Few holidays among the LDS community are as revered as Mother's Day. We bring to you this insightful essay by Dr. Richard D. Rust, professor of American Literature at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. Dr. Rust is the author of Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon, now on sale at the LDSSuperStore.com. Brother Rust also serves as a member of the Durham, North Carolina Stake Presidency.
If you would like to share a Mother's Day story or essay, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Eyes of My Understanding Were Opened: Enlightenment of a Male Young Mother
By Richard Dilworth Rust
Motherhood. I knew what it involved, or thought I did, having observed my own mother, my wife as mother, and my two daughters and daughter-in-law as mothers. Then I acted the part of a stay-at-home single Latter-day Saint mother with young children for a week so my daughter and son-in-law could go to London. Through this experience, "the eyes of my understanding were opened" and I saw clearly for the first time the differences between the world of the young LDS mother and what I consider typically the male world.
Wired and on permanent duty
Except for physicians on twenty-four-hour call, most men can leave their vocation behind them when they come home at night. Not a young mother, though; she is wired to her children, knowing that the lives of her charges are constantly in her hands. And even an on-call doctor can take a break in order to have an uninterrupted shower; not always so for the harassed mother tied to a toddler.
A young mother is on permanent duty. As the adage goes, her work truly is "never done." After putting the children to bed and while looking at dirty dishes in the sink at 9:00 p.m., I wondered how a young mother could accomplish all that is set before her. Amazingly, though, she does it, week in and week out, and usually cheerfully, even!
Order in the house
In their world, men give orders, take orders, fill orders; they seek and find order in their lives. Mothers with small children typically take orders (usually prefaced by "I wanna"); they live in a world constantly going from order to disorder. It is entropy at work right in front of their eyes.
In a man's world the chaos theory is an interesting speculation in physics; in the young mother's world it is a fact, not a theory. Directions to a child to "Come here" or "Please go there" simply don't apply in her world. Many men take pride in being able to put their hands on things they've put away. A mother is met constantly with chaos. This can take the form of lost shoes, misplaced socks, a sweater left behind--you name it. And somehow the mother is expected to find it.
The perversity principle
Indeed, children at times operate on the perversity principle--which is that in a difficult situation, we do the one thing that would be most hurtful to us. Little persons in a young mother's world sometimes act contrary to the desire of the mother and against their own best interests. If the mother is rushing at the last minute to get all the children ready for church, one of the children is sure to take off his shoes; the baby--just changed minutes before--will poop his diaper; and a third child will spill some juice on her dress. If a child wearing clean clothes and a brand-new pair of shoes approaches a mud puddle, he's bound to step in it. If the mother proposes one thing, the child in a spirit of perversity will ask for (more often, demand) exactly the opposite or will resist actions the parent longs for having herself such as going to bed in time for a full night's sleep and eating a well-balanced meal. Many protests become simply tests of will. "I want orange juice!" "But we don't have any orange juice." Louder: "I WANT ORANGE JUICE!" While a young mother can't always control matters, in my male world I usually have control over my time and the consequence of events.
As a male adult dealing on a daily basis with other adults, I take for granted reasonable discussions and presentations. Reason goes out the window when children engage with parents.
Men get dirty--fixing cars, mining coal, shoveling manure, whatever, but they count on getting clean afterwards; indeed, they may look forward confidently to getting clean while they are in the very process of getting grease on their hands. Mothers with small children try very hard to start clean: clean clothes for the children, clean kitchen floor, clean children's hands and faces. The only thing they can count on is that whatever is clean will soon be dirty. Rather than being from dirty to clean, things in their lives seem always to go from clean to dirty or misarranged. As for the stay-at-home mom's taste for nice clothes, she can depend on whatever she wears at home getting smotched or burped on.
Of time and eternity
I live in the world of the day-timer where I am in charge of my time and have some control over my priorities. At work, time goes quickly. In the world of the young mother, time is slowed to eternity when you're waiting for a child to button a shirt or put on shoes; it is eternity when you have one child in tow while waiting for the other to take swimming lessons. In the role of a young mother in the last situation, I found myself watching the clock and swearing that the minute hand had not moved more than two minutes worth in the space of fifteen minutes. On the other hand, there is not time enough when you have to run the car pool and your two-year-old and four-year-old try every trick in the book to keep from getting ready to go. There is an especially aggravating collapse of time prior to going to church. And in respect to highly effective planning, too often there is only one quadrant for a mother with young children: urgent. There is hardly a chance to plan, and many things get sidetracked.
Somehow a male expects his meals away or at home to be served hot and in an attractive format. The mother does her best to prepare tasty meals, only to have part or all rejected by her little children--who are likely to clamor for alternatives. To her, the meal would be tasty, but she never gets a chance to eat it hot or to eat it with her children. Sometimes she has to wolf down a lukewarm or cold dinner while the children are acting up in the background.
In my male-oriented world I can find time to read or listen to tapes. I have the opportunity to engage in high-flown conversations with adults. For the stay-at-home mom with small children, though, the highest point of intellectual stimulation is playing for the umpteenth time a game designed for 3 to 4 year olds. Read a book for personal pleasure or enhancement? Forget it. Not even in the bathroom (since away time has to be so short). What reading is done is repetitive and for someone else. The mom finds herself reading Goodnight, Moon to a child over and over again.
Goodnight, Moon for adult children
And so does God. He figuratively reads Goodnight, Moon over and over to me without complaining. Since practicing motherhood for a week and being startled into a new awareness, I see more clearly than ever that motherhood is the best preparation for godhood in the unconditional love and patience both require. The closest parallel here on earth to my relationship with my Father in Heaven is the relationship between a child and his or her mother. Further (and revealing how limited and incomplete are my definitions thus far of a male-oriented world), my Father is like a mother, and wants me to be, too.
