Near the close of a tumultuous year, John Morgan was a 21-year-old Union soldier from Illinois. He had fought in 6 battles and would fight in 6 more before the end of the Civil War. After the war John ended up in Salt Lake City and founded a college. He subsequently joined the church, was called as a general authority, and served as mission president of the Southern States Mission, covering areas where he fought as a soldier. But back in his camp in Alabama on a chilly Sunday evening in December 1863 he wrote a letter to his mother. In his letter John gave a soldier’s tribute to mothers: “A mother’s love is not purchased by either gold or diamonds; in camp, on the march, the bloody field of strife or the chill bivouac the soldiers veneration for his mother remains the same. Falling on the Blood drenched Battlefield or stricken down by sickness, his last words are invariably: My Mother My Country! often have I seen an unbidden tear spring to the eye of the rough soldier that had braved death in a thousand different shapes. Whose cheek was unblanched & nerve steady amid the roar of Battle Whose voice was as clear and ringing on a charge as the bravest of the brave. I have seen such men moved to tears on receiving a simple short letter from a mother.” (Source)
It is telling of the influence of mothers that amid the cacophony and calamity of war, the dying breath and the living heart both quickly turn to their mothers. The keys and spirit of Elijah were needed to turn the hearts of children to their fathers but no such influence is needed to turn hearts to mothers. A mother’s embrace, a mother’s soothing words, a mother’s soft hands do much to comfort and strengthen in times of war or peace. Just as the Master’s voice calmed the raging sea, a mother’s voice calms the raging heart. Mothers are precious.
Nearly 2,000 years before John penned his thoughts to his mother, an army of young soldiers, who had been raised by faithful mothers, also paid tribute to their mothers. These young men glorified God and honored their mothers, who taught them faith in Christ. They did not doubt the faith of their mothers and were blessed. (see Alma 56:47-48). They fought, they bled, but they did not die.
Woman’s role as mother is under attack. Satan wages a war on families, on motherhood, by trying to paint and portray it in such dreary and dismal colors that many women feel drawn elsewhere. There is much that is gaudy and flashy in the great and spacious building, which is enticing and can even appear uplifting; however, when we seek to live in or visit that foundationless building, we remove ourselves from the lasting foundation of our lives – that of an eternal family. By lusting after Satan’s showy society, we devalue raising children and thus diminish the family. This leads to the destruction of the one potentially eternal component of our lives and of society. Civilizations rise and fall but the family is eternal. Women [and men] can escape the “tugs and pulls of the world” (Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 2000, p. 35) by believing that “the greatest of the Lord’s work…will be within the walls of our own home[s]” (Lee, Conference Report, Apr. 1973, p. 130). Just as the stripling warriors fought for their families, it is vital for us to defend and support ours.
To lend a little support to mothers, I’d like to focus on three types of mothers: Mother-to-be, Mother New, and Mother Old.
The first mother is Mother-to-be.
There are many women who desire to be mothers but who cannot have children. There are women who don’t have the opportunity of marriage and motherhood. Such trials are weighty but the Lord is willing to strengthen shoulders. What the Lord has promised is that in this life or in the next, all women who desire and who are faithful will be mothers. All of the promised blessings of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel – equal partners and participants in the covenants and blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – will be theirs. Those covenants and blessings include posterity like the stars in the sky. No blessings will be withheld. Such promised blessings do not resolve the pangs of those who desire children but the promises can reduce the pain of childlessness. Girls and young women are other Mothers-to-be. We should expend steady effort to edify and encourage girls in their education and more importantly in their desires for an eternal family. We should help our girls and young women understand that they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them. We should help them to be ready to strengthen home and family, make sacred covenants, and receive the blessings of the temple and exaltation (see Young Women Theme).
We can help the young Mothers-to-be understand that motherhood is the noblest status in the world. It is a calling and mission established before life on earth. We learn in the Family Proclamation that: “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Those who are women here on earth were women before they were born. The call to motherhood was extended at the time the calling of the priesthood was extended to men: in the pre-earth life. Pres. Benson said, “Before the world was created, in heavenly councils the pattern and role of women were prescribed. [Women] were elected by God to be wives and mothers in Zion” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, p.104).
Similarly, Sheri Dew told the women of the Church, “Motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood…. Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, p. 96).
Motherhood is not an afterthought to Heavenly Father, it was not instated merely to give women something to do; it is essential for the salvation of Heavenly Father’s children. Once women leave the pre-mortal life and become mothers here on earth, they can look to our greatest Exemplar—the Savior Jesus Christ—for knowledge of how to become faithful mothers.
Elder Ballard taught, “When God asked [in the premortal world] who would come to earth to prepare a way for all mankind to be saved…, it was Jesus who said, simply, ‘Here am I, send me’ (Abraham 3:27)” (When Thou Art Converted, p.178). Speaking to women, Elder Ballard continued, “If you are wondering if you make a difference to the Lord, imagine the effect when you make commitments such as the following: ‘Father, if you need a woman to rear children in righteousness, here am I, send me. If you need a woman to make a house, a home filled with love, here am I, send me…. If you need a woman of faithful steadiness, here am I, send me” (p. 179). We need such willingness more than ever!
