11 May 2014

So, I Had To Speak In Church On Mother's Day

About Eve. And motherhood. It was an unexpected request. So I gave an unorthodox talk. I thought I would share.

            I’m here to testify that the Lord knows and loves us because I only get asked to speak in church on the Sundays when I would be sitting on the back row feeling grumpy and grumbly and instead of leaving me to my grumpy, grumbly, fallen, natural-man self, He lovingly inspires others to ask me to research a doctrine and prepare a talk on the subject. So here I am, speaking about Eve and motherhood on Mother’s Day.
            Now, for most of the women in my family and a lot more friends, Mother’s Day is a difficult day, a day where we sit in the pews feeling grumpy and grumbly. For those of you who have never felt that way, allow me to explain. Mother’s Day was difficult for my mom because her relationship with her mother, who could be a difficult and mercurial woman, didn’t always match the ideal that was presented at church. Mother’s Day is difficult for my aunt and I who both lost mothers by the time we were 30 and still generally resent that fact. Mother’s Day is difficult for single women and women who struggle with infertility or other circumstances that keep them from having children. Mother’s Day is difficult for women who are conflicted or ambivalent about motherhood, their role as mothers or their ability to be mothers. Mother’s Day is difficult for mothers whose children, whether momentarily or over years, use their agency in ways that hurt or cause pain. Mother’s Day is difficult for single moms who feel that they can never do enough or be enough.
            So, why is this day, set aside to celebrate women and mothers, causing so much angst? Well, for starters, in celebrating Mother’s Day, especially in our Church, tend to talk about motherhood only in the ideal, the glorified, the perfect form. And as we women listen to multiple talks on the ideal, glorified, celestial calling of motherhood, we see fewer and fewer connections to the realities of womanhood and motherhood that we experience. What is the disconnect? I think the disconnect comes because we forget to talk about one very crucial aspect of motherhood, of parenthood. That it only came about, only could come about, through The Fall, the exit from the idyllic Eden to the telestial and fallen world. Elder Oaks, in a talk given in 1993, spoke about this in much more eloquent terms than I can, so I will quote him:
            To the first man and woman on earth, the Lord said, “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Moses 2:28; see also Gen. 1:28; Abr. 4:28). This commandment was first in sequence and first in importance. It was essential that God’s spirit children have mortal birth and an opportunity to progress toward eternal life. Consequently, all things related to procreation are prime targets for the adversary’s efforts to thwart the plan of God.
            When Adam and Eve received the first commandment, they were in a transitional state, no longer in the spirit world but with physical bodies not yet subject to death and not yet capable of procreation. They could not fulfill the Father’s first commandment without transgressing the barrier between the bliss of the Garden of Eden and the terrible trials and wonderful opportunities of mortal life.
            For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or “fall,” could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law (see Moses 6:59). This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose. The Prophet Lehi explained that “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen” (2 Ne. 2:22), but would have remained in the same state in which he was created.
            “And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin” (2 Ne. 2:23). (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness”, October 1993)
The Fall, entering the world in which we live, was a necessary step for parenthood, for motherhood.

            Now, before we continue discussing The Fall, Eve, and motherhood, let’s define some terms. Elder Oaks goes on in his talk to discuss the difference between a sin and a transgression.
“This suggested contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (emphasis added). It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law. Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness”, October 1993)
As I was reading this, an example popped into my head that helped me understand this a bit better. A few times a week, I leave work to go buy lunch. To do so, I generally drive on Cornwall. Now, if I leave my office anytime between noon and 1, the speed limit on a certain section of the road is 20 mph because it is a school zone. If I leave after 1, the speed is 25 mph. Going 25mph on that stretch of road between the hours of noon and 1 is NOT inherently wrong. It is, however, formally, legally prohibited because of the circumstances. Partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not inherently wrong. It was formally prohibited because of Adam and Eve’s circumstances. Just as driving 25mph instead of 20mph on that stretch of Cornwall between noon and 1pm comes with considerable consequences, partaking of the fruit had both immediate and eternal consequences.

