“One day a mother and her son went to visit Gandhi. Her little boy had an obsession with sugar and she went to seek Gandhi’s help on how to break her son’s sweet addiction. She begged the leader, “Gandhi, my son consumes far too much sugar, will you please tell him it’s bad for his health?” After listening to the mother’s plea patiently, Gandhi refused to give the boy advice and told her to return in two weeks. Obviously the mother left somewhat disappointed at Gandhi’s request, but two weeks later they returned. Gandhi pulled the child aside and told him it would be best if he quit eating so much sugar. The mother then pulled Gandhi aside curious as to why he needed two weeks. Gandhi smiled to her and said “Two weeks ago I had an obsession with sugar. I needed the time to see if I could cut back myself.”
Unfortunately I am not like Ghandi (if you can believe the story). I am a totally imperfect sister talking to you about one of my greatest struggles.
I have desperately wanted to talk about finding your divine nature for two reasons. First, for some of you, I hope to convey a better spirit of charity and understanding. For others of you, I want to share some of the strengths I have found.
You may think that you’ve never struggled with this topic and that what I’m going to say doesn’t apply to you. I think that’s flat out wrong. What I have to say applies to all of us as women, sisters, and children of God. Some of you may be struggling with this topic the same way I am. Some of you have never thought about it, and I challenge you to take time to think about it. Others of you have already developed a deep understanding, but may not have realized that you need to share what you’ve learned with others.
I think the best place to start, is with some brief background. I have and continue to struggle with finding the divine nature of women. My story is abnormal and sort of extreme, but I have no doubt that there are others in this ward who have felt similar to me in some way.
In primary, I had an emotionally abusive primary president who hated girls. It makes no sense to me where she picked this up, but she would go out of her way to make the girls in the primary feel stupid. One day my mom came to primary because I had earned an award and this primary president had me and a boy who had also earned the award stand up and she praised the boy and talked about how wonderful he was, gave him the award and then turned to me. She then said several really mean comments about me and refused to give me the award. This shocked my mother and she approached the Bishop. But he seemed to feel that leading in primary was an opportunity for this lady to work through her problems and that there was nothing wrong with the way she was treating the girls. In case you don’t believe that a Bishop would ever do this, you need to know that this Bishop also gathered as many ward members as he could and took them out to eat after church every Sunday.
For many people, this would be the point of the story where I tell you I went inactive for several years. I learned a lot from my mother’s response. We simply began attending a different ward until the leadership of our ward changed.
Throughout my life, my feelings that women were regarded infinitely less than men in the church was reinforced at every turn. I couldn’t be a scout. I couldn’t have the priesthood. The YW in all four of my wards were told they could only cook, sew, or do other similarly “feminine” things during mutual and had their budget drained to send the boys on camping, rafting, and hiking trips. I felt like women had no “important callings”, struggled with several phrases in temple ordinances, and did not see the point of Relief Society, especially in single wards.
The problem was, I had a wonderful father and I met a wonderful young man, both of whom slowly built up a great confidence in myself. I knew that I was loved by these men no less for being a woman. I knew that I could do great things if given the chance. So why did the church contradict everything I held dear to my personal worth?
Something was at odds logically. One of two things had to give. First, either I truly was created to be less than a man OR Second, the church was a false church. I began searching for my own truth and discovered that there was a third option.
STRENGTH FROM WOMEN IN THE PAST
I’d like to read an entry from my journal on the day I had a huge turning point.
“Don't think poor of me. Until recently it's felt like nobody has answers. Not church leaders, family members, prophets, or teachers. Everything people said seemed to make it worse. Then this year, something changed. I started receiving revelation in ways I never expected. People around me were saying things that just sparked thoughts that I knew didn't belong to me. And a few days ago, I found this lady's blog: Women in the Scriptures. And she said something that changed my whole perspective: study the scriptures! I know! It's nothing you wouldn't think of . . . but she said to read the entire standard works and highlight everything that mentions something female related. Wow. So far, I've been so surprised by how much there is. Not everything is spiritually enlightening (since I've been highlighting a lot of "daughters" from the phrase "and he begat sons and daughters"), but you know what? It sure makes a difference to flip through pages (electronically) and see all that pink. It makes me feel like the scriptures do relate to me. It's beginning to change my whole perspective. I'm finding counsel everywhere to help with my concerns.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my journey so far, it’s that when you seek answers for questions, you cannot be emotionally charged. The spirit cannot dwell in you and it cannot convey messages to you. So if you are struggling with any question, you have to find a way to change youf perspective. Maybe doing a scripture study like this could do it for you like it did for me. I changed my perspective from searching for all the ways women were wronged to searching for places to learn more about what it means to be a woman.
I am now in the process of creating a list of every single woman in the scriptures. I’m no where close to finishing, but let’s play a game.
