I appreciate the opportunity to speak today. I got this assignment the same week as I was asked to be the new primary president and I’m not sure which I was more intimidated by. I know that the topic I was given today of “Empowering women to understand their divine role” was meant for me. I’m not going to lie to you, I really struggled writing this talk. Not because I struggle with the doctrine, but because I really wanted to write it in a way that translates well to each of you. I sincerely pray the Spirit can be with me and with each of you as I speak today and can use my words to touch your heart in a way that is most meaningful for you.
When I became a mom for the first time, I was 3 weeks into my master’s program. I had no idea what I was doing and often wondered if I was messing up my kid for the rest of his life by being in school. As I battled the difficulties every first time mom faces, I looked to examples of mothers in the scriptures for guidance in this unfamiliar territory. I knew all of the classic stories like Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Stripling Warriors moms who “knew it,” and a few others, but the more I studied the more I found myself longing for an omnipotent, exalted example of Motherhood. I knew I had a perfect savior who understood my longing and a perfect Father in Heaven who loved me through it, but I wanted to know what a perfect woman and mother looked like. It was in this moment of need and desire that I found my perfect example.
I readily acknowledge that this topic is not talked about very much in our church culture. For whatever reason, the profound and awe-inspiring doctrine that we have both a Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father is often uncomfortable for people. My goal today is to discuss the cultural myths I have discovered surrounding our Heavenly Mother, the 6 key doctrines we can understand about her, and the implications that this knowledge can have for each woman and her family. I have found in my studies that we actually have a lot more knowledge about Heavenly Mother than we know sometimes.
David L. Paulsen, a BYU Emeritus professor, authored a paper that was published in BYU Studies Quarterly journal titled “A Mother There.” He, along with the other authors, took a look at all of the references to Heavenly Mother since the restoration of the church and then put these references into their paper. This paper has also been used as a footnote through LDS.org on their “Mother In Heaven” essay page that states “For Latter-day saint thought on Mother in Heaven, see:_____” Because this paper dictates only what has actually been said about Heavenly Mother (and not theology or opinion about her nature), I will be using it as a basis for my talk.
First: Sacred Silence. Paulsen begins with the often perpetuated concept that there should be a “sacred silence” surrounding our Heavenly Mother. Over the years, many people have come to believe that the reason we don’t readily discuss Heavenly Mother is that God has forbidden revelation or discussion about her as a way to protect Her sacredness from the evil of the world. While the intentions of this myth are pure, as Paulsen points out, they are mostly unfounded. The discussion surrounding Heavenly Parents and more specifically a Heavenly Mother are not only important to have, but are an integral part of our doctrine in this church. In – The Family: A Proclamation to the world, we learn more about our Heavenly Mother. “ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
Paulsen also shares account after account of general authorities throughout the ages speaking fondly of our Heavenly Mother in all of her important roles (which I will get to later in this talk).
Second: If we worship Heavenly Mother, it diminishes the value of our worship of Heavenly Father. To this myth, President Rudger Clawson, of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, urged “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Earthly Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers to include our earthly mothers in our affections” rather, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.”
And the Third myth: If we worship both a Heavenly Mother and Father, we should pray to one or both of them. President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the topic of Heavenly Mother during a 1991 Relief Society meeting and explained, “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. However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.” He then goes on to outline many instances in scripture where the Lord shows us how to pray and always prays to the Father only. He concludes, “I have looked in vain for any instance where any President of the Church from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson has offered a prayer to our Mother in Heaven. The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.”
Ok, so we know that it’s ok and even encouraged to talk about our Heavenly Mother. We also know that at least for now, there have been parameters set surrounding our worship of her. So what exactly do we know about Her?
The first, and probably most easily accepted portion of her character is that she is a Heavenly Wife and Mother. President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency of the church stated, “God is a married being and has a wife. We are the offspring of Him and His wife.” President Boyd K. Packer also taught that before we came to this earth each of us “lived in a premortal existence as an individual spirit child of heavenly parents.” It makes sense to me that with marriage proclaimed as the highest covenant we can enter into in this life, it would be a pattern of our highest, exalted Heavenly Parents. As Sister Susa Young Gates taught, “the home is patterned after the heavenly dwelling of our Divine Parents.”
