Relief Society Lesson Plan: The Joy of Unselfish Service by Cristina B. Franco

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I have been reluctant to post this lesson help because I have chosen President Cristina B. Franco’s talk at the last General Conference called, “The Joy of Unselfish Service” and I begin by turning the concept of selfishness on its head. When I first read the title I thought, “I can’t think of a single woman who I know well in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints giving service for a selfish purpose.”

“Misguided?” Perhaps…

I believe that as sisters in Zion, we are coming from a place of good intentions and work hard to eschew selfishness and pride. However, at this point in my life, I need more help in making sure I take care of myself before I consider taking care of others. I am learning that this is not selfish or prideful. The time-worn adage about putting on your oxygen mask before putting others’ on in an airplane applies here.**

President Franco says in her talk, “Unfortunately…we live in a selfish world where people constantly ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ instead of asking, ‘Whom can I help today?’ or ‘How can I better serve the Lord in my calling?’ or ‘Am I giving my all to the Lord?'”

I don’t think anyone intends for this to happen. But, it is worth thinking these emotions may arise inadvertently. Here are some of my thoughts (questions for the class are written in italics):

Perfectly Hidden Depression

I want to talk about this first, admittingly, because this is something I have struggled with my whole life. Two years ago, I walked into my marriage therapist’s office after a long conversation with my husband. We agreed that I was battling depression again. We told our therapist, and she said, “Are you sure?”

At the time, it was crushing. It had taken everything I had to admit that I was going downhill. Looking back now, I can see why it was confusing for her. I had three children in school, two callings in Church, a full-time job that had me covering six states, a “hobby” of Mormon feminism, and a rich life full of friends. I should have felt so much joy and so fulfilled. I got up to run at 5:30 am and powered through my day, not just showering (which would become a major accomplishment in 2017), but flying to other states, giving presentations, managing many things that were lovely and of good report.

Until I crashed. My clinical depression is a type that I think might be common for Mormon women (I’d love to hear your thoughts whether you agree or disagree), which is why I bring it up here. Dr. Margaret Rutherford calls this, “Perfectly Hidden Depression (PHD),” and defines it here, “Doing all things to the best of your ability, all the time, every day. Pushing yourself to the limit. Putting others before yourself, always, believing that a focus on self is selfish. Living very deliberately, getting things done, accomplishing the seemingly impossible.”

A few characteristics of PHD include characteristics we prize as a culture in the Church for women, like a heightened sense of responsibility, a strong belief in counting our blessings, and an intense focus on tasks and using the accomplishment of those tasks to feel valuable.

Are these characteristics inherently problematic? How can they be helpful and motivating?
How can they be problematic when relating to service?
Have you struggled with this either at the extreme level of depression or just in terms of those bad days when we all have with feelings like these?
How do you take care of yourself so you can take care of others when this happens?

Helping the Time Sinks or Service with a Smile

The reality is that service isn’t always going to be for those we love. Sometimes, we serve, and we learn to love. Many of us have a “should-I-laugh-or-cry” story of visiting teaching. Mine was visiting a lovely and very mentally-ill sister in the psychiatric ward after a long night with the police.

I believe, when we are mentally healthy and in a good position to assist, these experiences truly build the Kingdom of God. Heather writes about her experience in this post, “Service with a Smile.” This post would be a great story to tell to begin a frank conversation about loving and giving service to the difficult-to-love.

“It’s at this point that I start to get really resentful of Sister Leech. This is not a friend in need, this is a nut job slob using me just like she uses everybody in her path. ‘Why on earth am I doing this?’ I asked myself. Honestly, I know that if I hadn’t volunteered, some other, most likely kinder person would have been roped in. I imagined her visiting teacher who is so good to her, having to leave her 4 kids to come over and do this. I thought of all the woman in all the wards who had served this woman and thought, ‘I’m taking one for the Relief Society.’ Okay. I can live with that.”

Heather’s post continues in this vein, and I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it melds perfectly with President Franco quoting President Monson in her talk, “In reality, you can never love the Lord until you serve Him by serving His people.”

Do you have a similar story?
How did you learn and grow?

The “Right” Kind of Service

I love the new ministry program. I love the idea of expanding how we love and serve each other. Sometimes, we have a preconceived definition of what service “should” look like and worry about how we appear if we do something other than bringing a meal or cleaning a yard. It is important to not judge ourselves or other people and how we feel inspired to minister or give service.

April Young Bennett writes about that in this post, “You Don’t Do Any Service.”  She lists some assumption that we sometimes make about service.

