Starting in my third year of college, I was involved in a lot of conversations around the topic of women in the Church. It can seem as if men are front and center in our organization, and it is sometimes difficult to discern immediately where the voice of women is heard and how we matter in the kingdom of God. I began to wonder: What IS the role of women in the Church? If men have the priesthood, what do we have? Those questions troubled me.
In the years since then, I have wrestled with those questions. It has been an ongoing journey, but a few insights have helped illuminate my understanding.
1. God loves all His children equally.
As I’ve sought understanding about the role of women in the Church, the principle that I’ve been reminded of again and again is that God loves all His children, male and female. He doesn’t love one more than the other, and I can trust that He knows me, He loves me, and there is a place and a part for me to play that is wonderful and amazing and fully equal to that of anyone else, regardless of gender. The Book of Mormon states, “[The Lord] inviteth … all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
In a moment where I was particularly struggling with some of these questions, I had the thought, “Wait—this is God I’m talking about. Do I really think He doesn’t understand me? Do I really think He loves some of His children more than others?” The thought helped me re-center, and I was reminded that if I begin my journey of understanding with the belief that God loves me and that His entire motivation is love, it helps me see more clearly as I go along.
2. I have full access to the power of the priesthood through my own obedience.
What has been key for me in understanding my role as a woman in the Church has been a better understanding of what the priesthood is and what role it plays in my life. In a recent interview, Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women General Presidency said: “Priesthood is not the men of the Church. Priesthood is the power of God, and we all work with that power—not necessarily with keys or even with duties described in the scriptures, but we all have this power as we fulfill our covenant responsibilities. Even saying ‘support the priesthood,’ we’re really saying ‘support the power of God.’ I think we even need to go better and say we support those who work with priesthood power so that priesthood doesn’t take on this human identity. … We need to get out of that habit.”
Priesthood does not = men of the Church. Priesthood = the power of God, and the power of God is available to everyone through obedience to His commandments.
I had an interesting experience when my younger brother was being ordained an elder. In the blessing he was given, my brother was told that priesthood power came through obedience to God’s commandments. As those words were spoken, a realization struck me with great force: That principle is true for me too. If I was obedient, I would have the full power of the priesthood in my life too. What more power, what better influence could I want than God’s power in my life? Power to overcome difficulties. Power to discern truth. Power to do good. All these can be mine and are available to anyone through obedience.
3. I have a unique influence that is magnified as I act with love.
President Russell M. Nelson once said: “My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration, we need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils. We need each married sister to speak as a ‘contributing and full partner’ as you unite with your husband in governing your family. Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God. We brethren cannot duplicate your unique influence” (“A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015).
Now, I recognize that reading all this about being needed for our unique influence can be panic-inducing. Sometimes I hear things like that and think, “Oh no—I’m not doing enough. I’m not being enough. I’m not enough!” Then I proceed to go out and do everything I can think of to try to “earn” being enough. How exhausting.
I’ve realized that I don’t have to make my influence spread. I don’t have to panic and rush out to join 10 community organizations, give out a copy of the Book of Mormon to every stranger I meet, or volunteer for every assignment in church. I just have to follow what President Nelson said: speak up when I have insight that may help someone, take care of the people I’ve been given (including family and the women I have the opportunity to minister to each month), and act on impulses to be kind. Every woman in the Church, no matter their age, calling, or economic or marital status, has a unique influence that God can magnify.
Once I was reading an email of a girl I knew who was a missionary in Central America at the time and was having a really tough week—nothing had gone as planned. As I read her letter, I remembered some of my own difficult experiences as a missionary and what I had learned, and I took a few moments to write a short email back and share a few words of encouragement. I didn’t think much of it, until she responded and said that what I had written had really helped her, and she hoped I didn’t mind that she shared it with her dad, who shared it with one of her Church leaders back home, who shared it with another leader, who then shared it with a group of youth. I was surprised at how, without any effort on my part, the influence of my words had spread. I remember having the distinct realization, “That wasn’t me.” I didn’t make those words touch people’s hearts and spread so far. God did the heavy lifting. God magnifies the influence of kind words and deeds. I just have to act with kindness and love.
Like I said, my understanding of my role as a woman in God’s Church continues to grow. It isn’t complete, but because of the glimpses I’ve gotten of my purpose and influence already, I believe it is—and will be—wonderful, important, and of infinite value in God’s eyes and in mine.