Things We Don’t Talk About in Sunday School

I rarely attend Sunday School anymore. LDS Sunday School is for sharing comfortable, pat answers created to support doctrinal cohesion. We do not meet to seriously question or explore the scriptures and how they apply to our lives; instead we meet to learn and re-learn LDS Bible truths. Plus, the occasional patriarch or self-appointed “scriptorian” of the ward (undoubtedly male) is always ready with his inspired and unofficial diatribe on any subject. So, if you are hurting or doubting or facing complex issues, Sunday School is not meant to address them beyond offering set answers and handbook-approved guidance.

Take a recent Sunday School lessons on miracles, for example. We read and discussed Christ’s miracles performed in Matthew and Luke. We then approached the fairly tricky question of how faith relates to miracles. This is the place for people to share all of the miracles they’ve experienced in their lives – from finding keys to healing major illness to family members returning to the LDS Church. And these stories are beautiful and moving.

But begin talking about those times when great faith did not lead to immediate relief, healing, or reconciliation and things become trickier. There are usually three set responses to this conundrum: 1. It is about submitting to God’s will, 2. The miracle looks different than expected, or 3. God needs a loved one for a greater purpose on the other side.

These all strive to redefine and extend the definition of “miracle” so that God does not appear harsh, unfair, or arbitrary. Those who have received the desired result of faithful prayers and fasting also don’t want to appear “better than thou/I got my miracle because I’m more faithful than you are.” But, how is faith directly tied to receiving miracles? If you pray hard enough or fast correctly, are you more likely to receive one of these miracles? Are some people more deserving of miracles? If so, what does this tell us about God? We don’t talk about this in Sunday School.

The scriptural examples of miracles are literally of Jesus raising someone from the dead, removing sickness, and forgiving sin. The miracles are never allowing someone to die so that the family members can grow in faith or have a special experience. They are also not taking a loved one from this life to become a much-needed missionary on the other side. LDS Sunday School lessons on miracles, however, often reply heavily on these examples of “miracles.” Why is that? We don’t talk about this in Sunday School.

Is there perhaps something more nuanced to learn about the nature of life and God when we study miracles? How does the natural world come into play? How are miracles sometimes medicine or science? How do we make miracles happen through kindness and charity because God works through us? How and why is God unfair? What is a miracle and how does God decide to give one?

My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 11. As a young, faith-filled Mormon girl, I believed he could be healed. I believed he should be healed. A good, faithful, beloved husband and father of four in his forties was very much needed here. My parents never promised he would be healed and my father reportedly leaned into God’s will on the matter. And, when he died my freshman year of high school, people were quick to comfort me with the knowledge that God needed him as a powerful missionary on the other side of the veil.

But here’s the thing. My family needed him here. And, as we continued to attend the LDS Church, we were constantly reminded of how our family was lacking without a priesthood holder and how essential father’s are to making families whole. This was hard to reconcile. Did it not matter how hard I prayed? Would any amount of faith been enough to heal him? What is so pressing on the other side that it could not wait for my father to grow old with his wife and enjoy his grandchildren? Am I allowed to be angry about this at all? Do others wrestle with this? Why don’t we know more? We don’t talk about this in Sunday School.

Failing to address all of these complexities individually is not the actual problem with Sunday School, though. It’s the certainty with which we discuss the things that are permissible in Sunday School. Ultimately, people know God is loving and fair. They know that, however things turn out, there’s a miracle in there somewhere. They are able to set aside what they don’t know because of what they do know. A lesson can always be wrapped up neatly with a testimony that supersedes/squashes questions or doubts.

And if that is what you need – bi-monthly confirmation of LDS doctrine and that you are on the right path no matter what – then Sunday School is effective. If you are looking for people to sit together with doubts or hurt; to say “I don’t know and I can see how that’s hard;” or “What does the spirit tell you?;” or “It’s okay if we see or experience this differently,” or “Let’s discuss this without needing a right or feel-good answer;” or “We aren’t scared of exploring difficult questions and we don’t have to fix/gloss over hard things,” then LDS Sunday School won’t provide that. And you may just find yourself seeking answers elsewhere.

Mindy May Farmer
Mindy May Farmer
Mom of 4, librarian, writer, feminist, retro style enthusiast, bookworm, felter, and crocheter.


  1. Spot on. I stopped attending Sunday School more because of comments that people resented being forced to be civil to LGBTQ folx at work or risk getting fired. I figured that if Sunday School was a safe place for bigotry, then it wasn’t safe for me.

  2. I had the same feelings when I used to attend LDS Sunday School. Now that I attend another church where our group is much smaller, more intimate, I do get the support that I wanted and needed. I did look elsewhere and I found it and, a year after I left, I am experiencing none of the spiritual death or bad things I was warned would happen if I left.
    In fact, by following my own spiritual promptings and actually seeking a deeper communion with the Spirit, my spiritual contentment and acceptance of God’s will has grown. This is something else we don’t talk about in LDS Sunday School or in Relief Society: that some people leave the LDS Church but instead of leaving God and enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle, away from God’s spirit, without moral compass, we actually delve deeper into Christ’s message, we seek a closer relationship with him, not constrained by the idea that only men in suits hold the keys to access to God. I
    learned a lot in my 30-odd year walk with the LDS faith and I am grateful for the stability it gave me at a vulnerable time in my life. Most of my family are still attending their wards on Sundays; most of them out of duty rather than excitement. We respect each other’s choices. But they would be the first to admit that any fears they might have felt when I said I was no longer going to be attending the LDS Church, that I was becoming “less active”, have failed to materialize. I’m still the loving, spiritual person I always was but more at peace with my own relationship with God. Closer to both God and to my fellow human beings.
    I hope that you can change the culture of your ward, of your sphere of influence because you have important questions that would bring people closer to God.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” – Alexandra K. Trenfor

    Christ was a master at showing where to look; that’s why he was such a great teacher. This is the difference between teaching and indoctrinating.

  4. Amen, dear lady! I have come to a place where I’m semi-comfortable attending again, because I have the lowered the bar of what to expect. I love my neighbors so much and my life feels lovelier with them in it. BUT I let go of the notion that the priesthood was restored, that ordinances are “true”, and that I can get uch spiritual guidance at the LDS church. My Methodist upbringing was where I really learned of Christ, service, and the mysteries of the universe. It’s really such a great thing to let there be mystery and unanswered questions in our spiritual sovereignty.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I’ve struggled so much with Sunday School in large part because of exactly what you described. I’m also so sorry that people told you someone else must’ve needed your father more than you – his child! What a horrible thing to say to a grieving person.

  6. My miracles have been in my internal healing – being able to forgive after years of pain. The moracle workers were therapists and me, but I believe tge Holy Ghost worked through us. When it comes to stuff like cancer the world makes no sense. I don’t go to Sunday School. Haven’t for years. Honestly I just prefer RS because there’s more vulnerability and honesty in my experience. I wish Sunday School felt like RS does for me.

  7. Sunday School is definitely not the place to offer support for doubt or hurt. In fact, there is no forum in the church that provides a space for this. For someone like me who learn best in an environment that fosters authentic discussion as I seek for truth, I feel lost and alone. Meaningful connection, despite differences in belief, would add weight to our ability to truly “mourn with those who mourn.” Thank you for sharing your thoughts and story.

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