The Important Role of Relationships in Our Heavenly Father's Plan of Salvation
Brian Mead, "The important Role of Relationships in Our Heavenly Father's Plan of Salvation," Religious Educator 23, no. 3 (2022): 27–45.
Brian Mead (MeadBG@ChurchofJesusChrist.org) has worked for S&I for sixteen years. He has worked as a seminary teacher and principal, been a member of the Training Services Division, and is currently teaching at BYU.
The core or essence of our Heavenly Father's plan is centered on relationships. Photo by Kelly Sikkema (modified), Unsplash.com
The Importance of an Overview of the Plan of Salvation
President Boyd K. Packer was a master teacher who spent both his professional life and his personal time in full-time service to the Church, seeking to build faith and testimony in the lives of youth and young adults. As a teacher, he understood the value of providing students with a “framework upon which the truths they discover at random can be organized into a personal testimony.”  Because of this understanding, he invited religious educators to begin each year by providing an overview of the plan of salvation. He believed that this overview would “be of immense value to . . . students” because “a knowledge of the plan of happiness, even in outline form, can give young minds a ‘why.’” 
Over the years, as religious educators have responded to President Packer’s invitation, these plan of salvation lessons have taken many forms. Some have included diagrams full of circles, lines, and arrows. They have focused on certain gospel principles intended to provide students with a broad overview and understanding of our Heavenly Father’s plan and their role in it. A sampling of the bolded principles from the current seminary teachers’ manuals helps us to see the types of truths taught in these lessons.
- The purpose of Heavenly Father’s plan is to provide a way for us to receive immortality and eternal life.
- Heavenly Father’s plan for our immortality and eternal life includes the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
- God has sent us to the earth to obtain bodies and to gain experience and growth.
- Sin prevents us from becoming like Heavenly Father and returning to live with Him.
- If we choose to sin, then we will be unhappy.
- We must obey Heavenly Father’s commandments to receive eternal life.
- Jesus Christ was chosen in the premortal life to be the Redeemer of mankind.
- We cannot be like Heavenly Father without a body of flesh and bones.
- Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected. 
The Relational Nature of the Plan of Salvation
These lessons, with their focus on eternal principles, have been of immense value to millions of young Latter-day Saints for many years. They have provided a framework that has helped students to understand key aspects of our Heavenly Father’s plan. They have also offered a framework that has allowed students to think through and be able to answer many important “why” questions such as these: “Why do we need a mortal experience?” “Why must we repent?” “Why do we need a Savior?”
However, one drawback to these types of “overview” lessons is that they fail to help students understand what is at the heart of the plan. The way that they are diagrammed and explained makes it seem like most of our experiences are part of a solo journey to exaltation. Yet the core or essence of our Heavenly Father’s plan is centered on relationships. If our students are to have a complete framework for them to think through and understand our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, they must know that the beauties of both mortality and eternity are only beautiful because of our loving and enduring relationships. We see this in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his servants, and in how they often frame the plan of salvation in terms of our relationships with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, our families, members of Christ’s church, friends, and others. The following sampling of teachings about Heavenly Father, the family, and others offer examples of how relationships are central to our Heavenly Father’s plan.
Our Relationship with Heavenly Father
“God’s love is the fundamental reality of the universe. And because we are his children, we are the primary objects of that love.” God is our loving Heavenly Father who has chosen to define his plan of salvation in terms of his role as our father. Little is known about him outside of this role. However, it seems that we as his children are innately drawn to his fatherly nature. The gospel topics essay “Becoming Like God” opens with the following statement: “One of the most common images in Western and Eastern religions alike is of God as a parent and of human beings as God’s children. Billions pray to God as their parent.”  We pray to him. We sing of him. We gather in sacred spaces to worship him. We do all these things as we seek to connect with and have a meaningful relationship with him.
As Latter-day Saints, we are striving to enter the celestial kingdom and receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus Christ helps us to see that our Father’s greatest gift isn’t only a destination. (See Doctrine and Covenants 14:7.) During his Intercessory Prayer, Christ taught that our relationship with our Heavenly Father is the essence of the plan of salvation. He prayed, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). The Prophet Joseph Smith expanded on this when he stated, “If any man does not comprehend . . . God, . . . he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.” A central feature of exaltation is getting to have a relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Our Savior also taught of the importance of our relationship with our Heavenly Father when he was questioned by a lawyer about which commandment was the greatest of all. He taught, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). The Savior chose to frame his answer in a way that helps us to understand that the most significant commandment for us is to have a relationship with our Heavenly Father. We have to come to know “for a certainty the Character of God.”
