Saturday, May 17, 2008

"The Female Half" of the Plan

I listened to the rebroadcast of the 2008 BYU Women's Conference yesterday (nice way to pass the time while on the couch with a migraine! And now today, I am writing to pass the time with another migraine. Ugh.)

Migraine notwithstanding, I was overcome with the power of the talks. (It wasn't just the migraine that drained me yesterday -- I felt the Spirit so strong that it both filled me and drained me at the same time -- you know what I mean?) (If you have the chance, go to, download the Move Networks player, and go back to Friday's Women's Conference. For whatever reason, Thursday's programming doesn't load, but I'm hoping they get that figured out soon.)

Sister Beck was the first speaker on the second day of the conference. Wow, oh, wow. I love this woman. I love what she teaches. She is a woman for our time. I feel so strongly that we need her leadership, that we need to really listen to what she teaches and let it change our hearts and lives. I wanted to capture a few of the things she said.

"We, the women of the church...and of the world have half the plan, the female half to take care of....If we don't do our part, no one else is going to do it for us. We can't delegate it, we can't pass it off to anyone -- it's ours! We can refuse it, we can deny it, but we are still accountable for it. And there will come a day when we will remember what we promised before we were born....How will we account for our half, for what we did with the privileges we were given?...

...We know that we have priesthood keys and revelation and that there is an order in all things and how the lord's work is done. And that half of the plan was given to our brothers, and we support that. The half of the plan that creates life, that nurutres life, that causes growth, that influences everything else, was given to us. And influencing is ever so much mmore long-lasting than managing. The keys are given to help us manage it all correctly. One half is not more important than the other half. ...He couldn't do his work without both.... We help each other with our part of God's work. [She then reads Moses 1:39 and explains that work, that we are ALL part of this work!]

"Our brothers in the priesthood have the same work, they have different ways of operating. We share the same work -- we're helping each other accomplish the Lord's work."

You can see patterns in what she has been teaching (I love looking for patterns in what we are being taught!), even in her short time as General Relief Society president. One of these patterns is that women have an important work to do. We have heard this taught consistently by our leaders -- that this work is different from the men's work -- but equally important. Do we believe that? Do we embrace these truths?

Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

Free and open doctrinal discussion is important in gospel scholarship, but remember that most things have been put into place by God and simply are not subject to change. The doctrines and principles of the Church are established only through revelation, not legislation. This is God’s plan; we do not have the prerogative to alter or tamper with it.

Our task is to integrate the principles of the gospel into our lives so that our lives will be in balance. When our lives are in balance, before you realize it your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm that your Heavenly Father loves you and that His plan is fair and true and we should strive to understand it and enjoy living it. (M. Russell Ballard, “Equality through Diversity,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 89)

Embracing the doctrines regarding our divinely different roles is something that has brought great joy, perspective, balance, and understanding into my life. It's why talks like these make me want to stand up and shout!

Sister Beck is certainly not the first to be teaching these truths. Myriad quotes exist on this topic. I will include here only three.

Elder Ballard said:

Even though men and women are equal before God in their eternal opportunities, they have different, but equally significant, duties in His eternal plan. We must understand that God views all of His children with infinite wisdom and perfect fairness. Consequently, He can acknowledge and even encourage our differences while providing equal opportunity for growth and development.

Our Heavenly Father assigned different responsibilities in mortality to men and women when we lived with Him as His spirit sons and daughters….

Both men and women are to serve their families and others, but the specific ways in which they do so are sometimes different. For example, God has revealed through his prophets that men are to receive the priesthood, become fathers, and with gentleness and pure, unfeigned love they are to lead and nurture their families in righteousness as the Savior leads the Church (see Eph. 5:23). They have been given the primary responsibility for the temporal and physical needs of the family (see D&C 83:2). Women have the power to bring children into the world and have been given the primary duty and opportunity as mothers to lead, nurture, and teach them in a loving, spiritual environment. In this divine partnership, husbands and wives support one another in their God-given capacities. By appointing different accountabilities to men and women, Heavenly Father provides the greatest opportunity for growth, service, and progress. He did not give different tasks to men and women simply to perpetuate the idea of a family; rather, He did so to ensure that the family can continue forever, the ultimate goal of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan.

Elder Bednar said:

By divine design, men and women are intended to progress together toward perfection and a fulness of glory. Because of their distinctive temperaments and capacities, males and females each bring to a marriage relationship unique perspectives and experiences. The man and the woman contribute differently but equally to a oneness and a unity that can be achieved in no other way. The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other. “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11). (David A. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Ensign, Jun 2006, 82–87)

President Kimball said:

Our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood—but the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord. …

Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles!” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 102.)

