Cross-posted at Wheat and Tares.
Three years ago, at 6AM on a soon-to-be-scorching July day, I received a phone call from my 15-year-old son’s priesthood leader. They were on a float trip, in Moab that morning, and my boy had been throwing up all night. It was the height of the H1N1 media campaign and his leaders were spooked that he had it because another boy who had just gotten over it had come on the trip.
I listened as he described the rigors of the trip that lay ahead, how awful it would be to be so sick in the blazing sun on the unforgiving water and how the entire trip could be jeopardized for everyone if they all caught what he had. There was a quietness in my soul as I listened. Within, a profound confidence grew, and I felt something knit together. He then asked me what I wanted to do.
“This is what I would do in your place,” I said in my resonant voice, the one I only use when I feel a profound confidence. “You hold the priesthood, and you are training young men to exercise that priesthood. You are more powerful than this virus. I would gather those men and boys together and teach them about the power to heal and be healed. I would pray for faith and strength to exercise your priesthood power and authority together with those men and boys, and pray that you will be one. Then I would stand in a circle and lay your hands on my son’s head and bless him to be healed. We have had experience with healings before, and he has the faith to be healed. Tell him his mother said that he would be healed and that she has a witness of the power and is praying. Then I would step away from him and expect him to be healed, and he will. I bear you my testimony of it.”
With doubt dripping from his voice, my son’s priesthood leader agreed. I prayed. Thirty minutes later I received a call from him again, saying that my son was wondering if I would drive to Moab to pick him up. Another priesthood leader would stay behind with him while the rest of the group went on.
As I drove the three hours I wondered what had happened. I know my son. Healing is an oft-discussed subject in our home. Just months previously he had developed a blood blister on his back that would break and bleed and sometimes took hours to stop. I took him to a doctor who did an ultrasound and found that he had an unusual condition in which his veins and arteries formed random pathways to the surface of his skin. This small blister was a random extension of an artery, could grow larger and multiply, and he could conceivably bleed to death someday. He recommended surgery, but admitted that if my son had this tendency, they could just as easily begin making pathways to his skin surface in almost any part of his body.
I sat quietly and listened, then felt strongly to decline the surgery. We drove home and as I prayed silently a confidence formed in my soul. When we arrived I turned to my son and I said, “Do you trust me?” He looked at me quietly and he said, “Yes.” I said, “We do not need surgery; we need the faith to be healed.” He looked back at me and he said, “How do we do it?”
I opened the scriptures and explained to him the gifts listed in D&C 46 and Moroni 10. I looked at him and said, “I have the gift of healing. People have said for years that I have healing hands, and my patriarchal blessing verifies that I have gifts to bless my family. It is a power from God and he chooses how and when it is applied. I feel that this is a time for that. Do you have the faith to be healed by God through me?” He looked silently into my eyes, we connected, and he nodded firmly.
We knelt together and prayed. I explained the problem he faced in that prayer and laid out our request: that the Lord would reverse the process his veins and arteries had begun and that he would be restored to his natural functioning, that his blood would move smoothly through his body and that he would never be troubled by his arteries and veins creating false pathways again. We said amen, and then I went around behind my son and I put my hands on his back and held them there until I felt to move them.
Within a month the blister was gone, and from the time of that prayer forward it never broke to bleed again, simply reabsorbing slowly into his body. No other blisters have ever developed.
Months later as I drove to Moab, I wondered. But also, I began to notice a terrible gnawing in my stomach. I didn’t recognize it because I’m not prone to the flu. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even had indigestion, but within half an hour I nearly couldn’t drive. Every mile was a steering-wheel gripping experience and I prayed consistently. I had the flu, possibly the horrid, quick-onset, deeply ravaging H1N1. At times my eyesight blurred and once I pulled over to lie on the seat for a few moments and try to catch my breath. I realized that I had asked something profound of my son and his leaders, and I was to prove my own faith as well before I met them, and that in this instance, a healing was intended.
So I sat up and drove. I prayed that by the time I reached Moab two and a half hours later I would be restored to my former health and be able to testify of the power of healing. It was miserable at first, but by the time I arrived I felt no discomfort at all.
When my son climbed into the car, he looked bone tired and said he felt like he’d been hit by a truck. We turned around and headed home and I asked him what happened that morning. He said that his leader had gathered them together and told them that they were going to give a blessing. He explained that blessings could heal, but that it was really important that they not be sick on this trip. Then they anointed and laid their hands on his head and pronounced a blessing. Afterward, his leader looked at him and told him that he needed to consider the others who were on that trip and their health, then he asked him if he wanted them to call me to pick him up.
