in the eyes of eternity. By focusing on each person’s eternal nature, we can start to see them as God sees them and we can work on strengthening our ability to love unconditionally. But try and not focus on who is going to qualify for the celestial kingdom and who isn’t, instead focus on loving each family member for who they are.

Beginning the Lesson: I think it would be helpful for the teacher to share the people who make up her own family. For example, I have two half sisters, two full sisters, and one full brother. I have one active sibling in the LDS church. I have a brother who is currently in drug rehab. I have a two sisters who won’t speak to each other (and haven’t for over a year). I have a mom and a dad who are raising their grandchild in their own home. I think it’s important, right at the beginning of the lesson to state that the purpose of this lesson is learning to love and care and pray for members of our family no matter what current circumstances they are now in. This doesn’t need to be a drama monologue and we don’t need to focus on everyone’s family problems, but the teacher can ask a few people to share some of the blessings that have come from being members of their families.

It’s also important to note that a person’s spirituality is in constant fluctuation and that when some people are at a high, others may be at a low. This is both necessary for growth and important to understand.

Ask several of the sisters to talk about the wonderful people who make up their families. After a few minutes, everyone will feel closer to each other and also a spirit of openness with be invited into the lesson.

Part I: Husbands and wives honor each other by showing love, kindness, and affection

Some of the language used in the manual is a bit problematic. It’s a bit archaic and paints the women as complainers and the men as mean (constantly being rebuked to be nice and sweet to their wives.) I would have a hard time using any of the quotes from this section. The quotes get better on at the end of the lesson, so you can still do plenty of reading in the manual.

One thing that should be a focus is the eternal nature of each of us. The progression, the growth, the beauties of life as we go up and down. It would be nice to mention that all marriages are different. Using Jessawhy’s latest post on the “The Bait and Switch” in marriage could open up the discussion to dealing with the changing spiritual nature of spouses during a marriage and how expectations can’t be stagnant because people and their spirituality are not stagnant. This could be a time for a very powerful discussion on dealing with differences in marriage and any family relationship. (It would also be nice to give a plug for not judging those who chose to believe differently from others.)

Part II: Children honor their parents by expressing gratitude to them and cherishing them throughout their lives

Something that could be a great discussion here is a topic that was discussed so articulately on Zelophehad’s Daughters called: Children as Products It discusses the sometimes overwhelming feelings a mother can have in the church trying to raise children (with unique personalities and beliefs and desires) to meet the standard set in the religion. My own mother wanted her five children to serve missions, marry in the temple, raise children, and follow the mold that she had. When it turned out that only one of us would marry (and not in the temple) and one would have a child (not within a marriage) and only one would serve a mission and only one would be active…well, those odds have caused her to beat herself up again and again and question what she did wrong as a mother. This kind of thinking definitely doesn’t serve mothers (or sisters, or anyone really).

There are several ways to go with this. All of the quotes in the manual talk about parents who were sacrificing, who loved diligently, who raised their children with honor and respect. In truth, rarely did any of us have parents like the ones talked about in the manual. It might be a good idea to use a few quotes, and then, perhaps, turn the discussion to examples of love that they had from parents, aunts, uncles, or any adult influence in life.

Part III: Love among brothers and sisters can be sweet and enduring

The third part of the lesson is also tender. Joseph enjoyed close relationships and great support from many of his siblings. It might be nice to focus on the fact that his family was his greatest form of support. The many things written about Joseph and Hyrum are always sweet to read about.

From the lesson:

Joseph Smith wrote the following in a letter to his older brother Hyrum: “My Dearly Beloved Brother Hyrum, I have had much concern about you, but I always remember you in my prayers, calling upon God to keep you safe in spite of men or devils. … God protect you.”12

Of Hyrum, the Prophet wrote: “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death.”13

Discussion questions can range from the importance of forming a support system on earth and in heaven. It would be good to focus on the fact that no matter what we go through in life, we can always rely on our Heavenly Parents and on our Savior. Many of us haven’t been blessed with close family ties (I am one of these!) and so focusing on the importance of a quality support system would be a good way to phrase it. And bringing the lesson back to Heavenly Father and Jesus as our biggest supporters is sure to ring true.

Part IV: Parents who love, support, and pray for their children bring immeasurable blessings into their children’s lives.

There are many good quotes from this section of the lesson. Sharing a select few would be valuable, but it would also be nice to call a few sisters in advance and ask them to share some of the times that prayer has united their family. You may also want to ask them to share the joys and trials of parenthood. It would be good to get a few mothers who would be willing to share the hardships and struggles they have faced with raising children in the church and how they have been able to do it in their own way. Again, it is good to get diversity here. It would be good to get a few different mothers who don’t fit the mold with their children. It would be good to celebrate the family in all it’s forms. For it is the family unit that makes up the church, makes up the culture, and makes up our world. Not all families are traditional and some people have given up family and friends in their lives so that they can live their best life. It would be good to recognize the value of each person we come into contact with and to treat them as Jesus would treat them.

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14 Responses

  1. Ken Kendall says:

    This is a fantastic post. I especially like the part on husbands and wives.

    I just started a new blog on marriage and how men can better love their wives. I would appreciate it if you would take a look and give my your comments and feedback.


  2. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for this fabulous post! I’m glad you linked to my post. It’s important for us to honestly share how we deal with the struggle in our families.
    I just taught a Sunday School lesson about marriage and I mentioned my personal feeling that the commandment to get married is given to us by God because it’s hard. We don’t have many commandments that are easy, and marriage isn’t an exception.

  3. Sherrie says:

    I was dreading teaching this lesson- every word of it made my skin crawl, so I am very appreciative for D’arcy’s interpretation.

