I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

I have been taught that the highest purpose in life for women is to be wives and mothers. If that is true, what is the purpose or the worth of my life as a single woman?

Mary Ellen Edmunds, associate director of training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and a member of the Relief Society general board. There are many unmarried Latter-day Saints who share this concern. But a proper perspective can make a significant difference in our view of our intrinsic worth as women and of our potential for progress and contribution.

In Moses 1:39, the Lord tells us that his work and his glory are “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” We are his own spirit children. Our worth is not a result of circumstance, or even of our particular level of obedience or righteousness. It is part of our heritage as children of God. No condition, no action, no attitude or thought can change or diminish the love he has for us or the worth of our souls in his sight or his plan. Our worthiness may change, because of our choices, but our worth is eternal in the eyes of our all-knowing, all-loving Heavenly Father.

As a single woman, I would be making a serious mistake if I judged my Heavenly Father’s love for me and his feeling for my worth on the basis of having or not having a husband and children right now. Furthermore, it is not true that a husband and children automatically bring happiness, any more than it is true that those who are without husband or children have no worth and no purpose. There are many women with children who feel overwhelmed by life and have little self-worth, and who feel lonely, tired, and frustrated.

It is unfortunate that some single Latter-day Saints become discouraged and retreat from life, let go of self-worth and self-image, feel cheated and unwanted, and think about themselves all the time. This usually leads to a lot of self-pity.

It may take effort for single women to keep from building walls that cut them off from people who do have these things. If we listen to Satan, it is easy to develop resentments because others appear to have more happiness and more opportunities than we.

A better course is to be the best we can be, work and serve selflessly, and get a lot of mileage and joy out of every experience, every day. The truth is that everyone in this world has some things we do not—and we have some things that they do not have. Sharing can do much to overcome self-concern, murmuring, and spiritual aches and pains.

Then, too, there are things we cannot learn if we spend all our time alone. We may become too comfortable thinking only of ourselves, putting all of our own wants and needs first. Instead, it may be important for us to make an effort to be with others, to learn with them and from them. One of our great goals in this life is to learn to live together, in a society united by love and respect. Part of our purpose in life, in fact, is to learn how to treat others as our Father would, to esteem others as ourselves. (See D&C 38:24–27.) We are likely accountable for the ways in which we lift and bless, as well as for the ways in which we may harm or offend. In this context, it is important for all of us to realize that we can do much to help single individuals—particularly women—feel a sense of value, of belonging, of contributing. May we be kind and gentle when we make broad statements, basing our perceptions on what really matters in life.

And what does matter most? That we love God and our fellow beings, sharing with them the gifts our Father has given us. This is what pleases God most. It is important at any moment in our lives to know that what we are doing pleases our Heavenly Father, that we are involved in activities which help him accomplish his work, and that we are helping to prepare the world for the Savior to come again. Nothing can bring us greater peace.

It is a revealing and sanctifying experience to count our many blessings, naming them one by one. Oh, how we ought to thank and praise and trust and serve our Heavenly King, who has made our blessings possible!

Life is much more satisfying when we focus on all we have, instead of on all that we do not yet have. We have faith, we have hope, we have charity. We have a body, a chance to repent and change, and a chance to become as God is. We have time and agency and shoes and water and the ability to read and think and pray. All of these are blessings which say to us, “God loves you. Great is the worth of your soul in the sight of your Heavenly Father.”

We have the promise that he has reserved for us gifts beyond our comprehension. President Ezra Taft Benson has observed that “not all women in the Church will have an opportunity for marriage and motherhood in mortality. But if those of you in this situation are worthy and endure faithfully, you can be assured of all blessings from a kind and loving Heavenly Father—and I emphasize all blessings.

“I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you. Time is numbered only to man. God has your eternal perspective in mind.” (Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 97.)

We must be careful not to let a particular circumstance dictate our happiness or sense of worth. We must seek for the faith, the gratitude, and the perspective to do well in every circumstance in which we may find ourselves. Then we will come to a point where we trust our Heavenly Father completely and are profoundly aware of his love for us and our worth and purpose in his sight.

Are some teaching aids more appropriate than others in teaching children spiritual concepts?

Daryl V. Hoole, Primary General Board. Primary leaders Churchwide prepare prayerfully and carefully to teach and lead in ways that will be for the good of the children. However, well-meaning leaders and teachers sometimes employ teaching methods that are not in the children’s best interests. Among these methods can be the inappropriate use of some types of memory aids and the improper use of competition.

Memory Aids

I find that memory aids are appropriate when used with wisdom and propriety, but they can also be misused and confuse children or cheapen sacred things. For example, when we want children to think of the gift of the Holy Ghost, we do not want them to visualize a wrapped present.

Another method that I think is frequently misused in teaching Primary songs is the use of rebus symbols—pictures that suggest syllables or words in a phrase. The following are examples of rebus I find misleading: a head of lettuce and an iron depicting the words let us all press on; a picture of a bee and a leaf for the word believe; a spear being thrust into an object for “spear-it”/Spirit; and a wrapped stick of gum for “chews,” as in choose the right. Not only can these rebus symbols make indelible and erroneous impressions on children, but they can also interfere with the learning process. Children mentally replace the real meaning of the word with the meaning of the symbols. The rebus for the words let us all press on, for example, allows the image of lettuce and an iron to take the place of an accurate image of persevering.