While there are many worthwhile things for women to do outside the home, none of those can take the place of being a successful mother. This is also true for men and fathers. I do not wish to denigrate those who are not mothers, rather, I hope to encourage those who are. Pres. David O. McKay said, “She who can paint a masterpiece or write a book that will influence millions deserves the admiration…of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family…deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God” (Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 453-54). On a similar note Elder Maxwell eloquently stated, “Some mothers in today’s world feel ‘cumbered’ by home duties and are thus attracted by other more ‘romantic’ challenges. Such women could make the same error of perspective that Martha made. The woman, for instance, who deserts the cradle in order to help defend civilization against the barbarians may well later meet, among the barbarians, her own neglected child” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p. 219). The titillation of the great and spacious building does not compare with the tranquility of a humble home.
When mothers are there for their children, fulfilling their stewardships, they have great impact on the lives of their children and consequently on future generations. As a result of this, mothers have played some of the most important if not often the best-known roles in history. There is Mother Eve, who fearlessly stood by her husband’s side, facing a desolate world. She was both the mother of the human race and the “mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). It was she who reminded Adam of the necessity of the Fall, of becoming mortal in order to have children and fulfill the Lord’s first commandment to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (JST Gen 1:28). Eve knew her role as a mother and was faithful in magnifying her calling.
There is the example of Rebekah, who was blessed to become the “mother of thousands of millions” (Gen. 24:60) as a result of her righteousness. This teaches us that for those who are faithful to the covenant, motherhood does not end with death. We also have the great example of Hannah who had much anguish over being childless. She covenanted with the Lord that if He blessed her with a son, she would dedicate her son unto Him. Her son Samuel grew up to be one of the great prophets in Israel and a sign of his mother’s faith. Mary, the mother of the Savior, was a woman of great virtue and faith. She was highly favored and blessed because of her role as the mother of the Prince of Peace (see Luke 1:28). Mary remained near the Savior throughout His life and was there watching her Son finish His mortal ministry. She was there for Him, from the cradle to the cross. King Benjamin gave in simplicity one of the greatest tributes in the scriptures: “and his mother shall be called Mary” (Mosiah 3:8). What more need he say? She was to be the mother of the Son of God; she was an elect woman, trusted by our Father with one of the weightiest of responsibilities in the history of the Earth.
The scriptures are largely patriarchal and priesthood-focused so the references to great mothers of faith and covenant are sparse. Thus, stories of mothers in the scriptures are particularly significant. We can learn much about the qualities of faithful motherhood from these illustrious women.
The second mother is Mother New.
Mother New is like so many of those here in this ward. Becoming a mother is a difficult time for both mother and baby. For much of history, childbirth was particularly dangerous. As recently as the 1800s, in the rural South 1 out of every 6 mothers died during the birthing process. It was also common for mothers who survived to lose 1/3 to 1/2 of their children at birth (Robertson, Stonewall Jackson, p. 157). A time that should be one of great joy too often produced heartache. Thankfully such loss at childbirth is less frequent today.
Once the kicks of pregnancy give way to the pushes of labor then the real labor begins. Some years ago I discussed with my mother a few of the best experiences she remembered in life. She talked mainly about being a mother. I learned much about the great joy she had as a mother but also about the great times of struggle. She stated that the most rewarding and satisfying thing in her life was, in her own words:
“The safe pregnancy and delivery of our children and then raising them. Having and raising seven lovely children has been wonderful. It was a lot of hard work but they all turned out okay. We did a lot of things together as a family, we worked hard, we survived hard times and ate cracked wheat. We went to church every week and spent the time together as a family. There were occasional problems but we survived them and overcame them.
“One time when we had 3 or 4 small children a friend was extolling the virtues of Sesame Street and said how her child could count to 10 and knew all the colors and all because the child watched Sesame Street on TV. I was appalled and wondered ‘What is a mother for?’ and why would anyone need TV to teach children what I thought was my ‘job description.’ So we read and played and counted everything and numbered everything and named colors and tied shoes and did all sorts of things. We learned to work and had jobs to learn responsibility.”
My mother also talked about the struggles of being a mother: “What has been difficult? How about seven babies! It was very difficult when we didn’t have any money and Dad was working two jobs and we were trying to make ends meet. We did not have much money at all, especially when the kids were small. We did not have much but we always survived. It just took a lot of hard work and some ingenuity.
“Another hard time was when we had four children under the age of five. This was a terrible emotional stress. The kids were sick all the time and we had no money. I was physically sick some too. Our washer broke during this time and so the children stomped the clothes in the bathtub to wash them – they thought it was fun; they thought they were like the pioneers. At least they had fun with it.
