Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother's Day Talk

[Editor's Note: I gave this talk last Mother's Day in our ward in Anchorage. A few people asked me for a copy of it, but I never got around to it. But I thought that this would be a good day to post it.]

[P.S. Happy Mother's Day to my Mom and my dear wife Michelle.]

I want to direct my talk to the worst mother in the whole world. I just wanted to make sure that I have all the sisters' attention.

In actual fact, although this talk is for everyone, the bishopric has asked me to speak on how the brethren of the priesthood can honor women and mothers. Let me start by quoting from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve's 1995 Proclamation entitled "The Family"

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

So let me take that as a starting point. Here we have an unequivocal, authoritative statement from our latter-day prophets than husbands and wives, fathers and mothers are to raise their families as equal partners. If I may speak plainly, there are many who call this a fiction, who claim that in any such partnership, one partner will always come to dominate the other. They claim that to adhere to differing responsibilities and attributes is to render men and women inherently unequal.

I can tell you that this incorrect. I have seen in my own experience and in those of others how mothers and fathers treat one another with the highest love, respect and equality when they conduct themselves according to the Savior's example. But without adherence to God's law, our natural impulses win out, and that mutual love, respect and honor withers away.

In the Sixth Century, B.C., Rome was a small city-state led, as was nearly every such state in those days, by a hereditary king. But in 509 B.C., the citizens of Rome did an unusual thing. They overthrew the king and instituted a constitutional republic. They created the Roman Senate, and at the head of the government, they placed not one, but two leaders, called consuls, to be elected annually. I'm not aware on any other instance in recorded history in which a nation was led by two rulers in equal stead. The potential weaknesses of such a system are obvious. With two consuls instead of one, the government's action might be slower, and less decisive. There is the danger that the consuls might not agree on anything at all, and the whole system falls apart.

But in practice, the Roman Republic's system of government was enormously successful. Because neither consul could act without the other, there was a great incentive for them to compromise. Often the consuls came from two rival political factions. Having two consuls instead of one gave both factions a stake in the success and stability of the Republic. Although there were sometimes conspiracies and civil unrest, the Republican system of government lasted for nearly 5 centuries, twice as long as our own republic has so far endured, during which time Rome grew from a small city-state into the greatest, most extensive empire in the history of mankind. The Republic came to its end in 44 B.C., when a powerful consul got himself declared Dictator for Life. The Dictator's name, as you might have guessed, was Julius Caesar.

I like to think of the First Presidency's Proclamation as a sort of family constitution, a document that prescribes the manner in which our families are to be governed. Just as the Roman constitution required compromise and unity between its two consuls, so our family constitution requires fathers and mothers to govern their families in equality and unity. And as we know from the covenants we make in the temple, we are to act in unity not only with one another, but with our Father in heaven.

However, we brethren who hold the priesthood face a temptation. The temptation is to take our responsibility to preside and turn it into something it was not meant to be: a dictatorship. We face the choice to act in accordance with God's plan, or to cast aside the law, as Caesar did, and become a Dictator.

There are many reasons why we should not and cannot do this. I should mention at this point that only one month after Caesar was declared Dictator for Life, he was stabbed to death. Now sisters, let me emphasize that violence is never the answer. And brethren, Beware the Ides of March.

The Lord blesses each and every member of the Church with the gift of the Holy Ghost. A holder of the priesthood who tries to lead his family without relying in equal measure on the revelation and inspiration that his eternal companion receives through the Holy Spirit is a man who is operating with about half the light and knowledge that he ought to be. It's as though God has provided us with a fire hose of revelation, so we kink it halfway in order to slow down the flow.

From the beginning of time, God has revealed important truths and inspiration through righteous women. We are all familiar with Lehi's teaching that "Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy." But it was our Mother Eve who first taught this doctrine. It was she who partook of the fruit, and afterwards proclaimed, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (Moses 4:11) We Latter-Day Saints are blessed among all the religions of the world to know that we have Eve to thank, and not to criticize, for our lives here on Earth.

