By Sam Noble
(admin note: this mother’s day speech does not mention LGBT specifically, but it brings up points that are very relevant to LGBT couples)
Asking questions is one of the most crucial parts of spiritual learning and progression. More times than any other command in the scriptures and through Latter-day prophets, God tells us to “ask.” I’ve learned to love coming away from a church meeting or finishing reading scriptures with questions in my mind. Searching for answers means pondering and studying and having conversations with others about our questions. God’s answers often come in the form of another question. In this way, spiritual growth happens and testimony is increased. I hope that today the spirit has and will give you answers to questions you already had. I also hope you leave this meeting with questions in your mind and heart that weren’t there before. As they come to you, write them down.
I accepted this speaking assignment believing there wasn’t much I could learn on the “basic” topic of mothers. Then I started to question more deeply my understanding of motherhood, and I was proven very wrong. I believe motherhood is one of the least understood principles of our religion. The role of “mother” has multiple meanings and can often be replaced with the broader term “parent.” In the strictest and holiest sense, the Doctrine and Covenants teaches that Mothers are given a sacred privilege to “bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of [our Heavenly Father] continued, that he may be glorified.” What makes motherhood different from a parent in general, then, is her carrying the soul – the spirit and developing physical body – of a child of our Heavenly Parents.
The very fact that a mother has been given the opportunity to bear one of God’s children is everlasting evidence of the trust He has in her. The First Presidency has said, “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind.” We may judge some women as unfit to be mothers, consider some pregnancies as tragedies, and count certain children as hopeless. Yet God in Heaven knows what is happening and still allows it, still sends His spirit children to earth regardless of the circumstances into which they will be born. The more we understand His Plan, the more we understand it is more imperative for each man and woman to freely exercise their agency than for this mortal life to be what we consider “fair.”
Our Latter-day Saint tradition emphasizes, within a family with children, the roles of mothers as nurturers and fathers as leaders. That distinction raises a question: If the goal we all share is to become like Christ, then why dwell so much on these potentially inhibiting generalizations? Should mothers be any less capable at managing and providing than fathers? Should fathers be any less nurturing and loving towards their children than mothers?
Certainly God is perfect in his leadership and nurturing abilities. The scriptures teach that He, as our Father, comforts us as a mother comforts her children and gathers us as a hen gathers her chicks. Consequently, as any of us (mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters included) becomes more like an ideal mother, we become more like God.
Each family, each mother and father, is certainly unique. We know from “The Family” proclamation that fathers “are responsible to provide…necessities… and protection for their families” and that “mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” The very next line in the document gives important balance to these roles: “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Mothers are just as responsible for the physical needs and protection of families as fathers. Fathers are just as responsible for the nurturing of his children as are mothers. Our roles within our own families – and the Kingdom of God – are not as distinctively defined as we might presume. There is much overlap meant to help each of us progress wholly to perfection.
This realization has been wonderful for me. Teachings and advice given specifically to mothers or fathers, men or women, youth or adults, can apply to each of us. Some of the best truths I’ve learned have come from talks addressed towards groups of women.
Elder Russell Ballard emphasized the flexible role of mothers by saying “There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family. Many are able to be “full-time moms,” at least during the most formative years of their children’s lives, and many others would like to be. Some may have to work part-or full-time; some may work at home; some may divide their lives into periods of home and family and work. What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else.”
Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart, has embraced a non-traditional role of working mother. Her husband quit his job and moved to follow his wife’s career path at Pizza Hut and Frito-Lay. She explained, “There were a lot of struggles early on because people were telling us how things were supposed to be. When you had kids, you were supposed to stay at home. You were not supposed to send your kids to day care. Then I had an epiphany. As my husband and I were taking a walk with our two little girls, I realized that when I went in for my temple recommend interview, they didn’t ask me if I worked or sent my kids to day care. That gave me permission to do things a little differently.” She continues: “I launched Tostitos Scoops! when I was nine months pregnant [with my third child]. We shot an ad with a bunch of basketball players and they were uncomfortable watching this enormous pregnant woman sitting there with her feet up. But…it was my product, and I was going to be there….The first day back from maternity leave, I had to go out of town for a week. While I was gone, my husband [spent some time at home recovering from a slipped disk in his back.] One day [soon after that] he said, “I want to stay home with the kids.” That was something I could never ask him to do, but it seemed natural for us. He’s been a stay-at-home dad now for 11 years, and he loves it – most of his friends wish they could get the same gig.” Andrea has this advice: “We need to be prepared to follow the inspiration the Lord gives us. In return, He promises that doing so will give us true happiness and joy in our hearts. He has a plan for each of us.” (see Marriott Alumni Magazine article http://tinyurl.com/cec8qh6)
Mary, as the mother of the Savior of the world, deserves special attention. Not only was she entrusted by God to bear the soul of one of His spirit children, but she bore His Only Begotten, physical Son. As the scriptures teach that God does not dwell in unholy temples, Mary, carrying God within her, was holy. Mary was faithful. She knew the scriptures, she grew up knowing the prophecies that Christ would come and save the world. Perhaps she watched closely the signs and believed that it would happen during her lifetime. When an angel appeared to her and told her she would become the mother of the Redeemer and King of the world, the Son of God, we can only imagine what thoughts were running through her mind. Perhaps we might get a little sense of what she was feeling if an angel appeared to one of us and told us that the time for Christ’s second coming has arrived, and as He returns to earth, He will be staying in our home with us. We might begin to worry and wonder and doubt whether or not we’re ready, if everything in our physical home and in our spiritual life is as it should be for Christ’s stay, or if we have time to accomplish everything we’re already doing as well as everything that will be required of us with this new, spectacular invitation. Mary likely thought about these things.