Second. She helped frame and implement the Plan of Salvation. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught, “we are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.” The churches 1978 Gospel Principles manual adds: “Our heavenly parents provided us with a celestial home more glorious and beautiful than any place on earth. We were happy there. Yet they knew we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left them for a time. They wanted us to develop the godlike qualities they have. To do this, we needed to leave our celestial home to be tested and to gain experience.” It goes on to say that the beloved Son, Christ “was chosen to be our Savior when we all attended the great council with our heavenly parents.” President Thomas S. Monson affirmed that the instruction we receive on this earth “could come only through the separation from our heavenly parents.” This separation was further illustrated by both Orson F. Whitney and President Harold B. Lee saying, “There came a day, then, when Mother and Father said, ‘Now my son, my daughter, it is now your time to go. This is the greatest time in the history of the world. This is the fullness of times, and now because of your faithfulness you are permitted to go down in this fullness of time upon the earth.’ I suppose as Father and Mother bade us good-bye, there may have been some sadness there because they knew Satan was here and one-third of all the hosts were here with him. We walked, as it were, through an open door. The door was closed behind us.”Third. She is divine and equal to our Father in her divinity. Elder John. A Widstoe (Quorum of the 12) wrote, “The glorious vision of life hereafter… is given radiant warmth by the thought that we have a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.” Elder Erastus Snow (Quorum of the 12) avowed: “‘What,’ says one, ‘do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?’ Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, I must believe that deity consists of man and woman. There can be no God except he is composed of the man and the woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way. We may never hope to attain unto the eternal power and the Godhead upon any other principle, this Godhead composing two parts, male and female.” These sentiments were later reaffirmed by President Hugh B. Brown, by Elders James E. Talmage, Melvin J. Ballard, and by Bruce R. McConkie. Similarily, President George F. Richards (quorum of the 12) taught that our heavenly parents are “counting on us to honor them, to love them, and obey them. ‘Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.’” This commandment applies to both earthly and heavenly parents. Finally, B. H. Roberts in reference to common Christian belief challenged the rest of Christianity to offer a doctrine that presents a “conception of the nobility of woman and of motherhood and of wifehood- placing her side by side with the Divine Father” as does our doctrine of Heavenly Mother.
Fourth. She is a co-creator with our Father in Heaven. In his 1876 general conference address, Brigham Young included “eternal mothers” and “eternal daughters” as beings after the resurrection who will “be prepared to frame earth’s like ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our heavenly parents.” Elder Milton R. Hunter (First Council of the 70) taught that the exaltation and endless lives that celestial women and men share include the “power to create or organize mortal worlds.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife, Patricia, have also taught that our Mother and our Father are involved in the ongoing process of creating everything around us, and “are doing so lovingly and carefully and masterfully.”
Fifth. She is involved in our lives today. In 1963, President Harold B. Lee spoke about parenthood and taught, “Sometimes we think the whole job is up to us, forgetful that there are loved ones beyond our sight who are thinking about us and our children. We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us do all we can.” Similarly, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has written how important his own children are to him and his wife. And yet he asks that if they, as parents “can love so much and try so hard, what does that say of a more Godly love that differs from our own as the stars differ from the sun? On a particularly difficult day, what would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?” Sister Okazaki explained that “when our rising love and joyful gratitude meet the shower of mercy and love from the Savior and from our heavenly parents, in that contact is the pure radiance and the brilliant light of glory.”
Sixth and my final point of doctrine for this talk. We will see her again and we will know her. Elder Glen L. Pace (first quorum of the 70) stated, “Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you 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, your divine nature and destiny.”
You may wonder what kinds of implications these doctrines hold for each woman in this church. When we are able to understand the divine female who is equal in every way to our Heavenly Father, we understand a little more about our responsibilities and individual divinity in this life. We come to understand the nature of the most perfect kind of marriage, the most perfect kind of motherhood, and the most perfect kind of womanhood. We realize that while men have a Father in Heaven to be their constant example of what manhood and fatherhood is all about, we, as women, have that example too. How wonderful to think that not only is motherhood divine, but so is womanhood, to know that our value extends much further than we could ever comprehend. And finally, we can know that the more we search for her, the more we will find her and see the love she has for us.
I hope to hear more and more conversations about our Heavenly Mother and the sacred role she has in each of our lives. I can say with certainty that I have felt her in my own life. I have felt her during some of my most vulnerable and painful moments. Like a loving, watchful mother she was there in the births of each of my children. I feel her when I stand in awe at the beauty of nature and the world around us. I know she knows me and believes in me. She loves me more than I love my own children, which I can’t really comprehend. She’s with me when my 4 year old is asking yet another question or my 2 year old is throwing yet another tantrum. She’s with me as I try to navigate the ups and downs of my career. She sees my womanhood as divine and far reaching. She knows exactly who I can become and loves me through my weaknesses.
I am so grateful for the knowledge this Gospel gives to each of us that we have a Mother in Heaven who loves us and is with us every step of the way on our path to exaltation. I know no better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to celebrate Her.
by Callan O.