The prophet Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. The Lord's will was that Jacob surpass his older twin Esau to receive his father's birthright as a patriarch and prophet. The Lord revealed this not to Isaac, but his wife Rebekah, saying to her, "Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." (Genesis 25:23). It was Rebekah who devised a plan whereby Jacob, and not Esau, received the birthright blessing. And Jacob could not have obtained that birthright if he had not honored his mother, and obeyed the instructions that she gave him.

We are all familiar with John the Baptist's mission as the precursor of Jesus Christ, who preached that "he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." (Matthew 3:11) But many years before that, on the day that Mary and Joseph brought their infant son to be presented at the temple, the Prophetess Anna, an 84-year-old widow who worked in the temple night and day, set eyes on the Savior, and gave thanks, and went about the city, speaking of the Savior "to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38). Imagine how her constant service in the temple had prepared her to recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord, when he was only a newborn child.

Matthew tells us that while Jesus was in the cities of Tyre and Sidon, "behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

In other words, because this woman was a Canaanite, and Jesus in his earthly ministry only went to the Israelites, he had not been sent to minister to this woman.

"Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." (Matthew 15:22-28).

When first refused by the Lord, she could have gone away disappointed, but instead, she reasoned with Him. In the words of my profession, she found a "loophole." And as a Gentile woman whose faith was so great that she refused to be turned away from the blessings of the Gospel, she set the stage for the Lord's later revelation to Peter that all the nations of the earth should receive the Gospel.

Let me give one more example from latter days. The hymn "O My Father," which beautifully details nearly the entirety of pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal life, contains the following words: "In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason, truth eternal Tells me I've a mother there." It is not clear when it was first taught that we are the sons and daughters of both a Heavenly Father and Mother. But this hymn is the first instance of that teaching having been published by the Church. And it was written by Eliza R. Snow, the second president in the history of the Relief Society. Think of the high esteem in which women are held in our religion, in which we are taught that we have a Heavenly Mother, and that this doctrine was first popularized by a woman serving faithfully in the Church.

You may have noticed that some of these women received revelation in their capacity as wives and mothers, but not all of them. It isn't only within marriage that a woman may receive revelation and inspiration for the edification of others.

Having established that women may possess the gift of prophesy as well as men, I should mention that my mother used to prophesy all the time. One of her prophesies was that if I didn't stop being lazy and start practicing the piano, I would end up in some congregation on my mission where they wouldn't have anyone to play the piano, and I'd be unable to do so. And sure enough, as a green missionary, the first time that I attended our little 20-member Spanish branch in Prescott, Arizona, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw with my spiritual eyes that what she had prophesied had come to pass.

When President Gordon B. Hinckley came to Columbus, Ohio (to announce, it turns out, the building of the Columbus Temple), the local stakes formed a regional choir to perform during his visit. My mom insisted that I join the choir, but I didn't want to give up my next four Saturday mornings to practice. On the morning of the first rehearsal, my dad, who did intend to join the choir, woke me up and said, "Your mom wants you to do the choir, and I think she's right." I said no. My dad walked out of the room and returned five minutes later. "Your mom REALLY wants you to join the choir." I said no again. Another five minutes passed and my dad, who had the look of a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, said, "Listen, at this point I don't really care if you want to join the choir. Your mom REALLY wants you to do it, and it will be a lot easier for ME if you do. So if you don't want to do it for yourself then do it for me." Grumbling all the way, I got dressed and went to choir rehearsal.

Participation in that choir, to sit on the stand with a prophet of God and to make such wonderful music, was one of the choicest experiences of my young life. It helped instill in me a love for music that continues to this day. And it was my mother's foresight and wisdom that made it possible.

In all of these things, I truly believe that my mother received inspiration from God, and I'm glad that I followed her counsel.

Michelle asked me not to mention her in this talk, and I told her that I had to because it's Mother's Day, and if I didn't mention her, the omission would be too conspicuous. But for her sake I won't belabor the point. A couple years after we were married, my sister confided in Michelle that she was really glad that we were married because, quote "before you married Matthias, he was kind of a jerk." So for those of you who think I'm still a jerk, trust me, it could have been worse.