I want you to write down on your piece of paper, how many women do you think there are in the following books:
Pearl of Great Price:
Grand Total of all the Women in the Scriptures:
These are the numbers I have from Heather's blog Women in the Scriptures. I think you'll be surprised.
Named Women: 133
Unnamed Women: 90
Groups of Unnamed Women: 145
Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 319
Total Women: 368
Named Women: 33
Unnamed Women: 28
Groups of Unnamed Women: 16
Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 60
Total Women: 71
Book of Mormon
Named Women: 3
Unnamed Women: 18
Groups of Unnamed Women: 66
Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 24
Total Women: 87
Doctrine and Covenants
Named Women: 2
Unnamed Women: 4
Groups of Unnamed Women: 4
Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 20
Total Women: 10
Pearl of Great Price
Named Women: 5
(I didn't include women who were also mentioned in the Old Testament)
Unnamed Women: 2
Groups of Unnamed Women: 17
Parables or Prophecies Specifically Including Women: 5
Total Women: 24
Grand Total of all the Women in the Scriptures: 556
Heather reminds us to remember that the "groups of unnamed women" can include anywhere from two or three women to 10,000. Also in addition to the 556 women mentioned specifically in the scriptures there are 428 parables or prophecies that specifically address or mention women.
Knowing that there are women in the scriptures that I can relate to and learn from, really helped alter my perspective. Yes, the scriptures were written by men and as such, don’t have a lot of women. But the women who are there offer some amazing support.
I learned another important lesson for my journey, from the temple. But I can guarantee you it wasn’t in the way you are expecting.
I bawled the entire day following my personal endowment. I was in shock. I think I sobbed for an hour in the Celestial room before my family escorted me out of the temple to a “celebration brunch” where I only managed to stop crying by withdrawing into myself and playing with my one year old niece. After the party, I went to the apartment my fiancé and I were renting (he was staying there and I wasn’t) and cried the entire rest of the day. I didn’t even know a body could make that many tears.
I tried several times over the next year to return to the temple, but always left repeating the mantra “never again” “never again” because it hurt and I cried so much.
Then they announced the new video. I went and saw it with my best friend who was going through the temple for only the second time. I cried. But they were happy tears. I never realized that much of what I took to be hurtful doctrine was really just really really really bad acting and directing. (My mother-in-law tells me I should have seen it before.)
I share this because I want you to realize that things do change in the church. Maybe something hurts and is confusing in the church because you truly don’t understand yet. And maybe, there’s something that needs to change in the church. I share one of my favorite quotes from Elder Holland, “This is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.”
It also helped me realize that some of the things I assume to be problems with the doctrine, are just problems with people. Just because I had a string of terrible Bishops did not mean the concept of a Bishop was wrong. Just because I had a terrible Primary President does not mean Primary Presidents don’t have an important role in God’s church. So I quote again from President Holland’s Talk: “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.”
One of the topics I struggled with was trying to understand the concept of equal partners. Despite the fact that I had a wonderful example of a father and a husband, I have always struggled with the word “preside”. I still do. It’s like a trigger word for bad memories for me. Thus I’ve never fully understood the family proclamation.
I have recently found a way to explain the role of equal partners to myself and wanted to share it with you. In the church, men have the Priesthood and thus provide a spiritual component of salvation by providing ordinances needed to return to the Celestial Kingdom. Women through the miraculous event of birth, provide a temporal component by providing a body. We cannot return to the Celestial Kingdom without the help of a woman and a man. A woman to get a body and a man to get the needed ordinances. Then in the home, the roles are kind of swapped. Men provide temporal needs by providing and protecting their family and women provide spiritual needs by nurturing the children and by being a moral force. It’s very general, but maybe it will help you.
This general conference, Sister Stephens said, “There exists today a great need for men and women to cultivate respect for each other as sons and daughters of God.” And I think that this would help this understanding of equal partners greatly. I mentioned to Cindy the other day that I wish we could return to the past and bring back parts of the culture. Parts where roles for women and men were clearer defined. That’s just me wishing for things to be easier. Because when we finally understand our roles as women and the roles of men, we can come to understand the great need we have for each other.
MY CONTRIBUTION WHEN NOT A MOTHER
Finally, one of my greatest struggles has been understanding my worth to the church during this stage of my life when I am not a mother. Now, I have no doubt that being a mother deserves a whole talk on its own, the struggles of understanding importance and the joy and power that role conveys. But since I am not a mother, I don’t feel entirely qualified to speak to you about it. So instead I want to focus on the important roles women have to the church outside of being a mother.
During the last year, something happened that helped me change my perspective on this topic. I walked into your ward. Again, let me read from my journal.