This type of knowledge is more than just having a superficial understanding of God. It means that we truly come to know him through our experiences with him. We must personally feel of his love and care. We must come to know him by hearing his voice through revelation. We must come to feel that we actually can turn to him during times of need and times of rejoicing. As we work towards these goals, we will begin to see him as he is: a loving and personal father to us that we know and trust. In this way we learn to keep the first and great commandment to truly love God.
Our Relationship with Family
“Family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” As Latter-day Saints, we have long recognized the beauty and importance of family relationships. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared in an interview with PBS, “We believe that marriage is eternal. One of the fundamental premises of this church is that family is forever. I know, in my life, that it won’t be heaven without my wife, and it will not be heaven without my children.”  Elder Holland’s feelings for his family capture the essence of what family is for us as Latter-day Saints: Family relationships are an incredible source of joy that can provide profound meaning in our lives. Elder Gerrit W. Gong shared, “When asked where meaning comes in life, most people rank family first.”  Our knowledge that family relationships extend into eternity provides happiness, hope, and peace.
President Russell M. Nelson helps clarify why family has a central role within our Heavenly Father’s plan. He explained, “In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” In other words, salvation is centered on our covenant connections with Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father,  while exaltation is expanded to include our relationships with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and our families. 
Elder David A. Bednar gave insight into the role that family plays in exaltation when he shared, “In marriage and family life, we learn and grow together as God intended. In our families we cannot hide from who we really are as we strive to become who we are destined to become. In essence, a family is the mirror that helps us become aware of imperfections and flaws we may not be able or want to acknowledge. No one knows us better than a spouse and the other members of our family. Thus, the family is the ultimate mortal laboratory for the improving and perfecting of God’s children.”  This is a beautiful analogy of the role of families within our Heavenly Father’s plan. A laboratory serves as an ideal place for learning, growth, and mastery of scientific principles. Similarly, families provide the ideal place for us to learn, grow, and become.
Relationships with Spouses
Within the family, marriage between a husband and wife in the new and everlasting covenant is essential as we seek to obtain the fullness of the blessings within our Heavenly Father’s plan (see Doctrine and Covenants 131). A marriage relationship that is bound by covenant creates the ideal conditions that lead to exaltation. Marriage has a uniqueness and beauty that cannot be found in any other relationship. Elder Bednar reiterated one of his earlier teachings and added to it when he taught, “‘Because of their distinctive temperaments and capacities, males and females each bring to a marriage relationship unique perspectives and experiences. The man and the woman contribute differently but equally to a oneness and a unity that can be achieved in no other way. The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other.’ Thus, by divine design, men and women are intended to progress together toward redemption and enduring joy.” 
Our Relationship with Others
In addition to our relationships with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and our families, there are other relationships that add beauty and meaning to our lives. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed a glimpse of what eternity will be like. After seeing a miraculous vision of the celestial kingdom, Joseph taught what he had learned: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:2). We do not have a full understanding what that sociality will entail or look like in the eternities. Latter-day teachings, however, give insight into the meaningful role that these relationships have for us during mortality.
Elder Gong explained, “Our journey to God is often found together. We belong as united community—whether confronting pandemics, storms, wildfires, droughts or quietly meeting daily needs.”  As we journey together, we learn, grow, and begin to experience the beauties of Zion.
In the scriptures, Enoch and his people repeat the teaching that Zion is not merely a destination. It can also be found in our relationships with one another. In the city of Enoch, we see that “the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Our relationships help us to build Zion by providing opportunities for us to implement the gospel of Jesus Christ. Elder Ulisses Soares taught, “The expression of compassion for others is, in fact, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a marked evidence of our spiritual and emotional closeness to the Savior. Furthermore, it shows the level of influence He has on our way of life and demonstrates the magnitude of our spirits.”  As Latter-day Saints, we begin to build Zion as we gather and worship as wards, accept callings, and seek to minister to all of our Heavenly Father’s children. These relationship-building experiences bring happiness and goodness into our lives. They also provide opportunities for us to learn, grow, and progress together.
