Lesson 30: Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, (2000), 223–32


The purpose of this lesson is to help us develop and teach self-mastery.

We Must Learn to Master our Desires and Feelings

  • Sing the hymn “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” (Hymns, no. 304, or Gospel Principles,  374).

In the scriptures we read, “He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). We also read, “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12).

Our appetites and passions are like a spirited, powerful horse. If they are allowed to run wild, unharnessed and unbroken, they will take us where they please. They may take us to dangerous and harmful places. But we would not destroy a fine horse just because it is high-spirited. When bridled so that we become master, the horse can serve us well. Likewise, when we become master over our desires and feelings, we learn to redirect them within the bounds of the gospel. These feelings then become our servants. They can increase our ability to feel joy and love.

Developing Self-Mastery Helps Us Progress and Receive Blessings

Baptism was the beginning of a new life for us. By following the Savior, we strive to overcome worldliness, weakness, and sin. The Savior taught:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24)

“And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 16:26).

He also taught:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Entering into heaven by the narrow way requires self-restraint and self-denial. It means doing without some things that are very tempting. When we know the truth and live by it, our reward will be freedom.

  • Read John 8:31–32. Write on the chalkboard: How does obeying the principles of the gospel make us free? Ask the sisters to think about this question.

If we allow ourselves to express anger, jealousy, revenge, selfishness, pride, bragging, hate, and so on, they can bind us. They continually gain more power. They embed themselves into our character and become our habits. In this way, we lose not only our freedom but also our self-respect. When we bridle our passions, however, we free ourselves of feelings that could be our masters.

When we bridle our appetites, we become free of wants that could be our masters. On the other hand, if we eat too much food or use harmful substances such as coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, or certain drugs, we may develop habits that are hard to break. Our bodies begin to crave these things, and we become slaves to them.

Hunger for worldly goods (when we already have enough for our needs) and desire for too much sleep or too much entertainment (such as television) are also appetites. They must be kept within their proper limits.

  • Read 2 Nephi 9:45. How does obeying gospel principles make us free?

Our kind, wise Heavenly Father gives us commandments because He loves us. He wants to protect us from unnecessary sorrow. He wants to help us gain self-mastery so that He can bless us. The law of fasting helps us learn to control our appetite for food. Then we can make our spirits masters over our bodies. The law of tithing helps us overcome our selfish desires. He gave us the Word of Wisdom partly to free us from the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. He gave us the law of chastity to help us control our physical desires.

  • Display visual 30-a, “Daniel and his friends refuse the king’s meat and wine.”

In the Old Testament we read of Daniel and his friends, who were commanded to eat food that they had been taught not to eat and to drink wine. But they refused, and because of their obedience to the Lord’s law of health, they were blessed with strength and wisdom. (See Daniel 1:1–16.)

  • What can we learn from the experience of Daniel and his friends? How does self-mastery help us obey the commandments?

Gaining Self-Mastery

Gaining self-mastery is a lifelong process. As we gain greater understanding of the gospel, we also gain a greater desire to live its principles. Living the gospel requires us to continually work toward greater self-mastery.

  • Display a poster of the following list or refer to the information on the chalkboard:

    1. 1.

      Know ourselves.

    2. 2.

      Set goals.

    3. 3.

      Pray and read the scriptures for help.

Know Ourselves

Throughout our lives we face new situations and can learn more about the gospel and about ourselves. We learn to recognize our weaknesses and strengths, and we begin to understand why we have them. We want to get rid of bad habits and develop good ones.

Set Goals

Until we set goals and work to achieve them, we are like the waves of the sea. We are driven by the winds of uncontrolled wants and feelings. We must have firm goals and self-confidence before we can master our weaknesses. Sister Kay Newman of the United States struggled with an undisciplined appetite:

“I was a grown woman with my own children nearly raised when I came to the realization that I was my own worst enemy. And do you know what caused it? I’m embarrassed to tell you! A box of chocolates! During the Christmas holidays I ate nearly a whole box of chocolates. …

“Eating the chocolates represented my low point. I cannot describe what I went through to one who has never experienced similar feelings: I was stuffed with chocolates, disgusted with myself, despondent, and thoroughly discouraged. Through this ridiculous, silly weakness, Satan worked with me and brought me down. All my feelings and thoughts at this time were unworthy.

“So that Christmas I decided that I would never experience that situation again. I sat down and wrote myself a letter. In the letter I described my feelings so I couldn’t forget them, and I promised myself that I would not let another year pass without gaining total control over my appetite. I’ve seen such progress in myself in the year since then, and my confidence has grown daily. I know that I have almost won this particular battle” (“My Worst Enemy—Me!” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 62).

  • How did Sister Newman feel when she proved she could set a goal and stick to it? What did she do to remind herself of her goal?

Pray and Read the Scriptures for Help

Through regular prayer and scripture reading we can strengthen our desire to do better. The lives of people in the scriptures set models for us to follow. They help us realize that we can gain mastery too. Sister Newman strengthened herself by faithfully reading the scriptures every day for one hour. She said: “During that hour I’ve realized the desire to overcome myself. During that hour I found the desire to rid myself of lifelong habits that were holding me back, and that desire has stayed with me through countless problems” (Ensign, Feb. 1975, 63).

  • Ask the sisters to tell how praying and reading the scriptures have helped them improve themselves.

Teaching Self-Mastery to Our Children

Our homes should be training grounds where our children can learn self-mastery. If we fail to teach them enough, or if we control them too tightly, they will not learn how to govern themselves. We should follow an orderly process in teaching our children self-mastery.

