Discussion has ensued on the internet as to the pain that LDS women feel about various issues. The human condition is painful for us all, male and female. We are here to learn and grow, and that requires a bit of pain. So how do we deal with it?
Let’s start off with a little trivia. What do the following have in common?
- President Howard W. Hunter
- Sister Sheri Dew
- Elder Dallin H. Oaks
- Elder David A. Bednar
Ideal Gospel Standards
In case you haven’t figured it out, let me start by dropping some hints. First I’ll start with statements from each person. Pay attention not only to what is said, but who is saying it:
- Howard W. Hunter: “Earlier prophets have taught that every able, worthy young man should serve a full-time mission. I emphasize this need today.” 1
- Sheri L. Dew: “Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage or family, no ward or stake is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose, respecting and relying upon each other’s strengths. … Now, some of us encounter life circumstances that are less than ideal. I understand this. I personally deal with this. And yet, my dear young friends, in whose hands rests the future of the Church and its families, I must tell you that your understanding of this divine pattern will affect your marriage, your family, your ability to help build the kingdom, and your eternal life.” 2
- Dallin H. Oaks: “Children need the emotional and personal strength that come from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals. … I know … that this cannot always be achieved, but it is the ideal to be sought whenever possible.” 3
- David A. Bednar: “The sweet and simple doctrine of the plan of happiness provides precious eternal perspective and helps us understand the importance of eternal marriage. … We have saving ordinances, covenants, and temples. … I testify that we have been blessed with all of the spiritual resources we need to learn about, to teach, to strengthen, and to defend righteous marriage—and that indeed we can live together in happiness as husbands and wives and families in eternity.” 4
Do you see the connection yet? If not, hang in there. Here are some more clues. Here are a few interesting tidbits about each person that you might want to consider together with their previous statements.
- Howard W. Hunter: Had never served a mission.
- Sheri L. Dew: Has never married.
- Dallin H. Oaks: Spent most of his childhood being raised by his mother after the death of his father.
- David A. Bednar: Spent most of his childhood being raised by a father who was not LDS.
Do you see the pattern yet?
When someone is in a situation where their personal circumstance doesn’t meet the ideal gospel circumstance, they might feel conflicted. They might struggle with feelings of pain, loneliness, or internal discord. A counterfeit solution to resolving feelings of conflict might be to either not strive for the gospel ideal, actively speak against it, or even speak against those who advocate the ideal. This “false solution” consists changing external things, such as insisting others change the way others teach doctrine or talk about their blessings, or expecting God’s plan or standards to change — in other words, trying to change external conditions in order to find peace. However, the pattern you can see with the above individuals is that they chose to advocate for it and support others who advocated it.
Let’s take a look at how these people each responded to their pain and possible conflict between their personal circumstances and the gospel ideal. Notice the false, or incomplete, solutions that they choose not to follow:
- Howard W. Hunter: Though he never served a mission, he still taught the importance of every worthy young man serving a mission. As a false solution to this possible conflict between his situation and the gospel ideals, he could have given in to the pain and avoided emphasizing that all worthy males serve a mission, but yet he did just the opposite. He vocally advocated the standard and pointedly added his witness to previous prophets who had taught the standard.
- Sheri L. Dew: Though she has never married, she constantly teaches and defends the doctrine of eternal marriage and childbearing. How easy it would have been for her to act on the false solution to this conflict out of her own pain. She could have just reduced how often she testified of families, of marriage, and of priesthood. But she doesn’t. In fact, she’s one of the most vocal female advocates of eternal marriage and childbearing—a gospel ideal that she, herself, has not directly experienced as an LDS woman.
- Dallin H. Oaks: After the death of his father, he spent most of his childhood being raised by his mother. And yet he testifies of the importance of having both parents raise children. He could have instead spent his time elaborating on the non-gospel ideal of a one-parent household, and how his circumstances merited it. Though he has mentioned it, he does not focus on it. He has somehow found a solution to pain he might have had and focused on the gospel ideal.
- David A. Bednar: He spent most of his childhood being raised by a father who was not LDS. As a false solution, Elder Bednar could have spent his time at the pulpit talking about how having parents who are members doesn’t really affect kids that much, because “I turned out just fine with a dad who wasn’t a member.” However, he hasn’t. He, too, may have found a solution to any pain he might have had.
Each of these people did not expect external factors to change. That is, they didn’t expect others to stop teaching the ideal and they didn’t expect God’s plan or standards to change.
The Real Solution
I think we can learn at least a few things from the examples above. Why would people who obviously fared well under the non-ideal gospel circumstances be so willing to consistently preach the gospel ideal? Wouldn’t this just reinforce the pain of never having had the ideal? When they read the Savior’s words in Matthew asking us to, “Be ye therefore perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) why didn’t they pursue their false/incomplete solutions instead of actively pursuing that ideal?
As LDS women, we can neither predict nor demand when a leader or the Lord might change circumstances, if ever. So if we demand that we will accept peace only if it comes by some change of our circumstances, then we might just needlessly be condemning ourselves to an indefinite amount of turmoil. In the words of Cheiko Okazaki, “Perfect people do not need a Savior.” 5 We are all imperfect, and it is only through our faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to his commandments that we can be perfected. In the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Do the very best you can.” 6
One way of doing this is by teaching and defending the words of modern-day apostles and prophets. The Savior will take care of the rest, including our pain, if we let him.
