In the priesthood session address at the April 1988 General Conference, Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve referred to women as “the enrichment of humanity.” He praised them for their unique gifts and their “queenly endowments,” and has assured them that they are watched over by angels “in their motherly ministry.” For, as the Prophet Joseph said, “it is according to their natures.”
As Latter-day Saint women, acting “according to our natures,” we recognize that mothering is a divine responsibility. While from time to time other duties may require our attention, we never forget our potential to serve and nurture children. A woman may accomplish this with a righteous husband by her side, or as a single parent, or as a single, not-yet-married sister who is teaching and mothering the children of other women.
I am impressed, though not surprised, that in every culture feelings are the same of mothers for their children and children for their mothers. Regardless of the circumstances in which they live—rich or poor, with opportunities for education present or absent—feelings are generally the same. Mothers will almost always do everything to ensure the welfare of their children. No sacrifice is too great.
A number of examples, typical of mothers and mothering everywhere, come readily to mind. In Lima, Peru, a mother showed me pictures of her four sons and two daughters. With great pride, she told me of their accomplishments. Despite limited opportunity for advanced education, each of her children has gone to college because of her efforts and determination. Her goals from them are more than material goals. She has trained them to give of themselves, to be contributors in the Church and the community. In that land where new members are coming into the Church at such a rapid rate, each of these children is now able to help significantly as a leader in the Church.
In the Philippines, I visited a little branch in a lonely outpost. The members met in a tiny house elevated off the ground on stilts. An older woman indicated she was the mother and grandmother of most of those present in that little classroom.
Propped on a table and leaning against the wall was a blackboard on which she had neatly printed the main points of the lesson. Afterward, she told me the greatest thing she could do for her family and others was to teach. Over and over, she said to me, “I love my family. I teach them.”
In order to do this a mother must constantly be aware of the needs of her children. She must encourage them in their lives by participating and learning with them.
When I was visiting Hiroshima, Japan, I met an eleven-year-old boy, soon to be a deacon. He was asked to speak at a stake conference. Though very frightened, he quoted scriptures with ease and preached a powerful sermon. There was no question about which shining, smiling face in the congregation belonged to his mother.
Recently, I visited the mother of a large family, whom I have known and admired for many years. I have watched her children grow and develop. Education, missions, temple marriages were all part of their program. I asked her what was the secret of her success. Modestly, she told me that success had not yet been achieved, that life was a continual series of tests and challenges. But she did indicate that keeping close family ties had been very important in their lives.
She said, “We have recognized that each family member needs to be treated with dignity and respect. Though the capabilities and talents of each are different, each needs to know he or she is a child of God, loved by Him. We hold regular family conferences (even after the children are married). We feel since the Church has general conference for the edification and instruction of the saints, we need to have family conferences for the same purpose. The have truly strengthened the love in our family.”
The same feeling of commitment was expressed by the ten Latter-day Saint women in the United States who were considered for the national awards of Mother of the Year and Young Mother of the Year. Each of these sisters spoke of unconditional love and the value of work as character builders. They praised the virtues of laughing, singing, kissing, complimenting, and building self-esteem. They rejoice in the faith of a child, in the miracle of learning, in the opportunity to counsel, in the excitement of discovery, in the possibilities for growth, and in the sharing of the fulfillment of dreams.
It is not surprising that Latter-day Saint women are singled out for special recognition. As President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency reminds us:
“The Church has been in the forefront, training the daughters of Zion. … We believe and have taught consistently … that a woman’s greatest mission in life is an honorable and happy marriage with the rearing of an honorable and happy family. That means mothering and nurturing in a very real and personal way. … But this is not inconsistent with other activities. There are tremendous responsibilities for women in the Church as well as in the community consistent with and in total harmony with marriage, motherhood and the rearing of good and able children.” (See Tambuli, February, 1989.)
Many women who do not have children in this life have had lasting influences on other people’s children as they train and nurture. My first lessons in fasting and prayer were taught to me by a school’s head teacher who helped me combine these experiences into my life. Miracles occur when women are able to express their desire to nurture through committed, selfless service that blesses mankind.
As I come to understand the many talents and characteristics of women, I realize how needed their strengths are in this dispensation. We must remember that we are daughters of God here to provide nurturing care for one another, family and friends—loving care to soften the changes of life felt by all.
What a great opportunity we have to fill our God-given role. He has given us the privilege to shape the lives of those entrusted to our care. Even those of us who have not been blessed to have children of our own can still be influential as trainers and nurturers. It does not matter where we live, whether we are rich or poor, whether our family is large or small. Each of us can share that Christ-like love in our “motherly ministry.”