A Relational Approach for Teaching the Plan of Salvation
All aspects of the plan of salvation are better understood by looking at them through this relational lens. Teaching the principles of the plan of salvation in seminary and institute, in Come, Follow Me, and in other Church curricula is critical for understanding the many “why” questions students have. Explaining these principles relationally will help deepen their framework so that students will know why these principles really matter and what their true purposes are. The relational approach helps students see that the central purpose of the plan is to help us develop relationships with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, family, and others.
Figure 1: Plan of Salvation Diagram 
Many traditional plan of salvation lessons include diagrams, which have taken many forms over the years. Each diagram seeks to offer students a broad overview of the plan. Take a moment to review the diagram from the current Doctrine and Covenants Seminary manual (see figure 1). The diagram focuses on some essential elements of the plan of salvation: faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, obedience, covenants, and enduring to the end. This diagram and the lesson associated with it, like each of the diagrams and lessons taught over the years, are meant to help students understand the essential elements of the plan of salvation. The purpose of this article is to show how we as teachers can teach each of these elements through a relational lens, thereby fulfilling President Packer’s goal of providing students with a deeper and fuller framework of the plan of salvation.
Faith is often defined as having “confidence in something or someone.”  In today’s world, especially among our students’ generation, many struggle to place faith in anybody or anything.  All too often students have been left feeling hurt or disappointed. One of the most beautiful things that we can do as religious educators is to help restore faith. I learned many years ago as a young missionary in Italy that this can happen as we step into sacred spaces and connect with Jesus Christ as we “come to know Him, to learn from Him, and to consciously strive to become like Him.”  One of these sacred moments happened for me as my mission president, companion, and I knelt to pray about a difficult situation. My mission president helped us to step into a sacred space by asking, “Who has the faith to ask for the miracle that we need?” This question rattled me, and I felt completely overwhelmed and inadequate. But then, my companion said that he did have the needed faith. His faith-filled and sincere prayer as he pled to our Heavenly Father helped me to learn that the type of faith that is sufficient to ask for a miracle is not centered on us as individuals. Instead, it is found when faith is centered on our relationship with Jesus Christ. This becomes the type of faith that is enduring, certain and will ultimately lead to our salvation.  During moments when students have shared their struggles of faith, I often share this experience. I then testify that in a world where it often seems difficult to have faith in anything or anyone, faith in Jesus Christ is certain. Our relationship with Christ can anchor us during our moments of uncertainty (see Ether 12:4).
President M. Russell Ballard taught that faith in Jesus Christ is one of the fruits that grows and develops as our relationship with him matures. “When we love and follow Him, we have faith in Him.”  This type of faith in Jesus Christ is both personal and relational. The Church recently updated the temple recommend questions. One question now asks, “Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as your Savior and Redeemer?”  Something as powerful and personal as a witness that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior is only gained as we accept his personal invitation to “Come unto [him]” (Matthew 11:28).
Faith that is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ will allow our students to navigate mortal challenges and to have confidence in themselves when the world might try to tear them down. Sister Lisa L. Harkness taught, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is gritty and resilient. It helps us sift through unimportant distractions. It encourages us to keep moving along the covenant path. Faith pushes through discouragement and allows us to face the future with resolve and squared shoulders. It prompts us to ask for rescue and relief as we pray to the Father in the name of His Son. And when prayerful pleas seem to go unanswered, our persistent faith in Jesus Christ produces patience, humility, and the ability to reverently utter the words ‘Thy will be done.’”  We can only utter this faithful response because we know, love, and trust Jesus Christ. As religious educators, one of greatest things we can do is to create experiences that will help our students to develop their own relationship with Jesus Christ by coming to know him. It is this relational faith in Jesus Christ that will provide consistency and peace for our students in an inconsistent and tumultuous world.
When students are asked to explain what repentance is, they often say things like, “We need to feel sorry for what we have done” or “We need to try to make things right.” These types of statements reflect that they have a basic understanding of some of the steps of the repentance. They also suggest that they do not fully grasp what repentance really is. Their explanations often focus on behaviors and attitudes. While it is true that in the process of repenting behaviors and attitudes will change, students sometimes fail to understand that true repentance is focused on changing our relationships.
The Bible Dictionary helps us to see the relational nature of repentance. It states, “The Greek word of which [repentance] is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.”  According to this definition, repentance is more about changing our minds and our hearts so that we see God and others differently. We realize that sins are willful choices that place others or things ahead of our relationship with our Heavenly Father and the types of relationships that he wants us to have with others. As we come to recognize that repentance is the process for repairing these relationships, we begin to view repentance, and all the steps associated with it, differently.
