September Young Women Lesson: Why Is It Important To Be Honest?

Queen Esther by Minerva Teichert

I chose to do this lesson because I’m attracted to the idea of honesty and integrity. I admire people who are courageously honest and stand up for what they know to be right. That said, honesty is a bit of a gray concept sometimes. We’ve all been in situations where we have chosen to be less than honest to not hurt someone’s feelings. We’ve all chosen to strategically bite our tongues at times, even when we want desperately to honestly state our opinions, experiences, frustrations, etc. So this topic actually requires a good deal of nuance. Let’s explore some of that nuance in our lesson.

There are many dimensions in our lives which require honesty. Honesty to God, honesty to oneself, and honesty to others. (Maybe you can think of more.)

How can we be dishonest to God? Why would we be dishonest to God?

Read them Chieko Okazaki’s reflections on this from her book Sanctuary, p. 18-19. “The Lord doesn’t want just pretty prayers. He wants real prayers. Sometimes we think of those eloquent, gracious prayers in sacrament meeting and General Conference as the models for our personal prayers…. Heavenly Father wants to hear the scared and mad prayers just as much as he wants to hear the grateful prayers.” Prayer is the time for brutal honesty. Tell the girls to not be afraid to pray frankly about the most difficult parts of their lives.

Okazaki points us to Jesus’ example in the garden of Gethsemane, how he was honest about how hard the Atonement was going to be for him, how sad and scared he was. He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death,” and he prayed, “Father all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me.” (Mark 14:33-34, 36). How do you feel about Jesus acknowledging his pain and sorrow? Does it seem undignified to you, or does it make you feel closer to him?

Okazaki goes on to say, “Can we be equally honest in our prayers? Remember, we’re not going to shock our Father in Heaven. There isn’t anything we can say that he hasn’t already heard, nothing we can show him that he hasn’t already seen. We may shock ourselves a little when we start being honest, but I think some very profound revelations come to us in those moments.” (19)

I also think that being honest with God means being honest with ourselves. When we lay it all on the table to God, we are acknowledging to ourselves our fears, griefs, joys, and worries. We are not burying our heads in the sands and refusing to acknowledge problems.

In what situations is it difficult (for you or your friends) to be honest with others sometimes? Why?

Hopefully you can come up with a good sized list on the board here. I would put these things in categories on the board — maybe lying to be kind,  lying/cheating to benefit oneself, and being silent or dishonest because it’s just too tough to speak up. Then tackle these situations by category and discuss ways to approach these situations. Solicit ideas from the girls about ways to handle them.

Balancing honesty and kindness: 

This is a real tough one. Having a discussion with the girls about balancing honesty with kindness could be really fruitful. I think perhaps some role playing here could be good. Make up some situations in which finding that balance would be difficult, but lead them to possible solutions. For example, “Your good friend is really excited about going out with a boy that you have some doubts about. She asks you what you think about this development. What could you say to her that would be kind but honest?” I would suggest teaching them this pattern: affirm and then complicate. For example, the girl could say, “That is really exciting. He certainly has some great qualities — I really like the fact that he seems to be well-liked by all his friends. But are you at all worried about the fact that he doesn’t try very hard at school?” (Or something like that — you can probably make up scenarios that would better correspond to your girls’ life if you know them semi-well.)

I liked what Okazaki had to say about balancing truth and kindness. “Honesty isn’t a license to go out and beat up on people emotionally. … It’s sometimes hard to be honest and it’s sometimes hard to hear honest statements. It seems harsh and unloving to say things people don’t want to hear. But I think one key is to talk only about what’s in our own hearts. We don’t get to talk about what’s in someone else’s heart, what someone else is thinking, what someone else’s motives might be.”

I think this is great advice when discussing how to be honest yet kind when we are in conflict with someone. Sticking to I statements is one strategy I find particularly helpful.  E.g. “I want you to know how I felt when x happened.”

