Good morning y’all! Typically I post talks and testimonies that I’ve written on Tuesday, but because I’ve had quite a few people ask me to post this talk that I gave yesterday I decided to post it today instead. So without further ado here’s the sermon I gave yesterday!
I Have A Secret.
It is a pleasure to be with you today. I do get pretty anxious speaking in front of others, and this topic is an emotional one for me so I ask you to bear with me, and I promise I’ll try to keep it together.
Brothers and Sisters; I have a secret. Yes, a secret.
I love this gospel, I do, and I love this church. I have a strong testimony of many of the teachings of the church and I’ve witnessed firsthand how those teachings have changed my life for the better. Without this church I would have never met the one whom I consider to be one of the biggest blessings in my life and my best friend, my husband Jon.
But…there is one teaching, one area of the church where I really struggle; the divine nature of women. Specifically how it is often taught that the highest role or calling for women, their god given job, their “true” divine nature is to bear and rear children.
Here’s why; I cannot have children of my own due to a condition know as Primary Ovarian Insufficiency. It has caused my immune system to view my reproductive system as “foreign”, thus attacking and destroying it. There is no known cause and no “cure”. I will always have this disease and the symptoms that come along with it, which to be honest aren’t very fun as they parallel those of menopause. I’m sure many of my fellow sisters here today can attest to those symptoms as being pretty miserable at times.
I have struggled with the disease of infertility for eight long years. It never gets any easier. There is a longing deep within my soul to grow, birth, hold, and raise a child of my own that many days feels like it will never be fulfilled. While this may seem silly to some, there is still a hope each month that maybe this time will be different, maybe this month will be my miracle. Month after month, year after year this cycle really takes its toll on the heart. Add to that longing the fairly constant barrage of pregnancy announcements, baby shower invitations, births, birth announcements, and baby blessings & christenings, as I’m just in that stage of life where many of my friends and family members are getting married and settling down, and maybe one can perhaps begin to grasp a little of that pain. In the past nine months, no pun intended, I’ve had 16 pregnancy or birth announcements within my social circle of friends and family.
And all the while going through this I had met very few people who were like me. Women who cannot have children; especially women who cannot have children who are members of the church. Yet, the most recent statistic states that 1 in 8 people will struggle with infertility in their lifetime. How can I be seeing a statistic so high but not seeing it translate in real life, not coming across these people?
It’s because they’re ashamed, embarrassed, scared. They feel like they are “less than”, “not worthy”, or “a second-class citizen” because they have a disease that has rendered them unable to have children. How do I know this? Because I’ve read their blog posts, read their emails and messages, and spoken with them privately when they’ve reached out to me after seeing what I’ve written or when mutual friends put us in touch after hearing that I struggle with infertility and am open about my journey and my struggles.
So why do those church members suffering from the disease of infertility feel this way? I can’t answer for all of us, but I know that from speaking with others and from I how I feel its primarily due to one main teaching and how its taught and conveyed; the divine nature of women. Many times, in many wards, in many areas we focus so singularly on motherhood as the divine nature of women, but being a women encompasses so much more than that! The divine nature of women is much more than the ability to bear and rear children.
In a recent address given at the BYU Women’s Conference Sister Eubank stated that “it is part of a woman’s spiritual birthright to be a creator. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before. Everyone can create. … But creation isn’t only about children, there are many, many ways for women to multiply, replenish and create’.
I myself can “be fruitful and multiply” in many more ways than just by having children; give me a house and I can make it a home, give me some spending money and I can multiply it into a wardrobe of lularoe leggings or a house full antiques; much to the chagrin of my husband. Give me some sugar, eggs, vanilla, and peanut butter and I can whip up one of the tastiest batches of peanut butter cookies around. Give me a to-do list a mile long and I can turn it in to a full days worth of completed reports and projects furthering a small business and helping my boss provide for his own family. Give me a hard-drive full of photos and I can turn it in to a shelf’s worth of custom photo books. I think you get the gist. I can make some pretty significant contributions within my family, my home, the church, and society even if I’m not a mother.