    Section III, where D’arcy shortly mentions those of us who aren’t blessed with close families ties brought relief to me because, like so many others (or not), I haven’t spoken to any of my 6 siblings in over 3 years. The church to me has always been about the eternal nature of family- of all of us being brothers and sisters, regardless of our earthly family titles.

    I have a favourite scripture(s) that illustrates this point- one that I seem to quote several times a year and almost every time I bear my testimony, It is Ether 1:36-41. In this section of verse, it tells of the Brother of Jared praying not only that the language of his family not be confounded, but also his friends. The term “friends” is used three times in this section of verse- the friends that the BOJ had were as important to him as his family.

    Likewise, for me- and perhaps for this lesson- for those of us who are removed spiritually, physically, socially or otherwise from a traditional family, we can build friendships that have the same love and regard us as family. Applying this scripture I think works well with the lesson- that we are all in a single, huge eternal family with Heavenly Father at the head, so our friends are our eternal siblings, hence why we refer to each other at church as “brother” and “sister”.

    I personally think this point is key in the lesson for those of us who are removed from an earthly family, or those who are single or married to inactive or non-members.

    Joseph Smith spoke as highly about his friends as he did his family- I think that to Joseph, his friends were his family- I think he saw Willard Richards and John Taylor as lovingly as he saw his brother Hyrum. (I have even heard an argument that Joseph ran to the window not to escape the shooting but to try to direct the mob away from his friends, thus attempting to spare the lives of the others in jail).

    This is a great lesson to focus on eternal friendships in the same way we are taught to think of Jesus- He is our brother, He is our friend, He gave His life for us, and all He wants is for us to be a family again. I think Joseph had this perspective as well, and to limit the lesson to earthly “blood ties” only limits the eternal scope.

  4. Malia says:

    Thanks for the insight! Great ideas, I really appreciate your thoughts.

  5. Kiri Close says:

    I hope someone brought up a same-sex marriage in Relief Society.

  6. D'Arcy says:

    I was on vacation for the last week so I didn’t really get to respond to these quotes. Thanks for all the support and comments. I hope the lesson went well for all those who taught it!

  7. Tammy says:

    Thank You, This is so helpful. You gave me good ideas to think about and apply in my lesson. I don’t teach until Oct 18th.

  8. Roo says:

    Wow! I just want to say, “Thanks” for this lesson and your thoughts. I was worried about how to teach this, especially with thinking about the unwed sisters in our ward. But your comments gave me a different perspective and I can now say I really feel comfortable and am looking forward to the discussion and feeling the spirit that I know will be there!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Down to Earth, Real Insight to teach by.
    Thank You so much, D’Arcy and for those who commented – especially Sherrie!

  10. Nicole says:

    Although I agree with most of your post I think it is important to present the ideal LDS family as being best, afterall that is what God wants for us and that is his plan. However as I realize that many of the sisters in my ward are not sealed in the temple or have traditional families I plan to focus on personal worthiness and asking them if they are doing all they can to have eternal families. We cannot force others to live eteranl covenants but we can teach and encourage and we can forgive and ask forgiveness, and as you said love unconditionally. Those who are not sealed in the temple or obeying their temple covenants should strive to do so, no matter what their situation is now, so that they can have all the wonderful blessings talked about in the lesson. However God is fair and I believe that those who did not have the opportunity to be sealed in this life will have the opportunity in the next (of course that is one of the reasons we do temple work!!)On the other hand, if we have that opportunity on earth we should not let it pass by or compromise it by letting worldy things get in the way or having family feuds.

  11. Rebecca says:

    I printed up the entire post because there were so many well-thought out ideas to share. I got called THIS morning to sub for this class tomorrow and I need all the help I can get! I cringed reading the whole thing too..even if I was reading to a group of women who had “perfect” families and “perfect” marriages- they’d be bored to tears without this extra insight.Thank you so much 🙂

  12. Rob Williams says:

    I appreciate this post. I found it very helpful in my lesson preparation. I have to admit that I am writing from a Man’s perspective.

    I think that in the first section where the writer views the quotes as unusable there is a lot of positive information. I took what I saw as the main recommendations and made them gender neutral and turned out the following list of recommendations for a better marriage.

    1. Love, cherish and nourish your spouse
    2. Cleave unto your spouse and none else
    3. Honor your spouse as yourself
    4. Regard your spouse’s feelings with tenderness
    5. Do not act as a tyrant, fearful of losing face
    6. Turn to the scriptures for edification and the understanding for the salvation of your household.
    7. Do not tease your spouse about weaknesses
    8. let your spouse feel your kindness and tenderness
    9. Avoid quarreling with your spouse
    10. Show pure love and humility to your spouse
    11. When your spouse is troubled, meet them with a smile instead of an argument or murmuring
    12. Let kindness and charity crown your works
    13. Concentrate your faith and prayers and place confidence in your spouse who God has given you to honor.

  13. Paul says:

    Many thanks, D’Arcy. For some reason, we’re way behind others’ schedules: I’m to teach this lesson to our High Priests tomorrow. All of us are beyond the forming families stage, and most no longer have children at home. But your lesson ideas are still useful. Keep ’em coming!

  14. Walt says:

    D’Arcy. I’m sorry you feel that way when you hear about the ideal family. It can be hard to recognize that things in your own life aren’t exactly the way the Lord would have them. But I’d never excuse the teaching of the ideal simply because some don’t want to hear it.
    I married my wife 3 years ago, when I was 29. Far later than I was hoping or would have expected. For some reason it just took me a while to find the right one. I like to think there were a few things I had to learn before the stars would align. And I’d have to say my marriage has been the sweetest union. My wife and I are not perfect, far from it. However, we sure did appreciate Lesson 42 as it was a reminder of what we are striving for. It is so important that we never forget the ideals that the Lord taught because they will lead us to find true happiness.

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