The Gospel Doctrine lesson #7
Lesson #7 focuses on the first ordinances and principles of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism and confirmation of the Holy Ghost. To start, let’s look at what some of our women leaders have said about these ordinances and principles.
In last April’s General Conference, President Oscarson said, “True conversion is a process that takes place over a period of time and involves a willingness to exercise faith.”
Faith offers grounding and hope in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. It allows us to tolerate the discomfort of the unknown. It is the power by which we enact our agency and choose to believe. The scriptures are full stories where faith was the key to miracles, blessings, conversions, reconciliations. Faith provides footing in the spiritual realm as we journey through this Earth-school.
In the April 2007 General Conference, President Beck said, “Because we are all mortal, we all make mistakes. Repentance is not optional, but we don’t do it alone. We have a Savior to help us repent. By developing His qualities in our lives, we know we are making changes that help us come closer to Him.”
Christ’s atonement creates space for us to make a mess of this mortal experience. We develop His attributes in the doing – by practicing with each other. We are deeply imperfect and we are going to get it wrong a lot of the time. This is by design. How do we learn if we are unable to risk failure? Knowing there’s a way to rectify wrongs makes it easier to step into the unknown with faith. Engaging in the practice of Christ-like living and using the atonement frequently is how we show our gratitude.
I’m a sculptor. I have many tools. There are some tools that I rarely use – maybe just once or twice a year. Even though it’s rarely used, I’m grateful I have it when I need it. That tool is not the atonement in this metaphor. The atonement is the tool that is used frequently – daily, hourly – it’s lost its sheen. Though it may not be much to look at, it’s so familiar in my hands that it gives me courage to create.
In October of 2005, Kathleen H. Hughes said, “At baptism we took the name of Jesus Christ upon us. We carry that name with us each day…”
In Baptism we tell Christ that we pick Him. That He is the one we’ll be devoted to. Then we spend the rest of our lives recommitting to that covenant and attempting to be worthy of His name – imperfectly (see above).
Gift of the Holy Ghost
In April of 2015, Cheryl A. Esplin said, “Many of us have been baptized and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose role it is to reveal and teach the truth of all things. With the privilege of that gift comes the responsibility to seek truth, to live the truth we know, and to share and defend the truth.”
The Holy Ghost is our ally as we seek to discover the truth of who we are, what this Earth-school is all about and the nature of the divine.
These are the first principles and ordinances because they create and sustain the foundation upon which everything else is built. They are tools of transformation.
The manual talks about these principles and ordinances in relation to enduring – “[w]e must endure to the end in faith to receive eternal life.”
I’ve been pondering what it means to endure and how it manifests in our lives and community. I wonder, do we sometimes use it to justify a victim/martyr identity? An identity which gives a false sense of righteousness while permitting idleness. I want to be clear here – I’m not suggesting that we don’t need time to mourn, or reconcile, or breath after a painful or traumatic experience. One must do this in order to heal. What I’m suggesting is we get into dangerous territory when we allow the things that have hurt us to become our identity, and then we use that identity as an excuse for not being active participants in our lives.
I’ve been trying to figure this out in my own life. I’m turning 40 in a few weeks. The only thing tainting this birthday is that I am childless. Aging while being childless has been a real source of my suffering over the past few years. I’ve work hard to reconcile my expectations and desires with reality. There have been moments when enduring was the best I could do. And yet, in the struggle to still show up for my life and find purpose and meaning I’ve grown stronger. These principles and ordinances have helped in this process; I’ve come to realize that however my life plays out that it will be okay. It will be more than okay – it will be joyful and purposeful. This realization is an absolute act of faith. (I talk in depth of this process of reconciliation in Cocoon’s latest podcast episode).
What has helped me not just endure but thrive is hearing the stories of other women struggling to find purpose and meaning in the midst of suffering. Our foremothers, Eliza R. Snow and Mary Fielding Smith inspire me to overcome adversity and participate in my life.
Mary Fielding Smith
By 1848, Mary had suffered much. Her home had been raided, her children attacked and her husband martyred. She was a single mother with 8 children determined to cross the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. She was assigned to a company led by Peter Lott. Lott believed that Mary was not equipped for the journey and would be a burden to the company. He discouraged her from making the trek. Mary’s response, “I will beat you to the valley and will ask no help from you either.”1 Mary and her children had many trials along the journey including lost and sick oxen. Not only did she endure these hardships, she persevered. She was true to her word. She never sought help from Lott and she entered the Salt Lake Valley on September 22, 1848, one day ahead of Lott.
Eliza R. Snow
Eliza was a poet and leader in the early days of the church. Once in the Salt Lake Valley, she reestablished the Relief Society and was the president for 21 years. During that time she sent women back east to be trained as doctors and nurses, opened Desert Hospital and launched the women’s journal, Exponent. Last year, we learned that during the persecution of the saints she was sexually assaulted by multiple assailants. As a result, she was unable to have children. Eliza not only endured the horror of this trauma, she spent the rest of her life bringing healing and beauty to her community through her callings and poetry.
Like Eliza and Mary, we must not simply endure. We must use these principles and ordinances to find a purpose for our lives and embrace joy.
“I testify that as we trust God, our Eternal Father; trust His Son, Jesus Christ, and exercise faith in His Atonement; trust the whisperings of the Spirit; and trust the counsel of living prophets, we will find our way off the edge of the road and continue safely—not just enduring but finding joy in our journey home.” Carole M. Stephens. 2015
This mortal existence isn’t to be suffered through; it’s to be deeply enjoyed. Joy rooted in faith. Joy covenanted to through emersion. Joy recommitted to through repentance. Joy strengthened in the building of our relationships with Heavenly parents through the Holy Ghost.
Suggested reading: First Principles and Ordinance by Samuel Brown
1Don Cecil Corbett, Mary Fielding Smith: Daughter of Britain (1966), 228.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Standing Firm When It All Falls Apart, Ashlee Birk
“I’ve always had faith, I’ve always known that Heavenly Father answers my prayers, I’ve always seen His hand in my life. But it wasn’t until I went through this total low point where all I had left with was Him that I realized how much He cared and was there for me. I’ve always known about the Atonement and known that the Atonement is there for me when I make a mistake. Whenever someone would wrong me, I knew I needed to forgive them. But as I have gone through this tragedy, in which three people wronged me on so many levels, my faith has helped me understand the Atonement on a much deeper level. The Atonement is there even if you’re just struggling with the fact that the story you’re living is different from the one you had planned. The Atonement is also there to help you forgive and feel compassion for a man who made a really bad choice. I think that’s been my greatest blessing, to understand the Atonement and the power that it can have on those hard days when it feels like your faith has been flat in the dirt for weeks and someone is just dragging you. If you pray for help, Heavenly Father will send you a little light, and He will send you the right person to say the right thing.”