I am a child of Heavenly Mother

Lily Darais is a mother of four living in Orem, UT.  She earned a B.A. from Michigan State University, a Masters of Education from Harvard, and has earned a diploma in culinary arts.  She currently spends most of her time trying to keep her toddler and baby alive and begging her older kids to practice their instruments.  The following is the Mother’s Day talk she gave yesterday.

The Apricot Blossom

“I am a child of God” is such an obviously loving statement that even–and perhaps especially–children can sing “I am a child of God” with fervent, joyful understanding. While the words, “I am a child of God,” function as a holy affirmation for all of us, they are also more than an affirmation. We can read them as an invitation–to learn more about God, to develop our own divine potential, to consider our utter dependency and also our protected, beloved status. We can even read the words as a gentle rebuke, a reminder to, in the words of President Hinckley, “be a little better.”

Depending on how we read these words, we can be healed, shaped, or driven by our understanding of them.

As I wrote those last words, I happened to glance out of the window at a neighbor’s tree. I am not a tree expert, but the puffy clusters of white blossoms recalled to mind another primary song, this one a little less theologically packed: “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” As I stared at the flowering clusters, I thought of the apricots that will follow in a few short months. I compared myself to an apricot in spring.

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An apricot in spring looks like a flower, not a fruit. If I hadn’t seen the botanical patterns myself, I would probably scoff if anyone told me that those white blossoms were temporary, nothing more than a developmental stage in the life of an apricot.  How could these flowers be anything less than the end product? They are so beautiful. I don’t want them to blow away.

Here’s a wistful spin on “I am a child of God”: We are blossoms intended to become fruit. However melancholic this may sound at first, this metaphor unpacks “I am a child of God” in a mindful, celebratory way. We are children of God, on our way to becoming something much greater than we presently appear. And yet, at the very same time, God loves us now, not for our divine potential or origin, but for who we are presently, even at this very moment in time.

This is a message we need to hear, especially on Mother’s Day. Women approach Mother’s Day with different attitudes and experiences. For some, this day may be a simple, grateful celebration of the mothers who love them. For some, this day brings innumerable pains and immeasurable disappointments into sharp relief.

My own approach to the holiday is conflicted. On one hand, I enjoyed twenty-six consecutively and blissfully uncomplicated Mothers Days in my life. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful mom, a woman who I am grateful to both claim and celebrate.

On the other hand, when I became a mother myself, this holiday immediately changed. My first Mother’s Day was comically underwhelming, but the humor involved in remembering it now was absent on the actual day itself.

On my first Mother’s Day as a mother, I had been married for almost exactly a year, and I was the mother of a two and a half month old baby. My baby, like many babies her age, had not figured out how to sleep through the night. When the morning of my first Mother’s Day dawned, I had been up all night with the baby. It seemed that she had just fallen asleep when the sun came up–and she was awake again.

At the sound of her cries, I lay in bed, deep in denial and despair. At the very same moment, my husband, whose ear plugs had just fallen out after his sound night of sleep, rolled over and asked in a moment of truly uncharacteristic irritation, “Why aren’t you going to Lydia?”

To this day, that question remains the lowest denominator of my husband’s marital behavior. My reaction was probably equally abysmal. To make matters worse, my husband followed up that question by completely forgetting that on this Mother’s Day, I was now actually a mother too.

At some point in the evening, my husband realized his oversight and tried to rectify this emergency with a hastily written card and a sheepish smile, but by that point, I was not in a very forgiving mood. Needless to say, that first Mother’s Day failed to meet my expectations.

Although my husband has never forgotten a Mother’s Day since, that theme of unmet expectations has continued to mark Mother’s Day for me. However, instead of my husband failing to meet my expectations, I now fail to meet my own.

As a child, I dreamed of one day becoming a mother, and I planned out all the ways I would be a perfect one if I ever got the chance. I obsessively fantasized about teaching my future children what I loved best in life. I would shape their every waking moment with beauty and my love.

Never once did I imagine that one day I would feel irritated by my children, notice their faults, ignore their needs, or yell at them for having needs in the first place. I even wrote an essay, which NPR published, stating my deeply personal belief that I would always, no matter what, stop when my children needed me and give them my loving attention. I wrote that essay as a creed; it now sits on my shelf as a reprimand.

