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RS/MP Lesson 20: “A Heart Full of Love and Faith: The Prophet’s Letters to His Family” (Joseph Smith Manual)

Posted by joespencer on October 3, 2008

I don’t know that I really have anything at all to say about this lesson. It is a fantastic glimpse into Joseph’s family life, but there seems to be little more than that to say. I’ll post just this excuse for not saying more, opening up discussion of any parts of the lesson others would like to dwell on.

18 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 20: “A Heart Full of Love and Faith: The Prophet’s Letters to His Family” (Joseph Smith Manual)”

  1. stargazer said

    I’ll be teaching this lesson in my ward, and my good friend will be teaching it in her ward. She suggested asking two husbands to write letters to their wives (who will be in the class.) She will ask one husband to write mundane, everyday things; the other she will ask to express his love to his wife. Both will be aware that the letters will be read in class.

    It was recently mentioned that we go to glory as individuals, but to the most glory as family. This lesson is about how to treat family members, based on the example of Joseph Smith. No relationship is more difficult than marriage, except maybe parenting. If it is in our family relationships that we grow and learn the most, this lesson should given serious consideration.

    PS. I like your site. Thanks for all the hard work.

  2. Julie said

    At first, I thought this lesson was just another testament to how great the prophet Joseph was. But as I read it, I began thinking about my own husband. As the YM pres in our ward, he is often gone to meetings, camp outs, activities, etc. and I tend to resent that Church gets him more than me. But he does try to delegate responsibilities and sometimes skips meetings to put family first. While we are to love one another, we are first commanded to love God. This lesson illustrats how, despite how torn his heart was about being separated from his family, Joseph did love God before anyone and anything, something that I think is hard to put before one’s own spouse. I also love how tender Joseph was towards his wife, as I often cringe when I see how other men (even within the church) sometimes talk to their wives or how wives talk about their husbands.

  3. joespencer said

    Thanks for these comments, stargazer and Julie. Very helpful.

  4. stargazer said

    Great thought, Julie! That will bring a new slant to how I present this lesson–and perhaps I will ask for more letters to wives than originally planned!

  5. BJ said

    HELP! I just found out I will be teaching this lesson tomorrow. I just read through it…not sure where/how to go with it. Our ward is adament that we do not bring in outside sources…the lesson material and the scriptures only. Any ideas, thoughts, insight…I’ve got less than 24 hours and a dinner guests tonight. Feast or famine!

  6. joespencer said

    I would just get right into the texts, raise questions about what they imply, and see where the discussion goes. But that is pretty how I teach no matter what the assignment is. Anyone else?

  7. Julie said

    Not using outside sources — does that mean you couldn’t use words of other prophets or general conference talks? I often quote them. Also, if allowed, this very same lesson was reiterated a couple months ago in the Ensign, even using a lot of the same letters quoted in this lesson.

  8. Robert C. said

    What strikes me most about this lesson is the way in which Joseph’s love and desire for his family is intertwined with his love and desire for his family. This sappy, passionate side of him is not something we usually think about or talk about, but I think it is very interesting and insightful regarding the way he approached his life, family, and religion.

    Also, this glimpse via very personal letters into a prophet’s life is very rare. I haven’t read that many biographies of later prophets, but my sense is that these kind of love letters aren’t that common to read. And, my sense is that these kind of gushing letters were something distinctly characteristic of the 19th century, and Joseph’s circumstances (and youth) were certainly unique, so glimpse they offer into the personal feelings and psyche of a modern prophet is even more rare. Since our modern prophets are typically older, I think the youthful exuberance for life that we see is also refreshing, and provides a check on a tendency to put too much emphasis on virtues such as composure, discipline, obedience, etc. at the expense of a zestful and passionate love of live and his family….

  9. stargazer said

    I think the take-away principles are in the section headings:

    1)Family members pray for, comfort and strengthen one another (Discussion question on p. 246: What can we learn from Joseph’s example about how we should speak and act in our families? When/how has your family helped you?)

    2)The responsibility to teach our children is always with us. (Even when he was imprisoned he was thinking of his children; what things imprison us, or might keep us from teaching our children? He did what he could (write); what could we be doing? (emailing, journalling, visiting on car trips, etc?)

    3)God is our friend, and we can trust Him in our times of adversity. Love the quote on the bottom of p. 243: “I will try to be contented with my lot, knowing that God is my friend.” Joseph knew he wasn’t perfect; he also knew God was his friend. So can we!(Discussion question from lesson: How can we apply this truth in our lives?)

    If you put these questions out there the class should be able to run with them. (I would select an example from each section to be read by a class member, then pose the questions; or possibly the other way round.)

    But goodness. I was going to bring in Elder Bednar’s letter from the deceased father in “Tender Mercies” (April Conf., 2005) AND the 25-word message from the LDS Korean prisoner-of-war mentioned in our last conference (“The temple is important…”) as my introduction.

    I plan to conclude with the fact this lesson gives us insight into how a person schooled by the Lord treats his family; and a further insight that the scriptures themselves have been referred to as “letters from a loving Heavenly Father to each of us”…written and preserved for our benefit.

    This is a great lesson. Good luck.

  10. BJ said

    Thank you all! You’ve made my job so much easier. Now I can get started. And “stargazer”…a special thank you for your last comment, a insight I hadn’t even realized.

