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Perfect in Partnership

For the last couple of months, my mind has been full of thoughts about our Heavenly Parents. It started on Mother's Day, when I found myself pondering about why the Church avoids the practice of praying to our Heavenly Mother.

In 1991, then-President Gordon B. Hinckley explained that the Church's position on directing our prayers to the Father is consistent with the practice and teachings of Jesus Christ. This is how He taught His disciples to pray, and we have no record of His ever praying to another. But the question remains: why did Jesus, as far as we know, never pray to His Mother?

I don't know. What I am sure about is that it's not because Heavenly Father made that choice on our Heavenly Mother's behalf, not even to protect her from blasphemy and abuse. Since our Mother and Father are full and equal partners, I feel certain that whatever the reason, it is at least as much Hers as it is His.

It does seem possible that She did not want Jesus to teach about Her or model praying to Her because the people of His time weren't ready for such knowledge. Women's status was so low that they weren't allowed even to serve as witnesses in a trial and if their voices were heard outside of their homes, that was considered cause for a divorce. Jesus raised eyebrows by even including women among His disciples. In a culture that was so oppressive to women, it may not have been possible for His followers to even understand the doctrine of our divine Mother and so He never prayed to Her publicly. If that is the only reason, then I would expect that God will reveal guidance to the prophet for Her worship when we are ready for that guidance.

But it is also possible, and to my mind, more probable, that our Heavenly Mother has a good reason for not inviting us to worship Her, a reason that has nothing to do with notions about male supremacy and everything to do with wise partnership. For example, could it be that our Heavenly Mother and our Heavenly Father have chosen distinct parenting roles in their quest to guide us toward Their fullness? What if our Heavenly Mother has chosen to dedicate Herself to our premortal nurture, while our Heavenly Father has chosen the role of shepherding us through the perils and privations of mortality? What if that choosing of distinct roles in not at all about anybody staying "in their place", but instead about two partners playing to their strengths?

Is it possible that our Heavenly Parents could have differing strengths? In the past, I have assumed that because our Heavenly Father was perfect, that meant that He had all the strengths to be had, in the maximum degree. And the same would be true about our Heavenly Mother. But what if I've misunderstood perfection? What if our Heavenly Parents are perfect in charity and in partnership? Could They possibly need each other's strengths in order to achieve balance?

The idea becomes more compelling to me as I think about my earthly parents and their complementary strengths. Before I elaborate, I want to clarify that I'm not trying to hold my parents up as a universal, one-size-fits-all pattern for how gender roles should play out in a faithful home. I don't think that a universal, one-size-fits-all pattern for that even exists. I see ample evidence in creation that our Heavenly Parents love variety and The Family Proclamation clearly identifies the need for individual adaptation and mutual support in family responsibilities. I'm becoming increasingly aware that we have more assumptions than we have revealed information about the role gender plays in our eternal progress. So when I write about my parents' differing strengths, and follow up with speculations about our Heavenly Parents, I am not trying to claim that all faithful parents should follow the same patterns. I'm just trying to apply my own experiences to my understanding of the divine.

My mother was brilliant about nurturing us and had a tremendous capacity to surround us with safety. Most of the moral lessons I learned growing up were taught to me by one of Mom's stories. She corrected gently. She was so good at creating safety that I remember creeping to my parent's room after a nightmare and feeling reassured just by the sound of her snores. They were loud enough to be legendary and they were antithetical to my fear. I was certain that my mother's snores would scare away the monsters.

Mom was always clued in to my struggles, even the ones I was trying to keep to myself. And she was always willing to make up the difference so I could succeed. I used to suffer from shortness of breath when I was overwhelmed. She would notice before I did that I was gulping for air, and she would help me identify what I was worried about. Then, she would figure out how to help. I don't know how many times she stayed up through the night, deciphering my cursive draft of some paper, complete with crossings out and writing in the margins. She would then type out a presentable version while I slept, so I could turn it in on time when I went to school in the morning.

