Your Greatest Challenge, Mother

Gordon B. Hinckley

President of the Church


Gordon B. Hinckley
I know of no better answer to [the] foul practices that confront our young people than the teachings of a mother, given in love with an unmistakable warning.

I would be satisfied to close the meeting right now. We have been well taught. I commend the presidency on their excellent remarks. You may know that they have worried and prayed and pleaded with the Lord to help them in their preparation and in their presentation. We are all indebted to you, Sister Smoot, Sister Jensen, Sister Dew. You’ve done a great work.

I count it a precious opportunity to speak to you. There is no other congregation like this congregation. We speak from the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. But you hear from almost everywhere. You are gathered across the United States and Canada, across the nations of Europe, and Mexico, Central America, and South America. You are as one in this great gathering even though you are in Asia, the South Pacific, and in other distant lands.

Your hearts are all of one kind. You are gathered together because you love the Lord. You have a testimony and conviction concerning His living reality. You pray unto the Father in Jesus’ name. You understand the efficacy of prayer. You are wives and mothers. You are widows and single mothers carrying very heavy burdens. You are newly married women, and you are women who have not married. You are a vast concourse of women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You belong to this great organization, more than four million of you. No one can calculate the tremendous force for good that you can become. You are the keepers of the hearth. You are the managers of the home. Along with Sister Dew, I charge you to stand tall and be strong in defense of those great virtues which have been the backbone of our social progress. When you are united, your power is limitless. You can accomplish anything you wish to accomplish. And oh, how very, very great is the need for you in a world of crumbling values where the adversary seems so very much to be in control.

I have great respect and admiration for you young women who have come into the Society rather recently. You have largely weathered the storm that beat about you in your youth. You have kept yourself unsullied from the world. You have kept yourself free from the taints and stains of unrighteousness. You are the very flower of the good, maturing youth of the Church. You have made it thus far, clean and beautiful and virtuous. I compliment you most warmly.

I commend you women who are single. You have known much of loneliness. You have known anxiety and fear and desperate longing. But you have not let this overcome you. You have gone forward with your lives, making significant and wonderful contributions along the way. God bless you, my dear sisters and friends.

Tonight I cannot talk directly to all of you. I have singled out one segment of this vast congregation, and that is you who are mothers. I might include those who will become mothers. What a wonderful thing you have done as mothers. You have given birth and nurtured children. You have entered into a partnership with our Father in Heaven to give mortal experience to His sons and daughters. They are His children and they are your children, flesh of your flesh, for whom He will hold you responsible. You have rejoiced over them, and in many cases you have sorrowed. They have brought you happiness as no one else could. They have brought you pain as none other could.

By and large, you have done a remarkable job in rearing them. I have said many times that I believe we have the finest generation of young people that this Church has ever known. They are better educated; they are better motivated; they know the scriptures; they live the Word of Wisdom; they pay their tithing; they pray. They try to do the right thing. They are bright and able, clean and fresh, attractive and smart. These are very substantial in number. More of them go on missions than ever before. More of them marry in the temple. They know what the gospel is about, and they are trying to live it, looking to the Lord for His guidance and help.

But I regret to say that so many of our young people fall between the cracks. They try one foolish thing after another, never evidently satisfied, until they are pulled down into a pit from which they cannot extricate themselves. Some of our own are among these, and it is you mothers who bear the burden of sorrow that flows therefrom. They are your sons and daughters. And so tonight with the hope that I may be helpful, I plead with you.

In some cases it may be too late, but in most cases you still have the opportunity to guide and persuade, to teach with love, to lead in paths that are fruitful and productive and away from those dead-end situations which bring no good.

You have nothing in this world more precious than your children. When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out. It will not be the money you have made. It will not be the cars you have owned. It will not be the large house in which you live. The searing question that will cross your mind again and again will be, How well have my children done?

If the answer is that they have done very well, then your happiness will be complete. If they have done less than well, then no other satisfaction can compensate for your loss.

And so I plead with you tonight, my dear sisters. Sit down and quietly count the debits and the credits in your role as a mother. It is not too late. When all else fails, there is prayer and the promised help of the Lord to assist you in your trials. But do not delay. Start now, whether your child be six or 16.

I am told that there was recently held in this area a great gathering which attracted 10,000 young people. I am satisfied that some of those young people were our own.

It is reported that the acts of that evening’s entertainment were lewd and evil. They were loathsome and downgrading. They were representative of the foulest aspects of life. There was no beauty in them. There was only ugliness and depravity. It was sleaze in its worst form.

These young people paid from $35 to $50 admission. In many cases that money came from their parents. Similar things are going on across the world. Some of your sons and daughters make it possible for the promoters of such filth to prosper in their evil undertakings.

Last Sunday the Deseret News carried a detailed feature story on underground drug parties that go by the name of Rave. They run from 3:00 until 7:30 of a Sunday morning. Here young men and women, in their late teens to early 20s, dance to the metallic beat of so-called music pouring forth from stacks of amplifiers. “Some are wearing brightly colored beads; others are waving glow sticks. Some have pacifiers in their mouths, while others are wearing painter’s masks” (Deseret News, 17 Sept. 2000, B1).

Drugs go back and forth from sellers to users at $20 to $25 a pill.

I know of no better answer to these foul practices that confront our young people than the teachings of a mother, given in love with an unmistakable warning. There will be failures, yes. There will be heartbreaking disappointments. There will be tragedies, bleak and hopeless. But in very many cases, if the process begins early and continues there will be success and happiness and love and much of gratitude. Opening your purse and handing a son or daughter money before you rush off to work will not do. It may only lead to more evil practice.