  11. joespencer said

    Well, interestingly, I was asked to teach this lesson last minute today. I doubt this is of any help now, but here’s how things went for me…

    I focused entirely on two statements from the lesson, one in the second section (but replicated a number of times in the lesson) where Joseph refers to himself as Emma’s “friend,” and one in the third section where Joseph pleads with Emma not to forsake him “or the truth.”

    As a quorum, we discussed the implications of these two statements. First, what is the difference between friendship and romance, and what can we learn about marriage by paying attention to Joseph’s intertwining of these two themes? Second, what does Joseph’s intertwining of his togetherness with Emma and the truth itself tell us about what such friendship/romance means?

    Finally, we tied all of this to the broader fact that all of these letters were only written because Joseph’s fidelity to the kingdom took him away from his wife so frequently. We reflected as a group on that point.

    That’s a brief outline. Of course, there is a great deal more to say about the road we trod.

  12. mindy said

    We must be way behind in our teaching schedule (in WV); I’m not supposed to teach this lesson until middle of November. Fortunately for me, I can see what everyone else did and use what worked.

    It’s only my second RS lesson I’ve had to teach and I have to admit, I thought it was odd to only teach one lesson a month. But reading them, I now see why. It takes a whole month just to figure out HOW to teach them.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and insights. The letters are beautiful but I didn’t see any way to present them besides everyone reading them on their own at home…thanks for giving me a direction to go in.

  13. KBHansen said

    I love all these comments and use many of the ideas for the lessons I prepare. Some of the lessons are so hard to present in the manner that I would like to. I will be giving this lesson next Sunday and I have asked the men to write letters to their wives so I can give them to the wives during the lesson. I asked them to imagine they are Joseph away from his family and try to express their thoughts and feelings if they were away. It will be a surprise how many letters I actually get back but at least I tried. I do have one question for stargazer – you mention a 25-word message from the LDS Korean prisoner-of-war mentioned in our last conference (”The temple is important…”) – I have been looking for this and can’t find it. Any help on which talk it is in? Thanks again for everyone’s help.

  14. stargazer said

    Hi KB–well, no wonder you couldn’t find it, I had the wrong country! It was Vietnam. Sorry.

    The story is in the Sunday morning session talk by President Monson, “Finding Joy in the Journey”. Here is the link: http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-947-26,00.html

    and here is the quote:

    In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, Church member Jay Hess, an airman, was shot down over North Vietnam. For two years his family had no idea whether he was dead or alive. His captors in Hanoi eventually allowed him to write home but limited his message to less than 25 words. What would you and I say to our families if we were in the same situation—not having seen them for over two years and not knowing if we would ever see them again? Wanting to provide something his family could recognize as having come from him and also wanting to give them valuable counsel, Brother Hess wrote—and I quote: “These things are important: temple marriage, mission, college. Press on, set goals, write history, take pictures twice a year.”5

    I’m sorry I remembered it incorrectly, and wasted your time looking for the wrong thing.

    Good luck with your lesson! I’d like to hear how it goes!

  15. Lisa said

    I’ve been stuck in a rut with this lesson (my first time teaching in RS). Thank you all for your thoughts and ideas, I feel like I have a little better idea of where to go with this.

  16. douglas Hunter said

    What is missing from this lesson is Emma’s voice! How the letters effected her, her responses to JS, these seem essential to the context.

    A friend of mine joked that this must be the “patronize your wife” lesson for the fall, although he was kidding in that remark he went on to point out that the letters have different tones, one has a courtly love resonance, some others are fairly self involved, others convey true empathy, others patronize, etc but without Emma’s voice there is a great deal we don’t know. I think that without the full picture there may be a greater temptation for some to be proscriptive or to fall into standard types about how husbands should treat their wives. Which, in the Church, are often informed more by fixed notions of gender then they are the specifics of a given relationship.

    The approach I am going to take is to treat lesson 19 and 20 in a call and response manner. Since both essentially address how one responds to trials and suffering; what I will do is to recap the different narratives of suffering that were presented in lesson 19 particularly the note we ended lesson 19 on. This being that our own experience of suffering can be a tool that helps bring us to empathy with the suffering of others, and to action on their behalf.

    So one of the characteristics of the letters is that JS is responding to Emma’s trials and tying them to his own. I want to address responsibility in the context of empathy.

    We often think of responsibility as external, as something imposed (perhaps too hard a word) from the outside; a form of “that which must be done” associated with one’s position at work for example. But I wonder if we don’t have the opportunity now to develop a different notion of responsibility. Rather than being a “that which must be done” responsibility can be understood as the work empathy does on us, leading us into relationship with the suffering of others. In this sense responsibility is internal, it is less a “that which must be done” than it is, an internal change and a way we come into relationship.

  17. canadiangirl said

    It’s interesting to see all the different things people have taken from this lesson. I find this lesson different from the other lessons in that it is not as doctrinal and gives us a rare chance to discuss the personality of the prophet.

    In reading Joseph’s (and Emma’s – found a few excerpts) letters, I get the sense that their marriage and companionship was one of the main ways they got through their many trials. Their reliance on each other is what makes separation so painful for both of them. I plan on discussing how we react to uncertainty and trials generally and how we should look to developing loving family relationships in our lives to get through our trials.

  18. JamesTay said

    I like the ideas that have been given here. They will help me a lot because I thought this lesson would be really hard to teach.

    One other suggestion that you may consider using in the lesson is asking the men or women what was the longest time they were away from their spouse and how that affected their relationship and then tie it back into Joseph Smith being away from his wife not only for long periods of time but for so MANY times.

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