Though this is a couple of days late, I hope you (especially you mothers) will enjoy it. Please forgive the explanatory tone at the beginning of the post. I gave this as a talk in Sacrament Meeting on Sunday and there were a number of invesitgators present, so I fashioned it for their ears.
Some twenty one hundred years ago, a Prophet named Helaman was also an army commander. He led a small force of just two thousand warriors—all of them young, all of them inexperienced, and all of them volunteers. Early in Helaman’s campaign against the Lamanites, he and his two thousand sons, as he called them, were faced with a difficult choice. The Lamanites had been pursuing Helaman and his sons for two and one half days. The pursuit was so vigorous that Helaman and his army had to rise before dawn and march into the night to keep ahead of their pursuers. Strangely, though, on the third day, the Lamanite army stopped dead in their tracks. Due to a breakdown in communication, Helaman and his two thousand warriors did not know why the Lamanites had stopped. Was it because Helaman’s co-commander, Antipus, had engaged them from the rear? If so, Antipus would be in desperate need of help. Or, was it a ruse—were the Lamanites trying to draw Helaman and his two thousand sons into a battle where their a mere two thousand would be no match for the tens of thousands numbered among the Lamanites? Helaman did not know. And so, he asked the young warriors: should we preserve our own safety and stay out of the battle, or should we risk our lives, hoping that by doing so we may save our brothers from a bloody death.
I can only imagine that scene that day on the battlefield. I imagine the two thousand warriors were drenched in sweat and I imagine their calves, backs, and hamstrings already ached from a wearying three day march. I imagine they eyed their weapons with trepidation—none of them, after all, had ever wielded a sword before. And, finally, I imagine they faced death with some amount of fear—on the one hand, they must have trembled at the thought of losing their own lives. Even more to the point, though, I imagine that these boys who had never before shed blood, and many of whose parents had died as pacifist martyrs, quivered at the thought of taking others’ lives. Nevertheless, something happened on the battlefield that day—some faith sprung up within those boys. They knew they were not the agressors, they knew they would gladly have laid down their weapons if the Lamanites would have let them alone, and they knew their brothers were in danger, and so, with a courage that challenges belief, they told their captain: we will go into battle.
I suppose it is likely some of you have already guessed why I am recounting this story; others of you, if you have not heard the story before, must find it exceedingly odd that I would spend a good portion of my mother’s day talk speaking about war, armies, captains, and stratagems. As we read of the Stripling Warriors, though, we are forced to wonder whence their courage sprang. What impulse propelled them to such faith and resolution despite their naivete on the battlefield? What power emboldened them to stare death in the eyes and stand firm and resolute nonetheless? Where did they learn that their brothers’, mothers’, fathers’, and friends’ lives were more important than their own? Like us, Helaman was astonished at such steely resolve in boys so young. Accordingly, he asked them whence sprang their inner-strength and they replied, apparently of one accord that “they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” Indeed, Helaman tells us, “they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers [about God’s support of those who trust in him], saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.”
As it turns out, then, the strength these boys demonstrated that day sprang not from themselves, but from their mothers. The courage those boys wielded on the battlefield was apparently given to them while they still sat on their mothers’ knees. I do not wish today to praise these righteous warriors—though their courage gives me pause. I wish instead to pay tribute to those who stood quietly behind the scenes—nurturing these boys and instilling in them a faith that would withstand the hottest flame—I want to praise their mothers.
Why would the words their mothers spoke have been so deeply imprinted onto these boys’ souls? Why, in the heat of a terrible battle, would these boys remember those things their mothers had taught them? Why is that, when I find life most difficult, I turn my thoughts to my mother? Why is that, no matter how far the distance, no matter how long we have been apart, I can always feel my mother’s love?
It is, I believe, because mothers are endowed by God with a special capacity to love. As a baby develops within the womb, everything he needs comes from his mother: oxygen, nutrients, vitamins, energy, and heat all travel from the mother, through the placenta, and into the developing child. After birth, the connection evolves—becoming everyday less physical but becoming simultaneously more deeply spiritual. At first, the infant still receives nutrition from his mother’s breast. Even when that stops, however, the baby finds comfort, safety, and peace within his mother’s arms.