The proverb spoken of old said, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

Another wise saying reads, “As the twig is bent, so the tree’s inclined” (Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, vol. 2 of The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., “Epistle I: To Sir Richard Temple, Lord Cobham” [1776], 119; line 150).

Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest. I take the liberty tonight of suggesting several things that you might teach them. The list is not complete. You can add other items.

Teach them to seek for good friends. They are going to have friends, good or bad. Those friends will make a vast difference in their lives. It is important that they cultivate an attitude of tolerance toward all people, but it is more important that they gather around them those of their own kind who will bring out the best they have within them. Otherwise they may be infected with the ways of their associates.

I have never forgotten a story that Elder Robert Harbertson told at this Tabernacle pulpit. He spoke of an Indian boy who climbed a high mountain. It was cold up there. At his feet was a snake, a rattlesnake. The snake was cold and pleaded with the young man to pick it up and take it down where it was warmer.

The Indian boy listened to the enticings of the serpent. He gave in. He gathered it up into his arms and covered it with his shirt. He carried it down the mountain to where it was warm. He gently put it on the grass. When the snake was warm it raised its head and struck the boy with its poisonous fangs.

The boy cursed at the snake for striking him as an answer to his kindness. The snake replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up” (“Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, July 1989, 77).

Warn your children against those with poisonous fangs who will entice them, seduce them with easy talk, then injure and possibly destroy them.

Teach them to value education. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).

There rests upon the people of this Church a mandate from the Lord to acquire learning. It will bless their lives now and through all the years to come.

With fascination I watched one evening on television the story of a family in the Midwest. It included the father and mother and three sons and one daughter.

The father and mother determined when they married that they would do all they could to see that their children were exposed to the very best educational experiences.

They lived in a modest home. They observed modest ways. But they nurtured their children with knowledge. Every one of those children achieved in a remarkable way. Every one was well educated. One became a university president; the others became heads of large business institutions, successful individuals by any measure.

Teach them to respect their bodies. The practice is growing among young people of tattooing and piercing their bodies. The time will come when they will regret it, but it will then be too late. The scriptures unequivocally declare:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

It is sad and regrettable that some young men and women have their bodies tattooed. What do they hope to gain by this painful process? Is there “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13) in having unseemly so-called art impregnated into the skin to be carried throughout life, all the way down to old age and death? They must be counseled to shun it. They must be warned to avoid it. The time will come that they will regret it but will have no escape from the constant reminder of their foolishness except through another costly and painful procedure.

I submit that it is an uncomely thing, and yet a common thing, to see young men with ears pierced for earrings, not for one pair only, but for several.

They have no respect for their appearance. Do they think it clever or attractive to so adorn themselves?

I submit it is not adornment. It is making ugly that which was attractive. Not only are ears pierced, but other parts of the body as well, even the tongue. It is absurd.

We—the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve—have taken the position, and I quote, that “the Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings.”

Teach your sons and daughters to avoid illegal drugs as they would the plague. The use of these narcotics will destroy them. They cannot so abuse their bodies, they cannot so build within themselves vicious and enslaving appetites without doing incalculable injury. One habit calls for another, until the victim in so many cases is led down to a situation of utter helplessness, with loss of all self-control and habituated to a point where it cannot be broken.

A recent television program indicated that 20 percent of young people who are on drugs were introduced to their use by parents. What is wrong with people? The use of illegal drugs becomes a dead-end road. It takes one nowhere except to loss of self-control, to loss of self-respect, and to self-destruction. Teach your children to avoid them as they would a foul disease. Build within them an utter abhorrence of such.

Teach them to be honest. The jails of the world are filled with people who began their evil activities with small acts of dishonesty. A small lie so often leads to a greater lie. A small theft so often leads to a greater theft. Soon the individual has woven a web from which he cannot extricate himself. The broad road to prison begins as a small and attractive pathway.

Teach them to be virtuous. Teach young men to respect young women as daughters of God endowed with something very precious and beautiful. Teach your daughters to have respect for young men, for boys who hold the priesthood, boys who should and do stand above the tawdry evils of the world.

Teach them to pray. None of us is wise enough to make it on our own. We need the help, the wisdom, the guidance of the Almighty in reaching those decisions that are so tremendously important in our lives. There is no substitute for prayer. There is no greater resource.

My dear mothers, these things I have mentioned are of course not new. They are as old as Adam and Eve. But they are as certain in their cause and effect as the sunrise in the morning, and the list is not complete.

With all there is to avoid, there can be much of fun and pleasure. With good friends there can be much of happiness. They need not be prudes. They can, and they have shown that they do, have a good time.

God bless you, dear friends. Do not trade your birthright as a mother for some bauble of passing value. Let your first interest be in your home. The baby you hold in your arms will grow quickly as the sunrise and the sunset of the rushing days. I hope that when that occurs you will not be led to exclaim as did King Lear, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” (King Lear, I, iv, 312). Rather, I hope that you will have every reason to be proud concerning your children, to have love for them, to have faith in them, to see them grow in righteousness and virtue before the Lord, to see them become useful and productive members of society. If with all you have done there is an occasional failure, you can still say, “At least I did the very best of which I was capable. I tried as hard as I knew how. I let nothing stand in the way of my role as a mother.” Failures will be few under such circumstances.

Lest you think I am putting all of this responsibility on you, I may say that I intend to speak to the fathers concerning these matters in the general priesthood meeting two weeks from tonight.

May the blessings of heaven rest upon you, my dear sisters. May you not trade a present thing of transient value for the greater good of sons and daughters, boys and girls, young men and women for whose upbringing you have an inescapable responsibility.

May the virtue of your children’s lives sanctify and hallow your old age. May you be led to exclaim with gratitude as did John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn. 1:4). For this I pray, and pray most earnestly, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.