Relief Society Lesson: The Power of Sustaining Faith by President Henry B. Eyring

President Eyring’s talk is found here.

Photo by Snappy Shutters on Unsplash

by Paula (Paula can be found on Facebook on her page, The Gospel According to Paula, and on Instagram @ @thegospelaccordingtoPaula

***Teaching Tip/Author Commentary: Depending on your ward, this could end up being a traditional discussion about sustaining our leaders and following the prophet OR it could be a lesson full of nuance and new ideas. It really depends on your ward.

Prepare for both. This lesson plan takes the concept of sustaining in a different direction.***

Write the word TRUST on the board.

Class Discussion: What does “trust” mean to you as it relates to your relationships? What does it mean when you say you “trust” the Church leaders?

Have members of the class read these quotes:

  1. “When you accepted a missionary’s challenge to pray to know that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, you had the faith to sustain a servant of the Lord. When you accepted the invitation to be baptized, you sustained a humble servant of God.”
  • “When you let someone place hands on your head and say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” you sustained him as a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood.”
  • “Since that day, you have, by serving faithfully, sustained each person who has conferred the priesthood upon you and each who has ordained you to an office in that priesthood.”

***Author Commentary: These examples seem to show a clear definition of sustaining. You do what they ask. When the missionary tells you to read the BoM, you do it. However, I prefer to look at sustaining someone as being willing to interact with them in that particular ROLE.

I’m sustaining someone as a Priesthood holder when I ask them for a blessing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I OBEY them, it just means I understand and uphold the role they have.

Roles change as people grow, as do callings (I sustain my RS president as such when she serves in that role. I don’t sustain them after they are released). My father’s role in my life and my sustaining of him as a father is different as a child than it is as an adult. And my sustaining of him as a father would be different if he were a goof father as opposed to an abusive one.

I think looking at sustaining people as sustaining them in certain roles, and interacting with them in those roles, gives a lot more freedom to the word sustain. It’s less about obeying and more about supporting them and seeing them as having a certain kind of stewardship.***

Class Discussion: What are some ways you sustained your leaders as a child? How did your progression along the covenant path show trust? Do you think trust (or obedience) is a less developed form of sustaining leaders? Why or why not?

*** Teaching tip: I would have a personal experience and response ready to share for these questions, just in case people can’t think of a response. Sometimes if I share an experience or my thoughts, people find it easier to respond to the question because they can piggyback off my thoughts.***

Read the following quote:

  1. “Early in your priesthood experience, each sustaining was a simple event of trusting a servant of God. Now, many of you have moved up to a place where to sustain requires more.”

Pres. Eyring states that trusting is the beginning of a person’s experience as one who sustains. Eventually we need to grow into new understandings that require more from us.

Class Discussion: What did sustaining the prophet and/or brethren look like to you as a child? How has it evolved over the years?

***Author Commentary: When I think of trusting being a form of sustaining, I think of the old adage that the prophet can’t lead the church astray. Sustaining meant trusting that the prophet. It also meant that the Brethren take the correct actions to build the kingdom—and this meant they were never wrong.***

Have a class member read the following quote:

“These are imperfect human beings, as are you. Keeping your promises will take unshakable faith that the Lord called them.”

What Pres. Eyring seems to be saying here is that eventually we have to move into a more nuanced way to sustain our leaders. Eventually, something they do will hurt us or someone we love.

***Author Commentary: I tend to be super upfront when teaching about my beliefs and non-beliefs, so at this point I would mention how Oaks talks about gender tend to make me feel hopeless, like there’s no point in living. It’s very difficult for me.***

Class Discussion: Have you felt called to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of sustain? How have the Brethren’s action shaken your faith?

According to the dictionary, the word sustain means to strengthen mentally or physically.

Class Discussion: Can you strengthen and sustain someone without explicitly following their counsel? Can you sustain someone by setting a boundary?

Have someone read the following questions posed by Eyring:

1. Have I thought or spoken of human weakness in the people I have pledged to sustain?

2. Have I looked for evidence that the Lord is leading them?

3. Have I conscientiously and loyally followed their leadership?

4. Have I spoken about the evidence I can see that they are God’s servants?

5. Do I pray for them regularly by name and with feelings of love?

Class Discussion: How do these questions make you feel?

***Author Commentary: I’m not sure what will come of this discussion, but it will be important that you let the class lead.

However, I think power is an important thing to consider when discussing sustaining leaders, because they automatically have power over the person doing the sustaining by virtue of having a calling.

Even if the example of the father, there is a power differential. The boy is more vulnerable than his father. The boy depends on his father for a place to live, food on the table, etc. He is basically forced to sustain his father as his father in order to not die. In order to be safe in his home, he essentially has to learn to empathize with and take on his father’s perspective. Too much rebellion or a lack of sustaining means death.

It IS beneficial to look outside ourselves and see the struggles of those in power, but very often, the most marginalized already know the mentality of the people in power. It’s been taught to them.

Too often I’ve been asked to imagine what a Bishop is going through, or how hard it must be to lead the church, but there isn’t much reciprocal empathy. They aren’t willing to give up their power and be vulnerable with me.

I don’t doubt that being in a leadership position (or being a parent) can increase one’s sense of vulnerability. But rather than looking inward in order to heal whatever that vulnerability is being exposed, we simply ask others, usually the marginalized, to be empathetic to our situation. This isn’t always the best approach.

I don’t have trouble with general encouragement and positive words in the household. Parents do need encouragement.

But as an individual in power, I would want to examine whether my child feels the need to be an emotional caretaker of me, or whether he’s saying such words in order to “qualify” for “blessings.” I want to watch out and see whether there is baggage attached to the words. Is my child saying those words to me in order to stay safe and survive in my household? Is he/she saying those words in order to earn blessings from God or to be seen as a good person?***

***Teaching Tip: Here, I would do a complete shift into a new discussion with no segue at all. I wouldn’t want any preconceived notions in their response to this question. I might even ask these question at the beginning of the class and circle back around to it at the end.***

Class Discussion: When you follow someone on social media, what does that mean to you?

***Author Commentary: I asked these questions on my Instagram and I received the following responses:

  • If I know them, it’s to keep in touch with them and know what’s going on in their lives.
  • If I don’t know them, it’s because I find their content inspiring.
  • I follow people I like or I am intrigued by what they publish.
  • I follow people to stay caught up on what’s happening to them. Following means I’m interested by their lives and want their perspective in mind.
  • Following someone means you are interested in what they have to say.***

Oftentimes we see sustaining someone, like sustaining President Nelson, as meaning “following the prophet.” And we view following as “obeying.” Many times in my life I’ve been accused of not “following the prophet” when in actuality, I just wasn’t obeying.

Class Discussion: Would holding “following the prophet” more lightly be beneficial for us?

If we saw “following the prophet” in a similar way to “following” someone on social media, would that be sustaining enough? Would that support the prophet in his role while also returning our agency to us?

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