Consider reading some of Joseph’s story from the Old Testament. (Genesis 37) He told his brothers of his dreams which implied that they would bow to him someday. This upset them and even his father. Joseph was definitely telling the truth, so his problem wasn’t honesty. But perhaps his motivations behind this truth-telling were not the best. As Okazaki questions, “Was he telling this truth to help his family get along better and to establish a better relationship with his brothers?… Is it possible that Joseph was speaking the truth in pride?” (22) Okazaki points out that the ideal is to speak truth in love. Read Ephesians 4:15-16 and discuss. “Speaking the truth in love, may [you] grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto edifying of itself in love.”

Speaking up (being honest) when it’s hard

Retell Esther’s story from the Old Testament. (You can supplement this with this short Mormon message about Esther. It’s focused on the idea of courage, but I think Esther and one of the women featured are also great examples of honestly speaking up, even when the personal consequences might be dire.) At great personal risk to herself, she spoke up and asked the king to spare her people. In doing so, she honestly acknowledged her own ethnic background and opened herself up to being executed with the rest of the Jews.

Ask the girls if they’ve experienced situations when it was hard to speak up. Maybe a kid was being picked on in school, etc. How to handle it, what to do? Try to come up with some possible responses for those situations.

Mother Teresa once said, ““Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” How does being honest make you vulnerable? Depending on the maturity level of the girls, I might mention the fact that sometimes I have different opinions and approaches than other women in my Relief Society, and that those times when I raised my hand and spoke from my perspective took a lot of courage, but that I was always glad I did. In doing so, I helped create space for other women to be honest and vulnerable and admit that their lives weren’t perfect or that they didn’t fit into a cookie cutter Mormon mold.

End with this thought from Okazaki:

“A dual responsibility accompanies honesty. The first is the responsibility of courage. The second is the responsibility of charity. We must have the courage to speak the truth of our own experience, our own hearts, our own minds, and our own spirits. And then we must have the charity to listen to others share the truths of their own experience.” (24)






Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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8 Responses

  1. Em says:

    I really, really love this. I can’t wait to teach my girls this lesson and it is a good reminder for me too.

  2. charlene says:

    This is wonderful. I wish I’d had a lesson like this when I was a YW.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    I love this lesson! Too often, I feel like honesty lessons become a discussion of “Is it ok to tell a white lie to spare someone’s feelings?”

    I think the example of Esther is great. Exponent II has a fabulous essay in the Summer 2011 issue about Esther and extends your idea of Esther’s bravery to speak the truth–we, as a community and/or as people in positions of leadership, need to be ready to hear those uncomfortable truths.

  4. Rachel says:

    I love this too, and am particularly grateful for Chieko’s remarks on prayer. They seem so, so important for all of us to know and internalize. I also think they relate to some members tendency to not talk about hard things, out of some belief that ‘if they just had faith’ it would be okay, when there are real reasons to be struggling sometimes, and there are definitely real reasons to say un-pretty, but deeply honest prayers.

    I am also grateful for your personal example of occasionally speaking up in Relief Society, and how each time it takes courage. True honesty often is tied to bravery, I think. It for me is also what integrity is about. Thank you!

  5. I will be using this on Sunday. Thank you.

  6. Abbey says:

    Love the concepts brought up in this lesson! I was struggling to get to a deeper conversation of honesty and integrity and felt the ideas in this outline are perfect to do that.. and it will create some thinking in the minds of my girls. Thank you for sharing!!

  7. Aimee says:

    I just wanted to thank you for putting together such a thoughtful lesson outline for this subject. I’m teaching YW tomorrow and was hitting a wall with what I wanted to do with this topic. The idea of honest prayer feels especially relevant for my dear YW (and all of us!).

    And Okazaki–wow! I miss her.

    Thanks again!

  1. July 27, 2016

    […] honesty, and vulnerability would look like in our relationship with God in a September Young Women Lesson Plan on the importance of honesty, by engaging Chieko […]

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