Monday, April 2, 2007

Priesthood vs. Motherhood

I haven't posted in quite some time. My sister is getting married this week, and I've been sewing dresses for myself and my daughter. I also try not to post unless I have something significant (to me, if not to anyone else) to say. In reading Feminist Mormon Housewives (a blog I read often and find interesting, though I'm certain I'm not considered "cut from the proper cloth" there,) I've slowly gathered the urge to write about something that seems to be a recurring theme there.

Not too long ago, a commenter mentioned that they were sick of hearing the priesthood compared to motherhood, and felt that it demeaned both. I've mused over that for some time, and have come to a couple of half-baked questions on the subject. Why would priesthood be compared to motherhood? What is the correlation?=

1) Motherhood is about discomfort and pain.
I put this first because pain is how I became a mother. I went into labor with only two hours of sleep under my belt. I was exhausted and wanted to rest, but my body had other ideas. When a man holds the priesthood, he often finds himself sitting in meetings rather than in a hammock under a tree. He finds himself physically exerting himself to mow an old lady's lawn, or help someone move. He finds himself blessing someone to die, rather than to be healed. Although the pain of holding the priesthood is not comparable to the pain of childbirth, it is present over a much longer period of time, and often comes by surprise.

2) Motherhood is about service.
This one is obvious. The priesthood is not about power and authority alone, it is first and foremost about service. It is a holy calling to serve the Lord's children. The power and authority given through the priesthood is given only to allow that man to better serve. The priesthood requires monthly visiting of every family in the ward. The priesthood requires sitting on the stand at church, rather than with family. The priesthood requires getting up at all hours of the night to bless someone who is sick. The priesthood requires humbling oneself to speak in God's name. The priesthood requires giving up one's own desires and hobbies in the service of the family.

3) Motherhood is a proxy for Heavenly Mother.
We don't know much about our Heavenly Mother. It is necessary for our earthly mothers to represent our Heavenly Mother. The priesthood requires a man to stand as a proxy for Heavenly Father. Matthew 25:40 - "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," could also read "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it on behalf of me." What a daunting responsibility! I can't imagine what it would feel like to know that I was supposed to represent Heavenly Father to someone who is sick or steeped in sin and needing love and reassurance.

4) Motherhood is about joy.
The joy in motherhood seems bittersweet to me. I treasure my daughter's smiles and hugs, knowing all too soon, she will want nothing to do with me as she moves through her teenage years. The joy in motherhood is found in serving despite possible consequences. When I was a missionary, I felt similarly about investigators and inactives as I do now about my daughter. I loved them and gave them everything, doing things I hated doing to give them a chance to accept the gospel, knowing that most would reject it through the "teenage years" of their spirituality. It must be similiar to a worthy priesthood holder, especially one with a stewardship calling (like a family, or a ward.)

5) Motherhood is about letting go.
The priesthood cannot be wielded through force. My husband is learning to exercise his priesthood. He often gains inspiration on my behalf. It is difficult to me, who has been independant for so long, to accept and act on his inspiration. Unsure in his position as presiding priesthood in our home, he must be nervous to share his impressions with me. He will some day understand that, much like motherhood where the mother may know best, he needs to learn to let go of my decisions, but to share his impressions anyways. That sometimes seems an almost impossible balance.

These thoughts, as I've said, are rather ill-formed and half-baked. Granted, also, one must worthily hold the priesthood in order for them to apply. But it's a start towards understanding, at any rate.


  1. Very interesting thoughts, SilverRain! I'm glad I stopped by your blog today.

    I'm not sure I agree with all the comparisons I have ever read or heard between motherhood and the Priesthood, but I certainly don't feel that people's attempts to equate them are necessarily demeaning.

    Most comparisons are meant to be thought-provoking, and like analogies, aren't meant to be carried to extremes, or to be literally exact.

    I really liked all five of the ways you helped me to see how my husband and I have had different, and yet similar experiences.

  2. I appreciate this post, SilverRain. I think both priesthood and motherhood are Christlike roles, pointing us to Him.

    p.s. Could you email me at mulling_and_musing at hotmail ?

  3. SilverRain, I always love reading your blog. I enjoyed this entry quite a bit.

    The big problem I have with equating motherhood with the priesthood is that any man can hold the priesthood, but not every woman can be a mother. (That can lead to the totally unfounded and very unfair thought that motherhood is somehow dependent on your personal righteousness, which just breeds more guilt for Mormon women who struggle with their fertility.) There's also the sticky situation that men outside the church don't hold the priesthood, but women outside of the church are mothers.

  4. Thanks for the comments!

    You make a very good point, Quimby, about the difference between motherhood and priesthood. I have two thoughts on that:

    First, that every man can hold the priesthood is a relatively new concept. Historically, the priesthood was restricted to a few. Only the Levites held the priesthood in Biblical times, for example. (Though I don't know how the Nephites handled it, their priesthood seems more like ours, today.)

    Secondly, I don't think that having a child is necessary to being a mother. All of the points in my post are applicable to all women. Having a child only means that you have a defined person to target with your motherliness. Granted, motherhood in it's narrowest definition means little - horribly behaved people can easily become mothers. I feel, however, that Motherhood is rather like being a disciple of Christ, perhaps with a a special twist of protectiveness. One of the most thought-provoking verses describing Christ's relation to the Church is detailed in a motherhood metaphor. (Matt 23:37)

    I think that perhaps one of the purposes of the Priesthood is to teach men to be protective over the people of the Church, to provide a structure where they can learn to be mothers, in a sense.

    m&m - I will email you as soon as I can access hotmail again!

  5. SilverRain, I've been thinking of your reply for a few weeks now . . . I'm wanting to sort of broaden it into a post of fMh, if I can. Want to help? I keep meaning to pull out my copy of "Eve and the Choice Made in Eden" because I know there's a great passage there about motherhood being universal, but somehow I never get around to doing it.

  6. Sure thing, Quimby! Just let me know what you want me to do.


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