Mother in Heaven
Tomorrow will be the first Mother’s Day since we moved to Washington that I have not been asked to speak in church. Pretty crazy, right?
This is the talk that I gave in church two years ago on Mother’s Day. I’ve wanted to post it online since I first gave it, but I was always too lazy to get my draft synced up with my notes so that I could cite my sources. After enough time passed it started to seem silly to post it, but I thought that reposting it for Mother’s Day this year might make it appropriate again.
Sorry that it’s too late for anyone that’s speaking this year to use my notes, but hopefully that also means that it’s too late for the bishopric to try to spring a last-minute talk on me when they are reminded that they let me off the hook this year.
So, here’s my talk from 2010.
I want to talk about the person that I think is the most important woman in the gospel: our Mother in Heaven. We are about to sing and listen to the hymn “O My Father” 1, which I assume was chosen for Mother’s day because it is one of the rare times that we get to hear references to our Heavenly Mother.
Maybe it’s because of how rarely we talk about our Heavenly Mother, in contrast with how beloved this hymn is, but sometimes we think that this hymn is the only place we hear of Heavenly Mother and that Eliza R. Snow made it all up when she wrote the lyrics. Joseph F. Smith corrected this idea, saying that “God revealed that principle that we have a mother as well as a father in heaven to Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith revealed it to Eliza Snow… and Eliza Snow was inspired, being a poet, to put it into verse.” 2
We don’t know when Joseph Smith received the revelation about our Heavenly Mother, but one of the first times that he taught it to a member of the Church was after Zina Huntington’s mother died. The Prophet consoled her by teaching that she would not only see her earthly mother again after this life, but that “more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven”. 3
Our Heavenly Mother’s existence was first taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith, but it has been reiterated by other prophets and apostles since then. Elder Orson F. Whitney 4, President Joseph F. Smith 5, President Harold B. Lee 6, President Spencer W. Kimball 7, Elder Neil A. Maxwell 8, and President Gordon B. Hinckley 9 have all said that we have a Mother in Heaven. She is referred to in one other hymn 10, in at least two Church lesson manuals 11, and in the Proclamation on the family 12. This isn’t a secret. It isn’t some fringe or apostate idea. It’s official doctrine of the Church and you’re allowed to believe in her without being ashamed to talk about it.
While we do know that our Mother in Heaven exists, we actually don’t know much about her. However, we do know a few things.
First, we know that we don’t pray to her. President Gordon B. Hinckley said that “in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.” Jesus has specifically instructed us to pray our Father in Heaven in the name of Jesus Christ, and no one should assume that the knowledge of our Heavenly Mother gives them license to change the Savior’s instruction on prayer. President Hinckley does add that “the fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” 13
There is still more that we know about our Heavenly Mother.
We know that she is like our Heavenly Father. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, created by BYU under the direction of members of the Quorum of the Twelve 14, explains that Latter-day Saints “believe that she is like him in glory, perfection, compassion, wisdom, and holiness”. 15
We know that she created us together with our Heavenly Father. President Kimball said that “[Your heavenly father and mother] gave your eternal intelligence spirit form, just as your earthly mother and father have given you a mortal body.” 16
We know that we can become like her and like our Father. Elder Orson F. Whitney said that “it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.” 17
We know that she loves us. President Kimball taught that “God is your father. He loves you. He and your mother in heaven value you beyond any measure.” 18 President Harold B. Lee observed that “we forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned [for us], probably, than our earthly father and mother….” 19
This last fact is the most profound of all of them to me: our Heavenly Parents both love us. I want the parents here, both mothers and fathers, but especially mothers who perhaps haven’t looked at this from their own point of view, to imagine the love that they have for their own children and look with new appreciation at the love God has for us. Take Jesus’s statement of God’s love in John 3:16 in light of our new understanding: “For God [our Heavenly Father and Mother] so loved the world, that [they] gave [their] … Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 20 Both of our Heavenly Parents loved us enough to give their Son so that we could live with them again.
I know that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother that love us. I know that Jesus is their Son and that he loves us and can save us from our weaknesses and make us perfect like our Heavenly Parents. I want the sisters to know that they have an important place in the plan of salvation. You are daughters of a Heavenly Mother and you have the potential to become like her.
- Eliza R. Snow, “O My Father”, in Hymns (1985), 292.
- Joseph F. Smith, “Discourse”, Deseret Evening News, Feb 9, 1895, quoted in Linda P. Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven”, in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 65.
- Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911), 15-16, quoted in Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven”, 65.
- Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98.
- Smith, “Discourse”.
- Harold B. Lee, “A Sure Trumpet Sound: Quotations from President Lee”, Ensign, Feb 1974, 77.
- Spencer W. Kimball, “The True Way of Life and Salvation”, Ensign, May 1978, 4. (There are several others by President Kimball which I’ve listed separately where they are cited.)
- Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God”, Ensign, May 1978, 10.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God”, Ensign, Nov 1991, 97.
- Joseph L. Townsend, “Oh, What Songs of the Heart”, in Hymns (1985), 286.
- See Gospel Principles (1997), p. 11; Lesson 9: “Chastity and Modesty”, The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A.
- The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (1995).
- Hinckley, “Daughters of God”, 97.
- “Encyclopedia of Mormonism Released”, Ensign, Mar. 1992, 79.
- Elaine Anderson Cannon, “Heavenly Mother”, in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Brigham Young University (Macmillan, 1992), 961.
- Spencer W. Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters”, Ensign, Nov 1978, 101.
- Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98.
- Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters”, 101.
- Lee, “A Sure Trumpet Sound: Quotations from President Lee”, 77.
- John 3:16.
(Note that I don’t really know what I’m doing with these footnotes. I’m a long-shot from a scholar, and this talk wouldn’t be worthy of being treated that way, anyway. Mostly I just wanted people that read this to be able to find the sources and to know that they’re legit.)