Relief Society Lesson 23: “How Good and How Pleasant It Is … to Dwell Together in Unity”
Ah! This is one of my favorite lessons to give! A chance for people to tell happy, uplifting stories that will mean more than any doctrinal insights I could provide. I’d just keep asking people to share their stories, to brainstorm about how to make this unity happen. (If your class isn’t into sharing stories, I’ve listed some additional places I think has good stories. Please share your’s in the comment field.)
But, even as we get to revel in the happy stories, I would push them to consider what unity looks like. Is unity when we all agree about the “right” doctrine, direction of the Church, even who is in what callings? Later in this lesson, President Smith talks about evil workers who will destroy unity. Do we sometimes decide people are upsetting unity because they don’t share our opinions?
The rest of the text in regular font is directly from the manual, the italics are my comments and questions.
I love the opening story about the unifying force of building the Kirtland temple. I would open with this.
Have you been involved in a Church project that brought about this kind of unity?
The efforts of the Kirtland Saints were typical of the unity, sacrifice, and devotion that would make it possible for the Lord’s purposes to be fulfilled in the years to come. This was one of many times when the Saints would pull together, heeding the admonition of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together.”6
What do you think led the Saints to be so unified? Could this be replicated? Does it have to be a big, grand movement?
“We are glad indeed to know that there is such a spirit of union existing throughout the churches, at home and abroad, on this continent, as well as on the islands of the sea; for by this principle, and by a concentration of action, shall we be able to carry into effect the purposes of our God.”7
I liked Chieko Okazaki’s “Baskets and Bottles” and think there are some good parts that can help spur the above discussion.
“We feel at this time to tender to all, old and young, both in the Church and out of it, our unfeigned thanks for their unprecedented liberality, kindness, diligence, and obedience, which they have so opportunely manifested on the present occasion. Not that we are personally or individually benefitted in a pecuniary point of view, but when the brethren, as in this instance, show a unity of purpose and design, and all put their shoulder to the wheel, our care, labor, toil and anxiety are materially diminished, our yoke is made easy and our burden is light [see Matthew 11:30].”8
I think that Visiting Teaching is one way we can make each other’s burdens lighter and bring about unity. Do you have experiences where doing Visiting Teaching has brought about unity with the people you visit teach or those who visit teach you?“The work in which we are unitedly engaged is one of no ordinary kind. The enemies we have to contend against are subtle and well skilled in maneuvering; it behooves us to be on the alert to concentrate our energies, and that the best feelings should exist in our midst; and then, by the help of the Almighty, we shall go on from victory to victory, and from conquest to conquest; our evil passions will be subdued, our prejudices depart; we shall find no room in our bosoms for hatred; vice will hide its deformed head, and we shall stand approved in the sight of heaven, and be acknowledged the sons of God.
What enemies do you see that can upset the unity we are striving for? What can we do to guard against these enemies?
“We would say to the Saints that come here [to Nauvoo], we have laid the foundation for the gathering of God’s people to this place, and [we] expect that when the Saints do come, they will be under the counsel that God has appointed. … We are trying here to gird up our loins, and purge from our midst the workers of iniquity; and we hope that when our brethren arrive from abroad, they will assist us to roll forth this good work, and to accomplish this great design, that ‘Zion may be built up in righteousness; and all nations flock to her standard;’ that as God’s people, under His direction, and obedient to His law, we may grow up in righteousness and truth; that when His purposes shall be accomplished, we may receive an inheritance among those that are sanctified.”11
(tread carefully here, but I think this is the important part of the lesson): How can we be sure that we are “purging workers of iniquity?” Sometimes, we won’t be unified in our voices? What then? How can we still work together to bring about God’s purpose?
“We, all of us, have our friends, our connections, our families and associations; and we find that the ties of friendship … and brotherhood have indissolubly united us together with a thousand endearing associations; we have embraced the one common faith, even that ‘which was once delivered to the saints.’ [Jude 1:3.] We have been privileged with hearing the everlasting gospel, which has been delivered unto us by the spirit of prophecy, by the opening of the heavens, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the ministering of angels, and by the power of God. … A kindred sympathy runs through the whole body, even the body of Christ, which, according to Paul’s statement, is his church; and no one part of the body can be injured without the other parts feeling the pain, for says Paul, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member rejoice all the rest are honored with it [see 1 Corinthians 12:12–27].”12
Ah, the body of Christ! If you’ve read our Exponent blog, you may notice this is one of my favorite themes. And, I would expand this quote by looking at the scripture cited at the end. Here, we are reminded that we are all unified as members of the body of Christ, and yet, we all have different purposes.
“The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always flow from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise. The history of all past ages abundantly attests this fact. …
“We would wish the Saints to understand that, when they come here, they must not expect perfection, or that all will be harmony, peace, and love; if they indulge these ideas, they will undoubtedly be deceived, for here there are persons, not only from different states, but from different nations, who, although they feel a great attachment to the cause of truth, have their prejudices of education, and, consequently, it requires some time before these things can be overcome. Again, there are many that creep in unawares, and endeavor to sow discord, strife, and animosity in our midst, and by so doing, bring evil upon the Saints. … Therefore, let those who come up to this place be determined to keep the commandments of God, and not be discouraged by those things we have enumerated, and then they will be prospered—the intelligence of heaven will be communicated to them, and they will, eventually, see eye to eye, and rejoice in the full fruition of that glory which is reserved for the righteous.
How can we show love when we feel like unity is threatened? What can we do in these cases? How have you dealt with these in the past?
Henry B. Eyring’s “Our Hearts Knit as One” I love this talk!
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Emma Lou Thayne’s All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir Emma Lou and Laurel wrote much of this book as a column in Exponent II. I found so many good little stories about unity here (note: must reread this book!), but I couldn’t find one short enough to include here. If you can get your hands on this book, there are some gems.
Chieko N. Okazaki’s Aloha! Great sections in here about unity but again, not quite short enough to include here. I thought she had another talk besides the one I referenced above about unity, but I couldn’t find it on lds.org.
Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher’s Women of Covenant: the Story of Relief Society if you’d like some historical stories about how the Relief Society worked towards unity, this is the place to look!