  • Display a poster of the following list or refer to the information on the chalkboard:

    1. 1.

      Set the bounds.

    2. 2.

      Teach children to apply gospel principles.

    3. 3.

      Give children responsibility.

Set the Bounds

President David O. McKay taught:

“It is my opinion … that the best time for the child to learn [the] rules of conformity is between the ages of three and five. … If the mother does not get control of the child during those ages, she will find great difficulty in getting control later. … I do not mean to push and drag or confine—just let the little child be perfectly free to develop until he goes beyond the bounds of safety. Then let him feel the gentle but firm hand of restraint.

“Once Sister McKay and I saw this rule effectively illustrated in a zoo. … We saw a little baby monkey just learning to toddle. The mother was taking care of it and feeding it. We were interested first in seeing the mother pat the little babe, and try to get it to go to sleep. But the little fellow broke away from the mother and began to climb up the cage. The mother apparently paid no attention and let it climb until it got up to danger. Then she reached up, brought it back, and let it play within the bounds of safety. … Thus, we see the first contribution of the home to the happiness of the child is to impress him with the fact that there are bounds beyond which he cannot go with safety” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1971], 38).

  • Read Doctrine and Covenants 93:40–44. Why did the Lord reprimand Frederick G. Williams and Sidney Rigdon? Even if we struggle with teaching our children self-mastery while they are young, why should we continue to try?

Teach Children to Apply Gospel Principles

President N. Eldon Tanner said:

“Children do not learn by themselves how to distinguish right from wrong. Parents have to determine the child’s readiness to assume responsibility. … While we are teaching them, we have the responsibility to discipline them and to see that they do what is right. If a child is besmudged with dirt, we do not let him wait until he grows up to decide whether or not he will bathe. We do not let him wait to decide whether or not he will take his medicine when sick, or go to school or to church. …

“Parents also should teach their children early in life the glorious concept and fact that they are spirit children of God, and choosing to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ is the only way to enjoy success and happiness here and eternal life hereafter. They must be taught that Satan is real and that he will use all agencies at his disposal to tempt them to do wrong, to lead them astray, make them his captives, and keep them from the supreme happiness and exaltation they could otherwise enjoy” (Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God [1973], 87).

In the scriptures we read of Eli, a righteous priest who served in the temple. Eli’s sons did not follow their father’s example. Instead, they sinned greatly against the Lord. Eli warned them but did not restrain them. Because of this, the Lord was unhappy with him and brought a harsh judgment upon him. (See 1 Samuel 2–3.)

  • Read 1 Samuel 3:13. What does the Lord expect us to do in addition to teaching our children?

It is extremely important for us to set the proper example for our children to follow. If we do not control our tempers, appetites, and passions, our children probably will not control theirs.

We need to make our home a place of happiness. Our children should feel safe, secure, and loved. If they do not find happiness in living the gospel at home, they will go outside of the gospel. Therefore, when a child has been disobedient, we should discipline the child and then show him or her an increase of love.

Give Children Responsibility

Elder F. Enzio Busche said:

“My wife and I agree that in the process of maturing spiritually, children have what might be thought of as a right … to have deficiencies. … We believe that it is the duty of the parents to understand … and to forgive, ‘lest they become discouraged.’ [See Colossians 3:21.] … Their smallest beginnings toward acquiring positive gifts need to be seen, mentioned, and admired. …

“We try to guide our children toward self-respect … and mostly leave it up to them to judge themselves. We have experienced the fact that one is not as good a teacher when one discovers and points out mistakes … as when one helps a child to discover for himself that he is doing wrong. When a child can comprehend his mistakes himself, the first step to change has already been taken.

“I remember once how we asked our son, after a transgression, to set his own punishment. He decided that he should not be allowed to watch television for one month. That seemed to us to be considerably too severe, but how happy we were to hear from his grandmother that while visiting her he had insisted she was wrong to encourage him to watch a certain television program, even though his parents would never know. I don’t think there can be a greater joy for parents than to see a child handle himself well in a difficult situation” (“‘Provoke Not Your Children,’” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 41–42).

  • How did Elder Busche encourage his children to develop self-mastery?

Elder L. Tom Perry said: “The Prophet Joseph Smith’s words concerning governing principles certainly apply to our children: ‘Teach them correct principles and [let them] govern themselves.’ (As quoted by John Taylor in Millennial Star, 13:339.) Of course we must be careful to be certain that our teaching is adequate and that we have instilled a faith and trust in the Lord in their lives. We must be certain that they have been trained properly, and as they start to mature spiritually, we need to give them opportunities to express the strength that is growing within them. We need to give them our faith and trust and give them responsibility” (in Conference Report, São Paulo Area Conference 1977, 11–12).

Conclusion

Developing self-mastery in ourselves and our children is a lifelong process. It requires faith and patience. But as we continue to build self-mastery, we will enjoy more blessings of the gospel.

Challenge

Set a goal of mastering a weakness. Follow the three steps of teaching self-mastery outlined in this lesson in order to help your children. Review this lesson at home.

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Study Gospel Principles chapter 4, “Freedom to Choose,” and chapter 35, “Obedience.”

  2. 2.

    Plan to open the lesson with the hymn “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” (see Hymns, no. 304, or Gospel Principles,  374).

  3. 3.

    Prepare the posters suggested in the lesson or write the information on the chalkboard.

  4. 4.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.