Feeling the weight of the calling

Tomorrow I’m teaching a small group of 12-13 year olds about women and the priesthood. I’m still working out what I want to say, but I think I know what I want them to learn: that men and women are true equals in the sight of God. Getting to that conclusion is weighing on my mind. The narratives of the manual are fairly limiting and frankly these students are still grappling with basic gospel principles; the complexity of Nauvoo cosmology and distinctions between ordinations for health and ordinations to offices are probably beyond them.

I’m not putting up this post to solicit ideas — though of course I welcome them — but to say that callings have real weight and impact. I feel a duty to these children to teach them principles that are true and that will set them on a path for a long-term relationship with God. Sometimes the weight of the calling is crippling and it’s tempting to dodge it with games or food or walks around the building (all of which I think are an essential part of a youth curriculum, FWIW). I honestly don’t know how people handle ‘weightier’ callings where they must counsel or receive confession or succor material needs. My feelings are pretty tender when I think about how people perform these callings around the world without remuneration or glory (or training or resources, but that’s another issue!).

I waver in how I feel about God’s intervention in our lives. I wrestle sometimes in how I can feel answers to some of my prayers but not others. But somehow the kindness of others helps me bridge that gap, and the most frequent and common occurrences of that kindness are with others through Church. Perhaps the structure of the lay clergy helps us overcome some of these problems of evil by giving us the potential for reassurance and mutual support. Perhaps that lay clergy also makes it possible for us to witness miracles on a more quotidian level, helping us attune ourselves to a spirituality centered in service and daily work.

Anyways, I need to finish this lesson. But thanks to you – to all of you – who have shown me that the jewel of Mormonism is in this community of saints.


  1. Jason K. says:

    God bless you, Steve.

  2. .

    Once with that age group I told them that Joseph Smith taught that the Relief Society is part of the Young Women are part of the Relief Society, ergo….

    I think that was a net positive.

  3. I hope you’ll post details of what you end up teaching, because I could really use help on this right now. Our youngest son turns 12 next week. Last week on a family outing to the beach, as we were wriggling our toes into the sand and I was thinking about how nice the water felt, he was apparently thinking of weightier matters. Out of the blue he asked me, “So remind me again why women don’t receive the priesthood?” and later commented, “I can’t see how saying men and women aren’t equal is anything but a bad idea.” You see what I mean about this being a timely topic….

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    When I taught youth SS I definitely felt that weight and struggled with it. I could really relate to this post.

  5. Villate says:

    As one of those who currently has to “handle ‘weightier’ callings where they must counsel or receive confession (I don’t HAVE to do this, but it happens frequently) or succor material needs,” and one who has seen people leave the Church because of intentionally and unintentionally hurtful missteps by leaders and members, I appreciate this post. Yeah, sometimes teachers teach false doctrine or teach in a way I disagree with. Sometimes leaders give poor counsel. Sometimes people are just jerks. But I try very hard to be charitable with those with whom I disagree and also courageous enough to speak up on my own or others’ behalf if it seems harm is being done. Good luck with your lesson, Steve!

  6. Richard_K says:

    If you want the spirit of truth to bear witness of what you say as true, then tell them the truth and don’t fall in the trap of saying what you wish were true, no matter how badly you wish it were true. Men and women are NOT equal in the eyes and culture of God’s one true church.

    You may hurt tender feelings today, but you will be rembered and revered eventually for having had the courage to tell the truth.

  7. Richard, telling the truth is the sine qua non of being a good teacher in the church. I want to give these students a spiritual foundation for their relationship with God and the church for decades to come. That means giving them truths that are sometimes difficult but also sustaining and good. Dissembling about the treatment of women won’t help anyone, I agree. However it would (I believe) also be a disservice if I conveyed a hopeless message. There is hope.

  8. “the jewel of Mormonism is the community of saints” – beautifully put Steve. Well-functioning Mormon congregations and communities are really wonderful places. As someone that has stepped away from activity, it definitely can leave a big hole and one that is very hard to replace. My experience has reminded me to appreciate the good congregations of which I have been a part.

    Good luck with teaching those tender souls. I have children in that age range. How I wish our current theology and structure made teaching the equality of men and women easy instead of fraught. I am sure you will do a wonderful job. Thanks for caring.

  9. UPDATE: Things went pretty great. Multiple classes combined. I don’t think I will forget the look on the faces of the YW. The YM were awesome too.

  10. Jason K. says:

    Glad to hear it, Steve!

