On Sunday my younger son, age 14, was ordained a teacher in the Aaronic priesthood. His older brother, who has been a priest for about six months, performed the ordination. It was my husband’s idea; when he was a priest, he had ordained his younger brother as a teacher. It’s not uncommon for teenage priests to perform what ordinances they’re authorized to do—e.g. baptism—for their younger siblings, even when there’s a priesthood-holding father in the picture; I think most families want their boys to take advantage of such opportunities. In my husband’s case, there was no father in the home; his mother had been widowed more than a decade earlier. Ordaining his brother had been a memorable experience for him, and he wanted our son to have the same chance.
Our 16-year-old did very well. I could tell that he was a little nervous, but he gave his brother a very nice blessing. (More importantly, he didn’t screw anything up and have to repeat it, as so often happens with stuff like sacrament prayers. Not that my son has ever screwed up a sacrament prayer!) Afterward, as we walked out of the bishop’s office, my husband turned to our older son and said, “I can honestly say that that was better than doing it myself.” That was a thing I had wondered about. There will be plenty of opportunities for a young man to exercise his priesthood throughout his life; a father only has so many kids and so many such milestones. But there is a different kind of satisfaction in witnessing your child take on adult responsibilities.
Something I was keenly aware of during the ordination was that my 11-year-old daughter sitting next to me would never take on the same kinds of responsibilities as she becomes an adult in the church, and I couldn’t help wondering what she thought and how she felt about the whole thing. My guess is “probably not much,” but I was remembering her disappointment several years ago upon learning that she would not pass the sacrament when she turned 12, and an off-hand comment she made last year in connection with preparing a Primary talk about the priesthood: “Boys do everything. We do nothing.”
My younger daughter is not some feminist whiner; that would be my older daughter (and to some extent me). This is not a topic that comes up often in her conversations, by any stretch. I don’t believe it’s because she’s suffering in silence. I just don’t think she thinks about it all that much. I think the idea of prescribed gender roles puzzles her. She grew up with two older brothers who were closer to her in age than her sister; for the most part, she followed their lead and it never occurred to her that she was “supposed” to do or be or like certain things and not other things. I think the news that she couldn’t be a deacon actually shocked her; it was, after all, the first time anyone had said she couldn’t do something because she was a girl. 
I have no memory of ever sitting in church and thinking, “Gee, I really wish I could pass the sacrament.” It’s probably because I’m relatively unburdened by ambition of any kind. But I have really wished that my daughter could pass the sacrament–just because she wants to. (And she’d be good at it!)
I have done a lot of thinking and mulling—pondering, if you will (though I wouldn’t go so far as ponderizing)—about what the priesthood is and what it’s for, because I want to understand why it doesn’t matter that women are excluded from it. I get that we’re not excluded from the blessings of the priesthood. (Just the experience of blessing others with it.) In a recent Relief Society lesson the class discussion centered on how everyone has equal access to the blessings of the priesthood. Obviously, what is meant by this is that anyone can receive priesthood ordinances, regardless of sex. But we don’t really have “equal access.” If that were so, we wouldn’t speak of the “blessing” of “having the priesthood in your home.” If we all had equal access to the blessings of the priesthood, the convenience of having a priesthood holder as a full-time resident in your household would not be anything to write home about.
I grew up in a home with a priesthood-holding father. As part of my thinking and mulling, i.e. pondering, about the priesthood, I have oft wondered about the different ways people use priesthood blessings. When I was a kid, my father often gave priesthood blessings when we were sick. At some point, I think, he offered priesthood blessings at the beginning of school years. It wasn’t a consistent practice because we weren’t a super-consistent family, but it happened. However, priesthood blessings were not what I’d call a common occurrence. It wouldn’t have occurred to me, for example, to say, “Hey, Dad, I’m having kind of a hard time right now, can you give me a blessing?” I’ve known a lot of people who did that sort of thing, but it wasn’t my family’s jam. Priesthood blessings were, generally speaking, for exceptional circumstances. Absent a really high fever, you just didn’t seek them out.
My husband and his brothers grew up without a priesthood-holding father in the home because their mother was widowed after a little less than six years of marriage to her priesthood-holding husband. They had some wonderful home teachers and some other excellent male role models in their ward. Nevertheless, priesthood blessings would not have been even as common an occurrence as they were in my house, simply because they lacked the convenience of a full-time priesthood-holding resident.
After we were married, my husband frequently offered to give me priesthood blessings during times of trouble—illness, stress, etc.–and I would take advantage of this convenience/blessing, because, well, why wouldn’t I? My husband was very conscientious about fulfilling his role as the priesthood holder in our home—should I say “priesthood leader in our home”? Because that was what his role felt like to me, and I can’t say that I always, or even usually, appreciated his efforts. We were both young, of course; each of us could have done some things better than we did. My husband was certainly doing the best he could, and considering that he’d grown up without a priesthood-holding father and without a model of marriage in his home, he deserves some approbation. It’s much easier for me to give now than it was at the time. At the time, I let my personal resentments affect the way I received my husband’s priesthood blessings. Well, I don’t know how I could have prevented “letting” this happen, aside from being a much better person than I was (or am), but in any case, my experience was that my husband was acting as an intermediary between me and God, and it was impossible for me to separate my feelings about one from my feelings about the Other. I did not like God very much then—and we had gotten so chummy in the year or so prior to my marriage, so it was a real comedown for me. When it was just me talking to God, I felt that He knew and understood me; with my husband in the picture, I felt that He’d taken sides and the side He’d taken wasn’t mine.
