A Not-a-Mother’s Thoughts on Mother’s Day
I am beyond thrilled at the launch of this new website, and to have been asked to contribute regularly, along with these lovely women who emulate faith and strength, honesty and humor. They are my childless sisters, and I know others will come to love them as much as I have. We feel so blessed and humbled to have the opportunity to serve and strengthen those who share our path, and are so looking forward to coming to know and love them too! Much thanks to Jamie for her vision and hard work that thought and brought this website into being, and her invitation to post a talk I gave this past Mother’s Day to get things started off. And on that note . . . here we go!
Originally posted on https://www.facebook.com/notes/janell-jensen-gehmlich/an-lds-not-a-mothers-perspective-on-mothers-day/10151629608803566?pnref=lhc
May 12, 2013
I was asked to be the closing speaker for our Mother’s Day Sacrament Meeting today. I said no- something that I almost never do. Speaking in Sacrament Meeting- no problem. On Mother’s Day? Why me? Anything I have to say would be, well, not the usual Mother’s Day fare. Time to broaden some horizons, I was told. We want and need more than one point of view. Will you share yours? So, I said I would. This is it.
There is a rather interesting story leading up to me standing at this podium today, which I am not going to share, but the conclusion is that I am here, even though I don’t really do Mother’s Day. I will explain why- we’ll see if I can get through this.
There are a lot of reasons Mother’s Day is not something I particularly celebrate. It certainly is NOT because mothers don’t deserve acknowledgement, love and gratitude- my mother certainly did. On the contrary, I believe mothers should get that acknowledgement, love, and gratitude 365 days a year. But, Mother’s Day can be a tough one for a lot of people. While Ben is able to call his wonderful mother (I have been so fortunate in the mother-in-law department!) I no longer have a phone call to make or card to send, because my mother suffers from a dementia such that she doesn’t understand most words, doesn’t speak and doesn’t recognize anyone anymore, including her family. My mother doesn’t know who I am. I’ve watched mothers of all ages sit and weep on this day- women who have buried a child, who literally don’t know where their child is, or whose child has broken their heart in any number of ways. I’ve seen mothers who are struggling mightily with feeling that their best is never good enough slump a little more under the weight of the perfect mother stories. I’ve heard people whose own mothers have been abusive, or stood by and allowed them to be abused, wonder why their mothers didn’t love them like these mothers the children sing about in their Primary songs.
As a childless woman in the church, I’ve made my peace with Mother’s Day (a LONG process, and one that usually involves my husband taking me away for the weekend). I have been known to get up and walk out of a meeting when hearing, yet again, that bearing children is the reason why women are on this earth, and there is no joy comparable to being a mother, and raising children is the single most important thing a woman can ever do with her life, and you have never known true happiness until you are a mother, and the whole purpose of the church is for families, none of which applied to me, was simply too much to bear. Sometimes there’s a comment about how if childless women are patient and have faith, they won’t be deprived of any true happiness and real joy in the eternities, but we feel their longing and heartache for the unfulfilled righteous desires of their hearts and know how hard it must be to miss out on that true happiness and real joy in the meantime. Let me assure you that if you have not walked this road, then you do not know.
The impact of this line of thought is illustrated perfectly by a comment made after an article I read online recently- an article that, while full of beautiful truths regarding the vital part mothers play in the lives of their children and salvation of the next generation, also equated the sisterhood of the church to a metaphorical club, whose requirement for membership was motherhood. I understood exactly what was in this sister’s heart when she made the following comment:
“A lovely article. I would love to be in your club, but I don’t think I fit the bill. I am a single, middle-aged sister; I sometimes get mentioned as an afterthought. I know the gospel is true. I believe in the importance of the family, it’s central role in the gospel, and I understand why this is so and why it must have and does have a prominent place in the life and teachings of the church. As much as I accept these things, I will always be an outsider, and I can only hope to achieve life’s second best experiences and perform the second most valuable tasks.”
My heart broke as I read that. And not just for this sister, but for every Latter-Day Saint who somehow does not fit within the ideal family structure that our church culture focuses on, who continually struggle to define their lives according to that framework, and may even think that their offerings before the Lord are somehow less, because they don’t “fit the bill” for membership in a particular club.
