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.