I remember the day I decided I was no longer going to accept priesthood blessings from my husband. It was not the day I decided I’d had it with God, but maybe it was the day that I started down that path. The good news is that my relationship with my husband was eventually repaired, and so was my relationship with God; the bad news is that it took several years and I don’t like to think of the personal destruction that occurred in the interim. One thing hasn’t changed: I’m done with priesthood blessings. I’ll agree to being set apart for a calling (although I don’t go out of my way to make sure this happens), but aside from that, never mind. During the course of my mulling and pondering, I decided that the quality of the blessing depends entirely on the attitude of the recipient; my attitude is crap, and therefore I should not get priesthood blessings. I don’t mean that I don’t deserve priesthood blessings. I mean that for my own spiritual well-being, I should not get them. Experience has taught me that I don’t do well with any mediator who isn’t Jesus.
I made one exception, a few years ago. I happened to have something of a nervous breakdown while I was at church, and my husband must have been out of town. A priesthood-holding friend in the ward, concerned about my distress, graciously offered to give me a blessing. My instinct was to say no, but I didn’t have the heart, so I said yes. He and another friend administered a blessing in an empty classroom. I was grateful that I had friends who cared enough to want to help, and I sincerely appreciated the blessing as a symbolic gesture. I can’t say that it was qualitatively different from my experiences of friends praying with me, sans priesthood. The bottom line is that I don’t believe it’s any different at all, when I accept it as a gesture of goodwill. When I perceive it as God speaking to me through a (necessarily male) conduit, it’s very different, in a bad way. That’s probably on me, but I never claimed it wasn’t.
My husband gives priesthood blessings to our children with about as much regularity as my father gave them to me and my siblings. I don’t facilitate these blessings because I don’t think that’s my job. My husband is not a night person, so if my kid is sick at 2 a.m. and I feel divine intervention is warranted, I pray with them. I can think of no doctrinal justification for waking my husband. When one of my kids—fine, one kid in particular—is going through a personal crisis and needs comfort and counsel, I offer her comfort and counsel and pray with her. My husband is a good father and a dutiful father; if he’s around and feels like offering his priesthood services, I’m certainly not going to stand in his way. But if he were not around, I would not feel that what I was missing was the priesthood. Of all the things I would miss if I were to lose my husband, his priesthood is not one of them.
I recently read The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington, and for all I know, it’s just a pretentious woman’s Nicholas Sparks novel, but whatever, I liked it. In the story, Rebecca Martin (no relation) is a lapsed Catholic and divorced single mother who rents her “in-law” apartment to Michael Christopher, a former priest who is re-entering secular society after living twenty years in a monastery. Mike is disillusioned with the monastic life but still a believer; Rebecca has serious issues with religion. But they become friends. Then SPOILER ALERT (not really much of a spoiler, but I know some folks are more sensitive than others), Rebecca’s mother has a stroke and is hospitalized. When her mother slips into a coma, the doctor suggests that if she’s a religious woman, it’s probably time to call a priest. She asks Mike to perform the last rites, but he demurs because technically he’s no longer a priest. “You’re asking me to do something very serious and very real. Something I’m no longer authorized to do,” he says. Rebecca replies that she doesn’t want “some canon lawyer in here filling out the proper forms.”
“My mother is a good Catholic. She married my father in a church, forever. She raised me right—Baptism, Confession, First Communion, confirmation. I mean it pained her when Rory and I got married on a beach. She’s lived a wonderful life, by any measure, and it’s certainly not her fault that I’ve turned out the way I have. Are you really going to tell me that God of yours is checking your license at this point? That he’s going to let her die in this stupid little room with a daughter like me and a tube down her throat and no one to do the right thing? Because I’m not going to call some standard-issue priest. I’m so mad at your f***ing God right now that I could bite through steel. It’s a g******ed miracle that I’m asking you to do this at all. But I’m asking you to do it for Phoebe. Because it’s what she would want.”
Does Mike do the sacrament for Phoebe? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, won’t you! The significance of this scene for me is that while Rebecca is ostensibly asking Mike for this favor on behalf of her mother, she wants Mike specifically because he is a friend, someone who knows her and her mother. Mike believes that acting without authority renders the act meaningless, but for Rebecca, his sincerity and friendship are the only things that matter, that give the act any meaning at all.
I have similar feelings about the priesthood, in some respects. (The Mormon priesthood, not the Catholic one.) I accept that one needs priesthood authority to baptize or ordain someone, although I don’t understand why one needs to be male to be ordained to the priesthood. It’s certainly not something I’m going to decide to confer upon myself or decide isn’t necessary to start baptizing people. (I don’t really have ambitions to baptize anyone.) I don’t understand why the priesthood is necessary in the context of blessings, i.e. I don’t understand how it differs from a prayer of faith offered by a non-priesthood holder. Therefore, I don’t understand the point of priesthood blessings as such. I know that they’re meaningful for a lot of people; I respect that belief/feeling as much as I can, given that I don’t share it. I’m not going to argue with anyone about how effectual or beneficial their priesthood blessings have been; that would be absurd (not to mention rude). But I think what pleased my husband about watching one son ordain another son was not different from the pleasure I had in it. My older son got to exercise his priesthood authority, something his little sister will never experience.  But it was our relationships to each other and our shared history that made the event particularly meaningful for all of us—special, for lack of a better word. So this is not a feminist whine about the priesthood. It’s another stage of (hopefully) coming to terms with it.
 And before you say anything, let me assure you that my daughter is aware that she has ovaries and a uterus and therefore may potentially have children someday and her brothers never will. That is not at all the same thing, and we all know it, so give me a break.
 And before you say anything, let me assure you that I’m aware that women perform the washing and anointing of other women in the temple, but my feelings about that are complicated and will not be contained in the above post or this footnote, so yes, point taken, but I wasn’t up to explaining all these caveats. My problem!