This year I was asked to speak in Sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day. I was really nervous. Usually on Mother’s Day I sit in the congregation and feel deeply sorry for the people who have to speak. I pray for them, and I listen with compassion because I know that speaking on Mother’s Day is a trap.
Really the problem is that we mothers have high expectations for Mother’s Day. We make crazy requests like “I just want to wake up to a clean house and not have to do any cleaning all day” or “I just want to have my whole family together and happy.” We know it is impossible, but we all want a day off. When we come to church, we want to feel the spirit witness to us that our calling as mothers is important, that heaven is on our side as we work for our children, and that we can do it.
So, if that is our expectation of Mother’s Day, what is the reality?
I put LDS Mother’s Day talks into a search engine, and you can probably guess that a lot of posts came up where women talked about their Mother’s Day issues. If Sacrament meeting speakers talk about all of the amazing mothers they know and all of the amazing things they do, then the mothers in the room feel guilty about their own weaknesses. If they talk about womanhood in general it isn’t specific enough, if they don’t acknowledge the women who are not mothers it is insensitive.
The truth is not all of us are mothers, not even all of us who want to be. Some of us dislike Mother’s Day because we have lost our mothers or even never knew them. Some of us have negative feelings about our mothers that we don’t like to be reminded of. Others have lost children or have other emotions connected to their children that are especially painful on this day.
It might seem like talking about motherhood is just a bad idea, but not talking about it doesn’t work either. It is a day to honor mothers after all, and ignoring that can make hardworking mothers feel unappreciated.
All of this was in my head as was preparing my talk. I wasn’t sure what to say, but fortunately I was given guidance when my inspired bishopric assigned me the topic of Heavenly Mother. As I was thinking about the trap of Mother’s Day, I also pondered my relationship with my Heavenly Mother and my earthly mother. I thought about my own children and how I want that relationship to be, and I came upon a troubling fact. Just like talking on Mother’s Day is a trap, so is being a mother.
I don’t want to sound too negative, but I feel like this needs to be said. We may not all be mothers here, but we all have mothers, and with only rare exceptions, the relationships we have with our mothers are not as fulfilling and meaningful as we feel like they could or should be.
The cliché first question a therapist asks a new patient is, “What is your relationship with your mother like?” Because even though we all love our mothers deeply—and we do, some part of us loves our mothers even if we have never met them, no matter who they are, just because they are our mothers—we know they have all hurt us. My oldest child is only seven, but I know I have already made mistakes as a parent. Just like my parents did when I was a kid. My youngest, at three years old, looked me in the eye the other day and said without missing a beat, “I don’t like you, Mommy. I want Daddy,” just because I was buckling him into his car seat when he wanted to play.
Motherhood is a trap because the expectations we have for it are impossibly high. No matter what choices I make as a mother, I am going to make some wrong ones, and I am going to let my kids down.
But even knowing this, even knowing that we are all mortal and make mistakes, we still have high hopes? We have these ideas in our head about how wonderful our relationships with our parents could be. How mutually satisfying. When I think of the perfect parent child relationship I think of Doctrine and Covenants 121. I think of parents with long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. Parents with kindness, and pure knowledge, without hypocrisy, and without guile—and although the Holy Ghost may move them to reprove their children with sharpness, they will show forth an increase of love afterwards.
I also think of Paul’s sermon on charity, and imagine that parents could be kind, meek, without envy, selfless, humble and good.
We have these insanely high expectations of our parents, but the truth is that none of us reach them. My parents, your parents, they are imperfect people. They are not Gods. Some of them do their best, although probably not all, and they love us even more than we love them, but we only have moments where our relationships really come together and feel how we think they should.
I think that we have these high expectations because we have had that fulfilling relationship before. We all have parents, yes, but we also all have Heavenly Parents, a Mother and a Father who actually achieve perfection as parents. Even though we can’t remember them now, we still know what mothers and fathers should be like because they taught us through their own examples.