Rebus symbols are generally not effective in teaching concepts, but are best used in rote memorization. Following are ideas that do contribute to understanding:

  1. 1.

    Define the term by writing it on a chalkboard and using familiar synonyms to explain its meaning. In the case of “press on,” children would understand an explanation using terms like “to continue,” “to keep going,” or “to not give up.”

  2. 2.

    Offer examples of what the term means. For example, you could explain that “pressing on” in the work of the Lord means saying your prayers every day, keeping the commandments, and serving others.

  3. 3.

    Involve the children in the learning process. Ask them to restate the term, or write the lyrics of the song on a chalkboard and then cover them up while they sing.

Using techniques such as these, teachers can help children gradually understand the messages in the songs they sing.

Competition

The scriptures teach us that everyone is of equal value before the Lord. Consequently, I believe that Primary is not the place for contests in which there are winners and losers. Children who feel happy and comfortable will want to return every week. These good feelings can be destroyed through competition.

Children’s feelings are tender. One nine-year-old girl left Primary in tears after her incorrect answer in a game caused her team to lose. Another little boy came to equate his worthiness with winning a game—he was certain something was wrong with him when he didn’t earn a point. Still another child refused to sing for several weeks after not winning a “best singer” award. Two little boys were even fighting over who was the most reverent.

How do we measure who is the best singer? How do we measure reverence? Do we always know what is in a child’s heart? Furthermore, some behaviors, such as reverence, should be their own reward. More important, Heavenly Father wants us all to be winners—a principle that should be reflected in Primary.

Children are best encouraged and motivated not through comparing or competing, but through receiving specific and sincere praise. Compliments such as the following lift a child’s self-image: “Kimberly, when you raise your hand and answer questions, it helps everyone,” or “Michael, when you sit quietly and listen, it is easier for me to teach.” Group compliments also encourage. “Did you know, boys and girls,” a music leader might say, “that I feel a thrill when you sing with such expression on your faces and in your voices!”

Many fun, effective teaching methods exist to help motivate children, and it is vitally important that we use them if we are to teach children the lessons the Lord wants them to learn.

How can I get more out of sacrament meeting talks?

George Durrant, Department of Church History, Brigham Young University. I like this question because it puts the responsibility on those who can do something about the situation—us. While we can’t change the talks we hear in sacrament meeting, except for the ones we personally give, we can do things to make each talk more interesting. Great talks can be even greater, and poor talks can be pleasant, if we, the listeners, will do a few things.

First, we can make ourselves more receptive to what is said. I used to attend general conference in person, right in the Tabernacle. When I began staying at home and watching the proceedings on television, I soon realized that I had learned more and been more inspired when I went to the Tabernacle. Why was that the case? I thought that I would get more out of conference at home, where I was sitting on my nice, soft, comfortable chair.

But the comfortable chair was part of the problem. I was too comfortable . So I decided to try an experiment. At the next conference, I got up, showered, and dressed as if I were going to the Tabernacle. Then I found the hardest chair in the house and placed it in front of the television set. I ate before the first session began and did not do so again until it ended. I sang the rest hymn as though I were right there with those in the Tabernacle, sustained the Brethren by raising my hand, said amen to the prayers, and didn’t talk to anyone until the session concluded. And do you know what? I started getting the same nourishment from the conference broadcast that I had received while attending conference in the Tabernacle.

I realize that we are talking about sacrament meeting talks, not about general conference. Nonetheless, the receptivity principle is the same. We need to do certain things to ensure that we will receive the talk well. For example, if a Sunday feast precedes sacrament meeting, it is difficult not to be drowsy. So we should go a bit light on food before church in order to stay alert for the spiritual food of the meeting.

It might also help to sit close to the front, if possible. I know we can’t all do this, but the farther away from the podium we sit, the less interesting the talks seem to be. Sitting close to the front is especially helpful for families with children and youth. Children and youth maintain more interest when they can see the speaker close-up.

Another way to improve listening is to keep our eyes fixed on the speaker’s eyes. When we look down or away, our mind follows our gaze. And if the speaker looks at us and we nod our approval, it encourages him or her and sparks enthusiasm—both in us and in the speaker.

We can also praise the speaker in our minds, instead of finding fault with his or her grammar or lackluster speaking style. Bishop Henry B. Eyring once told me that his father said he had never been bored during a sacrament meeting talk. He always tried to think along with the speaker, even developing ideas in his mind about what he would say to supplement the talk.

Finally, perhaps the most important thing we can do to get more out of sacrament meeting talks is to pray for the speaker, pray that he or she will be able to express his or her message by the power of the Holy Ghost. As the Doctrine and Covenants declares, “He that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth. … He that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:21–22.) When we invest in speakers by praying for them, we are, in a sense, quietly cheering for them. We desire that they do well. And though our prayers help the speaker, they also help us. We are more receptive and, consequently, get much more from sacrament meeting talks.