One answer to setting aside our pain might be simpler than we think. It’s because Jesus Christ’s atonement can bring peace, and even bring healing. So let me ask this: Would the Savior command us to be perfect if he knew it would automatically result in us feeling guilty, lonely, or never good enough? No, never! I have personally felt healing take place as I realize how often he has sustained me and strengthened me on a daily basis. The names the scriptures use for the Savior can teach us something different about how He heals: Comforter, Consolation of Israel, Counselor, Deliverer, Healer, Mediator, Physician, Prince of Peace, and Redeemer of the world.
This means that if our lives don’t follow the gospel ideal, we don’t need to feel like the only solution is to look to external things. Do we access the healing and strengthening powers of Christ’s atonement by changing others, or by changing our environment to the non-ideal, or even by changing what truth is taught in Church? External changes might help ease our pain, at times, but true healing comes from the Atonement.
When the Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you,” (John 14:27) He wasn’t saying He was going to change exterior circumstances so that the world would be a peaceful place. In fact, in his next sentence, He describes what kind of “peace” He means: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) He offers internal peace. The Savior’s peace does not necessarily mean a lack of conflict or pain. His “peace” is peace in the midst of conflict.
But what might that look like—having peace in the midst of internal conflict?
Imagine a mother whose circumstances make it impossible to not work outside the home testifying to a class of young LDS women about the importance of being a stay-at-home mom.
Imagine a young man who did not serve a mission, but who helps his younger brothers and cousins prepare to serve one.
Imagine a couple who, because of personal circumstances, cannot hold Family Home Evening on Monday evenings, but still encourages those they home teach and visit teach to hold Family Home Evening on Mondays, and even invites non-members over during their set-aside evening to participate.
Imagine a couple who has not been able to have children of their own having conversations with their nieces and nephews and sharing their testimony of the importance of starting families.
A friend of my husband’s, Miguel, was asked to speak about the importance of mothers. He stood up and explained that he’d had a hard time showing gratitude for his own mother because she had made devastating choices that affected her ability to mother. He explained that she really had not much to earn his respect. He could have stopped there by saying, “I grew up in a non-ideal household. There’s no way I’m going to talk about the importance of mothers because of my horrible experience.” But he didn’t respond that way. Instead, Miguel went on to talk about the doctrine of motherhood, and why it was important. He testified of this gospel-ideal life that he had not grown up with, and yet he was at peace testifying of it. Through the atonement, he was able to set aside his pain.
The Counsel of Leaders Who Have “Been There”
Listen to these same leaders, who have all lived through less-than-ideal circumstances, testify of the peace the atonement brings. They are not bitter; instead, they show gratitude for peace and gratitude that the Lord has strengthened them:
- Howard W. Hunter: “As we search for the shore of safety and peace, whether we be individual women and men, families, communities, or nations, Christ is the only beacon on which we can ultimately rely.” 7
- Sheri Dew: “Where do we turn for help? … The Savior isn’t our last chance; He is our only chance. Our only chance to overcome self-doubt and catch a vision of who we may become. … Our only chance to purify our hearts, subdue our weaknesses, and avoid the adversary. Our only chance to obtain redemption and exaltation. Our only chance to find peace and happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.” 8
- Dallin H. Oaks: “This same promise and effect applies to you mothers who are widowed or divorced, to you singles who are lonely, to you caregivers who are burdened, to you persons who are addicted, and to all of us whatever our burden. ‘Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him’ (Moroni 10:32). At times we may despair that our burdens are too great. When it seems that a tempest is raging in our lives, we may feel abandoned. … The healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ—whether it removes our burdens or strengthens us to endure and live with them like the Apostle Paul—is available for every affliction in mortality.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, He Heals the Heavy Laden, Oct. 2006 General Conference)
- David A. Bednar: “The potent spiritual combination of faith in and on the holy name of Jesus Christ, of meekly submitting to His will and timing, of pressing forward ‘with unwearied diligence’ (Helaman 15:6), and of acknowledging His hand in all things yields the peaceable things of the kingdom of God that bring joy and eternal life (see D&C 42:61). … I know that the Lord, who was ‘bruised, broken, [and] torn for us’ (Hymns, No. 181), can succor and strengthen ‘his people according to their infirmities’ (Alma 7:12). And I know one of the greatest blessings of mortality is to not shrink and to allow our individual will to be ‘swallowed up in the will of the Father’ (Mosiah 15:7). Though I do not know everything about how and when and where and why these blessings occur, I do know and I witness they are real.” 9Elder David A. Bednar, Broadcasts, CES Devotional for Young Adults, March 3, 2013, University of Texas Arlington, That Ye Might “Not Shrink” (D&C 19:18), emphasis added
Recommended Reading on Topic:
A Well-Behaved Mormon Women: Got Pain? Me, too. Now What?
The Millenial Star: Using Joy to Overcome the Pain Narrative
She occasionally posts or co-posts gospel handouts on her husband's site, NathanRichardson.com. She is excited to be one voice among many Mormon Women who support the Savior, His gospel, and the leaders of His Church.
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- President Howard W. Hunter Follow the Son of GodFollow the Son of God, Oct. 1994 General Conference, emphasis added. ↩
- Sherri L. Dew, It Is Not Good for Man or Woman to Be Alone, Oct. 2001 General Conference, emphasis added ↩
- Dallin H. Oaks, Protect the Children, Oct. 2012 General Conference, emphasis added) ↩
- Liahona, June 2006, Elder David A. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan“) ↩
- Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up!, pp. 174–75 ↩
- President Gordon B. Hinckley, Women of the Church, Oct. 1996 General Conference ↩
- Howard W. Hunter, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Beacon in the Harbor of Peace, Oct. 1992 General Conference ↩
- Sherri L. Dew, Our Only Chance, Apr. 1999 General Conference ↩