Mother’s Day is a day where I remember all the ways I have failed my children and failed myself. To make matters worse, church messages often conflate womanhood and motherhood, making it seem as though not just a part, but my entire being is flawed and, even worse, unfeminine.

I am a child of God. I have indeed brought to this moment my own flawed history, my lived moments of utter failure–yet even now, I am, as the apricot blossom, a burst of beauty. My creators view me with affection, wistfully noting that I am going through a stage that will pass. My heavenly parents, in whose image I am made, know what I will become, and still they cherish who I am.

Heavenly Mother: Our Eternal Prototype

Cherishing who we are as women is difficult, especially when we live in a world that reacts allergically to this concept. I almost feel self-conscious pointing out the obvious, but people make billions of dollars off of the idea that women should look, dress, and act in specific ways. These standards are both toxically exact and wildly erratic, depending on what corner of the world you care to consult.

While our church regularly teaches that women should pursue an education, it also continues to frequently present motherhood as the pinnacle of womanhood–not the other way around. Sometimes motherhood and womanhood are even painfully presented as completely interchangeable; while this startling exchange might offer comfort to some, for many it only deepens the pain.

Perhaps the reason for our cultural rejection of a comprehensive, exalted womanhood relates to the way we have neglected to fully embrace and discuss the one exalted woman we do know exists: our Heavenly Mother, who is so much more than an “angel mother.”

President Clawson, an apostle, said “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.” [1] In my own attempt to discover that eternal prototype, I have been researching Heavenly Mother. Scholars now agree the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all worshipped a feminine deity, who went by many names including Elah, Eloah, and Asherah–even Elohim is grammatically plural and unites Eloah with her masculine counterpart, El. The Israelites even originally worshipped Asherah in the temple, wherein her symbol was found everywhere. You could not reach or see the holy of holies without the help of Heavenly Mother, and her symbols. Later, the second temple period scribes would rewrite and revise the scriptures in an attempt to erase Heavenly Mother’s presence.

Joseph Smith’s revelation on Heavenly Mother is, in my opinion, a very key component of the restoration. In my own research, I have found scores of evidence supporting Heavenly Mother’s existence, her ancient and continued presence in the scriptures, and her vital relevance today. I would love to include all of this information and testimony here because I personally find this topic so exceptionally exciting and healing, but that would be a whole other talk.

I would, however, like to read a poem that a friend sent me. This poem has helped me better understand what it means to be a daughter of God made in the image of my Heavenly Mother. It has also helped heal my own relationship with motherhood.

This poem was written by Allison Woodward.

It is called “God Our Mother”

To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark;
stretched and torn;
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.

To be a Mother is to say,
This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”

To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
Railed against,
Blamed
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe.

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
Life giver,
Life shaper,
Empath,
Healer,
and
Original Love.

I can understand why our church culture emphasizes motherhood as our divine destiny, even though I personally wish the tone and substance of this dialogue were different. Motherhood and womanhood are fraught topics, and I believe that Mormon women are caught in the cross-hairs of a peculiar cultural war; in the words of Paul, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

And yet, like a missile, the phrase, “I am a child of God” whistles into the fray. I am a child of God. I am a daughter of God. Be still, this phrase seems to say, and know that you, even you too, are mine. You are claimed. You are celebrated. You are loved. God knows how hard the woman in you is trying to change, but at the same time, God also knows you are changing, and you will change. Your beautiful blossoms will blow away, and you will become an apricot.

But for our purposes today, on Mother’s Day, that end product should feel unimportant. You, in your present moment, whatever that moment is and wherever this moment finds you: You are a child of God.

The Grace-filled Celebration

Receiving this phrase through a mindful, celebratory lens necessitates a deep understanding of grace. The prophets insist grace is a simple concept, and yet the scriptures we have on this topic are, in my experience, very confusing.

However, I can understand that being a child of God is intrinsically tied to grace. We are spirit children of God, and if we desire to live according to the true nature of our spirits, we must come alive in Jesus. Coming alive in Jesus means that we testify of him and have faith that we are saved by him and him alone. The resurrected Christ gives us the confidence to state our spiritual identities joyfully and without judgment–of each other or of ourselves.

