Church Thoughts

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quick note: The main bent of this blog is still to document and analyze my daily style choices, and if that's why you're here, I'm so glad. Seeing as how SK{ru}SH is also my personal blog, I will touch on other topics from time to time. These "other topics" might include family, religion, politics, pretty much whatever's on my mind. Feel free to read along or skip ahead to a post that holds your interest. No hurt feelings, either way.

My husband and I were asked about six months ago to team-teach a Sunday School class in our congregation, and we're assigned to fulfill that calling every other week. While I was definitely excited about this opportunity when it was first extended to us, I soon became very nervous for each lesson that we presented, and that was an honest shock! The chance to teach, especially to teach from a spiritual place in myself, remains truly awesome, in my opinion, but I couldn't seem to shake the feeling that I was messing up every time I stood and spoke to the group of people in front of me. This stress made every other Sunday mildly nightmarish.

Today was our "every other week," and for the first time, I felt really good about my teaching abilities. This meant I didn't have to whine or cry to my husband afterward! This meant I didn't have to relive the lesson in my head and kick myself over every perceived mistake! GLORY-HALLELUJAH!!!

A big part of today's success came from the material in the lesson itself, which covered Matthew 2/Luke 2 in the New Testament and addressed the time from Jesus's birth to his early youth. I felt really comfortable and connected with the lesson's points. Another great advantage was that the class members, for whatever reasons, got involved and gave plenty of comments from their personal feelings/experiences. Speaking as both a teacher and a class member, that kind of feedback really makes all the difference in terms of each participant walking away with something to ponder on and grow from, so I was incredibly happy to get this kind of response.

Anyhow, here's what I'm thinking now: I come away from many Sunday church meetings with some kind of new insight or question, and most often, those insights/questions get soggy and forgotten by the time I eat Monday morning's breakfast. I'd rather document them and use that documentation for further growth or, at the very least, for a memory marker.


In Luke 2, there are two examples of how to respond to sacred experiences -- well, more than two examples are found there, but there were two in particular that stood out to me.

In verse 19, speaking of Jesus's mother, Mary, we read, "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." I just love that this verse is included, because it's not a crucial plot point to explain how Mary responded to the hoopla, especially seeing as how the response is so private and inward. The inclusion of this sentiment, to me, brings a greater sense of calmness to the whole scene, and it also speaks to the sacredness of motherhood and the wisdom that Mary possessed. Evidently (according to one of the class members who spoke up today), the majority of the gospel of Luke would have been compiled according to interviews with people who were around for Christ's life and ministry, and some experts theorize that Mary herself could have provided an interview. True or not, I love this reaction of Mary's, and in a faith tradition that so strongly emphasizes proselyting and the bearing of testimony, I think it's valuable to occasionally just "keep all these [precious] things, and ponder them in [our] hearts."

The other reaction comes in verse 38, when Anna (a prophetess and widow who is intensely devoted to her faith) receives a witness of the newborn baby Jesus. "And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of them to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." She didn't keep this event to herself -- she was grateful and willing to share her experience with anyone who wanted to know, anyone who could benefit from it.

This sort of stands in contradiction to Mary's response, but of course, these two methods are not mutually exclusive. They're simply two appropriate responses to a sacred event, both uplifting and well-suited to either Mary or Anna. Perhaps Anna, as an older and wiser woman, exhibits her faith differently than Mary, a young woman just embarking on her truly unique path. What wonderful examples they both provided.

While I don't think it was an intentional theme of this Sunday School lesson, I was struck again and again during the preparation by how we, each of us, are really not so different from Jesus, how what's required and expected of us in our lives is very similar to what was asked of him (though the scales and spheres of influence are hugely different). In Doctrine & Covenants 93, it says that Jesus, just like us, had to gain a little at a time, "grace for grace," gradually building up to a full knowledge. I forget sometimes that this is an intentional, purposeful part of life: the not-knowing, the having-to-wait before you learn all the answers. Instead, I think of it as some personal failing, a weakness that I'm only familiar with because I'm deeply flawed. Simply put: it's not. This is part of the game, and if it's a game I wanna play, then it's a part I'm required to deal with.

One of the women in the class made a fascinating observation about how Mary and Anna both dealt with troubling things in their lives (becoming pregnant at a young age, likely to the dismay of others in her community, with a really really really important little baby; being widowed after seven years of marriage and living the remainder of her life without a partner), as opposed to how Herod dealt with a troubling thing in his life (having his power threatened by the newborn Messiah). Herod's approach can be read about in Matthew 2. The difference between Herod and these two women comes down to how they handled difficulty -- either by self-improvement/devotion to God, or with rage and violence. The complexities and nuances of these situations are many, but in one way, the lesson for us comes not in thinking that a righteous life will be free of difficulty, but in knowing that our relationship with a higher power will allow us to handle our trials in a productive, safe, healthy way. Both Mary and Anna pledged themselves to God; Herod pledged allegiance only to himself and his own purposes. There's no debate as to who among them made the right choices and lived the better lives.

Final thing: after Sunday School, it was time for Relief Society (a weekly meeting specifically for adult women, run by those same adult women), and the lesson today was about fasting. While it wasn't really a big focus of the lesson, I heard a few different expressions of how it's better/more useful to fast for others than to fast for oneself. This sentiment felt a little "yuck" to me. I wouldn't necessarily advocate the opposite - that it's better to fast for yourself than for others - but at the same time, I think it's dangerous to suggest that doing things for yourself is somehow bad or second-rate.

Sometimes, you're the only person in the whole world who knows that you're struggling with something, and if you don't look out for yourself and try to fix it, then no one will. There's no shame in caring for yourself. It reminds me of something that my aunt posted on Facebook, asking people who they'd save in some outlandish episode involving a sinking lifeboat and a limited supply of life jackets. Many of her friends talked about how sacrificing themselves would be the right thing to do, and I'm not here to belittle that choice, but I think it's important to remember that the fate of everyone else isn't resting on our shoulders in daily life; we're not responsible to save everyone else at the expense of our own welfare. We're here to help each other, but we're also here to care for ourselves. I think that principle extends to fasting and service of all kinds. There's joy in serving another person, but if you can't find that same joy in serving yourself, perhaps it's time to realize that loving others as you love yourself works both ways. Perhaps it's time to place a little more value on your own survival and happiness.


  1. Sara, I completely agree with you on the point that taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of others. We are commanded to love others as we love ourselves. Implicit in this commandment is an assumption that we are nurturing our bodies, hearts, minds and spirits (and thus are commanded to extend that nurturing outwards to others).

  2. Right?! I couldn't have said it better. I think that hypothesis really proves itself in the lives of so many people I've known - people who rarely took time to care for themselves and eventually found it increasingly difficult to care for others. I imagine that some of it came from not holding up both parts of that golden rule, to treat others as you want to be treated, to love others as you love yourself.


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