Then I took the plunge and didn't whine about going to Relief Society. I went straight there and got a seat with my mother-in-law. And it was amazing the spirit I felt. It wasn't so much that overpowering feeling of spirituality as it was the overwhelming feeling of cheer and kindness. Everyone there was so happy to see everyone! There didn't seem to be cliques and I was introduced to lots of people. The lady who does the announcements sounds and acts just like my grandma and I can literally feel how she cares about and loves everyone in the room. In fact, last week she knew I was new and had me introduce myself. (That’s you, Marsha.)
I don't know what makes that ward different, but it sounds and feels like a committee meeting there. And just that fact makes me feel like Relief Society does something important. I'm not sure what it is that they do yet, but everybody sounded purposeful and important. Everyone sounded busy, important, and at the same time they sounded like they loved everybody there. I'll post later as I learn what exactly makes this ward different, but for now I can't help feeling like this particular Relief Society knows something I don't. Something about our purpose.”
Now, I don’t know if I’ve figured out exactly what our purpose is yet, but that sense of strength I got from you made me look to understand. And here is what I’ve found.
If we step back from Mormon culture and pretend we’ve never heard any of these words before, we can learn a little bit about how women are supposed to function in the church.
Relief - - - - - Society. We should be like a committee. We meet at church once a week to report and plan our next relief attempt. We are like the Red Cross flying into a disaster zone to provide relief. Our disaster zones may be rough days or broken testimonies, and our relief may be a warm meal or helping to clean or just talking, but we are just as important . . . NO. We are MORE important than those helicopters flying into disaster zones because WE - YOU and ME - WE fix souls. Body and spirit our organization provides relief. On the large scale and on the smallest scale of a bad day.
Visiting teaching is the most powerful tool sin our relief arsenal and I feel that NONE of us realize it’s power. NONE of us are using it to its full extent. No matter how the church tries to turn around the mormon culture of (Visiting Teaching = Once a Month drop in, have a prayer, share the lesson, talk for a half hour, offer to do something, be told no, and leave) we are stuck in this rut. Visiting Teaching needs to be used to its full power. For that to happen you and I need to be FRIENDS with the sisters we visit teach. We need to know their worries, their doubts, their struggles, their joys, their successes, their needs, their loves and passions. Can you do this in a once a month visit? NO. You cannot. I will not open up to someone I see once a month. . . if that. I’m not even going to open up to someone I see once a week. I will turn to my FRIENDS to share my struggles, my success, my thoughts, and my needs. We have ways to stay in contact. Use them. We talked recently in Relief Society about the spiritual power of technology? Here’s one that you need to use. Use your technology to stay in contact with your sisters! Email, text, call. Leave a note! Say hi whenever you pass. The more you see or contact your sisters the faster you’ll get to be friends. And once you become friends you and your sisters will be able to access the full power of relief society.
Women have an incredible power to talk. It’s not bad. In fact, I like to list it as a super power. This amazing ability for women to talk is how we come up with creative solutions. It’s how we dig into another person’s soul. It’s how we heal wounds - ours and others. It’s important that we get into those meaningful conversations with the sisters we visit teach because that is how people like me will patch our testimonies and it’s how we will enter our sisters hearts.
From general conference, I also learned that women offer a powerful moral force not just to the church but to the world. I’m still finding how to do that exactly, but to anyone searching for the divine nature of women, I say that Elder Christofferson’s talk would be a good place to start.
Finally, let me read to you a post from a “friend” during the whole women and Priesthood Session uproar. Maybe you said something similar. I hope you did not. If you did, you won’t anymore.
“This ordain women thing is ridiculous! They act as if it's the leaders of the church who with hold the priesthood from them, when in reality it is God. And it doesn't mean he cares more for the men!! I guess I should start protesting for having the same rights as women and demand that men should be able to have the most incredible authority of all. . . Having a child!! It's time I think for the brethren to stand up to these ladies and say ENOUGH. And if you don't like it then leave!”
This general conference, President Eyring said, “Our human tendency is to be impatient with the person who cannot see the truth that is so plain to us. We must be careful that our impatience is not interpreted as condemnation or rejection.” Instead remember charity - for “if ye have not charity, ye are nothing” and “charity is the pure love of Christ”.
I hope now that if you are one of those women who answer questions about this topic with, “I’ve never struggled with this . . .” or “You’re missing the whole point.” or something as heart breaking as “If you don’t like it, leave!” that you will have a greater amount of charity for people like me. That now you might just understand what goes on in our heads. And you will NEVER NEVER tell someone to “Leave the church.” Because maybe they are struggling just as hard as I am to stay here and understand.
I now close my soul-bearing session, with my testimony that God does love us as Women. Sometimes I don’t understand how that fact and things I see in the church coincide, but I know that this church is true. I know that to find answers to questions we have to change our perspective. I know that sometimes things change and that sometimes what seems like a deep doctrinal error is really just people in the church making grave mistakes. I know that I have an important role to play in God’s work simply because I am a woman. And finally I know that there is a great work for you and me to do if we will only access it.