We had our first son Lincoln a year and a half ago, and while I don't remember everything I said in his baby blessing, I do remember one strong impression that I had. I blessed him that he would be able to find a companion like his mother, a good woman with a pure heart who serves the Lord. I can't think of any greater blessing for a priesthood holder than to preside over a family in which his children are raised by a virtuous woman. As the Proverb says, "her price is far above rubies."

Let me close with a quote by President Hinckley. A 14-year-old girl wrote to President Ezra Taft Benson with several questions about women's place in the Church and in the Gospel. At the time President Hinckley was a counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, but President Benson was too frail to speak in public. President Hinckley took the liberty of answering those questions in a talk. All of the questions and answers are interesting, but this one stood out most:

"The next question you ask is why Eve was created from Adam. I can only respond that an all-wise Creator did it that way. However, as I have noted before, there is something very interesting about this situation.

"In the sequence of events as set forth in the scripture, God first created the earth, and the earth was without form, and void. He then separated the light from the darkness, and the waters from the land. Then came the creation of vegetation of all kinds, giving the beauty of trees and grass, flowers and shrubs. Then followed the creation of animal life in the sea and upon the land.

"Having looked over all of this, He declared it to be good. He then created man in His own likeness and image. Then as His final creation, the crowning of His glorious work, He created woman. I like to regard Eve as His masterpiece after all that had gone before, the final work before He rested from His labors."

I testify that these words are true, that women and mothers are God's capstone creation, through whom all of God's children are blessed. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

6 comments:

George F. Cicotte said...

Matthias,

I gave a talk recently that also touches on equality as partners, as well as a number of other points you dealt with, including music at home.

George

4-28-13 GFC talk on Elder Scott's general conference talk, For Peace at Home, from the Saturday Afternoon session.

A Christ-centered home is powerful.

Elder Scott opened his talk by explaining,
"One of the greatest blessings we can offer to the world is the power of a Christ-centered home where the gospel is taught, covenants are kept, and love abounds."

. . . . Discuss the analogy of the oasis. . . .

Young people in the decade of decision can work on planning their own oases.
• Doesn't need to be an Olympic sized pool, or even a 25 yard pool; a bathtub sized oasis may be perfectly fine!
If you're not protecting your oasis, just stop it - Elder Scott tells us what we need to do.

Wives, husbands and children have unique roles and attributes.

Doctrine & Covenants section 132 verse 8 teaches:
“Behold, mine house is a house of order, . . . and not a house of confusion.” To maintain an orderly, Christ-centered home, we need to understand the role of each of the parties in a family.

From The Family: A Proclamation to the World, we know that, in their sacred responsibilities, "fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

Elder Scott explained:
The fulfillment of this counsel [to create a Christ-centered home where peace abounds] does not rest upon parents alone, although it is their role to lead. Children can be responsible for improving the Christ-centered efforts in the home.

As a reminder, parents and children are not equals. Rather, the parent-child relationship is a stewardship for the parents and an apprenticeship for the children. In D&C 68:25 - the parental stewardship is explained, as is the liability for parents who fail to fulfill their responsibility to properly teach the children entrusted to their care.

However, the most important relationship in a Christ-centered home is not between parents and children, but between a wife and her husband. Although H&W are to be equal partners, they are not equals.

Equal means the same - the kids in nursery know that mothers and fathers are not the same. Instead, we are equivalent, which means having the same value. It is our inherent differences, the absolute un-sameness (and by definition inequality) of our different genders that makes us able to be husbands and wives. The world is very confused on this point right now.

George F. Cicotte said...

Part 2 (talk was too long, so I had to break it into multiple comments):

Leadership.

Notwithstanding our equality as partners and the equivalence of wives and husbands, a family needs a leader. A song called Lead Me, by Sanctus Real explains the longing desire wives and children have for their husbands and fathers to lead them in righteousness:

I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying...

"Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?

Show me you're willing to fight
That I'm still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone"

. . . . Then a verse for the kids:

I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They're just children from the outside
I'm working hard, I tell myself they'll be fine
They're independent
But on the inside, I can hear them saying...

(Then the same chorus:)

"Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?