Viewing repentance through a relational lens can help us as teachers explain the high expectations of our Heavenly Father in a proper light. The changes that repentance often requires can be incredibly difficult and can sometimes cause our students to ask, “If God really loves me, why doesn’t he accept me for who I am?” Elder D. Todd Christofferson helps us to understand that it is precisely because of the love that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for us that they invite us to change. He taught, “Because They love you, They do not want to leave you ‘just as you are.’ Because They love you, They want you to have joy and success. Because They love you, They want you to repent because that is the path to happiness.”  Elder Christofferson helps us to understand that our Heavenly Father’s commandment to repent is a loving invitation from a loving father.
Finally, too many students feel they have strayed too far, or that they have done something so wrong that there is no way that they can be forgiven. This point was driven home for me during my first year teaching seminary. As we spoke of the forgiving nature of Jesus Christ, I asked, “Do you believe that because of Jesus Christ and his Atonement, people can overcome their sins, weakness, and challenges?” Students anonymously recorded their answers on pieces of paper and passed them forward. One hundred percent of students said yes. A little later during the class, students were asked to answer a slightly different question. This question asked, “Do you believe that because of Jesus Christ and his Atonement, you will personally be able to overcome your own personal sins, weaknesses, and challenges?” As I started to unfold their papers, my heart sunk when I saw only about 80% of students said yes. Nearly 20% of my students, who were only teenagers, felt they were so flawed that there was no hope for them.
As I have repeated this activity over the years, I have realized that students often feel this way because, in that moment, they have forgotten that they are children of Heavenly Father, who has a perfect love for them. We need to help our students feel the truthfulness of Elder Holland’s powerful testimony: “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” 
Repentance requires asking for forgiveness. It requires that we make restitution to the extent possible. It requires us to change thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. These steps of repentance are significant, but they are not the core essence of repentance. We can help our students to understand this powerful truth: repentance helps us to change and strengthen our relationships with our Heavenly Father and others.
Baptism is the first saving ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through this gateway ordinance, we become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and begin our journey along the covenant path.  It is important to help students see that this isn’t a solo journey. Our covenants connect us both upwardly with our Heavenly Father and outwardly with others. This was Alma’s message to those who gathered with him at the Waters of Mormon. He began asking questions to help his people understand both the upward and outward relational nature of their baptismal covenant. He asked if they were “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
These questions help us to see that our baptismal covenant is centered on the two great commandments (see Matthew 22:37–39). Alma begins by asking questions that invite us to obey the second commandment by looking outward and loving those around us. We are to bear their burdens, mourn with them, and provide comfort during those challenging moments of mortality.
When we follow Alma’s direction to comfort each other, we may even act as answers to prayer. Elder Holland taught, “Prayers are answered . . . most of the time . . . by God using other people.”  I was able to witness this truth early on in my service as a bishop. A few months after being called, my wife and I were eating dinner with friends. One asked what some of the best things were about being a bishop. This was at the end of a long week, and I really couldn’t think of anything. I found myself bothered by this. A short time later, however, I had a beautiful experience as I watched the sacrament being passed. As I looked over our ward, memories came flooding into my mind of all the acts of service, many of which were only known by me and those involved, when members mourned with, bore burdens of, and provided comfort to those in our ward family. Whenever I was asked that question again, I always shared that one of the greatest things about serving in the calling of bishop was being able to see often unseen moments when members turned their hearts, eyes, and ears outward towards those around them.
While addressing his people, Alma asks a second question that helps us to look upward and to focus on our relationship with our Heavenly Father. He asks his people if they will be “witnesses of God” (Mosiah 18:9). A person can only be a witness of things that they have a personal knowledge of. Therefore, we are only able to be witnesses of Heavenly Father as we keep the first commandment and develop a personal and loving relationship with him. We can witness of the sacred moments when we have felt his presence and love. We can stand as witnesses of his power, and we can testify that we have witnessed his miracles in our lives. During our mortal journey, our witnesses will never be perfect witnesses. However, our students need to understand that Heavenly Father will accept their honest efforts. Following our baptismal covenants will allow us to witness that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father and will strengthen our relationship with him.
The Holy Ghost is the member of the Godhead that we often think of the least in relational terms. Yet through the ordinance of baptism and “after receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, a person has the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead if he or she keeps the commandments.”  Despite the promise that we “may always have [the Holy Ghost] to be with [us],” it seems that many of our students struggle to understand their relationship with the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77). Some of the common questions we are asked as religious educators center on recognizing his influence and promptings in our lives.
