Lessons from a Tomato Cage

I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You probably know us as Mormons.  Well, our religion has a lot of rules.  We don’t drink alcohol or coffee; we don’t smoke or do drugs, and we don’t have sex until after marriage. We don’t shop on Sunday, and we donate 10% of our income to our church– just to name a few.

Sometimes people think that we are caged– that all of these rules are restrictive–that these commandments contain us and hold us back–but we believe that these rules actually bring us freedom.

Having been previously married to an addict, I deeply “get” how ones choices can cause bondage.  And therefore, I also deeply understand how restrictions actually foster freedom.

But as a kid and a teenager, it is hard to see how following rules really gives you more choice.

Since September’s Sunday lesson curriculum topic for our youth is Commandments, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to teach this counter-intuitive concept to they Young Women in my church. I knew I wanted to use what I had learned from observing my tomatoes in my garden one year as the foundation for my lesson. My old blog post “Caged” was my inspiration for my lesson.

(If you don’t work with the youth in our church at this time, this would also make a great Family Home Evening lessson.)

Here is the lesson:


“Commandments are Like Cages”

Preparation (optional): Print 8×10 CAGES and put in frame. Print small CAGES and water-colored tomatoes back to back. Cut them out into small squares. Clothes pin to the tomato cage with tomatoes facing out.

Here are the printables:

tomato CAGES small

tomato sheet

cages 8×10 pdf

Attention Getter: Story

A few years ago, we planted tomatoes in our back yard. We had 7 plants, but only had 6 cages. We went ahead and planted all 7 plants and just left one tomato without a cage. I intended to buy another cage but never did.

One day, weeks later, I was out weeding the garden and I noticed the tomato plant that didn’t have a cage was not doing as well as the other tomato plants. It was growing out and not up, and it was not producing as many tomatoes as the plants with cages. Many of the tomatoes were rotting because they were touching the ground and some had worms and bugs in them. Overall, the uncaged plant did not look as healthy as the caged plants.

In that moment, I recognized how important the cage was for the best growth of a tomato.

It hit me that the commandments of God are like tomato cages.

Objective: This month’s theme is commandments and today we are going to explore the analogy “Commandments are like tomato cages.”

Deep Thinking: What correlation do you see between cages and commandments? How are the commandments of God like tomato cages?

(Give sufficient time for the girls to analyze and make connections.)

Summarize: Even though the tomato cage seemed restrictive, the cage actually provided the safety, structure, and support the tomatoes needed to climb high, produce tomatoes and stay safe from bugs and worms. The plants with cages were much better off than the plant without a cage.

Set out frame with CAGES graphic. Read/teach acronym. Why:  Think about WHY God gives us commandments? What is his motive?

Quote/Scripture: Choose to read what quotes works best for your group.

At times, some people get confused, thinking that the commandments are restrictions or limitations that complicate life, that take away opportunities or happiness or the pleasures of life. In reality, the commandments protect us and guide us to happiness. They are not to restrict but rather to make possible—to allow us to achieve in this life and in the next—what we truly desire and what our Heavenly Father, who loves us, wants for us. 

–Elder D. Todd Christofferson

God’s commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible. He has provided us with guidelines which, if we follow them, will see us safely through this often treacherous mortal journey. We remember the words of the familiar hymn: “Keep the commandments! In this there is safety; in this there is peace.”

 Thomas S. Monson

The commandments are not a burden or a restriction. Every commandment of the Lord is given for our development, progress, and growth. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God has designed our happiness. … He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 256).

–Robert D. Hales

Brainstorm: What are some commandments that seem restrictive to you?

(Write girls’ answers on board or have a girl do it.)


Morality / Sexual Purity

Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Paying Tithing

Word of Wisdom



Dating Standards


Group Work: Let’s look at how these commandments are like tomato cages and how they actually protect, support and encourage us to grow.

Divide the girls into groups of 2-4 and assign each group a different commandment from the brainstormed list. Have them discuss their assigned commandment and how keeping this commandment actually brings greater freedom and growth. For the Strength of Youth is a great resource for this group work.

Report: Girls report to the whole group on their small group discussion.

After each topic is presented, invite all girls and leaders to add additional comments, stories or insights to that specific topic.

Invitation to Act: Invite the girls to pick one commandment that feels particularly restrictive to them or one that they struggle with. Encourage them to examine it. Bring it close. Live it. See what blessings they have or can receive by living this commandment better.

Share a personal example on a commandment that you worked on and how it gave you more freedom.

Conclusion: Bear testimony of CAGES.

“Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to say: Thou shalt not lie; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; and so on. We know the commandments. He understands that when we keep the commandments, our lives will be happier, more fulfilling, and less complicated. Our challenges and problems will be easier to bear, and we will receive His promised blessings.”

— Thomas S. Monson

Handout: Give each girl a paper tomato from the tomato cage with the CAGES acronym printed on the back.


Table setting (optional): I set my display table with a green-checked table cloth and a bowl of real tomatoes. I also clipped the small paper tomatoes (above) to the tomato cage with clothes pins so it looked like to the cage was covered with tomatoes.

**Shout out to the Holy Ghost for keeping the ideas coming and to my sister, Shauna, for taking my rough acronym and perfecting it, and to my sister-in-law, Lindsey, for creating the graphic element I had in my head.**






2 thoughts on “Lessons from a Tomato Cage”

  1. This is awesome! It reminds me of the graphic that is in the Family Home Evening manual with the reverse hourglass showing how our “freedom” really restricts us in the end and the hourglass showing how the seemingly restrictive commandments really give us so much freedom. I love it!

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