Show me you're willing to fight
That I'm still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone"

Brethren, this is our call: to lead our wives and children in strength, to protect and defend them, to fill our homes with love and let them know they are not alone. We cannot leave them hungry for love, or dire consequences will follow. We must lead them by exercising our priesthood and by turning our will to the Lord. Our efforts are complemented by our wives with their inherently female approaches. In my experience, righteous leadership is impossible for us to do alone, because of our human shortcomings. We are not likely to succeed in leading our families if we rely solely on our own efforts. However, if we will daily turn to the Lord, we can succeed.

The song I quoted earlier recognizes this as it concludes:

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won't You lead me?

I know that He will lead us, if we will just ask. I am here today because for years I asked the Lord how I could accomplish my professional goals without sacrificing daily time with my family. Eleven years ago I quit working for one of the top law firms in the country, with 5 kids, and without a replacement job. I had reached the conclusion that I could not work with other lawyers who did not share my values, and whose only common interest was earning as much money as possible. Amazingly enough, I was not afraid or even worried. I had pondered my course for years, knowing the path I was on was not the right fit for me. When the answer came it was obvious because it was so different from anything I had considered possible when making plans on my own. I thank the Lord for allowing me to see his vision for our family, with substantial time available to enjoy the most precious people in life, my wife and children. I know He leads me.

George F. Cicotte said...

Part 3:

Follow prophetic counsel.

Our Father leads us in many ways, one of which is by providing prophets for us to follow. Elder Scott provides a road map for family happiness based on following prophetic counsel:

"Be obedient to the prophetic teachings Christ would have you follow. Don’t rationalize away future happiness by taking shortcuts instead of applying sound gospel principles. Remember: little things lead to big things. Seemingly insignificant indiscretions or neglect can lead to big problems. More importantly, simple, consistent, good habits lead to a life full of bountiful blessings."

I know both of the principles Elder Scott mentions are true – rationalization, shortcuts, indiscretion and neglect can lead to big problems; whereas, simple, consistent, good habits lead to a life full of bountiful blessings. Fortunately, through the atonement of Christ, big problems are not insurmountable. If a husband, wife or child gets off track, a sharp turn to continue on the proper path is possible. I know this to be true through personal experience. I testify to the power of the atonement to effect a mighty change in our hearts as occurred for the servants of king Lamoni in Alma chapter 19.

So many of us today are like the ancient Israelites who didn't believe looking at Moses' staff could heal them, because it seemed too easy, or like Naaman who was too proud to follow Elisha's simple advice to bathe seven times in the river Jordan to heal his leprosy because it was not a flashy enough way to be healed, or because there were other rivers he liked better. Is it too easy or are we too proud to skip R rated movies, to hold family home evening, family scripture study, or family prayer? Do we rationalize or try to justify a proud or lazy refusal to do these things? There are difficult commandments to follow, but they are not these. And, the blessings of obeying these commands are real and help us make our homes Christ-centered refuges where the gospel is taught, covenants are kept, and love abounds, as Elder Scott advises us to do. Indeed, he stated:
I’m sure you can identify the fundamental principles that center your home on the Savior. The prophetic counsel to have daily personal and family prayer, daily personal and family scripture study, and weekly family home evening are the essential, weight-bearing beams in the construction of a Christ-centered home. Without these regular practices it will be difficult to find the desired and much-needed peace and refuge from the world.

George F. Cicotte said...

Part 4

Focus on the Savior for peace and serenity.

Elder Scott:
Be certain that every decision you make, whether temporal or spiritual, is conditioned on what the Savior would have you do. When He is the center of your home, there is peace and serenity. There is a spirit of assurance that pervades the home, and it is felt by all who dwell there.

Our home is generally loud. At one time we had 8 children at home. Now we’re down to 5. It’s still loud much of the time. Still, I feel peaceful and serene when I’m home (especially when the kids are asleep). I am hopeful that there is a spirit of assurance that pervades our home, and is felt by my entire family. Are we perfect? Far from it. Do we love each other? Absolutely. Even when someone feels mad, or unloved, or irritated, is there an underlying knowledge that they are loved, and that whomever they are mad at is still their closest friend and would do anything for them or for any other member of our family? I hope so, and I believe so.

Gospel music brings peace and serenity.