One of the most helpful things we can do for our students is to help them recognize that the Holy Ghost operates in very personalized ways within each of our lives. As in all relationships, the Holy Ghost speaks to us differently. President Nelson recently spoke of this and of the significance of learning to recognize these promptings when he taught:
It has never been more imperative to know how the Spirit speaks to you than right now. In the Godhead, the Holy Ghost is the messenger. He will bring thoughts to your mind which the Father and Son want you to receive. He is the Comforter. He will bring a feeling of peace to your heart. He testifies of truth and will confirm what is true as you hear and read the word of the Lord.
I renew my plea for you to do whatever it takes to increase your spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation.
Doing so will help you know how to move ahead with your life, what to do during times of crisis, and how to discern and avoid the temptations and the deceptions of the adversary.” 
Our students individually need the companionship of the Holy Ghost in their lives for many reasons. They are navigating through some of the most joyful and foundational periods of their lives. As we help them to learn how the Holy Ghost speaks to them, they will experience what President Henry B. Eyring promised, echoing the words of Elder George Q. Cannon. He stated, “While a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, George Q. Cannon urged that we make a constant quest for the Spirit to be with us. He promised, and I promise it as well, that if we pursue that course, we ‘will never lack for knowledge’ of the truth, ‘never be in doubt or in darkness,’ and our ‘faith will be strong, [our] joy . . . full.’”  This can only happen as students focus on seeking to understand the relational way that the Holy Ghost will testify and teach them of truth.
As religious educators, we often explain that one of the primary purposes of coming to earth is to show our willingness to obey our Heavenly Father’s commandments.  This explanation is true. Yet, if we don’t help our students understand Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation through a relational lens, they won’t understand why our Father in Heaven gives us commandments and asks us to obey them.
Commandments, like all principles in our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, are a reflection of his fatherly love for us. President Nelson explained, “God’s laws are motivated entirely by His infinite love for us and His desire for us to become all we can become.”  Youth and young adults need to see that commandments are not just arbitrary rules. Instead, they are given to us by a loving Father so that we can learn, grow, and ultimately become “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). If our students can really understand and believe that commandments are given to us by a loving Heavenly Father who is trying to protect and help us navigate our mortal experience, they are much more likely to choose to trust and obey them.
Equally, it is essential that we teach that our choice to obey God’s commandments is an expression of our love for him and Jesus Christ. The Savior taught his disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). There will most likely be times when we don’t understand why our Heavenly Father is asking us to obey certain prophetic teachings, commandments, and individual promptings from the Holy Ghost. There may also be times that we struggle with and don’t like what we are being asked to do. These moments become moments of faith in our relationship with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We may not understand or like the law; however, we choose to obey because we have come to know and love the givers of the law.
President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency taught what will happen with our relationship with our Heavenly Father as we choose to obey: “Obedience to the Gospel brings [people] into very close and intimate relationship with the Lord. It establishes a close connection between men on the earth and our Great Creator in the heavens. It brings to the human mind a feeling of perfect confidence in the Almighty and in His willingness to listen to and answer the supplications of those who trust in Him.”  Obedience to the gospel plan deepens our relationship with deity. We continually face competing values, ideas, and things vying for our time and attention. Choosing to make obedience to the commandments of our Heavenly Father our top priority shows that we are trying to strengthen our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
“Our God is a God of covenant,” and “with infinite love, He beckons us to come believe and belong by covenant.”  We often explain covenants as an agreement or promise that we make with our Heavenly Father.  Our students must recognize that these agreements or promises with God run deeper than legal promises or even solemn vows that we make with others. Elder Bednar taught, “Entering into sacred covenants and worthily receiving priesthood ordinances yoke us with and bind us to the Lord Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.”  As we choose to yoke or bind ourselves with them through covenants, we receive, just as Abraham, the promise, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7). Our students must know that God always has been and always will be our loving father. However, they must also know that through this covenant connection they make with him, their relationship with our Heavenly Father and Savior deepens and grows. Elder Bednar continued, “Living and loving covenant commitments creates a connection with the Lord that is deeply personal and spiritually powerful. As we honor the conditions of sacred covenants and ordinances, we gradually and incrementally are drawn closer to Him and experience the impact of His divinity and living reality in our lives. Jesus then becomes much more than the central character in scripture stories; His example and teachings influence our every desire, thought, and action.”  Our covenants with God not only deepen our relationship with our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. They also “sweeten relationships on earth”  as they help us to focus on others. President Nelson recently taught, “Every person who has made covenants with God has promised to care about others and serve those in need.” 
