“Maintain Your Place As a Woman,” Ensign, Feb. 1972, 48
Maintain Your Place As a Woman
Martin Luther penned a meaningful statement regarding woman’s place when he wrote, “When Eve was brought unto Adam, he became filled with the Holy Spirit, and gave her the most sanctified, the most glorious of appellations. He called her Eva—that is to say, the Mother of All. He did not style her wife, but simply mother—mother of all living creatures. In this consists the glory and the most precious ornament of woman.”
To be what God intended you to be as a woman depends on the way you think, believe, live, dress, and conduct yourselves as true examples of Latter-day Saint womanhood, examples of that for which you were created and made. To be thus merits the deepest respect of your sweetheart and your husband. Righteous indignation should be felt by every pure true woman when she sees in pictures, on the screen, and in song a vulgar portrayal of a woman as something a little more than a sex symbol.
Many of you have read the righteous defense of woman’s place in the world as expressed by a woman, Jill Jackson Miller of Beverly Hills. She writes under the heading “Open Letter to Man.”
“I am a woman.
“I am your wife, your sweetheart, your mother, your daughter, your sister—your friend.
“I need your help!
“I was created to give the world Gentleness, Understanding, Serenity, Beauty, and Love.
“I am finding it increasingly difficult to fulfill my purpose.
“Many people in advertising, motion pictures, television, and radio have ignored my inward qualities and have repeatedly used me only as a symbol of sex.
“This humiliates me; it destroys my dignity; it prevents me from being what you want me to be—an example of Beauty, Inspiration, and Love: love for my children, love for my husband, love of my God and country.
“I need your help to restore me to my true position—and to allow me to fulfill the Purpose for which I was Created.
“Oh, man, I know that you will find the way.”
That, I think, is the plea of every true woman’s heart in this day. It seems abundantly clear that to follow the extreme fashions of this day is to give credence to the efforts of some who would topple mankind from the pedestal on which we are placed in the divine plan of the Creator. The woman who is too scantily dressed, or immodestly dressed, ofttimes is the portrayal of one who is thus trying to draw the attention of the opposite sex when her natural adornments do not, in her opinion, suffice. Heaven help any woman so minded for drawing such attention. For a woman to adopt the mode of a man’s dress, it is said, is to encourage the wave of sexual perversion, when men adopt women’s tendencies and women become mannish in their desires.
If a woman will preserve and properly maintain her God-given identity, she can captivate and hold the true love of her husband and the admiration of those who admire natural, pure, lovely womanhood. What I am saying to you sisters first of all, then, is to be what God intends you to be, a true woman.
I sat this morning with some of my brethren who are among our most prominent leaders. One of the brethren said he had recently had requests from two sisters, at different times, asking if he would give them a special blessing so that they could have children. On inquiry he found that in their earlier married life they had refused to have children, and now, when they desire children, for some reason they can’t have them.
Another one of my brethren spoke up and said, “That reminds me of our own experience. We married quite young and we had our children, five of them, before my wife was 28. Then something happened and we were not able to have any more children.” He continued: “If we had delayed having our family until after I had my education, which would have been about that time, we probably would have had no children of our own.”
When I consider those who enter into holy wedlock in the Lord’s own way and receive the divine commandments to multiply and replenish the earth, then through their own designs fail to observe the commandment, I wonder if, later on when they are ready to have the children, the Lord might not think: “Maybe this is the time for you to do a little soul-searching in order for you to come back to the realities for which you have been placed upon the earth.”
Today, strangely enough, half the world is trying to prevent life and the other half is trying to prolong life. Have you ever thought of that? Where do we brothers and sisters stand in this picture? It is when we tamper with nature that we are in trouble, for there are things a woman does that are natural in the divine order of things. To be a wife is one of your greatest responsibilities—true companion, a helpmeet to your husband.
A young man passed the desk of a lovely young girl. On it was a verse that caught his eye. It said “Marriage Prayer.”
“I would have beauty to charm and to fire him,
Thoughts, white as feathers, to calm and inspire him,
Music enough to fill four little walls,
Visions to struggle for, love over all,
Hands not too white for the day’s stern request.
Let me know toiling and triumph and rest,
Blessed contentment in small things and poor,
Lifting my eyes from the world’s golden lure.