  11. Would love to hear what you talked about

  12. Sally, I focused on the different aspects/functions of priesthood as we currently conceive it (thanks, Stapley): organization, miracles, regular ordinances, temple, teaching/prayers. Talked about how women have been a fundamental part of each of these respects since the very beginning. We talked about OT prophetesses, NT witnesses, the power of the Relief Society, how the Church is evolving and growing and sometimes we get things right, sometimes we need to learn. Tried to leave them all with a sense of the wonder and power that women have by virtue of having a rightful and equal place in God’s kingdom. Conveyed the basic message: if God wants you to do something, God gives you power to do just that — regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, ordained or not.

    We talked about how women have evolving roles: prayer in sacrament meeting as an example of things waxing and waning. We talked about women witnessing and performing miracles. We talked about women receiving revelation and how vital they’ve been to our concept of heavenly parents (Eliza Snow). We talked about laying on of hands, reaching out to those in need and how that’s changed over time. Talked about the temple and the power that awaits them there, but also talked about how they have personal access to revelation and power RIGHT NOW by birthright.

    I don’t think the YW had ever really considered themselves as powerful people. The YM certainly hadn’t – their concept of priesthood was somewhere between the Force and pure magic. Hopefully gave them all a grander view of what things God has in store for them, and how essential women are to the plan of salvation from the beginning.

  13. Beautiful report of your lesson. They are lucky to have you as their teacher.

  14. The other Aussie Mormon says:

    Steve, I’ve been asked to teach the YW this lesson in my ward this week. I wonder whether there might be a way to get access to your actual notes and/or resources to assist and guide me. I simply don’t know enough about some of the things you mentioned and would love to see how they hang together in the lesson. It sounds like the kind of lesson I would love to attend.

  15. I can try to put something together. It was a little ad hoc.

  16. Me too — I’m going to be teaching this as well…..

  17. OK, I’ve typed up some notes & quotes & questions from the lesson. You can see them here.

  18. The other Aussie Mormon says:

    Steve this is most helpful. Thank you kindly. I’ll be using this.

  19. Hey, you’re welcome! It’s a tricky topic and this isn’t perfect, but hopefully it’s a start. With the youth, a good idea (pointed out by SB2) is to provide very clear recaps and concise summaries at the end. I also state these at the beginning of the lesson.

  20. I taught this lesson last Sunday, kicking off a very rough week of single parent desperation. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggled with this lesson. I had no idea what to say or how to say it. Some of the materials in the lesson stuck their fingers in my wounds and reopened a few of them.

    In the end, I threw myself on the mercy of God and His Spirit and ended up teaching a lesson to my class of teens (16 & 17yo, all girls but one) about the importance of speaking up if you are in a counsel, to listen when someone else speaks up, and to sustain leadership by using your voice humbly and inexhaustibly. The only way women and the priesthood can work together is if, without bitterness, women learn to live up to their potential as daughters of an omnipotent God.

    I was honest with them about how hard this has been for me throughout my life, shared a few examples of times I spoke up to good and ill results, and what I have learned from my mistakes. My newly called co-teacher was there for the first week, just to add a cherry to the cupcake of stress. But I made it through.

    Hopefully, I taught them something important in the meantime. And now it’s my co-teachers turn to teach for a change, so I get a much-needed break. Thank you for sharing, Steve.

  21. That sounds like a pretty darned good lesson. And throwing yourself on God’s mercy is pretty much all we can do!

  22. SilverRain, I wish you were my girls’ teacher. They came home complaining about why they had to study boys and the roles of boys at church on Sundays. And why did the teachers laugh and make fun of the women who wanted priesthood? (although their lesson did lead to an interesting family discussion…)

  23. Well, I warned the 2nd counsellor when he called me that I was not orthodox in my teaching. He said that’s what the kids needed. Despite my warning, he called me anyways. I’m not confident that he knew what I meant when I said that. Most lessons are fine, but ones like this, I go home wondering how long it will be before my recommend is yanked.

    Thank you, RT. I know I have a reputation of being rather conservative online, but my reputation as a church member has always been rocky…I’m a loud-mouthed, obnoxious woman who says challenging, rebellious things and doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. Age is teaching me some moderation, but I can’t hold it in ALL the time.

  24. SHenneman says:

    Steve, thanks so much for this. I used it yesterday, also teaching 12-13 year olds. They paid attention 40% more than normal (so about 14% overall). I did have Stapley’s kid in my class though, so that made it easier … or harder, depending on how you look at it.

  25. Man, teaching a Stapley kid! Talk about pressure. Hopefully it went well!

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