She also saw all the ways that I was doing well, without seeming to be troubled by the ways I could have done better. When I sought her feedback on an essay, she'd tell me how wonderful it was. When I asked Dad's opinion, he'd tell me how I could improve it. At that time, I was more interested in being reassured than I was in being coached, so it was Mom's feedback that I sought the most.

By contrast, Dad loved to challenge me. He used to take me running with him in the mornings, even though I was so slow that he had to run circles around me in order to break a sweat. I remember labouring my way up a hill when a car drove past us and Dad said, "Smile! You want them to see you're having fun." I wasn't having fun; I felt more like I was being tortured. But these runs weren't mandatory. I was there because Dad invited me. I just didn't realize until much later how much I needed and appreciated his investment in my growth.

When I left home, I carried with me the safety that Mom had nurtured in me and the conviction I got from Dad that I could do hard things. The more I ran into situations that tested me, the more I found myself leaning on Dad's confidence in me. There was the time when I received a proposal of marriage from a man I loved, but wasn't sure I could entrust with my future. I called Dad and counselled with him. He didn't tell me what to choose, but he did describe the kind of future I might be choosing. Then he let me know he would support my choice. Breaking my boyfriend's heart also broke my own, but Dad's confidence in me helped me find the strength to tell him no.

Later, Mom told me about the day that boyfriend had called Dad, at work, for his blessing. When Dad came home with that information, Mom said, "Well, you didn't give him your blessing, did you?"

Dad replied, "I told him that I trust my daughter's judgement."

Almost a decade later, I married a different man whom I both loved and trusted, even though my Dad had reservations. I remember him telling me, "This is not what I would have chosen for you, but I honour your choice."

Another decade after that, I called to counsel with Dad about my marriage that had become unsafe. He told me Mom was ready to catch the next international flight so she could get me and the children out of there. But Dad believed I would be guided by the Lord and felt to wait for me to make my decision.

It was the right call. I was guided and we got out safely. But I think it must have been torture for Mom to watch me feeling my way through the kinds of trials I used to think would break me. I was way out of the safe environment she'd striven so hard to provide for me. But I was leaning on the faith she'd nurtured in me, with confidence to move forward that came both from remembered safety and from Dad's support to make my own decisions now.

This brings me back to my Heavenly Parents. I wonder if my Heavenly Mother is similarly attuned to nurturing Her children in safety, while my Heavenly Father thrives on the kind of shepherding that gives me space to choose and room to grow, even through wrenching challenges. I wonder if They have chosen to specialize where They have the most to give and where They get the greatest joy, and if that's why we are not taught to pray to our Heavenly Mother.

It's only a guess and, if there's truth to it, I'm sure there is depth and beauty and nuance to the reality that I can't even begin to approach. But here are the things that matter to me about this line of thought.

  1. The idea that perfection is achieved in partnership -- that none of us is supposed to become whole and complete alone, but that our goal is to achieve a glorious unity with someone who has differing strengths from our own so that we can become complete together. To me, this seems consistent with the scripture "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11).

  2. The idea that in an exalted partnership, we will get to choose our areas of emphasis and how we will support each other in our mutual work. That we will get to optimize our working together according to our individualized strengths -- rather than being required to fit ourselves into a role that has been designated for us.

Both of these ideas feel liberating and hopeful to me. How about you?

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Jul 17, 2023

Thanks for your thoughts on this. We’ve been learning recently in our home the importance of recognizing your strengths and limitations and then co-holding your limitations with other people (e.g. I fall asleep if I read my scriptures after noon so my husband watches the baby in the morning so I can do my devotional early.) What you said here makes me think of that. Our weaknesses can be made strong in partnership.

Anne Kassel
Anne Kassel
Jul 17, 2023
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I love this idea. Our weaknesses can be made strong in partnership with God, and also in godly partnership.

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