"Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men...."
"Mother" was once a word that struck me with fear. As a teenager, I knew I had a temper problem. I knew I was not cut out to be a parent. When word came directly from the Lord to me that His calling to me was to be a mother of "many souls", I was rocked to my core. After much inner struggling, I determined that if that was my Lord's wish for me, I would try to be the best mother I could be.
I spent a decade wrestling with inner demons, praying with all I had, to be changed into someone who could handle parenthood. I went through a 180° change. My heart was softened, I mastered my temper, became a wholly different person than I was. The vision I had been given fell apart over certain events of my life. My life now looks like what I first thought I wanted: very different from what I was led to believe it would be, but in the process I have learned a respect for motherhood that some might call "fetishization." (I have also earned a similar respect for fatherhood and priesthood, but that is a discussion for another post.)
A. Theodore Tuttle, a man I'd never heard of, gave a Conference talk in 1971 titled, "The Things that Matter Most." This talk probably appealed to me in part because he uses sighthounds to draw an analogy. According to him, greyhounds trained to chase mechanical rabbits ignored a real rabbit that crossed their path because they did not recognize it as real. Instead, they continued to chase the false rabbit they would never catch. This illustrates perfectly the feelings I have when I read complaints about being reduced to nothing more than a "uterus" by the Church's teachings on the importance of motherhood.
I am not the best poster child for motherhood. I am forced by necessity to develop a career as well as be a mother. I am guilty of the sin, as Elder Tuttle puts it, of "turning to the business world." Granted, mine is by necessity rather than selfishness, but my home is still weakened by the need.
It is hard for me to see so many mothers with husbands who support the family complain about being restrained to the home. I understand it, on some level, but I don't really understand it. I go to work every day, am lucky to spend half an hour of good time with my kids. My life is one endless round of getting ready for work, working, getting ready for sleep, and sleeping, with homework and meals crammed into the cracks. Rarely do I get time to sit down with the amazing souls who are my kids and really listen to them. Desperately, they need my love and attention, and however endless the former, I have only a very limited supply of the latter. Being forced into the career path, I see that what some call a curse of being "just a mother" is actually a rich and rare blessing.
Driven by necessity to constantly balance priorities, I have come to see for myself what it means to be a mother. I believe in compensatory blessings for the things outside of my control. But how much more glorious would it be if I could be there for my children when they need me! There is no one who can love them and be there for them quite like I can. I am their safe place, without judgments, with arms always open to comfort, but with enough love to tell them hard things when they need to hear them.
I often think about the world, how lonely and disconnected we feel. There are children without mothers or fathers. Adults without real friends or companionship. It is sometimes as if I can feel the aching need hanging over us, the zeitgeist of our time being a surfeit of shared interests and a dearth of real connection. Motherhood isn't just about birthing babies, it's about being a refuge, a safe haven for those who need to be loved. It is, like the priesthood, a channel for God's love to be made manifest on this earth.
Israel and Zion are often depicted as mothers, because they represent that safe place, havens for the people of the Lord. Self-actualization pales in comparison to being a safe place, a source of comfort and strength, someone to whom the beloved children of the Lord can turn. Whether we women are called to give birth or not, we can become that haven—the listening ear, the purse full of tissues, the warm arms and soft shoulder of comfort.
If there is anything in this world I want, it is that. I want to make myself become the Mother the Lord has asked me to be. I will never give birth to the "many souls" he said would come into my home. But I pray that some day I will be the person who can be mother to anyone who crosses my threshold, even a warrior mother who keeps the wolves at bay and watches the ninety and nine while the Shepherd searches for the lost who want to come home.
There are many who teach that being a mother is nothing, that teaching motherhood leaves women who are infertile or who do not want children out in the cold, ignored, shamed, or marginalized. I have felt that. I have felt marginalized and shamed. But the essence of the Gospel is sacrifice. Motherhood is nothing more than a single, feminine word that attempts to encapsulate the essence of submission to another's needs above our own, sacrifice of what we as individuals need for the needs of others, and true discipleship. Motherhood is caretaking, being the person who cares. I have determined to use my experience of being unloved to make sure that, if I can help it, no one else need ever feel that way. That is Motherhood. And that ideal deserves a bit of "fetishization." What can be more beautiful, holy, and honorable than taking care of souls?
We have a choice: to chase the rabbit of personal fulfillment or the rabbit of discipleship. I can testify, by my own experience, that it is by putting our potential in the Lord's hands and fully engaging in His work—embracing Motherhood however that looks for us, or, as I hope to write about next, embracing Fatherhood through the pattern of the priesthood—that we will finally find the joy and fulfillment we seek. It sounds compelling to focus on ourselves and our own needs. But beyond a certain point it is as empty as a mechanical rabbit, running endlessly around a circular track. Give your welfare to God, and take up His cross, and His great work.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
"But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them."