I know, at least, that it is to my mother I run when I am most in need of comfort. When I was little, the boy up the street was a bully and, when he would beat me up on my way home from school, I would run to my mother. As the years passed, I outgrew bullies and grade school and entered the world of girls—sometimes, incidentally, I don’t which is worse. The first time a girl broke my heart—her name, by the way was Erin Enslin and she was blond, flighty, and, to a seventh grade bundle of hormones, enchanting—but when Erin broke my heart I cried on my mother’s shoulder. Later, when the time came to go to college, I cried again with my mother because we had never been apart for very long. And, once again, when the time came for my mission, my mother hugged me last at the airport as I boarded the plane for Mexico. She gave me a note the day before I left which I kept with me every day in my mission and, on particularly difficult nights, I would open the note and read the words and strain to hear my mother’s voice. Even when I could not be with her physically, something about the memory of her love brought me comfort when I was stranded and alone.
I have wondered why my mother’s love is so strong. I have wondered why her care for me stretches across thousands of miles and through twenty-five years. I do not believe I fully understand the depth or the meaning of my mother’s love, but I do believe I gained a small insight into its origin a couple of weeks ago when I was home in Utah for my friend’s graduation. The last several months have been very difficult for my mother. Her father passed away suddenly in September and her mother is slowly disappearing into the frightening reaches of Alzheimer’s disease. Amidst all of this, I have moved to faraway Philadelphia, my brother has moved from the house and gotten married, and one of my sisters has moved away to college. As if all of that were not enough, my father serves as Bishop which means my mom serves in the weighty, neglected, seldom-recognized, and never-officially-confirmed calling of Bishop’s wife.
And so it was that, one day two weeks ago, I stood in the kitchen talking idly with my mother. As we spoke, she sliced tomatoes on the granite-colored cutting board—her hands moving with rhythm and ease through a motion she memorized long ago. Then, as I told her a story, I realized she was not really listening any more; instead, I saw her looking out the back window at a sparrow that hopped down from the gazebo which stands in back of our house. I stopped talking and watched as her lip quivered and as a tear slipped quietly from her left eye and trickled down her cheek.
Seeing her sadness, I stepped over to where she stood and took her in my arms. For a moment, there in the kitchen, I held her as she cried. As I held my mother there, I thought, for a moment, that, in my mind’s eye, I could see her twenty-seven years ago—just two years before I (her oldest) was born. I saw her at her wedding, her body trim and her smile sparkling. I saw her kiss my dad and I watched as sparks flew and chemistry flowed between them. I saw her at school, earning nearly straight As, a bachelor’s of science, and most of a master’s degree. I could see is her eyes, twenty-seven years before, the hopes and dreams that are a part of newly-wed life. And then, the intervening years flashed quickly before me. I saw my mom give up text books and theses for diapers and cleansers. I saw her trade Emerson for Dr. Seuss and Oprah for Sesame Street. I saw her give up parties and water-skiing to attend an endless series of soccer games, dance recitals, and play rehearsals. And then, with a start, my mind swerved back to the present, and I looked at the woman before me. Her hair, now, drooped a bit and did not quite hold its former luster. Her body was not as trim as it once was and the faintest hint of lines born of deep, drawn-out concern sometimes creased her face. Behind her face, of course, a brilliant light still shines. But even that is different now, it is gentler, deeper, and more luminous than the light I imagine from twenty-seven years ago. And as I looked at my mom and pondered on the woman she has become, as I held her in my arms and counted the terrible cost she has paid to stay home with me, stay up with me, and stay the course with me—I realized my mom loves me so deeply for the same reason the Savior loves me so deeply—because deep, willing, and sincere sacrifice begets even deeper, more lasting, and natural love; indeed, greater love hath no woman than this, that she lay down her life for her son.
Brothers and Sisters, please understand, I recognize mothers come in many forms. Some mothers have biological children while other mothers adopt. Some mothers have no children at all but simply nurture and love the young all around them. All of these women are mothers and all of them are vitally important in the Kingdom of God. My purpose, today, however, is not to talk about what a mother is but simply to express, with all the sincerity I can muster, how dearly grateful I am for my mom. I love her deeply and I recognize that the good things I am have come about because she loves me. By extension, I say thank you to the mothers here today—for the nights you have gone without sleep, for the moments you have spent worrying, for the clothes you have washed, the monotony you have endured, and the for the years you have gone without thanks or even recognition—I say thank you, from all of us. Thank you and we love you and please know that, as the hymn reminds us, “angels above us are silent notes taking, the good that you do is not there ignored; though on Earth you may toil without fanfare or tribute, your virtue and suffering are known to the Lord.”