“These years were hard with a lot of difficult physical work. I was changing diapers on three babies. I also mopped the floors at night so they would stay clean at least the eight hours until morning. I also had to deal with potty training all the kids and cleaning up their messes. We also had a garden and had to plant it and keep it growing and harvest the food and can and store some as well. We had to work really hard to survive.”
The work was hard but the blessings were great. As a young mother my mother also found that church helped her cope with the stress of raising children. She loved going to church and Relief Society. She saw them as her salvation every week. Enrichment was also a great time for her to receive respite from the demands of parenting. Spending time with other women in the ward helped recharge her energy.
I will always be grateful for my mother and all the work she did and does as a mother. She is a remarkable woman and mother.
When the days seem tough and the nights even worse, Mother New can find solace and encouragement in the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
“In speaking of mothers generally, I especially wish to praise and encourage young mothers. The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work. The young years are often those when either husband or wife—or both—may still be in school or in those earliest and leanest stages of developing the husband’s breadwinning capacities. Finances fluctuate daily between low and nonexistent. The apartment is usually decorated in one of two smart designs—Deseret Industries provincial or early Mother Hubbard. The car, if there is one, runs on smooth tires and an empty tank. But with night feedings and night teethings, often the greatest challenge of all for a young mother is simply fatigue. Through these years, mothers go longer on less sleep and give more to others with less personal renewal for themselves than any other group I know at any other time in life. It is not surprising when the shadows under their eyes sometimes vaguely resemble the state of Rhode Island.
“Yours is the grand tradition of Eve [and so many other wonderful mothers]…. We thank all of you…and tell you there is nothing more important in this world than participating so directly in the work and glory of God, in bringing to pass the mortality and earthly life of His daughters and sons, so that immortality and eternal life can come in those celestial realms on high” (Ensign, May 1997, p. 35).
Not long ago I was responsible for getting Mother’s Day flowers to give to the women in my ward. As I picked up 7 dozen roses the cashier asked, “How many mothers do you have?” I replied, “A lot.” After that question I started wondering, “How many mothers do I have?” The correct answer is “a lot.” Not only do I have my own wonderful mother, I have a mother-in-law, I have older sisters who have been like mothers to me in their own ways, I have generations of ancestor mothers. It is important to remember all the mothers in our lives. Remembering our mothers can bring solace and peace. In dark moments, in times of temptation or in the good and happy times of our lives, remembering our mothers can bring us comfort. There are mothers who are absent, there are mothers who are abusive, there are mothers who might even best be forgotten, but most mothers are best remembered and honored. Mothers are not perfect, mothers make mistakes, but motherhood is a divine calling and blessing that comes with the blessings of the Lord. The Lord will make up for shortcomings if we ask Him. For mothers there are hard days and sleepless nights; there are rings around rosies and rings under eyes; there are diapers and tears (sometimes from the child) and hugs and kisses; there are laughs and lullabies and unbounded love. These are things that build memories in both mother and child. It is that foundation that gives such strength and comfort to those who have their own mother remembered, particularly as that mother advances in years. (see Monson, Jan 1974 Ensign, Behold Thy Mother).
Finally comes Mother Old.
Being a mother does not end when the children leave home; it is a role that keeps growing and expanding even though duties change. This is what it means, in part, to be an eternal family. The eternally expanding role as mother is a portion of the blessing of eternal lives (see D&C 132:24). Perfection does not come in a day, neither does the full realization of motherhood; the process is as important as the goal. At some point Mother New becomes Mother Old. Mother Old has an opportunity to continue her mothering to her children and grandchildren. She can serve as teacher, comforter, and nurturer to those around her.
Most of my work involves seeking to understand and help those with neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s disease. Many of these people live with minds weakened by disease or age but hearts strengthened by experience and love. I find little more tragic than seeing a mother forgotten by her children, coming in for care with few resources for help and few to care. I see little more beautiful than a mother surrounded by her children who are willing to drop everything to care for and comfort their mother. She who nurtured now receives nurturing. Mothers who are forgotten suffer in silence, waiting for someone to call or visit and brighten their day. Mothers who are remembered are strengthened by those they love and who love them. May we not forget the mothers in our lives! May we pay tribute to Mother Old, learn from her, and help support her.
I’m grateful for the tireless work my mother did in raising a family in faith. As a mother to seven she is now a grandmother to 31. I’m grateful for my wife who works so hard and so well to nurture our children; her work will last throughout eternity. We can learn much from and do much to honor and support Mother-to-be, Mother New, and Mother Old.
Elder Ballard issued a call to women to follow the Lord’s example. He said: “We need [mothers] who can hear and will respond to the voice of the Lord, [mothers] who at all costs will defend and protect the family[,…but] above all, we need [mothers] who will stand up for truth and righteousness and decry evil at every turn, [mothers] who will simply say, ‘Lord, here am I, send me'” (When Thou Art Converted, p. 179). I pray that in the battles of life we will take many moments to remember and honor all the mothers in our lives. I testify that motherhood is a divine calling. Heavenly Father lives and loves us and is particularly mindful of mothers.