The Lord does not have clubs in this manner. The blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are available for anyone who has the desire, and is willing, to follow him. 2 Nephi 26:33 teaches us that “he inviteth all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” I would imagine that when Nephi wrote this, around 550 BC, that it was about as comprehensive a list as you could get of the general population. They are all invited to come unto the Lord- even the heathens are covered 😉 Marital and parental status isn’t on the list.
In our day, the apostle Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught in his April 2008 General Conference address that:
“Some (members of the church) are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.
Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”
I, for one, am grateful for the depth and richness of the membership of this church. I have learned to have an appreciation for who and what I am; the things that I both have in common with and that make me different from others here. I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father, as are all the sisters. I am a strong and capable woman, one among many others. I am a Relief Society sister who doesn’t do crafts, hates to cook, took my 138 pound dog to see the sisters I visit teach last month, and spent my free time this week learning a new Muse riff on my bass guitar. I am a wife, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a granddaughter, an auntie, a friend, a dental hygienist, a student, a teacher, a leader, and a mentor- all with varying degrees of success, depending on the day. One thing I am not is a mother, and that is perfectly ok. For whatever reason, the things that the Lord desires of me do not involve or require me to have children of my own, or by any other means. I know that beyond a doubt.
Every single person on the face of this earth has disappointments and difficulties and heartbreaks- it is a universal part of the human experience. I don’t know anyone whose life turns out exactly the way they thought it would and expected it should. But that doesn’t mean we’re being deprived of blessings, or the abilities and circumstances to accomplish what the Lord has called each of us here to do. While I have greatly mourned the loss of the children that I always assumed I would have, I have also come to understand that that grief is not a burden I can carry forward with me. To do so would be to say, “Well, Lord, much as I appreciate being born to a loving family with the light of the gospel in a country of freedom and peace, my good health, the opportunity to get an education and have gainful employment, a husband who loves me in spite of having to put up with me, and many good people who care about me, you really dropped the ball on this kid thing. I will be heartbroken for the rest of my life, take no pride in any accomplishments because they will never be more than second-rate, and know that any happiness I feel is below par.” That, to me, would be not only illogical, but display the worst kind of ingratitude. I know my life is not a consolation prize, because I simply do not believe that is how our Heavenly Father works. I trust that He always has and always will provide me with the people and opportunities that will allow me to achieve my true happiness and my real joy here on this earth. I believe that he expects nothing less than a first-rate life from me. It took me years to come to that understanding, but when I did, it was profoundly life changing. I wish it were something I could share with the sister who wrote that earlier comment, so discouraged about who she was and the value of what she had to offer.
The Prophet Joseph taught that the fundamental principle of our religion is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and that “all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” The reason we’re on this earth is to become like our Savior, and thus, as the apostle Elder Russell M Nelson taught in the April 2012 General Conference, “the attributes by which we shall be judged one day are all spiritual. These include love, virtue, integrity, compassion, and service to others.” As simplistic as it may seem, everything about the gospel of Jesus Christ and in His church, including families in all their forms, are a means for us to emulate Him as we learn, grow, and serve others; keeping our covenants and giving our best efforts through whatever life experiences Heavenly Father wills for us, until we can return again to Him. President Monson and others have reminded us, time and again, that everyone is in a different stage of their life journey, and that not all the roads traveled are the same. Our place is not to make judgments or comparisons, good or bad. Our work is to offer love and support to our fellow travelers, at whatever stage of their journey and on whatever road we encounter them.
So mothers, thank you for all you do, to love and teach your children. I have taught and I work with the youth, and they are great kids. To raise a teenager is a commendable accomplishment, to be sure! But, if your children use their agency to go a different way, please remember that agency is so important to our Heavenly Mother and Father that they allow us to exercise it, in spite of what we may do. Our most perfect parents still lost one-third of their children when they chose to go. Know that your best is good enough, and we love and honor you and your efforts.
May we also remember and express love today for those who mourn a lost child, whose arms are empty when they would have them otherwise, who lost their mother too soon, or who have never known a loving mother’s embrace. May you have the strength, peace, and comfort of the Atonement, and the feel the love of the Lord round about you, on this Mother’s Day.