Indeed, the more I contemplate the Savior, who exemplified all the best qualities associated with manhood, the more I see how he manifested feminine/motherly qualities in connection with his children. "How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you," he said to both the Jews and the Nephites (Matthew 23:37, 3 Nephi 10:4-6). In both the new and the old worlds, he conspicuously gathered the little children to him. Jesus wept. Jesus taught that the priesthood brethren who are both called and chosen should exhibit qualities usually considered feminine: persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and love unfeigned (D&C 121:41-42). They should "be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering" (Alma 13:28). Thus while I first posited the stay-at-home mom being single, ideally the family also has a Christ-centered father who shares a great deal in caring for and nurturing the children. Too, each parent in righteousness becomes a saint through putting off "the natural man" and becoming "as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).
When I allow myself to be a child submitting to my Father and try to look at myself from God's perspective rather than my prideful one, I see that what I might be tempted to consider my vaunted learning is at about the level of the vocabulary in Goodnight, Moon. I become aware that I am not "even as much as the dust of the earth" (Mosiah 2:25). But the beautiful truth is that God loves me anyway, and he more than puts up with my repetitions in prayers--at least those that are not vain repetitions. Just as I delight in a granddaughter's playing of the piano or a grandson's reading--and overlook the imperfections, so God, I believe, delights in my accomplishments, limited and weak as they may be in a Godly perspective. A mother who lovingly and uncomplainingly plays with her children is in miniature emulating God's condescension to his children. Both speak to their children "after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding" (D&C 1:24; see also 1 Nephi 11:16-23).
Just as the mother serves food without complaining, even though her children don't always appreciate it, so our Father provides us the sacrament which we don't always comprehend--which typifies the Savior, the bread of life. Patiently he pleads with us to put off the natural man and become like little children who "are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins" (Mosiah 3:16).
Of time and eternity
As frustrating as daily time conflicts can be, a mother learns patience through them. As "mothers" (and I'm including in this category fathers who understand motherhood), we can see things from God's perspective--that this is but for a small moment, that each person, young or older, is a child of God, and that our experiences in time prepare us for eternity. As a figurative child, we might say regarding life's journey, "Mommy, are we almost there yet?" As the mother who has learned patience through motherhood, and the father who has developed mother-like qualities, we can say to ourselves what the Savior has said: be faithful and endure to the end.
Motherhood is not for the hour or the day, it's forever. It is a microcosm of Godhood. God sees us not just as we are but as we will become. As Carol Lynn Pearson has it in her poem "Beginnings," we are like toddlers learning to walk, and God, like a mother, guides us in making those first steps. He knows we will make mistakes in the process, but also knows we need to exercise our agency to grow. Children want to do it themselves; so do adults under God's tutelage. He "knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted" (D&C 62:1). He is our hope and our salvation.
Mothers, it seems, are always cleaning up after others. In a heavenly perspective, that's what the Savior does for his children. He thanked his Father for purifying those whom he had chosen, and prayed "also for them who shall believe on their words, that they may be purified in me, through faith on their words, even as they are purified in me" (3 Nephi 19:28). Too, while persons concerned with cleanliness and attractiveness may look only on outward appearance, "the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
The spirit of motherhood is service. She doesn't ask what needs to be done; she can see what needs to be done and does it--as best she can. The heavenly extension is this: "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17).
The perversity principle
The apostle Paul said it best: "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I" (Romans 7:15). Identifying with motherhood prepares me to acknowledge my own weaknesses and to seek heavenly help to overcome them. This help comes when I identify childlike perversities in myself and like a child learn submission. King Benjamin especially directed his remarks to the natural man--who should become like a humble and teachable child.
As unreasonable as humans can be, the Lord never gives up trying to "reason together" with us (Isaiah 1:18-20).
Order in the house
A young mother strives to create order out of chaos, thus exemplifying principles of creation that have their heavenly counterpart (see D&C 132:19-20). These attempts help her, I believe, identify with a Father in Heaven who has patience with our disorder but who encourages us to establish "a house of order, a house of God" (D&C 88:119).
How often, I ask myself, have I lost something that my Heavenly Father, acting in a motherly role, helps me find. Usually these are not things; rather, they are priorities and purposes. At times I figuratively lose my shoes, leave things inside out, walk through mud puddles, and leave my carrots while eating too much candy. Through it all, my Father patiently tutors me, just as a mother tutors and nourishes her child.
Wired and on permanent duty
Just as a stay-at-home mom is wired to her children and is on call all the time, so the heavenly Physician. He, like a righteous mother, knows us intimately, and with tender mercy he loves us patiently and unconditionally. Like a sorrowing child, we are to cry unto God for our support (Alma 37:36). Each child is precious--so much so that a mother would sacrifice her life in his or her behalf, emulating the Savior's willing sacrifice.
As the saying goes, no one ever said it would be easy, only that it would be worth it. While in my week alone with three little children I recognized more than ever the challenges that face a young mother, and while I came away from that experience with greater honor for mothers, I also realized it is worth it. I could see clearer than ever how motherhood is allied with Godhood, that a mother's unconditional love and service both bless the lives of her children and bring her joy of the sort our Father must feel. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. Of course I loved my grandchildren before that experience, but I loved them even more through serving these precious souls as completely as I did. And while I asked for nothing in return, I received a great deal in the form of their love and affection. I now know better than I had before why our gratitude to Heavenly Father is so important and why he has put love at the top of his commandments. Charity, like true motherhood, never faileth.
LDS Today -- Building Zion through the webTM
ęCopyright 1998 - 2004 by LDS Today -- all rights
reserved. This site is not affiliated with
LDS Today -- the most comprehensive portal site designed for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( Mormons / LDS )