One of the most interesting and powerful themes I see in Sister Beck's messages is that of influence, particularly the power and influence women have if they embrace their God-given responsibilities as nurturers of God's children. If you go back and read her talk from the fall, the concepts of power and influence are the glue that pull all of her teachings together. That use of the words underscores the parallel roles we have as women to the 'power and influence' of the priesthood. Fabulous.

She pointed out an interesting phrase in Alma 30:18, talking about how Korihor, an anti-Christ, was "leading away the hearts of many...yea, leading away many women, and also men...." She paused and asked why this may be. The way she read the scripture was as if the men were secondary, not the ones who were most led away. (I think this is particularly interesting given the dominance of males in the scriptures, so I think she has pointed out something potentially significant.) She then noted that "if you lead away all the 'influencers' away down a wrong path, it might make a difference....We are up against a deceitful and determined enemy."

That reminds me of something Sister Sheri Dew once said, in her famous "Are We Not All Mothers?" talk (so when she talks of motherhood, she's talking of this role of being 'influencers' not just the role of those who have children of their own):

Have you ever wondered why prophets have taught the doctrine of motherhood—and it is doctrine—again and again? I have. I have thought long and hard about the work of women of God. And I have wrestled with what the doctrine of motherhood means for all of us. This issue has driven me to my knees, to the scriptures, and to the temple—all of which teach an ennobling doctrine regarding our most crucial role as women. It is a doctrine about which we must be clear if we hope to stand “steadfast and immovable” regarding the issues that swirl around our gender. For Satan has declared war on motherhood. He knows that those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire. And he knows that without righteous mothers loving and leading the next generation, the kingdom of God will fail.

Interestingly, the whole idea of being "steadfast and immovable" is something that is being repeated a lot, too. It was even part of the title of Sister Beck's first RS talk.

Ah, there is so much more. She talked about how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones against the evil and deception that is rampant in our day. She read many, many scriptures (asking the audience to hold up their scriptures) and used them as a foundation for her teaching. She reminded us that For the Strength of Youth is a measure of how we are fortifying ourselves (think Alma 48) and our homes and families. She reminded us to point ourselves and those we have responsibility for homeward -- to point them to our own homes, to the temple, and to our heavenly home.

I love the vision and perspective and clarity of the teachings of the gospel that can help me focus on what really matters in my life. With all the voices that can confuse us as women, I am particularly grateful about inspired leaders who teach of the divine order of things, and of our eternally-important role in God's eternal plan.

Here's my recommendation: Go listen! :)


m_and_m said...

One additional thought: When she talks about the influence women have, I know she is not saying that men who are ordained to the priesthood don't have the chance to nurture or have influence, either. So please don't go down that road. The quotes I included from other leaders indicate that our leaders know we both nurture and love. But we cannot deny that there are different ways that unfolds for men and for women.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I love the talks you used!

Papa D said...

Very well said, m&m. The concept of primary roles shared through equal partnerships is powerful. I wish more people really understood it.

m_and_m said...

mmiles, thanks for the comment. Good stuff, huh?

papad, oh yeah. I wanted to include some of what the Osguthorpes said the same day, but ran out of steam (and the post was long enough as it was). I took notes on their talk (I heard that one in person), and might post more on that later. Their whole talk was about what equal partnerships are...that the world doesn't understand what it means, because it's a gospel principle and is tied to the eternal nature of the marriage covenant and not simply about who does what. Powerful doctrine, indeed!

Anonymous said...

But we cannot deny that there are different ways that unfolds for men and for women.

Could you please follow up on this statement, m&m? I'm not asking in a spirit of antagonism or contention, I'm asking because I really do no understand what people mean when they say that. Based on the most recent world wide training session, I understand the message to men to be that we should be more and more involved in the business of nurturing children. So I agree, nurturing is not an exclusively feminine trait. But what, exactly, does feminine nurturing look like, as opposed to masculine nurturing?

I undersatnd nurturing in this sense to be the fostering of growth in our children. That would include helping them understand their divine nature, helping them with homework, helping them grow to be responsible adults, teaching them to work, helping them develop talents, and helping them read and understand the scriptures. So for instance, is there a way to teach about King Benjamin in a way way that is exclusively female or exclusively male?

Again, I want to emphasize that this is a request for information, not a springboard for contention, and you should certainly feel free to remove my comment if it is unwelcome.

m_and_m said...

Mark IV,
Your comment is certainly welcome.

FWIW, I made my comment when it was late, and was worried about that phrase, so I am happy to clarify.

But what, exactly, does feminine nurturing look like, as opposed to masculine nurturing?