John testifies that Jesus himself “received not the fulness at first, but received grace for grace.” John’s observation is instructive. In his telling, Christ did not grow by fulfilling the law through superhuman effort, rather Jesus received grace for grace. Grace was the subject and Christ allowed himself to be the object. The day to day spiritual growth of our Savior, it seems, was not the product of superhuman exertion; instead, this growth occurred because of Jesus’ capacious ability to receive.

When I ponder the phrase “I am a child of God” in the light of grace, I receive forgiveness. I forgive myself. It does not stop there. The minute I truly forgive myself for the shameful burdens I carry, I immediately begin forgiving those who have hurt me. Our mortal lives are complicated and fallen, and all of us hurt each other, on purpose and by mistake. But when I feel God’s grace, I cease to care why or how others have hurt me. Even more, I feel love in my heart for the people in my life, especially those who have hurt me. In the light of grace, these wounds we inflict on each other are further evidence of what connects us to each other. We all fall short. No matter how convincing our facades, we are all, at times, sinful hypocrites. Grace puts us back together, singular and plural. This is a spiritual miracle.

The Allegory of the First Vision

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we also have the advantage of reading the phrase, “I am a child of God,” in the unique light of the restoration. While I do believe Joseph Smith’s accounts of seeing God the Father and Jesus Christ are literally true, I also believe that the first vision has layered allegorical implications for each member of the church Joseph restored.

When we approach the first vision as an allegory, we learn that confidently embracing our identity as children of God qualifies us to receive revelation, should we seek it. That appears to be the only qualification. When Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, he did not hold the priesthood or any of its keys, he was barely schooled, he spoke one language, he was provincial, he was credulous enough to experiment with magic, he had a self-admitted tendency toward “levity,” a bad temper besides that, and to top it all off, he was only fourteen years old.

What Joseph Smith did have in spades was confidence in his own spiritual identity. He believed that if he asked a question, God, who giveth to all men liberally, would answer him. He believed in a God who answers prayer, and just as important, he believed in himself. He believed, even though he was young, uneducated, and deeply flawed, he was still someone God would answer. In short, he believed he was a child of God. God answered his humble, confident prayer with a spectacular theophany, setting off a chain of events that eventually brought each of us to this chapel today.

Our place in the church’s hierarchy does not mean anything in terms of our relationship with God; in that respect, we remain exactly equal. We are all children of God with equal access to personal revelation. In the ongoing conversation between God and people, we have more to add than just our own exclamation points. If we are to believe and apply the story of the first vision, we each have the right to wrestle from the heavens inspiration, guidance, and even continuous revelation. All we need to receive this revelation is faith in God and in our own divine identities. Our heavenly parents will give when we ask, and we, their children, can find what we seek.

An Amulet

Today we have touched on “I am a child of God” as an affirmation, as an invitation, as a rebuke, as a moment of wistful affection, as a prelude to discovering Heavenly Mother, as a grace-filled celebration, and as an emboldening approach to revelation. I also personally use this phrase as a refutation against evil.

When I first got the assignment to speak on Mother’s Day, I sat down and wrote a talk about Eve. Writing and wrestling with that talk thinned the veil for me in a way I had not experienced previously. I felt spiritually and physically exhausted from the process, but the end product was a fresher, more authentic paradigm–a gift I had long sought. The night after I decided the talk was finished, I had a dream.

In the dream, a female voice came into my mind and invited me to see the world. I followed the voice up out of the house and began looking at the neighborhood from above. While we looked, the voice began talking to me. I expected her to start telling me about what we were seeing, but instead she began to tell me negative things about myself. Her words were familiar, and I believed the first things she said. Then, as she continued to speak, her voice got harsher and louder, and I started to suspect that what she was saying was untrue. As I began to think that, her voice became frenzied and desperate. At the same time, I started to feel like my brain was beginning to burn. I felt like I was on fire, and I was terrified that this voice was going to take shape in front of my eyes and I would meet this demon face to face. Just as I felt certain she was going to step in front of me and hurt me, I woke up.

When I woke up, I was the most scared I have ever felt in my life. My brain also still felt like it was on fire. As I thought about what just happened, I realized that over the years relentless negative self-talk has almost obliterated my sense of self-esteem. As I thought about the dream, I realized that the source of my so-called self-talk is not actually myself. These cruel thoughts have a source–an evil identity apart from myself, and, I learned in this dream, this evil spirit wants to harm me.

