I know that some people get wound up about the comparison of holding the priesthood to motherhood. This post is not going to make those people happy. As I read the talks from the Priesthood session so long ago, an overreaching theme coalesced. It is something I have been pondering for a very long time. It is easy to pick apart how Priesthood and Motherhood are different, but I have spent years pondering why men, and not women, might be given the priesthood at this stage in mortal life.
Ultimately, I believe that there is much more similar between men and women in general than there is between any two given women or any two given men. In other words, I believe there is more diversity within a gender than between genders. I also believe that there isn't much that a determined person is incapable of doing, outside of certain handicaps.
But I also believe that who we are as people is not only based on who we were before we came to this earth, it is also based on who we have become while here. This mortal life is fraught, not only with sin and moral weakness, but also with mortal weakness: the circumstances of our physical bodies, and the culture that has developed from those underlying circumstances. I cannot explain the differences between male and female in a way that is irrefutable or without exception. But I'm not inclined to get lost in exceptions when the pattern has so much to teach me.
My words are mine, and colored liberally with my perspective and experience as a woman. I don't have perspective as a man, nor any of the other myriad options out there.
I'm not going to discuss the differences in depth today, but I wanted to shine a little light on my personal philosophy so that you might know why I approach motherhood and fatherhood the way I do. Everything said in this post is to address generalities and tendencies, not to declare rigid truths.
There is no doubt that women are different. If not before, from the moment our breasts start to grow and get in the way, or when we get our first period and come to accept that 25% of the prime of our lives will be spent dealing with pain, discomfort, and blood, we have to face the fact that we are vulnerable in a way that men are not. Modern culture has provided us with many ways to handle that fact, some of which minimize it almost to nothing. But I believe that, for most of us, that reality is like an echo forward and back, changing the way we look at the world, the way we learn, the way we think.
I knew from a very early age that, as a woman, I was vulnerable. Because my body was formed to bear life, I treated it differently. And while I don't want to get into the personal aspect of that too deeply, I know it has given me a greater appreciation for life, a desire to connect to others, to help them reach their potential and learn to be happy. Being vulnerable meant I wanted to help keep others safe, that I felt an obligation to mother, even though I didn't know I was going to actually bear children.
Of course, not all women think of it that way. But I have. The physical reality of my body and the pressures society has placed on me as a woman has shaped my spirituality and the way I relate to God and to my brothers and sisters. It has influenced my discipleship, and helped me understand my Savior. It's not all good, of course. But it made me care.
The Priesthood, to me, is meant to do for men what the reality of physical life does for women. It is a power that is entirely based on putting another's needs above your own. It is placing yourself in the precarious position of trying to represent God in the lives of those around you. Holding the authority to administer ordinances gives men a power over life that is similar, though not the same, to a mother's power. But just like with motherhood, a man with the priesthood responsibility is not forced to accept the mantle of the Priesthood. Mothers abandon or abuse their children, and men certainly exercise their responsibilities unrighteously.
While I would not have worded it exactly the way Joseph Fielding Smith did in his 1971 talk in Priesthood Session, it illustrates the immensity of the Priesthood.
"My dear brethren, this matter of holding the priesthood is not a light or a small thing. We are dealing with the Lord’s power and authority...."
Or as Marion D. Hanks taught those brethren, the priesthood burden is a burden of personal connection. It is a responsibility to care for the people of the Church the way a mother should care for her children:
"We need to understand their needs. They need to learn the gospel. They need to be accepted, to be involved, to be loved; and they need, my brethren—my fifth and final point—the example of good men, good parents, good people, who really care."
Wielding the Priesthood of God in righteousness takes fatherhood—which has much less invested in children than mothers typically do—and elevates it. It creates not only a bond of obligation, but one of self-sacrifice similar to the sacrifice a woman makes to bring children into this world (even if she never does!) It is a sacrifice that requires putting the needs of others above our own needs.
Whatever some people say about the Priesthood, how it is about power and administration in the Church, how it must be had to be heard, how it somehow grants a higher level of value in the Church and in the Kingdom of God, they are wrong. I know it because I knew what it was like to have a father who, imperfect and struggling, knew how to put his priesthood responsibilities above his own desires. And I have known what it is like to be a mother, dearly longing for a man to step up and be a partner rather than another voice clamoring for my energy. I have never had a man in my home to bless my children with the power of the Priesthood, but I have seen what it can do.
Priesthood righteously wielded is Motherhood with a male focus, a male organization, and a male desire to be a better provider, to protect those who need him, and to serve his God.
This world needs more fathers. We have plenty of men who watch TV, who play video games, who spend their time at home relaxing and recuperating from a long day of work. We need more men who know their day is never done, their work never complete. Men who dedicate themselves to using the power of the Priesthood they have been temporarily entrusted with to save the souls of people who so desperately need a Shepherd.Please. There are so many who need what you as a man can offer. There is so much the pattern of the Priesthood can teach you. The Priesthood of God invites you to the same vulnerability women are invited to by the expectation of laying their lives down to give a chance for another soul to experience this mortal life. Learn what that means, and become a man of God.