I’m teaching this Sunday for the first time in a year and a half. I had almost forgotten how the YW manuals work. I’m doing one of the lessons at the end that I didn’t know anyone actually did in their wards! “Optimism.”
When I first looked through it, I thought: “no scriptures. No engagement with conference talks. Lots of stuff they already know – telling them ‘it’s good to be happy and think positive’ is no surprise. We didn’t need to come to church to hear this!”
So are manuals for teaching doctrine and engaging scripture and apostles, or for giving good advice?
Am I being proud in wanting my idea of a Sunday lesson?
I would love to have a conversation with a young woman about being positive or any other good-advice thing (picking a college to go to, or whatever) – but is this really the kind of meat we’re providing for a Sunday lesson???
But then, upon a second review, I did find ONE scripture referenced (and two, short snippets from past apostles, that didn’t shine light on the subject but worked as great one-line summaries of the idea already developed). The one scripture reads:
Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another. (D&C 90:24)
And I say to myself “Ooooooh, that’s what they were getting at. That’s something I could teach.”
And I remember why I want to deal with something besides nice advice. The scriptures teach truth, from God! And that is something the Holy Ghost can testify to. We are commanded to teach with the Spirit – and if it’s not that way then it is not of God (D&C 50). But the Spirit comes when truth has been spoken, when we testify of God and Christ then the Spirit comes as witness that what has been spoken is true. Can that really happen with poems from Emily Dickinson and examples about moving? These are all fine as minor illustrations, but there’s got to be some real truth in there first. Where’s the meat in this? Poems and advice are like the rolls or corn in a meal, but where’s the main course?
Elder Holland says that if we feed them, they will come – that people couldn’t be kept away! I like the picture he creates. With him, I am “just simple enough” to believe that this is the foundation of our work.
*Click this link to see part of Elder Holland’s talk:
This is from a talk titled “A Teacher Come From God”
In all of this we must remember that the Lord has never given more emphatic counsel to the Church than that we are to teach the gospel “by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.”
Do we teach the gospel “by the Spirit of truth?” He has inquired. Or do we teach it “some other way? And if it be by some other way,” He warns, “it is not of God.” 13 In language echoing other commandments, He has said, “If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” 14
No eternal learning can take place without that quickening of the Spirit from heaven. So, parents, teachers, and leaders, we must face our tasks the way Moses faced the promised land. Knowing he could not succeed any other way, Moses said to Jehovah, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.” 15
That is what our members really want when they gather in a meeting or come into a classroom anyway. Most people don’t come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can. We can only do that if we ourselves are striving to know God, if we ourselves are continually seeking the light of His Only Begotten Son. Then, if our hearts are right, if we are as clean as we can be, if we have prayed and wept and prepared and worried until we don’t know what more we can do, God can say to us as He did to Alma and the sons of Mosiah: “Lift up thy head and rejoice. … I will give unto you success.” 16
We do have a legitimate worry about the new member, wanting each one to stay with us and enjoy the full blessings of the Church. I am just simple enough to think that if we continue to teach them—with the same Christlike spirit, conviction, doctrine, and personal interest the missionaries have shown them—new converts will not only stay with us but, quite literally, could not be kept away. The need for continuing such solid teaching is obvious. In times like ours we all need what Mormon called “the virtue of the word of God” because, he said, it “had [a] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them.” 17 When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied. 18 During a severe winter several years ago, President Boyd K. Packer noted that a goodly number of deer had died of starvation while their stomachs were full of hay. In an honest effort to assist, agencies had supplied the superficial when the substantial was what had been needed. Regrettably they had fed the deer but they had not nourished them.
I love what President J. Reuben Clark said of our youth well over a half century ago. The same thing can be said of new members. “[They] are hungry for the things of the spirit,” he said; “they are eager to learn the Gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted. …
“… You do not have to sneak up behind [them] and whisper religion in [their] ears; … you can bring these truths [out] openly.” 19