James Olsen has put together a very good compilation of statements on Heavenly Mother, which are central to the message here.
What kind of mortal love can make you feel, once you have a child, that your life is never, ever your own again? Maternal love has to be divine. There is no other explanation for it.
I add my testimony, such as it is, to Elder Holland’s: that the love of parents for their children is one of the surest signs of God working within us.
Elder Holland’s testimony of the importance of mothers can hardly seem controversial. The love of mothers for their children is a fundamental aspect of human life. And yet I’m sure we can manage to churn controversy out of it, for this is patriarchy praising women. But to do so is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because Elder Holland is telling us vignettes of motherly love not out of some generic role reinforcement mechanism, but to illustrate for us the very nature of love that we are all to emulate towards each other if we are to become like God. And yet motherly love is not the end. There are three points I’d take from Elder Holland’s talk:
First, the contemporary examples Elder Holland chose are striking: same-sex attraction, faith crises, early return from missions, developmental problems. Are these accidental choices? No, Elder Holland is showing us that the fundamental, primal love he describes is still relevant, and will never be old-fashioned or out-of-date.
Second, Elder Holland rightfully points out the lasting impression such love has on our souls: that we remember that love and it guards us, keeps us from sin and inspires us to be better people. There is a lasting effect from true love. It is not merely a medicine that cures our ills; it builds within us a natural immunity to evil and it casts out fear, not merely while we are in the presence of those who love us but for decades afterwards.
Third, that this sort of love – love that mothers possess for their children – is an example of humanity’s greatest good, but it is not yet divine love. (I’d add that I believe fathers can emulate this love as well, though perhaps there are genetic dispositions at play which we do not fully understand). But the love Jesus showed us all is not the same as the love a parent has for a child. It is greater. Nissho Takeuchi, chair of the Sohjoh Nichiren School of Buddhism, has an essay in the recent Humanum volume that illustrates this point:
…the deep love given by mothers continually and unconditionally without any self-interest, is nothing but a love of absolute purity. However, even this pure love of mothers, the ultimate human love, still stands on the ego-personality that cannot go beyond the human boundary… It is not until we start to pursue truth and justice as the objectives of our love that our love becomes the love of bosatsu [enlightenment].
If we are to compare the love of a mother for her child with the love of Jesus Christ, the difference is both one of scope and one of nature: scope, in that Jesus displayed that love of complete sacrifice for the entire world, and nature, in that Jesus has no genetic/evolutionary imperative driving His love and instead sacrificed Himself without any self-interest. Divine love is to take the highest models of human love and replicate them selflessly across all of creation. This is why Elder Holland pays tribute to mothers as saviors on Mount Zion: these loving human relationships show us the love we are to take into all the world on behalf of our Heavenly Parents. As he says:
no love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.
As we love each other, even those who hate us, as a mother can love her child, the world will be transformed.