When I was 10, I heard that missionaries had all studied the scriptures for four years at seminary and learnt 100 scriptures by heart. When I asked one of the perfectly lovely Elders who was at our home for dinner that night, if I could please have the list so I could get started memorising, I was surprised that he’d have to go home and check a list. I judged him pretty harshly for failing in his simple duty, which any ten year old could understand.
Of course, when I got to the third year of seminary, and my school study load increased, and I was working a couple of shifts a week, and I had to rely on rides to early-morning seminary, I realised that life has a way of making scripture mastery seem less important, in the thick of things, than it seemed to my 10-year-old budding-scriptorian self.
I taught my baby brother (nine years my junior) two scriptures, while I was still active in seminary. John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God”.
Let’s look at Doctrine and Covenants Section 18:10-16 now, switching the genders a little, so it’s easier to apply to ourselves as a Relief Society:
10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all women, that all women might repent and come unto him.
12 And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all women unto him, on conditions of repentance.
13 And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
14 Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with her in the kingdom of my Father and Mother!
16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Mother and Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
What stands out to you in these verses? Does it give a reason that souls are valued so highly? Or the opposite, does it suggest consequences or repercussions that come from the worth of souls being so great?
Why is this connected to missionary work? What does that tell us about the way we view or could view missionary work?
This scripture always reminds me of the Janice Kapp Perry song connecting this scripture to John 21:15-17:
After Jesus had risen, He came to the sea.
Asking three times of Peter “Lovest thou me?”
“Yea Lord,” he answered, “thou knowest I love thee.”
Then Jesus commanded him, “Feed my sheep”
Which immediately sends my thoughts to another scripture mastery scripture. Can you guess which one?
John 10:16 (But let’s look at 14-16)
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Do you think there’s a comparison here between Jesus knowing us and knowing the Father? Is this laying down of life a consequence of either or both of these “knowings”?
Is this idea of having one fold and one shepherd, this pull towards unity, connected to the knowing, or the valuing, or both? What are the relationships between these ideas, that the worth of your soul is great, that Jesus knows you, that Jesus lays down his life for you?
(Stay with this discussion for as long as is fruitful with your ward.)
Let’s jump off again, to something that the sheep idea reminds me of. We talk often about how this “other sheep” refers to the people of the Book of Mormon. Which person or people in the Book of Mormon are famous – at least among us Mormons – because of sheep?
34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.
37 And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth.
Are they valuing souls here? Do they know the people? How can we tell that they do or don’t? (If this helps the women in your class, write their answers on the board, or provide printouts and pencils to mark up the page with their observations)
3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.
Is this a selfish or selfless drive? How can we tell? Do we ever participate in missionary work from selfishness? Does it matter?
And let’s look at the wider culture they were living in:
23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?
24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.
25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.
(Compare this text to the previously studied verses, and ask the same prompting questions, and any others you feel are important, including writing on the board or marking up photocopies): Are they valuing souls here? Do they know the people? How can we tell that they do or don’t?
And now we come to the really hard questions in this lesson, and it’s okay to take some time and dig deep here. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable to think about, but that’s because we’re not Jesus, and we need to repent. Repentance is many things, but I wouldn’t call it comfortable. (Allowing some quiet time – silence or quiet music – with the questions on the board or a handout can help if the women in your class need time to formulate answers they’re happy to share.)
What does it mean to be “transgressors from the beginning”? Whose cultures do we frame that way, or see through that lens?
Who in our communities do we feel like might overrun us and destroy us? How can we tell when we’re reacting to people from fear and not love? What can we do against that, or to repent when we notice ourselves in the middle of that dynamic? Is there anything we can do, or is it useless to try?
How can we become people who quake at the idea of any soul in torment, even those people that we decide come from wicked or stiff-necked or ignorant cultures?
These scriptures are again connected deeply to missionary work. Do we truly respect the worth of souls if we can only love people who will convert to our religion? How can we be more like Jesus, and try to truly know other people?
Brené Brown teaches that “true belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
This sounds to me like a way to respect the worth of souls. Not to value anybody else’s more than my own, not to place myself above anybody else, but to know myself – to believe in and belong to myself – so that I can truly connect with others, and develop a meaningful unity.
The one thing I’m pretty convinced of in this crazy journey I’ve been on so far, is that our Heavenly Parents want us back. All of us. No matter how many mistakes we make, no matter how serious they are. I know that that means they also love all the other people who are following the wrong paths and causing pain, and value their souls as highly. That’s scary and wonderful. We can’t do anything to earn or lose the love God has for us. We can only try to accept that that’s how it is, and become more like them.