I’ll admit that in that moment and for a long while afterward, I was genuinely disappointed. The whole interchange seemed such a profound lost opportunity. My son’s privilege to enjoy the last float trip our scouts would take now gone, I tried to imagine what could be gained from the experience. I asked him again if he had the faith to be healed. He was less confident after the morning’s strange activities, so I told him what had happened with me on the drive down. I explained that faith can’t survive in an atmosphere of doubt or fear and that there was none of that in our car right now. He looked at me and nodded. We prayed together, outlining the healing we requested and I felt was offered, and then I reached across and laid my right hand on his stomach for a time while we drove.
By the time we were home, he was right as rain, trying to figure out how to get hold of his priesthood leaders to see if someone else would be making the drive down to join the young men mid-trip. It didn’t happen, but my boy learned something about gifts, privileges, and power and I have learned something about working with others who may not feel as confident about certain principles as I might.
There is a misunderstanding in our church about priesthood. The assumption is that in order to heal or lead or function with power, one must have been ordained to an office in the priesthood. Clearly, however, gifts are given to all that all may be profited thereby (D&C 46). Power is obtained (D&C 121) on principles of righteousness and based in covenant-keeping (sacred liturgy). The function of the ordained priesthood is to make those covenants available to all, not to function as a barrier to the power that derives therefrom.
If men and women desire greater power, it has been made freely available, and it’s not dependent on an ordination. It’s a matter of faith, obedience, sacrifice, and humility. I learn more about that power daily as I try and err and repent and try again. It’s a partnership between us and God and us and each other.
Old Testament women asserted their authority to name their children, and there is no reason to assume that that needs to change, whether or not a holder of priesthood authority is the one who seals that name. I felt an extremely strong knowledge about the children I grew bodies for, hand in hand with God in my womb, and their names were not just an embellishment – they were crucial. I was adamant about their names and have had many opportunities to see why that was important to me, but I didn’t seal those names on them. It is a partnership with the priesthood.
Women have no need to withhold the prophetic counsel they feel inspired to pronounce upon the heads of their children or those over whom they have responsibility, and there is nothing untoward about blessings that they give in righteous power. I stood recently at the front of my class and made a promise to those listening in the power of the spirit that I know was given by revelation and the spirit of prophecy. Nobody developed leprosy or was struck by lightning. My priesthood leaders are available at any time to give counsel about my fulfilling that calling. It is a partnership with the priesthood.
That the Relief Society is “in its ascendancy” is a truth propounded repeatedly by former Pres. Beck. That the structure of an organization of women, paralleling the organization of men in the earthly priesthood and working with it, exists for specific goals and purposes has been a cornerstone of her presidency (and we have women presiding at the local and general level because there is a purpose for which someone needs to account.) That this organization is not fully formed seems utterly obvious. That both organizations function in the power and authority of the priesthood (the power of God that grows in righteous covenant-keepers) has been equally expounded.
Why it is not fully formed is a matter of some considerable conjecture.
When it will be fully formed is likewise.
That RS is headed for full formation, however, seems quite clear.
That the day is coming when men and women will work side by side with equal authority and responsibility and power in the salvation of the souls of all God’s children is inherent in everything I hear in leadership training, and the message grows more intense. That women with authority at all levels of the church, derived from their calling by prophets and those to whom the keys are given as well as derived from their personal righteousness and covenants kept (just as men derive power) will lead forward in a mighty work seems obvious.
I believe this will happen as the women of the church embrace the spiritual gifts that are freely at their disposal, increase in personal righteousness, grow mighty in faith, and step forward ready to serve. In an environment absent doubt or fear, in partnership with the priesthood, this would seem to occur faster (“stand where you are, lift where you stand” and all.) In an environment of increased expectation (as many women do not presently want greater authority or responsibility) I believe women will eventually embrace what many women have clamored for in an ordination: stewardship and perfecting through priestesshood service – in partnership with the priesthood.
Anyone who knows me well could catalog my faults and obvious imperfections in a heartbeat and would laugh heartily at the idea that I am in any way some sort of female ideal of righteousness. As with any ordinary priesthood holder, I’m just doing the best I can. But through that best we can do comes grace, a growing partnership with Jesus Christ, and it’s saturated with power. That is the reason I shared my experience, even with my flaws in working the partnership.
I wish that experience with my son’s priesthood leaders had been about partnership. These men are my friends and I love them and we have a mutually-respectful relationship. I’m realizing that I bear an equal responsibility in making that partnership work, and my failures to gauge that partnership prior to making a request of priesthood leaders inhibited our ability to work together in a high-trust situation. The gifts of the spirit flow on trust.
Relief Society has the mission to train women in a priestesshood that stands in partnership with the priesthood held by men. It is not the same, nor does the priesthood need dismantled and altered to fit women. But we are going to have to learn to work together to make a priesthood and a priestesshood work uniformly together – standing where we are and lifting where we stand.
Where do you see Relief Society going? What does a priestesshood look like to you?