            Adam and Eve had been told what those consequences were. The consequence would be the Fall; they would exit the transitional state of the Garden of Eden and enter mortality. Only in mortality could they keep the first commandment of parenthood. Motherhood, although a pre-Fall commandment, could only come about through the Fall. So, ladies and gentlemen, thinking that parenthood or motherhood exists in a glorified celestialized vacuum to which none of us are measuring up is NOT doctrine. It is a tool of the Adversary. The same Adversary that beguiled Eve by lying about some of the consequences of partaking of the fruit. By partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve were in fact subject to death, both temporal and spiritual. It was not a fact or a consequence that could be escaped. The Adversary knew this, but, being the Father of Lies, presented Eve with an alternate story. How much that story influenced Eve, we do not know. We know only that she stated she was beguiled. We do know, however, how she responded to results of partaking of the fruit. In Moses 5:11-12 we read:
 11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
 12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
What, in the face of the Fall, of guaranteed hardship, temporal death, and possibly permanent spiritual death, caused Eve so much joy?
            Her joy came from her recognition of the wonderful, miraculous, life-saving act of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Her joy was in her Savior and Redeemer. President Eyring, in the General Women’s Meeting in March stated:
“By revelation, Eve recognized the way home to God. She knew that the Atonement of Jesus Christ made eternal life possible in families. She was sure, as you can be, that as she kept her covenants with her Heavenly Father, the Redeemer and the Holy Ghost would see her and her family through whatever sorrows and disappointments would come. She knew she could trust in Them.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Daughters in the Covenant” March 2014)
Eve knew whom she could trust and on whom she could rely in times of difficulty. She knew her Heavenly Father and she knew her Savior. She knew whom her children needed to be instructed to trust and on whom they needed to learn to rely. She and Adam taught their children about the Atonement and showed their children by example how to live as a disciple. Even with that kind of teaching and example, a portion of their children chose to follow The Adversary. Unable to eternally undo Adam and Eve, the Father of Lies went after their children in his continuing and futile quest to thwart our Heavenly Father’s plan.
            So, how do we as women and mothers in the 21st century follow Eve’s example? First and foremost we need to recognize that motherhood will be hard. It is not a series of beautiful Hallmark moments that end with a fully formed perfect adult child or children. It is a very real and continued struggle with the Adversary. We need to recognize that and talk about that. We all have struggles relating to our roles as women and mothers and I personally believe that one of Satan’s greatest tools is in telling us that those struggles are failures and that we don’t measure up as sisters and as disciples of Christ. We need to recognize the inherent necessity and importance of those struggles in our progression as spiritual beings on a path to eternal life. We need not shy away from sharing what we have learned and are learning because of those struggles. We cannot sit in Relief Society meetings, with our visiting teachers, with our friends, and continue to act as though struggles equal inadequacy and unrighteousness. We need to, instead, share how those struggles are bringing us to Jesus Christ, how we are seeing the Atonement active in our lives daily. If our struggles are leading us in the opposite direction, we need to ask for help. We need to listen to the testimonies of the women around us to buoy us up, as examples of the daily battle and daily conquering of the Adversary through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