One example of the relational nature of covenants and how they link us with both deity and others can be seen in our weekly gatherings, when we come together as Saints to partake of the sacrament. Elder Bednar taught, “We truly are blessed each week by the opportunity to evaluate our lives through the ordinance of the sacrament.”  This evaluation process focuses us upward on our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We individually think of what we can do to be better followers and witnesses of both him and his son, Jesus Christ. We think of what we can do to become more like them. We commit to trying a little harder and doing a little better to emulate our Savior’s perfect example. Just as it is valuable for us to turn upward and focus on our relationship with Heavenly Father as we partake of the sacrament, it is equally as valuable that we turn outward and notice those around us. It provides a space for us to follow President Nelson’s admonition and think of ways that we can “care about others and serve those in need.”  The sacrament is a time for us to reflect on what we can do to better “bear one other’s burdens,” “mourn with those that mourn,” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9). The sacrament, like all covenants, strengthens relationships with our Heavenly Father and with others.
The language and images often used when talking about enduring to the end make it seem like it is something that we do on our own. Our students must see that as we seek to endure to the end, we are surrounded by those we have chosen to bind ourselves to by covenant connections. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then a member of the First Presidency, taught, “To endure to the end, we need to trust our Father in Heaven and make wise choices including . . . serving the Lord and one another willingly and faithfully in our Church callings and responsibilities. . . . [I]t means integrity and honesty to the Lord and our fellowmen. . . . [I]t means loving and honoring our spouses and children.”  Our students must recognize that much of enduring to the end entails maintaining and remaining loyal to those relationships that connect us by covenants. We must remain faithful to the covenants that we have made with our Heavenly Father, just as we remain true to the covenants made that connect us to family members and others. We must repent and repair these relationships when we have made mistakes, and we must rely on them as we walk the covenant path with them. As we seek to endure to the end, we are cleaving to the relationships that will help us as we navigate our mortal journey.
One of the greatest desires that we have as religious educators is for the faith and testimonies of the youth and young adults of the Church to deepen during their time with us. Whether we teach at church, in a seminary or institute setting, or at one of our institutions of higher learning, our desires are the same. President Packer explained that one critical way to help youth and young adults grow their testimonies is by providing a framework of our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. There are many beautiful truths that we can focus on while building this framework. One of the most important is that our Heavenly Father’s plan is a plan of relationships.
I have one caution as we focus on the relational nature of our Heavenly Father’s plan. I learned this during my first year teaching seminary. We were talking about the beauties of marriage, and several students shared wonderful things they had learned from their parents’ marriages. As students were sharing, I noticed a fifteen-year-old girl had begun to cry. We were able to visit for a few minutes at the end of class as the other students were leaving. Through her tears, she shared that her parents were in the middle of a terrible divorce. Marriage for her at that time was far from beautiful.
This experience taught me of the need to recognize both the ideal and the real when it comes to our earthly relationships. The reality is that many of our students currently live in homes that are not like the homes we often describe, or they do not feel accepted by some in their wards. Some in the future may never marry. Others may experience a divorce, struggle with children, or be hurt by the well-intentioned but insensitive comment of a church leader. It is helpful to recognize these realities, and I have found that it is also helpful to focus students on their relationship with our Heavenly Father and the hope that comes from his promised blessings.
As mentioned earlier, one of those promised blessings that may not happen according to our timelines is marriage. Our students need to feel hope in what President Lorenzo Snow said many years ago: “There is no Latter-day Saint who dies after having lived a faithful life who will lose anything because of having failed to do certain things when opportunities were not furnished him or her. In other words, if a young man or a young woman has no opportunity of getting married, and they live faithful lives up to the time of their death, they will have all the blessings, exaltation, and glory that any man or woman will have who had this opportunity and improved it. That is sure and positive.” 
The reality is that earthly relationships are not always perfect. We can help our students navigate through these challenges by helping them to focus on their relationships with our perfect Father in Heaven, who has designed a perfect plan where all things will one day work out. Elder Christofferson recently testified, “Our Heavenly Father loves us profoundly and perfectly. In His love, He created a plan, a plan of redemption and happiness to open to us all the opportunities and joys we are willing to receive, up to and including all that He has and is.”