This was one of the most meaningful realizations I had as I prepared my talk. That even though our earthly relationships are often heartbreaking, even the ones we work on the hardest—the ones we have from birth—our heavenly relationships can reach undreamed of perfection.
And our greatest task, our “highest aspiration” as Elder Dallin H. Oaks puts it, “is to become like our Heavenly Parents.” Men and women alike are to seek after and develop the divine traits exemplified by both Father and Mother.
We seem to have an almost instinctual idea of what this means, but we also have help through our Savior.
When Christ was on the earth, he talked a lot about his father, and when Philip asked to be shown the Father, Jesus replied that the Father was made manifest through the Son. In John 14: 9 he says, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me…? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?”
In her wonderful article “Women in the Image of the Son: Being Female and Being Like Christ,” Kathryn H Shirt writes that just as the best way to get to know our Heavenly Father is through the son, it may also be the best way to get to know our Heavenly Mother. She says, “When we ask about the Mother, might not the Lord give us a similar reply? ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Mother.’ We think of the Godhead as united in purpose and similar in character. If we. . . are going to assert the existence of a female Deity, shouldn’t we assume that her Son mirrors her perfection as well as that of the Father?”
Christ is the perfect embodiment of our Heavenly Parents. When we get to know him, we will get to know them both, Father and Mother.
I have heard many women and even men express their desire to know their Heavenly Mother, and their sorrow that we do not know more about her. I have also felt that way. I don’t understand why her role in our lives is unknown and why we have so little information, but when I feel the almost aching desire to have her in my life, my Savior brings me peace, because through him, I can come to know her.
In Matthew 23: 37, when Christ mourns, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” I think of our Heavenly Mother’s like desire to gather her children together.
When Christ shows compassion to the woman taken in adultery, when he calls the children unto him, when he gets all fiery at the sight of the temple full of money changers and tells everyone to clean it up, when he turns water into wine, heals the daughter of Jairus, weeps with Mary and Martha, and shows patience with the endless questions of his followers, he is in all these things, going about his Father’s, and his Mother’s business.
But, to draw again from Katheryn H Shirt, it is in the “Christ’s spiritual suffering to bring forth spiritual life,” that most closely mirrors what women go through when they suffer physically to bring forth physical life.
“Ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit,” God tells Adam in Moses 6: 59, and anyone who has ever attended a birth can testify to this, it is a messy business. Water, blood and spirit are all present, and when all goes right the blood isn’t the blood of the baby, but of its mother.
Baptism is a rebirth, and those entering into the covenant are again born of water, and of spirit, the whole covenant being made possible by the blood of the Savior, Jesus Christ, who stands in the role of a mother in this re-birthing process.
Christ is the key to knowing both of our Heavenly Parents. Right now, when we’re away from them, we miss them. We search for relationships that remind us of them, we even expect to have those relationships with our earthly parents and children. Christ described out feelings in John 16. He tells his disciples that he is leaving for a time. Knowing they will struggle in his absence, he says, “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you,” and “a woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.”
Right now we are on earth, separated from our Heavenly Parents, but when we see them again, we will remember our sorrows no more. They haven’t left us alone, we have the Holy Spirit, we have the scriptures, and we have our Savior. But we still miss them and look forward to our reunion. Sister Chieko Okazaki described her vision of this reunion as such: “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.”
I am looking forward to that reunion. Sadly, I don’t have any ideas how we can get out of the trap of speaking on Mother’s Day, but I do know how we can escape the trap of motherhood. We can, through daily obedience and through a relationship with our Savior, learn how to improve as parents and as children. We can learn through the spirit how to forgive and show compassion, how to have charity and how to work spiritually to bring new life to ourselves and our relationships.
In Isaiah the Lord asks, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?” And of course, I want to answer no, a woman would never forget her child, but his answer is different, “yea,” he says, “they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”
It is my prayer that we will all be a little more forgiving of our earthly parents, that we will continue striving to be like our Heavenly Parents and that we will seek to develop a relationship with Christ that will guide us to be more holy so that when are reunited with our heavenly parents, we will know them and be like them.