Relief Society Lesson 17: The Strengthening Power of Faith

I never saw a moor;
I never saw the sea,
Yet know I how the heather looks
And what a billow be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven.
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the checks were given.

Emily Dickinson

I figure there are two approaches to this lesson. 1) you can tell the faith-affirming stories of George Albert Smith and ask your class for their own stories of faith and how it has grown. If you choose this approach, I hope you’ll consider reading or summarizing Emma Lou Thayne’s magnificent essay, “Seeing Without Seeing.” I cry every time I read it, starting with “Someone asked her [Helen Keller], “Do you see colors?”,

OR 2) you can try to have a conversation about what happens when one struggles to have faith.

If you’ve read some of my earlier lessons from the George Albert Smith manual, you’ll know I’m a fan of his. I’ve quite enjoyed reading his work, but I am troubled by the parting statement in this lesson:

Our faith is conditioned upon our righteous lives. We cannot live improperly and have faith as we should, but if we keep the commandments of the Lord, we can have faith, and it will grow and increase as our righteousness increases.

If there are any of us who lack faith in this work it is because we have not kept the commandments of God. If there are any who do not know that this is the work of our Father, it is because they have not done their duty. I know as I know that I live that this is the Lord’s work, and that knowledge comes as a result of keeping His commandments. 

I’ve struggled with faith, and I’ve seen too many good friends struggle in their unbelief to think that there is a magic equation that seems to be implied by the quote above: living righteously + keeping the commandments = faith.

I often think of the scripture in Mark 9:24, “[The] father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief.”

What does this scripture say to you?

For me, this scripture shows that many of us struggle with faith at some point in our lives; some of us struggle throughout our lives.

That said, I have many other friends and family members who can read the Emily Dickinson poem that starts this lesson and say, “Yes! I agree! I am certain!”

What does this poem say to you?

For years, I thought I was unworthy and that I probably just wasn’t reading my scriptures or praying deeply enough to have that burning in my bosom that is so often mentioned in the scriptures and in our church. So I worried and tried to think ways that I could try harder to get that elusive faith.

It helped when I started thinking of faith as the spiritual gift that Moroni 10:9-11 lists:

9 For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom; 10 And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
11 And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit…

What does the gift of faith look like to you?

When I think of faith as a spiritual gift, I realize that unfortunately, it is not my gift, but I don’t think that means that I’m a lost case. I like how Sister Chieko Okazaki talks about doubt as part of the process of faith:

God isn’t in the business of making us believe him. Faith cannot exist if there is no freedom to doubt (Chieko Okazaki, Aloha, pg 119).

What role has doubt played in the building up of your faith?
Here is where I would encourage a few faith-promoting stories. If there aren’t any (or even if there are), take the time to read or summarize Emma Lou Thayne’s essay that I mentioned earlier.

What role does faith have in your life, i.e. what can it do to help you?
I love Chieko Okazaki’s answer here:

I don’t believe that faith means God will remove all tragedies from our path or solve all of our problems for us. I believe it means that he will be with us, suffering with us and grieving with us and working with us as we deal with our own tragedies and work our way through those problems (Aloha, pg 119).

Earlier I talked about the people who are blessed with the spiritual gift of faith, and we’ve talked a bit about those of us who don’t have that spiritual gift, so…

How can these groups help each other?

I have a sister who has inspired me my whole life with her spiritual gift of faith. Sarah was born with some significant disabilities. Due to the nature of her disabilities, she has very little reading comprehension, yet she reads her scriptures every day. She has health challenges, but she never complains. (The joke in our family is that after Sarah has any of her surgeries, no matter how rough, when you ask her how she’s doing, her answer is always, “A little better.”)

Sarah knows her Savior, the Gospel, and the truth of the scriptures in a way that I have little hope of attaining in this life. So, I appreciate the role model she is to me. I think D&C Section 46 outlines our roles well here:

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

I may not have the concrete faith of Sarah’s, but I choose to believe her words and the words of my other friends and family when they share their testimonies with me.

I have some friends who have that great faith, too. When they react with disbelief that someone could struggle with x, y, or z, I offer myself as an example. When I tell the story of my struggles, of my doubt, I’d like to think that I can help them gain some empathy and to show them something of the complexity of belief for those who do not have that spiritual gift of faith.

What other ways can those with faith and those without help each other grow?

I believe that we have all been given the spiritual gifts that will help us thrive and grow closer to our Heavenly Parents in this world. It helps me to remember that we all must struggle with different things in our eternal development, which is why I believe we were sent down to Earth as sisters and brothers. When we are willing to share those spiritual gifts that God has blessed us with like faith, healing, teaching, etc, we are building the Kingdom of God as we build each other up to be more divine.

EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.


    • p.s. later this evening I read the story about Hellen Keller. It was a story I had not previously heard. It was so beautiful and tender, and made me cry big tears as I sat beside my husband in his populated architecture studio. And I didn’t even care. It was that moving. Thank you thank you for making me aware of it.

  1. Thanks, Rachel and Course Correction…I think I’ve read that essay at least a dozen times over the years, and I fear I could never use it in class because I cry every time.

