Thursday, August 25, 2011

Open Your Heart -- or Surviving the Youth Sunday School Class

I taught my son’s Sunday School class this week. It was The Dreaded Fourteen And Fifteen Year-Old Class. And I survived. In fact, it was pretty cool. I was bishop to many of these kids when they were baptized; maybe that’s why they went easy on me.

Of course we use the same manual and same scripture blocks in the youth classes as in Gospel Doctrine. I prepared but didn’t quite know what to expect. I probably over-prepared. (Ok, I certainly over prepared, but I was glad I did.) When I teach a youth class, I like to have lots of arrows in the quiver just in case I need them.

The lesson this week was on Paul’s second missionary journey. We looked at the maps of his journeys, and we had the kids draw a world map on the board so we could talk about to what “world” the apostles were carrying the gospel. We reminded them of the story of Saul / Paul (and they loved playing dumb about it…). We then talked specifically about how Paul had to listen to the spirit to know where to go on his journey, and that the spirit constrained him from going some places, and led him to others.

Then we read in Acts 16:14 about Lydia: “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (emphasis mine).

We stuck on this idea of opening one’s heart for most of the lesson. We probably used that phrase “open heart” about three dozen times. We talked about what it meant to have a closed heart and an open heart. We compared the closed heart feeling to how the class members felt about their little siblings who had messed with their stuff or their rooms or told on them. We suggested the closed heart was in a box under the bed, in a safe, or in a Swiss bank account (all their ideas). We talked about how an open heart might feel different from that and how. And we talked about how they might open their hearts to spiritual things.

I remember being 15. It was like I was on the dark side of the moon, out of radio contact with spiritual things. Even though as a younger kid I was really tuned into what I thought was the spirit, at 15, I was aloof, and trying my best to be a little rebellious. I see the same thing in my own son, and I’ve seen it before. Part of my goal as a dad, as a bishop and as a friend to some of these kids, has been to do what I can to keep the gravitational pull of the spirit strong enough so that when they return from the dark side of the moon, they’ll be swept up in it and feel it again.

So we didn’t talk about Thessalonians. And we didn’t talk about Paul’s different missionary companions. And we didn’t talk about signs of the second coming. Frankly, most of the lesson was left on the cutting room floor, except for this idea of opening our hearts to the spirit.

By the time it was done, I felt pretty good about myself. Until I got home later and my son reported that I hadn’t done too bad. “Thanks,” I said. “What was the point of the lesson?”

He thought for a while. “Well, I drew a map of the world.”

Me: “Yeah…”

Son: “And we talked about Paul.”

Me: “Yeah…”

Son: “What?”

Me: “What about the point? That I said about three dozen times?”

Son: “What?”

Me: (moving my hands in an opening gesture)

Son: “What?”

Me: (still gesturing) “Open….”

Son: “Oh, open, uh, open…”

Me: “Open…your…”

Son: “Oh, yeah. Open your heart.”

Radio silence? You bet. (Sigh.)


  1. I don't want to derail the story, but this is the first time I've seen this phenomenon so explicitly.

    The scripture clearly says the Lord opened Lydia's heart, but Mormons read it as Lydia opening her own heart to the Lord.


  2. Well, Andrew, I'm not all Mormons, so I can't speak for how the other millions might have taught this lesson.

    In my case, I pointed out that the Lord opened Lydia's heart. But we also talked at length about Paul's need to open his heart to the influence of the spirit as it related to his missionary travels (to listen and know not to go some places and to go others). I made the simplifying leap with my youth class that we have power to do things to open our hearts to the spirit's influence.

    That said, I recognize that sometimes hearts open at the Lord's will and not necessarily ours.

    So -- I edited my experience (perhaps less judiciously than I should have) for purposes of the story I told here.

  3. It's not an unprecedented move. After all, Joseph Smith himself did it. (JST for Exodus 7:3, for ex). so no need to hedge and qualify...

    I think one thing that strikes me is that for Paul to open his heart to the influence of the spirit as it related to his missionary travels, it actually didn't rely much on Paul at all. At least, not initially. What I mean is...I haven't see anything to suggest that Saul did anything to prepare himself for his conversion on the road to Damascus. For some people (Paul, but also Alma the Younger), things like that happen. For others, they don't.

  4. Certainly a fair point, Andrew, regarding the conversion of Paul (and Alma) -- those events were God-made in his own way.

    But my view is that for Paul to have that continuing inspiration (or revelation) about where to preach, as described repeatedly in Acts, he needs to have his heart open to the influence of the spirit. Even the Savior taught He who hath ears to hear... My view is that I have some responsibility for whether I have ears to hear.

    Of course the other side of your comment is the fact that some who seek to open their hearts may still come away wanting. I did not address that in my lesson, but I do acknowledge that such a condition may exist.