Oh, and another thing that brings peace and serenity to our home – gospel hymns played on the piano. I love it when that happens – Wendy and I bought a nice newer piano a year or so ago just to encourage that, and so far it seems to be working. I also thank our Bishopric for extending the call to Ruthie to serve as choir pianist – that has blessed her and our family tremendously.

Welcome friends.

For those who know us, you may be wondering if I misspoke when I said we once had 8 kids at home. This relates to another point Elder Scott made:

As you center your home on the Savior, it will naturally become a refuge not only to your own family but also to friends who live in more difficult circumstances. They will be drawn to the serenity they feel there. Welcome such friends into your home. They will blossom in that Christ-centered environment. Become friends with your children’s friends. Be a worthy example to them.

. . . .

Reach out to those living in adverse circumstances. Be a true friend. . . . Welcome into your home others who need to be strengthened by such an experience."

Several years ago, I made a ministering visit to an unknown woman whose name showed up on our ward rolls. She was living at hospice. After meeting her and learning about her, I asked her what we could do to help her. She pled, “Take care of my son.” I got his address and went to check on him. He lived in an apartment with two adult men who both had severe alcohol problems. There was such a dark spirit there that I brought her son, Chris, outside to speak with him. If I recall properly, that very night I brought Chris over to our home, and to our Bishop’s house to introduce him to other ward members. I knew that Chris could not continue living where he was. Within a week or so, he was living with our family. More than 5 years later, Chris is still a part of our family. Just like any young adult child, he lives on his own now, but comes by for dinner sometimes, to get advice on areas where Wendy & I have experience, and sometimes just to hang out. He spends holidays with us. We love him and are as concerned for his well being as we are for any of our other children.

George F. Cicotte said...

Part 5


Be Positive.

Elder Scott:
“Recognize the good in others, not their stains. At times a stain needs appropriate attention to be cleansed, but always build on [a person's] virtues.”

Being positive takes work, and it is hard for me. I recognize my wife's strength in this area, and I strive to be more like her in this regard, to assume the best of others rather than the worst.

Recently Maddy had to read the Merchant of Venice. When I learned she was reading it, I immediately thought of a passage I was required to memorize in 8th grade (1980-81). Unfortunately, I had no real understanding of what it meant at the time. I am beginning to understand it better now, and it relates directly to our ability to be successful leaders in our homes, and to focus on the positive.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth below:
It is twice blest; It blesseth him who gives and him who takes:
'Tis mightiest when rendered by the mighty: it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, the attribute to awe and majesty, wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice.

As fathers, we hold a limited degree of earthly power. Too often I rely on fear and dread to keep my subjects in line. As Shakespeare wrote almost 500 years ago, we draw closer to our Father in Heaven and act most like him when we allow mercy more than justice to season the relations in our homes. I continue to strive to be more merciful, and I encourage you to do the same. I know it will make our homes more Christ-centered.

Tell them.

Elder Scott explained that in a Christ-centered home, love will abound. For this to be, everyone must know they are loved. The point that I wish to make in conclusion I call simply, “Tell Them.”

When someone needs to know something, actions alone are not enough to convey the message. For example, the Bishopric does not merely put calendar items in the bulletin, they also announce them here from the pulpit - they tell us. Similarly, we may show our wives and children that we love them by providing for them, serving them, listening to them, and myriad other ways. But, those actions are not enough – we must tell them. So, as a guide for anyone who might have difficulty doing this, and as a reminder to my family of what I tell them frequently, let me demonstrate. Kids, I love you. You know this, and you will understand it better and better as time goes on. Mom & Dad, I love you too. Now that I’m a parent, I better appreciate how you taught me and the sacrifices you made for me including setting a good example of doing your best to live the gospel. Wendy, I love you the most, more than anyone I have ever loved and more than I am able to explain. Still, I know you know how much, because I know you love me back the same way, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I am thankful for the love in our home, and I am also thankful or Elder Scott's counsel about how to maintain and improve it, by teaching the gospel and keeping covenants in our home.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Jobair Alam said...

An instructive post. People to really know who they want to reach and why or else, they'll have no way to know what they're trying to achieve. People need to hear this and have it drilled in their brains..
Thanks for sharing this great article.
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