  2. A great lesson, Emily; I wish I could hear you teach it! That Dickinson poem was in the children’s songbook when I was in Primary. I’m really sorry to see it gone.

  3. What other ways can those with faith and those without help each other grow?

    Listen with out judging. Seems simple enough, but, its really quite hard to do especially when we all ready have preconceived notions about what the other person is thinking and feeling. This is the biggest barrier to learning and communication.

  4. I’m getting caught up on exponent posts here.

    Thank you for sharing the Emma Lou Thayne essay. It’s been quite a while since I’ve heard that story, and it means something different to me now. As a friend and I were discussing why we stay in the church one time, she said “It’s my dysfunctional family. How could I leave it?” I’ve thought about that a lot since, and when I read Emma Lou’s words that she would be “cosmically orphaned” without the Church, that really completed the thought for me.

    I also have a hard time with faith, and have spent some time feeling that it’s unfair I wasn’t given the spiritual gift of faith, since it’s so fundamental to everything. But I suppose I have other gifts and it’s good we’re not all alike. I’ve read some things that make me suspect that brain chemistry has something to do with how naturally (or not naturally) faith comes to people.

    This was such a good elaboration on Lesson 17.

  5. Thank you Emily. You are a wonderful writer and are able to come up with wonderful, thought provoking ideas and discussions. I wish I could be there when you teach.

  6. Thanks for the lesson tips: )
    I think you misinterpreted that last part of the lesson though. He’s not saying, “living righteously + keeping the commandments = faith.” We won’t automatically have faith. He’s saying that if we’re not keeping the commandments, we can’t have faith “as we should.” When we keep the commandments and try to live righteously, our testimonies are able to grow and help to increase our faith. We can’t increase our faith when we’re not trying to follow God’s commandments and putting into practice the things we are taught. For example, we can’t have faith that we will be blessed when we keep the law of tithes if we never pay our tithing.

    I enjoyed the essay you shared and also the D&C 46 scripture to remember that we all have different strengths so we can help one another.


    • I think the last part of the lesson could be interpreted differently, but still a great lesson. Just because faith is not one of our spiritual gifts now, does not mean we cannot develope it through our actions (the term “leap of faith” comes to mind.
      Anyhow, faith is a talent/gift that we should all strive for. Read the parable of the talents, Matt. 25:15

  7. I’m a faithful reader of Exponent II, although I never comment. However, today I taught this lesson in Relief Society. I used Emma Lou Thayne’s essay as the main part of my lesson, drawing several points from it. The feeling was very strong in the room. It was perfect. Thank you.

  8. This was such a good lesson for me. I admit I’ve been thinking of the principle of faith a little disdainfully lately. Or at least thinking of faith (as defined by the way it was taught to me growing up) disdainfully. I had the gift of faith for most of my life. I guess I should say “had, and still have”, but because I don’t have faith in some of the things I was taught growing up to have faith in, I’m sub-conciously inclined to think I just don’t have it (or be accused of not having faith in general). Which is untrue, I just have faith in different things than many people around me do at present. I totally believed in it all when I was young. So much so that I was willing to do everything asked, even those things that didn’t jive with what I thought was right, in order to attain faith or knowledge of their truthfulness. What I’m coming to grips with lately, is that it is only faith if it is invested in a true principle. What we think is faith may be invested in a false principle, but we won’t know if it’s false until we see whether that principle has worked good or ill in our life. I’m still coming to realize that I’ll be much happier if I think of my own experiences, promptings, and outcomes, as just as valid as any experience, prompting, or outcome recorded in scripture.

    The marvelous thing about Helen Keller’s experience is that even though she couldn’t hear, she could feel evidence of sound in vibrations. As far as I know there wasn’t a similar way for her to experience evidence that color exists. She was told that it exists, and she had faith that it exists. At the same time, her faith (or lack of faith) in the existence of color didn’t determine the acquisition of her salvation, and she wasn’t expected to make decisions for good or ill in her life based on it. If, on the advice of a friend, she did make a color choice that proved unhappy, she’d probably not listen to the advice of that friend regarding color anymore.

  9. You had trouble when GAS said -If there are any who do not know that this is the work of our Father, it is because they have not done their duty.

    I don’t believe that should trouble anyone, especially members of the church. That is the testimony you get before you are baptized. It doesn’t mean we don’t have trials of our faith at times. But I think this fundamental belief is only challenged as we turn from our Father in Heaven, not because He turns from us. Does that make us bad? No. It makes us human, we make mistakes or become less vigilant or go through a trial of our faith. It makes us work hard to regain and retain those blessings that come from faith.

    I don’t believe having faith and having the gift of faith is the same. I believe you also can have great faith in most areas while struggling with faith in another area. Those areas of faith in our lives should help us as we struggle with faith in another area. I think as humans we fight against certain principles, or ignore answers to prayer because we are not ready to fully commit to God’s will in that area. We often still want our way. As our will becomes closer to God’s will we use faith , but also we grow our capacity for increased faith.

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