Survival through Faith
I was recently released from my calling in the primary (hooray!) and called to be a Relief Society teacher (double hooray!). In the past, whenever I’ve taught a Relief Society lesson, I’ve shared a recap here. I’ve enjoyed that, because it’s generated more discussion after the fact — and heaven knows I love a good religious discussion! — and because I think it’s nice to have an archive of lessons that I can look back on over time.
Today’s lesson was called Survival through Faith. It was based on three general conference talks: Faith–The Choice Is Yours by Richard C. Edgley; Our Very Survival by Kevin R. Duncan; and Never Leave Him by Neil L. Anderson.
First, I framed the discussion by asking this question: What are we surviving?
The answers started slowly. One sister suggested that we’re surviving separation from God. Another said that she’s surviving each day with her son as a stay-at-home mom. The answers began to pick up: we’re surviving school, work, marriage, mistakes, loneliness, parenthood, single parenthood, mental illness, physical illness, doubt, heartache, abuse, abandonment, financial crisis, trauma.
My next question was this: Left to our own devices, what are some of the things we do to survive?
The answers were just as varied: turn to drugs or addictions; eat; lie — to ourselves, to others, to God; behave passive-aggressively (or passively or aggressively, depending on your personality); put other people down.
I said, “On our own, I think we all agree that surviving can be pretty messy, can’t it? I hope that today we can explore what it means to survive through FAITH. What does that look like? How is it different?”
We turned to the scriptures. We read the passage in Luke 8:43-48 — the story of the woman with the issue of blood who risked everything to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe and was healed. Then we read the passage in Mark 9:20-27 — the story of the father who brings his possessed son to the Master and cries out with tears (in a verse that has come to be my personal scripture): “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief!”
I asked, Besides the faith of those healed, which was clearly very strong, can you spot a theme in these stories?
I got some lovely answers to this question. One woman at the back of the room observed, “They are the type of people that the rest of society would look down upon, shun, and judge.” Another said, “They were broken. They needed him.”
I replied, “Yes — they were desperate, weren’t they? They were desperate for Christ.” We talked about how sometimes, with our modern conveniences and “do-it-yourself” sensibilities, we don’t remember how desperately we need Him. But we do. And that’s part of survival through faith.
Next, we pulled out another of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 11:28-30:
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
“It seems that Christ is yearning for us to rely on him,” I said. But then I asked: As someone who is a “recovering perfectionist,” I’ve often read this scripture with some incredulity. After all, with all the things we have to “do” as members of the church, how on earth is the yoke of Jesus easy and His burden light?
One woman expressed that it was like a backpack — we add more knowledge and therefore responsibility as we go, but we are strengthened in the process. A couple more added that the burden might still be difficult, but it’s easier with Christ than without Him.
I shared a conversation I once had with a friend about a similar topic. She suggested that the things we’ve been asked to do aren’t so much marks on a “checklist” as they are tools or resources that can help us connect to God. Using personal revelation, we can decide with God which of the resources we’ll employ, and when. So perhaps one day it’s prayer and scripture study; another day it’s family history; another day it’s service or visiting teaching; another day it’s journal writing.
We read the following quote by James E. Faust:
And so, my dear granddaughters, it would seem that you cannot do all of these things well at the same time. You cannot eat all of the pastries in the baking shop at once. You will get a tummyache. You cannot be a 100 percent wife, a 100 percent mother, a 100 percent church worker, a 100 percent career person, and a 100 percent public service person at the same time.
Finally, we talked about two things that Elder Neil Andersen said cause bondage and prevent us from living a life of faith: offense and shame. There wasn’t much time, so we skimmed through offense somewhat (though I pointed out the scripture in Matthew 5:43-45, where Jesus teaches us to love our enemies).
“Shame is important for us to address,” I said, “because as women, I think it impacts us greatly.”
So my final question was this: How does shame keep us from surviving through faith?
One woman raised her hand and gave what I think was a profound response: “It separates us from the very source of our survival, because we hide from Him.”
I closed with the following thought:
“Sisters, I want to remind you that there is never ANYTHING we can do to make God disappointed in us. He might be sad when He sees us hurting ourselves or others; He might long to make us free from whatever is binding our souls; but to say that He is disappointed implies that He is surprised, somehow, by what we’ve done. He’s not surprised. He’s not astonished. He loves us anyway. Whether ours is a sin of pride, or anger, or lust, or addiction, He knows us and wants us. We are never unworthy of His love.”
Posted on January 24, 2011, in Lessons, Mormonism, Thoughts on God, Women and Happiness and tagged addiction, Christ, desperation, faith, lessons, love, perfectionism, personal revelation, relief society, shame, sin, survival, women. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
“Left to our own devices, what are some of the things we do to survive?”
I think it’s unfortunate that none of the answers to this question were things like “be proactive”, “fight for change”, “break the cycle”, “rise above”.
I am a survivor. And I do survive through faith. But left to my own devices, I fight, I sweat, I bleed, and I change. I don’t let myself turn to drugs or addictions or eating or sleeping or withdrawing. I survive. I get up in the morning and go about my day. I live my life because it’s the only one that I have. And I don’t do that because Jesus made me. I do it because that’s who Jesus would want me to be, I think.
Survival through faith is saying that you’ve been handed a crappy situation that you have to survive, and you have these talents that you have got to use to make the most of it. Faith in God that He will cover the rest, that He will let you do your best and cover the rest? That’s what the Mormon answer should be, right?
Don’t let women (or people) get weak. We are not weak. We change the world, and we only do it when we need to to survive. Faith is what gives us hope at the end of the day. Faith is what maybe motivates us to get up at the beginning. But we survive because we are women and because, really, we have no other choice.
Thanks for the comment, Katy.
I had a long chat with Conner about that very point and I wish I’d phrased it differently. Because I think you both raise some extremely good points.
Love you guys! 🙂
In thinking about this a bit more this morning…
I think I phrased the question as a reaction to what I’ve perceived as the typical Mormon idea of “do your best and God will make up the difference.” Given my history, this has been a tremendously destructive concept in my life — so much so that sometimes I swing to the other extreme in an attempt to get away from it.
If I could do it over, I would have asked, “What are some of the things we do — both destructive and positive — to survive?”
Someone would have brought up God, and that could have just as easily segued into the rest of the lesson without setting up a false dichotomy or giving a sense that people who don’t have God in their lives aren’t really surviving somehow or are all promiscuous crack addicts.
I should add, I don’t think that “do your best and God will make up the difference” is a necessarily destructive concept for everyone else. To me, it created hell on earth because I was never sure that I’d done my best, therefore I didn’t believe I had merited God’s help. I understand now that my experiences are unique and that most people don’t relate to it that way, but it’s still hard to toss around ideas or phrases that caused me so much pain.
I don’t know about “unique.” I think that your experiences are not at all uncommon, if not universal.