Relief Society Lesson Plan: Living a Christ-Centered Life
Special Note about My LDS Lesson Recaps: Please feel free to use any of this material in preparation for your own LDS Relief Society lesson plan or sacrament meeting talk — no attribution required. 🙂
This lesson outline comes from a mini-workshop I taught this past Saturday at our stake women’s conference on Living a Christ-Centered Life. This is how it came to be: the stake relief society president caught me after church one Sunday and asked if I would be willing to teach something at the conference. I said yes. She said, “What topic interests you?”
I replied, “Well, Sister E., I’m happy to teach whatever you’d like, but you should know that I’m over the moon for Jesus.”
And thus this lesson was born.
I started with John 13:4-10 & 12-17, when Jesus washes the feet of His disciples. From the NIV (we read the KJV, of course, at the conference, but this is my blog so I get to mix it up a little):
…He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” […]
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
I asked: what about this experience strikes you?
Some ladies mentioned how incredible it is to think about Jesus being so humble and service-oriented. Others talked about His great love for His disciples. Another said it made her feel special and valued to know that if the God of Heaven and Earth would do that for them, He would do it for her, too. One woman, a good friend of mine, said she hadn’t really paid much attention to Peter’s reaction before — where he tells Jesus to wash all of him, and Jesus refuses — but she found it interesting.
We talked a bit about that, and took a couple of neat things away from it: (1) that Peter was a bit impulsive and emotionally-driven — maybe a bit more like the rest of us than we realize; and (2) that perhaps sometimes we try to complicate the gospel, and do more than what Jesus Himself says we need to.
Then I asked: is there anything about this that is uncomfortable or difficult?
A couple of women raised their hands and said that they could really relate to Peter’s first reaction, when he told Jesus not to wash him. “I just can’t imagine being washed by Jesus in that way,” one said. “I know it’s symbolic of the atonement, but sometimes I feel so inadequate and unworthy.”
I replied, “Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re not worthy. Maybe that’s why we need Him to wash us in the first place.”
I wrote two words on the board:
Grace: getting what you don’t deserve
Mercy: NOT getting what you do deserve
We talked about how this is the essence of what God gives us, every day.
We turned back to the scriptures, this time to Matthew 5:3…
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I pointed out a couple of things I’ve learned lately in regard to the language used in this Beatitude. First, that the word blessed would probably be more accurately translated as happy. So while “blessed” implies a gift coming from an external source, “happy” implies a state of being that radiates from within — so that what Jesus is talking about, here, is a posture of the heart.
Second, that the word translated as “poor” means much more than a temporary lack of employment, or even a permanent inability to work. It refers to a state of utter destitution, one in which you are entirely dependent upon others for your very survival, day-in and day-out.
“On face value, what Jesus is teaching doesn’t make much sense,” I said, and paraphrased the scripture according to the new definitions: “‘Happy are we when we are utterly destitute in our spirits.’ What on earth can He mean by that?”
Some women talked about the relief they’ve felt when they’ve realized that they don’t have to do it alone, that it’s not all on their shoulders. Others said that they didn’t fully understand it, but they knew that in those rare moments when they really were living as if they were completely dependent on Christ, they were truly happy.
I wrote the word expectations on the board and asked, “What are our expectations like when we’re living from a place of utter destitution?”
One woman responded: “Low.”
“Exactly,” I said. “And how do we respond when we receive something when we’re in that place, something that we don’t feel ‘entitled to’ or like we ‘deserve?'”
“There’s power in that, isn’t there?”
(I want to take a second here and explain that “utter destitution” has nothing to do with a sense of worthlessness or self-loathing; quite the contrary, poverty of spirit instills a deep sense of gratitude and wonder and helps you understand that you are important, loved, and infinitely valuable. I will not deny that this is paradoxical and challenging — but so, I would argue, is all profound truth.)
A friend from my ward raised her hand and shared a story of a woman she knew on her mission in Latin America. This woman was extremely destitute, a poverty that most of us simply can’t relate to or haven’t even seen, unless we’ve spent time in the third world. And yet, this woman would spend her entire week’s worth of wages to feed her neighbors, branch members, and the missionaries (who certainly didn’t need it). She had two children and three sets of utensils — one for each of member of her family. When guests came over, the guests would eat with the utensils, while she and her family ate with their fingers or the one wooden spoon she used to cook the meal. This touched my friend, and so she and her companion decided they’d like to use some of their money to buy the woman a proper dinner set.
When the missionaries shared their plans with another member of the branch, the member just laughed. “Don’t do it,” they were warned. “She’ll just give them away.” You see, this woman had three members of her household, and so she knew that she only needed three dinner sets. Whenever she received gifts — and she did receive them — she donated them to someone who “really needed them.” She had her daily bread, and that was enough for her.
We talked about Mary and Martha, how Martha was busy cooking and cleaning, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. When Martha complained to Jesus about it, Jesus replied, in a voice I can only imagine was tender and kind, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
“One thing is needful,” I said. “What is that One Thing?”
“Christ,” said a woman from the third row.
I said that the gospel is NOT about moral correctness. (“Hang with me,” I added, “because I’m not saying that morality is unimportant.”) But moral correctness is NOT the essence of the gospel. The essence of the gospel is about being changed from within, becoming a new creature in Christ. And when you are changed — when the tree becomes good — then the fruit inevitably follows suit.
I asked if it’s possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons. The sisters replied that of course it was. We looked at Matthew 23:25-26…
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
A woman raised her hand, and said, very passionately, “All throughout this lesson I just keep thinking about Alma the Younger. And how the big turning point came when he was in that coma, and he gave his heart to Christ, and in that moment he was forgiven and healed.”
I added, “And what became of him? What happened as a result of that inner transformation? What kind of good works did Alma accomplish because of that experience?”
I reminded them that Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets boiled down to two things: love of God and love of others. And that the commandments aren’t a checklist of things we have to do. They are God’s way of teaching us how to lead a loving life. And you can’t separate them: you can’t love God without loving others, and the best way to love others is to love God first. In the hour previous, we’d had a great lesson on sexuality. So I referenced that lesson and added: “Fornication and adultery aren’t bad because they’re sins. They’re sins because they’re unloving.”
Finally, I asked this question: so if all of this boils down to a change of heart, how do we change it?
And a woman near the back, with tears in her eyes, said: “We can’t.”
I could have kissed her.
We turned to Ezekiel 36:26-27:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
“God says He will put the new heart in us; He will remove the heart of stone. He will move us to keep the commandments. And doesn’t that remind us how utterly destitute we really are — how dependent we are on Him — and yet how special, and valued, and full of worth, all at the same time?”
I closed the lesson as follows: “Sisters, this is really hard stuff for me, because I’m a recovering Pharisee. How I wish the gospel were about checklists — I’m good at checklists! But it’s not. It’s about a change of heart. It’s about becoming something new in Christ. It’s about living out the life God breathes into us. And I can tell you, as someone who has done her share of lousy things, as someone who is deeply flawed, that it works; that His grace and mercy are real; that this New Life really exists.
“It does not matter who you are. It does not matter what you’ve done or haven’t done, what you struggle with, where your pain lies. He is enough for you. And that, to me, is the essence of living a Christ-centered life.”
Posted on March 8, 2011, in Lessons, Mormonism, Personal, Thoughts on God and tagged Christ, grace, humility, jesus, lds lesson, lds lesson plan, living a christ-centered life, martha, mary, mercy, mormon, Mormonism, Pharisees, poor in spirit, relief society lesson plan, sacrament meeting, sacrament meeting talk, stake women's conference. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.