Sometimes I feel like a motherless child … a long ways from home.” The mournful strains rocked my child body as I laid on the floor listening to the slow, nearly hopeless rhythm. I had a mother; she bought the record I was listening to, washed the clothes I was wearing, made the fudge I had just eaten, and hugged me every night before bed. There was nothing mournful about my life. Still, the ebbing, flowing, sometimes discordant strains haunted me with a longing for something, a profound sense of loss that I couldn’t even begin to describe.
I love my youngest daughter with a fierce love, but sometimes in her eyes I see a quiet, resigned loneliness that I recognize, and know that I’m not quite enough to answer its needs. The haunting slave spiritual is playing in her soul and she’s rocking too.
As long as I’ve been LDS, I’ve known that I have both a Mother and Father in heaven. Our faith teaches of parenthood and defines heaven in a family structure. God is my Father, everyone’s Father, and there’s a tremendous sense of safety in knowing that He’s at the helm, guiding and watching over, warning, inviting me to approach him. I’ve long loved the fact that one of the most common themes in all of scripture is “Ask and ye shall receive.” That is the kind of Father I want and need.
However, not many Christian faiths address the inmost need we have to be loved by our Mother or teach of a Mother who birthed our spirits. Latter-day prophets have consistently taught the noble role of mothers in connection with our Eternal Mother. I chuckle every time I remember President Hinckley saying that every time his grown children called, they asked how he was and before he could even answer, they asked, “Is mother there?” Noble women who have not given birth consistently teach that motherhood transcends giving birth. As Sister Dew succinctly states, Eve was called the mother of all living before she bore a child.
This is the heritage of a woman: to be a daughter of Eve, a protector of the sacred nurturance every person needs in a world that spurns the profound refuge of home and an attentive mother. My sons come as often to me to discuss the feelings of their hearts and the struggles they have, to hear my counsel and to bask again in the adoration that is peculiar to mothers, as do my daughters. I’ve heard male friends say that, remembering their own mother’s unique ability to heal, they yearn as much as any mortal woman to crawl up in a Heavenly Mother’s lap and unburden their hearts.
The LDS Church does not ordain women to the priesthood, and many who are not quite feminists but yet seek validation of an equality before God wonder about that. The key is that women do not need the priesthood to be the daughters of Eve. By divine fiat they are endowed with the powers and the proclivities that protect the sacred right of every mortal to be safe, nurtured, and cherished. They do this by protecting the sanctity of homes, by standing for virtue in the public square, by helping their neighbors in anonymity, by demanding educational opportunities for all, by running strong businesses, and by reaching out in social organizations to the disenfranchised, the hungry, the downtrodden, and the weak. This is no sidelined, unimportant work, in case anyone has missed the headlines. This is the work of powerful people with their sleeves rolled up. The hand that rocks the cradle never needed to ask permission to rule the world.
Women are keepers of the sacred truth that we have a Mother who prepared our spirits for a mortal journey and who watches for our safe return. Women are called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, to lead and direct this work, just as are men, in positions both local and global, and both are subservient to the priesthood structure, which transcends any man. Julie Beck, the leader of the Relief Society, presiding over more than 6 million women worldwide, has prophesied to the world that women are tasked with a sacred watchcare and ministry. She unabashedly points out that Jesus invited women to participate in that ministry too when he gently taught Martha that she was valued for more than feeding Him – that she was valued as a disciple.
This is what eases the loneliness in my daughter’s eyes. Her birthright is a connection to a Mother who knows she is here, who is watching with careful attention, and to whom she can look with dignity as a role model. This is also what steadies my sons, who look forward to returning to two parents who’ve missed them.
Sometimes we may feel like a motherless child. We’re not. She’s there.