I woke Abe up and asked for a blessing. He gave me a long, comforting blessing, and near the end of the blessing he stopped and then said with great emotion that I was to write a new talk, this one entitled “I am a child of God.” At this time in my life, he said, there was nothing as important for me to learn as my own true identity as a child of God.

In the process of researching, praying, and writing over this talk, I have learned that I am a literal spirit daughter of God. My heavenly parents know me by name and love me as their child.

When I start to think degrading thoughts about myself, when I start identifying myself by all the shameful things I have done, I can step away from these thoughts because I know they are not mine. Their source is an evil identity, and that identity is not me. I do not have to claim these negative thoughts, identify with them, or assume they are true.

“I am a child of God” is a true statement, and I can use it as a refutation against evil. In fact, I have created a personal mantra, which is this: “I am a child of God, and I am growing from grace to grace.” This mantra works for me. When I say it, either in my head or out loud, I feel stronger, more confident, and so much more compassionate. It helps me abide in the grace and life of Christ.

I have a testimony that each of us is a child of God. This knowledge affirms, invites, rebukes, celebrates, kindles, emboldens, protects, and unifies us. On this Mother’s Day, I invite you to rejoice with me in this holy phrase, “I am a child of God.”

————

[1]  [Rudger Clawson], “Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star 72 (September 29, 1910): 620. (Rudger Clawson, being editor at the time, has traditionally been assumed to be the author of the article).

Comments

  1. pinkcandytheory says:

    I really love that poem, thank you for sharing it.

  2. Thank you for these potent, affirming reflections—and for being open about the process that led you to them.

  3. This was beautifully crafted. Thank you for sharing it with us. I know so many women will benefit from your words.

  4. Mean mama jones says:

    We do not pray to or worship heavenly mother.

  5. Kristine says:

    Except when we sing “O My Father,” which used to be titled “Invocation” and is addressed to both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Read the last verse, mean mama jones.

  6. LatamGirl says:

    This was beautiful, thank you.

    mean mama jones, how is any of the above praying to or worshiping Heavenly Mother??? The admonition to not pray to or worship her doesn’t mean we should ignore her.

  7. Mean mama jones says:

    Oh come now. Do you think people are stupid? this post is obviously like a back door to try to introduce acceptance of goddess worship

  8. Whitney says:

    Love this! 💕💕💕

  9. I’ll give you everything but the word rebuke, used a couple of times in your piece. I did not feel even slightly rebuked by President Hinckley. I felt invited, encouraged and reminded, but never rebuked when he asked us to be a little better.

  10. EnglishTeacher says:

    MMJ: yeah, that’s why the subject of the author’s talk and the command in the dream is, “I am a child of God.” It’s to get us to accept goddess worship. 🙄

    In other, less snarky commentary—thank you for this post! As someone who struggles with infertility, Mother’s Day is a bittersweet one for me. The discussion of womanhood/motherhood identity is important, and your ultimate reminder that I’m a child of God is comforting.

  11. MDearest says:

    MMJ, way to miss out on the banquet.

    I sit amid the ashes of my own failure, and this has lifted me up to where I can keep moving forward. It was so worthy of the time I spent reading and thinking. Thanks for the sustenance; I look forward to the time when She will be known and worshipped in her rightful place.

  12. Hazel Wemper says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post: thank you so much. Wish I could read some of your Eve research and the research pertinent to Eloah. Could we encourage you to publish your thoughts on this? I feel that this is time when additional revelation is going to come forth.

  13. Mean mama jones says:

    Nearest
    Not true at all female deities are not worshipped and if they are it’s paganism

  14. I needed this today. I pray often for the prophet to be the one to finish the restoration with more complete revelation on Heavenly Mother. We know she’s there, if she is our mother I am sure she longs for us to know her.

  15. Mean mama jones, Are you Mormon? Mormons get accused of being non Christian partly because we believe in separate Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Jesus Christ, and Holy Ghost. You can’t accept the LDS faith without accepting that we have 2 heavenly parents. God is Heavenly Father and Heavenly mother together, I thought this was long accepted doctrine. When we address Heavenly Father, we address Heavenly Mother. We are instructed to not pray directly to Christ either, but in his name. We still worship him.

  16. Mean mama jones, I think you’ve made your point. Unless you have something else to contribute, please stop derailing the conversation, which is obviously valuable to many.