What I meant, and what I hear our leaders saying repeatedly, is driving at the fact that we, as men and women, do have some different responsibilities, even as we are focused on the same goal -- to help and serve Heavenly Father's children.

Men have been encouraged to be more involved, yes, but they are, by definition of their roles, usually the ones away from home more, as providers and sometimes as Church leaders. (Exceptions exist, but I'm talking about the general rule.)

Women have been encouraged to be home and to focus in all facets of their lives on nurturing, teaching, influencing others. We are being reminded that self-fulfillment is not and should not be what drives our decisions. Of course, general elements of this counsel apply to men, too. But if you look simply at the traditional roles women have, we will, therefore, be doing more of helping with homework, helping them practice their instruments, etc...the things that often happen during the day when dads are at work. There are SO MANY teaching moments that happen during the day that my husband simply misses because he is at work (all the more when he is traveling). There are so many more that come in the neighborhood and at church because I tend to have more contact with children because I am the mom.

Which brings me to another point. As a SAHM, I do a LOT more nurturing of other people's children than my husband will ever really do. We have children at our house constantly, and most of the time, that is when my husband is at work. Talks like Sister Beck's have helped me feel that responsibility more intensely -- the responsibility I have to love and nurture and be a good example and even teacher for these children as well. I end up being their source of discipline, guidance, physical safety, even teaching, etc. when they are at my house. I mediate contention, remind them to share, feed them food and smiles and such. I have felt the Spirit making it very clear that I have responsibility to love and nurture 'all living' people, so I look for opportunities like that all around me, be they friends or strangers. Can men do some of this, too? Yes, but again, there are different ways this unfolds. If men are going to influence, a lot of that will be in the way they choose to do their work and in management positions at church. They often don't have the same kinds of opportunities, especially with children, to teach and lead and nurture, in large part because they are not around for the opportunities.

It's not a popular thing to say, but I believe that women really are more naturally inclined toward nurturing characteristics as well. Ask any bishop, and I suspect they would say that one of the key ways he is able to keep his finger on the pulse on what kinds of needs exist that aren't physical and obvious, and he will get the majority of that from the women of the Relief Society as they visit teach and care for each other. I don't want to get into too much detail because that kind of discussion always gets messy, but really, I just see that men and women tend to nurture in different ways, generally speaking.

So, when I talk about how it all unfolds, it is twofold. First, we have different roles and responsibilities -- men preside and provide and women are the ones who are supposed to be there as much as they can for their children, and other children. Men tend to do more management at Church, women tend to have more responsibility to nurture (it is no coincidence in my mind that the Primary presidency is composed of women). Also, I do believe that, while there are some exceptions, men and women have different natural characteristics. Women are usually more natural nurturers. I know that isn't popular opinion, but I do believe it to be true, and our leaders have said as much.

As an adendum, I hear our leaders saying that we as women should not covet the roles that men have. This is a divine order. Priesthood keys and roles are necessary for order in the kingdom and in families, but they are not necessary for us to be able to nurture, love, and have influence in people's lives. And when we as men and women embrace the roles and responsibilities we have been given, we maximize the chance that the most can happen, and that we will each grow as we are supposed to grow. (This is not my thinking...this is what we are taught!...just repeating what our leaders have said.)

Hope that helps. :)

m_and_m said...

BTW, Mark, I don't think there is an exclusively male or female way to teach King Benjamin, although I'm not sure what exactly you are driving at there. Our leaders aren't trying to make a dividing line that is so stark that you can identify all behaviors as strictly male or female. But again, we can't deny that we have different roles and responsibilities (or we should), and because of that, by definition, the time and ways that we are able to nurture and influence others will vary in some ways.

Another example -- bishops will influence in ways that women never will because they hold the role as judge in Israel. They have that unique responsibility to help and nurture someone through the repentance process in an 'official' way. But that doesn't preclude a woman (or a man without those keys, even) reaching out to support and love someone going through that process. By definition, there will be some difference, some measure of 'officialness' and management that is only there for the bishop. But lots of people can come in and play a role of nurturer.

And as another example, as mentioned before, my role as mom means that I will have more net teaching moments with my children than my husband will. That doesn't preclude him having opportunities when he is around. And when he is around, there is much, much more crossover in our roles as nurturers and leaders. But in the net analysis of time and effort, more of my life goes DIRECTLY to nurturing and working to make our home a place where spiritual and physical growth can happen than my husband's.

Téa said...

Please do post those notes on that other talk (or at least send *me* a copy). It sounds like it would make an excellent follow-up and perhaps some greater clarity on some points of this one.

Eric Nielson said...

Amazing as always.

And all this with a migrane.