In addition, she was planning to marry Joseph and potentially faced significant humility, the loss of her life together with him, and even punishment if she indeed became pregnant with this baby the angel had announced. She had plenty to question. But the scriptures teach us something about her. Instead of expressing concern, all that is recorded of her reply to the messenger was this: “Behold the handmaid of the lord. Be it unto me according to thy word.” Essentially, “I am here to serve God. Thy will be done.” Our callings in life – whether in or out of the Church – may not be mothering the Savior, as was Mary’s, but we can all learn from her example. She was chosen because of her “lowly state,” her humility. We don’t prepare ourselves to do God’s work by achieving greatness in the world but through meekness, not through building ourselves up but through submitting our desires to the will of the spirit.
Beyond Jesus’s birth, we know very little of Mary’s role as His mother. How did she teach Him? How did she respond if He and his siblings ever quarreled, wore her down, or behaved unacceptably in public? Did there come a point where there was nothing left for Mary to teach Jesus, and if this happened, how easy was it for her to accept?
During Jesus’s life, his teaching on mothers seemed to broaden the definition within His Gospel beyond a literal parent-child relationship. While teaching a group of people, His mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak with him. Someone informed Jesus that they were waiting for him, but he answered, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” He stretched out his arm and pointed at his disciples, saying, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Christ also taught about the responsibility each of us has towards our own mothers. At the end of Jesus’s life on earth, while hanging on the cross, the Savior saw His mother and His disciple John standing by her. He said to her, signaling to John, “Behold thy son!” and to John, “Behold thy mother!” It was not until He had done everything he could to have his own mother’s needs met that He had accomplished all things.
The Mother who has likely had a greater impact on each of us than any other is one we remember almost nothing about. Eliza Snow, a wife of Joseph Smith, wrote “In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason. Truth eternal tells me I’ve a Mother there.” Elder Gordon Hinckley supported the belief in a Mother in heaven: “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in heaven, we have a Mother in heaven. That doctrine rests well with me,” he said. Elder Glenn Pace expounded our understanding of Heavenly Mother by saying “I testify when you stand in front of your heavenly Parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, [the] divine nature and destiny of women.”
Aside from these few statements, next to nothing has been officially taught about a divine Mother, which is peculiar given our faith’s emphasis on gender roles and eternal marriage. Our present understanding of Heavenly Parents is more-or-less inverted from what might be the expectation of earthly parents: the Father is directly involved in His children’s day-to-day lives, while the Mother’s relationship with her kids is – to us, at least – seemingly nonexistent. This leaves God the Father to embody both roles of priesthood leader and loving nurturer. (see Salt Lake Tribune article http://tinyurl.com/cuxogkp)
The things I’ve shared today are answers I’ve found to many questions I’ve asked. I still have questions about motherhood, about being a parent, and many other things, and have faith that life and the Holy Ghost will continue to teach me these things.
To close, I saw something this morning that said “Moms: The only people who know the true meaning of 24/7.” I don’t have children, but a while ago it dawned on me that having a child really means taking on a responsibility that legally continues both day and night for at least 18 years, and in a greater sense, continues the rest of one’s life. I’m thankful for this opportunity I have to publicly share my love and gratitude for my own mom for taking on that role and spending the past 30 years of her life loving, teaching, and providing for me and my brother and sisters. I testify that motherhood is a part of the Plan of Salvation. I testify that Christ knows the pain and sacrifice and joy and blessings that come to every mother. He will sustain and guide us where we need to go in this life and beyond.
Sam grew up and once again lives in Muncie, IN. He’s taken every opportunity to travel the globe and the country and is an active member of Affirmation and his LDS congregation. This is a talk he gave in sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day.