Even while recognizing these realities, one of the most helpful things we can do as religious educators is teach students to see the role of relationships in our Heavenly Father’s plan. President Ballard explained, “We must always remember that our true happiness depends upon our relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, and with each other.”  In reality, all aspects of our Heavenly Father’s plan are better understood when viewed through a relational lens.
This insight has changed the way I teach and diagram the plan of salvation. My diagrams still include circles, lines, and arrows; but now they also include relational connections with Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, family members, friends, students, and others. We still discuss the importance of the pre-earth life, mortality, and kingdoms of glory. We still focus on the elements of the covenant path; however, we now discuss them through the framework of relationships and how they connect us in beautiful ways to others in both mortality and in the eternities. For example, my plan of salvation diagram still shows the celestial kingdom as a sun, but it now includes pictures of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and family surrounding it.
Visualizing and talking about the celestial kingdom this way helps students to understand that it is these eternal relationships that makes heaven heavenly. As a teacher of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I have learned that helping my students to see and understand these beautiful truths through the lens of relationships provides them with a sturdier framework of our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.
 Boyd K. Packer, “The Great Plan of Happiness” (address given at the Church Educational System Symposium, August 10, 1993), https://
 Packer, “The Great Plan of Happiness.”
 “Lesson 2: The Plan of Salvation,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2022), https://
 Patrick Mason, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 92.
 Gospel Topics Essays, “Becoming Like God,” https://
 “Discourse, 7 April 1844,” as published in Times and Seasons, The Joseph Smith Papers, 613, https://
 “Discourse,” 614.
 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” https://
 “The Mormons: Interview with Jeffrey Holland,” https://
 Gerrit W. Gong, “We Each Have a Story,” Liahona, May 2022, 44.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 10.
 See Gospel Topics, “Salvation,” https://
 See Gospel Topics, “Eternal Life,” https://
 David A. Bednar, “The Divine Pattern of Eternal Marriage,” Ensign or Liahona, September 2020, 41.
 Bednar, “Divine Pattern of Marriage,” 35.
 Gerrit W. Gong, “Room in the Inn,” Liahona, May 2021, 25.
 Ulisses Soares, “The Savior’s Abiding Compassion,” Liahona, November 2021, 13–14.
 Adapted from “Lesson 1: The Plan of Salvation,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2017), 7, https://
 Bible Dictionary, “Faith,” https://
 Hanna ReiniKainen, Jaana T. Kari, and Vilma Luoma-aho, “Generation Z and Organizational Listening on Social Media,” Media and Communications 8, no. 2 (May 2020): 185–196, https://
 Chad H. Webb, “We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ” (Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Training Broadcast, June 12, 2018, https://
 See Articles of Faith 1:4.
 M. Russell Ballard, “‘Lovest Thou Me More Than These?,’” Liahona, November 2021, 51.
 “Church Updates Temple Recommend Interview Questions,” Church News, October 6, 2019, https://
 Lisa L. Harkness, “Peace, Be Still,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2020, 81.
 Bible Dictionary, “Repentance,” https://
 D. Todd Christofferson, “The Love of God,” Liahona, November 2021, 18.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 33.
 Gospel Topics, “Baptism,” https://
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Child’s First Breath,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, November 10, 2011, video, https://
 Gospel Topics, “Holy Ghost,” https://
 Russell M. Nelson, “Hear Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2020, 90.
 Henry B. Eyring, “The Holy Ghost as Your Companion,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2015, 105.
 Gospel Topics, “Obedience,” https://
 Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God,” (Brigham Young University devotional, September 17, 2019), https://
 Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, comp. Jerreld L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 116.
 Gerrit W. Gong, “Covenant Belonging,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2019, 80.
 See Bible Dictionary, “Covenant,” https://
 David A. Bednar, “But We Heeded Them Not,” Liahona, May 2022, 15.
 Bednar, “But We Heeded Them Not,” 15.
 Gong, “Covenant Belonging,” 82.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Preaching the Gospel of Peace,” Liahona, May 2022, 6.
 David A. Bednar, “Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2016, 62.
 Nelson, "Preaching the Gospel," 6.
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Enduring to the End,” New Era, July 2016, 4.
 “Discourse by President Lorenzo Snow,” Millennial Star, August 31, 1899, 547–48.
 Christofferson, “The Love of God,” 16.
 Ballard, “‘Lovest Thou Me,’” 52.