            In keeping with that, I will share a struggle. As a single 35 year-old childless woman whose own mother is on the other side of the veil, life can be difficult. Being a member of church whose main doctrines are about family and parenthood can easily lead to me sitting on the back pew feeling grumpy and grumbly. The Adversary actively bombards me with ideas that lead to feelings of invisibility, of abandonment, of inadequacy, and of doubt in myself and my worthiness. I could choose to listen, to wallow, and to sit there feeling sorry for myself and abandoned by my God. However, that choice would be in direct opposition to the one Eve made when partaking of the fruit. She chose faith, she chose determination, and she chose to face the Adversary head-on with the enabling and sustaining power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I should do no less.
            In a talk on motherhood, which must have been a tender and difficult subject, Sister Sheri Dew said:
“Eve set the pattern. In addition to bearing children, she mothered all of mankind when she made the most courageous decision any woman has ever made and with Adam opened the way for us to progress. She set an example of womanhood for men to respect and women to follow, modeling the characteristics with which we as women have been endowed: heroic faith, a keen sensitivity to the Spirit, an abhorrence of evil, and complete selflessness. Like the Savior, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” 11 Eve, for the joy of helping initiate the human family, endured the Fall. She loved us enough to help lead us.
As daughters of our Heavenly Father, and as daughters of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers. And we each have the responsibility to love and help lead the rising generation. How will our young women learn to live as women of God unless they see what women of God look like, meaning what we wear, watch, and read; how we fill our time and our minds; how we face temptation and uncertainty; where we find true joy; and why modesty and femininity are hallmarks of righteous women? How will our young men learn to value women of God if we don’t show them the virtue of our virtues?
Every one of us has an overarching obligation to model righteous womanhood because our youth may not see it anywhere else. Every sister in Relief Society, which is the most significant community of women on this side of the veil, is responsible to help our young women make a joyful transition into Relief Society. This means our friendship with them must begin long before they turn 18. Every one of us can mother someone—beginning, of course, with the children in our own families but extending far beyond. Every one of us can show by word and by deed that the work of women in the Lord’s kingdom is magnificent and holy. I repeat: We are all mothers in Israel, and our calling is to love and help lead the rising generation through the dangerous streets of mortality.” (Sheri L. Dew, “Are We Not All Mothers?”, October 2001)
We are all mothers in Israel. We need to ask the Lord for inspiration and strength in how that manifests in our lives. For me, part of following Eve’s example and mothering in Israel is preparing and giving this talk. It is daily striving to be an example of Jesus Christ. It is testifying to nieces and nephews, to the children of friends, to my sisters in Relief Society and to the world at large that the Atonement of Jesus Christ brings peace and strength. It is kicking to the curb the feelings of inadequacy, invisibility, and abandonment when they arise. It is putting my trust in my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is being kind to those I come in contact with at work who are angry and cruel. It is teaching the students I meet as a substitute and in summer school about actions and consequences, about agency, about living and acting to their fullest potential. It is saying yes to speaking in church when I really want to sit on the back pew being grumpy and grumbly. It is searching and fighting for the celestial in a telestial world. It is daily waking up and preparing myself to take on the Adversary.
            Eve, in choosing to partake of the fruit and joyfully accepting the consequences of the Fall, gave us an example of motherhood and womanhood that should inspire us to arm ourselves in the armor of God and move forward in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to act as righteous women. To move forward in faith. To join the ranks of the noble and great ones who daily accessed the Atonement of Jesus Christ to take on the Adversary that wants us to sit on the back pew being grumpy and grumbly and miserable. We cannot let him win.

Beck, Julie B., “A ‘Mother Heart.’”, April 2004, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2004/04/a-mother-heart?lang=eng&query=motherhood
Dew, Sheri L., “Are We Not All Mothers?”, September 2001, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2001/10/are-we-not-all-mothers?lang=eng&query=eve
Dew, Sheri L., “It Is Not Good for Man or Woman to Be Alone.”, October 2001, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2001/10/it-is-not-good-for-man-or-woman-to-be-alone?lang=eng&query=eve
Eyring, Henry B., “Daughters in the Covenant.”, March 2014, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/daughters-in-the-covenant?lang=eng&query=eve
Faust, James E., “What t Means to Be a Daughter of God.”, September 1999, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/10/what-it-means-to-be-a-daughter-of-god?lang=eng&query=eve
Jensen, Virgina U., “Ripples”, September 2000, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2000/10?lang=eng
Nelson, Russell M., “Lessons from Eve.”, October 1987, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1987/10/lessons-from-eve?lang=eng&query=eve

Oaks, Dallin H., “The Great Plan of Happiness.”, October 1993, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1993/10/the-great-plan-of-happiness?lang=eng&query=eve