In an October of 2013 General Conference talk by Elder D Todd Christofferson titled “The Moral Force of Women” he discussed how “From age immemorial, societies have relied on the moral force of women…Women bring with them into the world a certain virtue, a divine gift that makes them adept at instilling such qualities as faith, courage, empathy, and refinement in relationships and in cultures”. We don’t need to be mothers to cultivate and activate this powerful moral force of women. We can do this at nearly any age, any life stage of womanhood; married or not, mothers or not, working or not. We, as women, can all participate.
How about spreading the gospel? Time and again we are admonished to share the gospel, to get the word out, to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation. We don’t need to be mothers to do that. This is another action, another step we can take at any life stage. And we are blessed enough in this day and age to be able to share the gospel though so many different mediums; giving talks, visiting teaching, going out teaching with the missionaries, serving a mission, writing, blogging, posting on social media, leading by example, and speaking up when an opportunity presents itself. These are all great ways to share the gospel that we can all do.
What about working to provide a safe, loving home for your family? Or being a role model to others? Or working to advance the status of women in society, in the workplace, in politics? We don’t have to be mothers to do that! How about striving to be an agent of change for a topic you care deeply about by writing, sending postcards, attending marches, meeting with legislators? Again, we don’t have to be mothers to do that!
I know deeply within my soul that being a woman and my divine nature is about so much more that my lack of gravidity and parity. I know this because I know my father in heaven loves me so much despite the fact that I cannot have children, and because I’m surrounded by women who have shown me this. Women like my mothers and my sisters who show by their example what it means to be a divine woman, what it means to work hard, to fight to change the public education system so that it better serves those with disabilities, to confront bullying, to stand up for their rights and the rights of others, and to face sexism in the workplace head on; particularly as they work in primarily male driven fields such as manufacturing, corrections, and computer science.
I’d like to briefly share with you a passage from one of my favorite Huffington Post articles; a bit of food for thought if you will. It’s titled “Stop Saying Women’s Bodies Are Made To Birth Babies”.
“So, when I look at the women with bodies that cannot carry life or birth life or sustain life, I remember the danger in telling women that their bodies were made for procreation.
When I look at women who decide not to use their bodies for procreation, and hear them defend their choice to those who cannot understand, I remember the danger in telling women their bodies were made for procreation.
When I look at women who have endured miscarriage after miscarriage after painful miscarriage, I remember the danger in telling women their bodies were made for procreation.
Mostly because it can make women feel useless or defective or broken.
Mostly because it can make women feel like they aren’t women at all.
Mostly because, it isn’t true.
Because your body was made for you, and whatever it is you decide you want to do with it. And what you use your body for, or what your body can or cannot do, does not determine how “perfect” or “useful” or “feminine” your body is.
The only one who decides that is you.”
Going forward, I’d like to caution you, as you discuss the divine nature of women and the role of women in the church and in the world, to do so tenderly, carefully. I think that we as a church, as a whole, need to recalibrate both how we discuss the divine role of women so that in includes more than motherhood, but also to remove from our rhetoric statements like “all women are mothers”, “even if you don’t have children yet you’re still a mother”, “don’t worry if you aren’t a mother yet because you will be” or “If you don’t become a mother in this life, you will be a mother in the next life”. While I’m sure most of these statements are said out of love or in an unwitting way they can be so damaging to many within the diverse membership of the church.
In an August of 2016 talk by Sister Eubank titled Being A Woman; An Eternal Perspective she stated “I believe that misunderstandings regarding women’s roles arise when there is a disconnect between the doctrine and the practice of the doctrine. However, through continuing revelation from God to His prophets and to us through the Holy Ghost, we can continue to recognize and eliminate most misunderstandings that surface…Our practices will continue to change in the Church as we learn to apply our doctrine in better and more perfect ways. I hope the next generation is even more fair and equal in its practice of the gospel”.
Moving forward I challenge each of you to change the dialog on the divine nature of women so that it includes more than that of motherhood, and to shy away from using generic statements such as “all women are mothers”. I urge you to learn more about the disease of infertility and how we can all be agents for change within our wards and branches to be more welcoming, more inclusive, of those who are struggling with it, oftentimes in silence and feeling oh so alone.
In Jesus name, Amen.
**For a voice recording of my talk go here.