Do You See Her?
I gave a lesson in Relief Society today on Luke 7:36-51, the story of the sinful woman who anoints Christ and washes His feet in her tears. I titled the lesson “Do You See Her?”
I started out by asking the sisters to imagine a woman whom Christ approves of, a woman who is acceptable to Him. Then I asked them for the characteristics of such a woman, and I listed them on the board. I got answers like:
We turned to the scriptures. I took the story slowly, bit by bit, including the parable of the forgiving creditor, and the culmination when the Savior tells the woman that her faith has saved her.
I asked the sisters: “What do you think it means to have saving faith?”
I got some of the usual answers: it means enduring to the end when the going gets tough, it means always abounding in good works. I tried to gently affirm the good intentions behind the answers while moving the discussion away from such conclusions.
I also got some profound answers:
“It means knowing who Christ is and what He has done for me.”
“It means believing in His power to forgive and save.”
One sister raised her hand and said, “I think as women, so often, we say we believe in Christ, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t forgive ourselves–and we don’t forgive ourselves because we don’t really believe He can heal us.”
We talked about why that is for a while and came up with some interesting answers, from Satan’s lies to a lack of self-respect.
Then I asked, “What is the result of saving faith?” They were kind of stumped here, so we turned back to the scriptures, where the Savior says of the sinful woman, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.”
“So the fruit of salvation,” I said, “is love.”
I turned back to the board where the list of “ideal qualities” remained. And I made a distinction between saving faith and the fruits of salvation. I told them that all the wonderful qualities they had listed earlier were not requirements for salvation, but the result of salvation.
Overall, I believe it went well. But I can’t help feeling empty now that it’s done. I worked on this lesson for weeks, wondering how best to present this beautiful story. Now that it’s over, I wonder how it was received. I wonder to what extent I was preaching to the choir. I wonder to what extent people are going home right now to complain to their husbands. I wonder to what extent who, if anyone, got something out of it.
Mostly, I think I feel empty because while I believe deeply in the things I taught, I wonder to what extent I was “out of line” for teaching it. I’ve never heard the concepts I expressed today taught in church (at least the way I taught them). A sense of security in your salvation, the idea that your good works are a fruit and not a cause…I’ve never seen them thus articulated in a manual. Never heard them addressed in a General Conference talk. Of course, it’s in the scriptures, loud and clear–but it falls beyond what is most frequently emphasized in church.
And so I wonder, as a teacher in the church, whether my duty is to teach what’s on my heart…or what’s in the manual?*
*Note that I use the phrase “in the manual” as a metaphor. As a counselor in the Relief Society presidency I am supposed to pick my own topic when I teach. I just wonder whether my topic would line up with the “correlated” teachings of the church, and if I overstepped my bounds teaching something that would not be included (if indeed it wouldn’t be).