The Gospel Doctrine lesson #38 manual objective is “to encourage class members to follow Paul’s example and be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ even in the midst of trials and tribulation.”
To bring Paul’s hope of Israel into our current life circumstances.
We come to the final narratives of Paul’s trials and journeys in this reading, and, much as I like to live in the past and be immersed in the experiences of biblical missionaries, these old place names and stories of hardships have been launching me forward in my mind to the present day, to those thousands upon thousands of people whose road from Damascus, Syria fills our hearts and sympathies. There is too much distress and sadness in the world. And I’m not here to prove the importance of these past narratives over and above the pressing needs of the present. Instead, I read scriptures as a kind of lifeline for my present, to guide my choices and give me hope beyond immediate circumstances.
Which brings me back to Paul. The lesson asks students to think of “a person in the scriptures with whom you feel you can identify, because of similar thoughts, experiences, or situations.” I haven’t always related much to Paul. He is a firebrand; I am not. He makes strong statements about women being silent and not braiding their hair (!); I like to be listened to, and I like braids. He started out as a bloodthirsty persecutor of Christians, then experienced a dramatic conversion; I have always suspected that Paul would find my peaceful and timid tendencies disappointingly lukewarm.
On the other hand, his story compels me to acknowledge our similarities. Deaths from Mediterranean shipwrecks, debates over citizenship, arguments over church doctrines and policies: these are the stories that fill up my newsfeed today, and this is Paul’s world as well. I may see it through different eyes, but, like Paul, I see a world of physical danger, clashing cultures, bureaucratic headaches, and political inanity. In my world, both tragedy’s depths and soaring joy can be elbowed out by petty quarrels and red tape.
I am fascinated by Paul’s maneuverings and narrow escapes, so much so that I sometimes forget the hope that drove Paul forward on all these journeys. In these last chapters, he declares it over and over. In Acts 23:6, in answer to the Jews who challenge him, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” In Acts 26:6-8, again on trial, he explains the same hope to Agrippa, “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” And finally in Rome, Paul says in Acts 28:20 “For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”
I have this hope too: that souls are immortal, that God will see us through and beyond death, and that as Paul says, the “just and the unjust” will rise again. But sometimes this hope of a life to come seems at a disconnect from my present here and now. Does the world of the living really gain anything from this hope for a life to come? I think of Paul and wonder at this. He was tireless in his mission. It exhausts me just to read about him! When Paul speaks of chains, it’s not always clear whether he’s talking about a literal prison or his binding commitment to a life of industry, to speaking, planning, organizing, and traveling. His hope for the future did not sap his strength for the present but gave him added zeal.
Lucy Mack Smith helps me bridge the cognitive gap between these two realities: the hope for a future heaven and the needs of the now. During the second meeting of the Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 24, 1842, 66-year-old Lucy Mack Smith rose to speak to the women of the society. In Eliza R. Snow’s minutes, “Mother” Lucy Smith, “rejoic’d in view of what was doing— as she came in and look’d upon the sisters, it gave her feelings of deep interest— Wept— said she was advanc’d in years and could not stay long— hop’d the Lord would bless and aid the Society in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked— that her work was nearly done— felt to pray that the blessings of heaven might rest upon the Society.” She continued, “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together.” The concept of immortality isn’t a turning away from this world; it gives fuel to our commitment to cherish the living. Like Paul’s hope, ours is a call to service.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Service with a Smile, Leslie Graff
Those years of recurrent pregnancy loss were really tough for me. It was a very isolating experience, some people might have a miscarriage or two but when you get up to six and seven you are such a statistical outlier, no one can really relate. It’s hard to resolve having that type of experience. I decided I could use my child life skills to help other women through similar experiences. I led pregnancy loss groups through Resolve, which is an infertility organization. So many times I read peoples stories and they always tell their story when they are at the end of it. It’s always something like, “Looking back, it was hard, but its okay now… we adopted this baby or we eventually had a baby ” But that doesn’t really help people who are right in the middle of it. A person who’s in the middle of a traumatic experience like recurrent pregnancy loss doesn’t really know what the end is going to be. So I thought, I want to help other people who are in the same situation as me now. Not when I’m on the other side, down the road, telling everybody it will all work out. Because you never know how it is going to end up. The strings don’t always tie up neatly.
A Champion for Diversity, Sui Lang Panoke
That whole experience of going through pregnancy and childbirth alone was extremely difficult. Initially, it was probably the darkest time of my life, spiritually. On one hand, I was really disappointed in myself, like “How did I end up here?” This was not part of my life plan. I haven’t always been active in the Church. But, through this experience I found myself on my knees praying day after day for God’s comfort and guidance to help me through this. I was quickly inspired to shift my perspective on my situation and instead of seeing my pregnancy as an obstacle, I looked at it as a gift–the greatest gift anyone could ever hope for. It was the Lord saying, “Come back,” and at the same time giving me the most precious gift of all–my daughter. No one ever aspires to become a single parent–it’s not your childhood dream–but I can honestly say that being a single parent has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. It has led to my testimony growing stronger than I could have ever imagined. I know that I would not have the testimony of the gospel to the extent that I do, had I not gone through this experience. I have gained a deeper understanding of why the Lord has us go through the trials that we go through. It’s all part of His master plan designed to teach us, humble us, and strengthen our faith. I think a lot of people, when they have children, begin to focus more on increasing their spirituality, and it was the same for me. The birth of my daughter ultimately brought me back to the Church. For that, I am truly grateful.
What Marfan Means to Maya, Maya Brown-Zimmerman
The way we talk about other people and the way we talk about ourselves frames a lot. I read an article where the author talked about people “suffering” from Marfan syndrome. The word “suffering” paints a picture of what you think of the other person and how you think of them handling their issues. We need to be careful of the labels we use because it affects how people see themselves or how they interact with you or other people. We want to use uplifting language. I try to not assume anything negative, so I don’t use “suffering” when I’m talking about another’s illness unless the person tells me they’re suffering. I don’t use the word “victim.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
The Lord Has Not Forgotten You, Linda S. Reeves
Dear sisters, our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, know us and love us. They know when we are in pain or suffering in any way. They do not say, “It’s OK that you’re in pain right now because soon everything is going to be all right. You will be healed, or your husband will find a job, or your wandering child will come back.” They feel the depth of our suffering, and we can feel of Their love and compassion in our suffering.
Anchors of Testimony, Mary N. Cook
Some of you may feel that you can’t rise above the polluted pond, that your circumstances are too difficult, your trials too hard, your temptations too great. But remember Alma’s promise: “Whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” Remember, the stalk of the water lily grows in adversity, and as the stalk lifts the water lily, your faith will support and lift you.
Developing Inner Strength, Ellen W. Smoot
This is the kind of inner strength I would like to talk about. How do you and I become so converted to the truth, so full of faith, so dependent on God that we are able to meet trials and even be strengthened by them?