Relief Society Lesson Plan: “Divine Discontent” by Michelle D. Craig
Sister Craig, the First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, starts her talk with an anecdote about being discontent. “When I was in elementary school, we walked home on a paved trail that wound back and forth up the side of a hill. There was another trail, unpaved, called the “boys’ trail.” The boys’ trail was a path in the dirt that went straight up the hill. It was shorter but much steeper. As a young girl, I knew I could walk up any trail the boys could. […] So every now and then, I would lag behind my group of friends on the paved trail, remove my shoes, and walk barefoot up the boys’ trail. I was trying to toughen up my feet.”
She didn’t like that the world told her she wasn’t capable of doing hard things because she was a girl. She says “I knew I was living in the latter days and that I would need to do hard things, as did the pioneers—and I wanted to be prepared.” Sister Craig knew as a child that life is full of hard things, especially as we try to listen to God. Just like Sister Craig, we all have an innate sense that we can do more and be more. She uses Elder Neal A Maxwell’s phrase “divine discontent” as an apt description of how our awareness of this gap makes us feel.
Ira Glass, the radio host, expresses this idea very clearly: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
This quote is talking about creativity, but when we’re talking about being a disciple, becoming like God and Christ, we also have this sense both of our potential, and our inability to reach that potential right now in this moment. Discuss moments class members have noticed that potential or inadequacy.
As Emily Dickinson reminds us, “Forever – is composed of Nows –”, so unless we purposely step back, it kind of feels like we’ll always be at this exact measure of our potential, far short of where we want to be.
Sister Craig: “We yearn for greater personal capacity. We have these feelings because we are daughters and sons of God, born with the Light of Christ yet living in a fallen world. These feelings are God given and create an urgency to act.” This urgency, though, can quickly lead us towards anxiety. Sister Craig reminds us to value and appreciate the precious space of that gap, and to avoid the paralysing discouragement that can come from despairing about it. “Our discontent can become divine—or destructive.”
Ask the class for experiences when they’ve noticed that gap and either become discouraged or used it to fuel their personal growth — either in a religious or in a work/study setting.
Sister Craig noted “I have learned that when I wallow in thoughts of everything I am not, I do not progress and I find it much more difficult to feel and follow the Spirit.”
Do other women in your class have the same experience? What can we do when we find ourselves wallowing?
By accepting that we can’t reach our full potential in this life, we can honour those feelings of inadequacy and discontent as reminders of our values and priorities. Wanting to be better comes from a good part of us, that we need to love, cherish and gently care for. Ignoring it, by staying in our comfort zones, or by getting to work and cutting ourselves off from our feelings, can’t lead to the same degree of personal growth.
Sister Craig tells a story we probably all know, about a 14-year-old boy who wrote in his journal that “my mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins, and … felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world.” But what happened when that teenager prayed for forgiveness and reassurance? He received the First Vision and the Gospel was restored to the Earth.
Sister Craig makes it clear to us that this religion that brings us together — among millions of others — came from a period of great unease and confusion.
But how can we know if the ideas that come to us from those feelings of discontent are really from the spirit or not? Sister Craig offers this story from Sister Bonnie D. Parkin, former Relief Society General President:
Susan … was a wonderful seamstress. President [Spencer W.] Kimball lived in [her] ward. One Sunday, Susan noticed that he had a new suit. Her father had recently … brought her some exquisite silk fabric. Susan thought that fabric would make a handsome tie to go with President Kimball’s new suit. So on Monday she made the tie. She wrapped it in tissue paper and walked up the block to President Kimball’s home.
On her way to the front door, she suddenly stopped and thought, ‘Who am I to make a tie for the prophet? He probably has plenty of them.’ Deciding she had made a mistake, she turned to leave.
“Just then Sister Kimball opened the front door and said, ‘Oh, Susan!’
Stumbling all over herself, Susan said, ‘I saw President Kimball in his new suit on Sunday. Dad just brought me some silk from New York … and so I made him a tie.’
Before Susan could continue, Sister Kimball stopped her, took hold of her shoulders, and said: ‘Susan, never suppress a generous thought.’
She explains in her talk: “Sometimes when I have an impression to do something for someone, I wonder if it was a prompting or just my own thoughts. But I am reminded that “that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.” Whether they are direct promptings or just impulses to help, a good deed is never wasted, for “charity never faileth”—and is never the wrong response.”
Encourage the class to share times that they weren’t sure a thought was a prompting or not, and how they handled it. Has anybody regretted following through on a generous thought? [This may lead to a discussion of how to balance competing needs/generous thoughts, or suggestions about how to develop an awareness of the good we can do: guide the discussion to meet the needs of your particular class.]
Another important point that Sister Craig brings up is that: “Divine discontent leads to humility, not to self-pity or the discouragement that comes from making comparisons in which we always come up short. Covenant-keeping women come in all sizes and shapes; their families, their life experiences, and their circumstances vary.” The divine part comes from comparing ourselves to our own potential, not to other people. Whether the result is pride or discouragement, judging others doesn’t help us to become more like God and Christ.
Ignoring our lack doesn’t help us to become like them either. “Jesus’s miracles often begin with a recognition of want, need, failure, or inadequacy. Remember the loaves and the fishes? Each of the Gospel writers tells how Jesus miraculously fed the thousands who followed Him.” When we fail to recognise our own inadequacy, there’s no room to accept Christ’s grace.
“Have you ever felt your talents and gifts were too small for the task ahead? I have. But you and I can give what we have to Christ, and He will multiply our efforts. What you have to offer is more than enough—even with your human frailties and weaknesses—if you rely on the grace of God.”
How can we learn to rely on grace? How can we avoid the temptation to only work on the “all we can do” part”?
The Plan of Salvation doesn’t have us scheduled to figure out Exaltation in this life. During the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:48, Jesus says “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In his repetition for the Nephites after his resurrection, in 3 Nephi 12:48, he teaches “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” He doesn’t claim the title of perfection for himself during his mortal probation. We can’t be perfect or fully perfected in this life, but we can stretch ourselves towards it, through the grace of God.
End the lesson with a testimony of grace, and a reminder to forgive ourselves and others for being imperfect.