  • Service benefits people outside your own household. Serving your own family doesn’t count.
  • Service is unpaid. No matter how much good I am doing for my community and the universe at large at my workplace, that’s not service.
  • Service is always time-consuming, usually arduous and probably unpleasant.
  • Although service may be unpleasant, giving service is spiritually fulfilling and necessary to be happy.

How do these assumptions limit our ability to serve?
How can they contribute to consciously or unconsciously feeling selfish or resentful when we give service?

Spunky provides an excellent and unconventional example of giving service in an old Visiting Teaching lesson post, “Special Needs and Service Rendered.” She shows the tenets we have been taught as we prepare for ministry when she writes, “Service does not need to be political or perfect; it just needs to be service … you never know what small acts really make all the world of difference to others. So give yourself credit for those little things, because every act of service is sacred and meets a special need. And don’t let anyone take the spirit from you, no matter their title.”

President Franco adds to the beauty of this message here, “What will matter is that we came with a desire to serve, that we noticed those to whom we minister and greeted them joyfully, and that we introduced ourselves to those sharing our row of folding chairs—reaching out with friendship even though we aren’t assigned to minister to them. And it will certainly matter that we do all that we do with the special ingredient of service coupled with love and sacrifice.”

Christ as Our Example

Always, we can turn to the Savior as our guide for how to give service. Em’s Young Women’s lesson, “How Can I Be More Christlike in My Service to Others” is excellent at illustrating this, particularly her section focusing on how Christ served everyone. She provides key examples that can help your class think of those who we can serve today.

The Atonement is the ultimate example of his universal and collective act of service. However, it is also easy to pull examples of the diversity of the people he served.

As you read examples, write categories on the board and brainstorm modern equivalents the girls might encounter, and how they might serve.

These included:

  • Outcasts – The woman taken in adultery or lepers. (John 8:3) (Luke 17:12-16)
    • Are there fellow students at school who are not included? Who might face rejection or persecution?
  • Powerful people – Jesus healed the servant of the centurion. (Matt 8:5-13)
    • How can girls be of service to authority figures?
  • His family – He turned water into wine as a service to his mother (John 2:1-11)
    • How can you serve your family members?
  • His friends – He saved Peter from drowning (Matt 14:22-33)
  • Young people – Jesus healed the boy whose seizures caused him to fall into the fire and the water. (Mark 9:23)
  • Older people – Most of his miracles were performed to help adults.
  • People with obvious problems – Lepers had visible legions and were also required to alert others to their presence. (Luke 17:12-16)
  • People whose problems were not obvious – Jesus knew the heart and history of the woman at the well (John 4)

Who are we not serving?
How can we serve them without hurting them or ourselves?

Christ is perfect and knows how to show love and care that we may always have perfectly. Sometimes, service given with the wrong intention can be more harmful than no service at all.

Helping without Hurting

During my prolonged depressive episode, my family and I were the recipients of the most beautiful and heartfelt service. We also were the recipients of service that hurt. We may have been the recipients of service that hurt the giver.

How do we give service that enriches both the giver and the recipient?
Why is it important that the service enriches both?
How have you learned how to do this?

“Seven Things to Remember When You are Helping Others” is a post that I rely on since I found it as I look at giving service. Consider going over these seven points in class and expanding the reasoning behind them as a way to close the lesson.

  1. Help within your means
  2. Help at the right time and context
  3. How you help other matters
  4. Realize that sometimes people don’t need to be helped
  5. Examine your intention of helping
  6. There are many ways to help others
  7. Leave your expectations at the door

We are often so focused on the Who and How of ministering and serving, but I think the key to giving service unselfishly is examining my intention in the Why of my actions. I love how President Franco ends her talk with this, “I have come to know that we don’t have to make a chocolate cake to be a successful or dedicated Primary teacher, because it was not about the cake. It was the love behind the action.”

End with your testimony.

**However, approaching the lesson in this way may not meet your class’ needs. If, after prayerful consideration and thought, this doesn’t feel like a good approach to you, we have a wealth of excellent lesson helps in our Relief Society archive, including, this lesson by Caroline based the President Gordon Hinckley manual lesson, “Losing Ourselves in the Service of Others.”


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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3 Responses

  1. Ari says:

    You know, as I read this wonderful lesson plan, it occurs to me that most of the service we give is not a gift freely given. In a lot of ways, the service we give is given because we know we are not supposed to say no. We give out of guilt. We give because of expectations. We give because it’s the cultural norm, and because if we say no, we are “selfish.” When I view it that way, it makes me think that our service isn’t “given;” it’s coerced.

  2. Wonderful lesson plan, Emily! I love how you’ve pulled in so many thoughts about service from our own archives, where so many women have expressed thoughts about service.

  3. Heather says:

    Awesome lesson

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