Make me forgiving of small, driftless wounds.
Give me his heart to read, O keep mine attuned.
Let not the years pass and leave us alone,
Grant us thy miracle, all for our own.
Let me be brave in the anguish of giving,
Smiling and proud for the glory of living,
Give me a song when the morning is cold,
Give me a smile when toiling is old,
Warmth in my handclasp for dusk, chill and gray,
Prayers and a dream at the close of the day.”
The young man remembered that, and when he returned home that lovely girl who chose this as her marriage prayer became his wife.
Someone spoke a profound truth when he said, “No man can live piously, or die righteously without a wife.” Even God himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him.” (Gen. 2:18.) The apostle Paul’s statement had broader meaning than some have interpreted it, when he declared: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:11.) He was teaching the great truth that only in holy wedlock for time and eternity, in the new and everlasting covenant, can the man and woman attain to the highest privilege in the celestial world, but he may likewise have been stressing the great need of a husband and a wife for each other in this world.
In defining the relationship of a wife to her husband, the late President George Albert Smith put it this way: “In showing this relationship, by a symbolic representation, God didn’t say that woman was to be taken from a bone in the man’s head that she should rule over him, nor from a bone in his foot that she should be trampled under his feet, but from a bone in his side to symbolize that she was to stand by his side, to be his companion, his equal, and his helpmeet in all their lives together.”
I fear some husbands have interpreted erroneously the statement that the husband is to be the head of the house and that his wife is to obey the law of her husband. Brigham Young’s instruction to husbands was this: “Let the husband and father learn to bend his will to the will of his God, and then instruct his wives and children in this lesson of self-government by his example as well as by his precept.” (Discourses of Brigham Young [Deseret Book Co., 1925], pp. 306–307.)
This is but another way of saying that the wife is to obey the law of her husband only as he obeys the laws of God. No woman is expected to follow her husband in disobedience to the commandments of the Lord.
It was someone with deep understanding of married life who said that the good wife commandeth her husband in any equal matter by constantly obeying him. I will leave it to you sisters to apply that wisely in your marriage partnership. The good wife commandeth her husband in any equal matter by constantly obeying him.
But now there are the “unclaimed jewels” who have not as yet had an acceptable offer of marriage or if married have not been able to have children, and they wonder about the doctrines that I have just now spoken about. To these President Young made a promise for which the plan of salvation provides the fulfillment. He said, “Many of the sisters grieve because they are not blessed with offspring. You will see the time when you will have millions of children around you. If you are faithful to your covenants, you will be mothers of nations.” (Discourses, p. 310.)
I have said many times to young couples at the marriage altar: Never let the tender intimacies of your married life become beastly. Let your thoughts smell of the sunshine. Let your words be wholesome and your association together be inspiring and uplifting, if you would keep alive the spirit of romance throughout your marriage together.
Concerning the blessings of motherhood, I came across a clipping, a quotation from an article written by Dr. Henry Link entitled “Love, Marriage and Children.”
“I am convinced that having a child is the final and strongest pledge of a couple’s love for each other. It is an eloquent testimony that their marriage is a complete one. It lifts their marriage from the level of selfish love and physical pleasure to that of devotion centered around a new life. It makes self-sacrifice rather than self-indulgence their guiding principle. It represents the husband’s faith in his ability to provide the necessary security, and it demonstrates the wife’s confidence in his ability to do so. The net result is a spiritual security which, more than any other power, helps to create material security as well.”
Too much can’t be said or written about woman’s most important role as a mother. Napoleon is quoted as having asked Madame Campan: “What is wanting in order that the youth of France will be well educated?” “Good mothers,” was her reply. The Emperor was forcibly struck with this answer. “Here,” he said, “is a system in one word—mother.”
Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.” I believe that with all my heart. And J. Edgar Hoover said the cure of crime is not the electric chair but the highchair. I have repeatedly said to our priesthood leaders that the most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home.
Over the years I have been asking mothers of large families—successful families—what did you do to make your family successful? And I recall the cardinal thing that one such mother answered in reply to my question: “I was always at the crossroads of my home when my children were growing up.” And another said, “We took great pains with our first child; then the others took that as a pattern thereafter.” From my experience, I wouldn’t stop at the first child. I think I would advise you to go further than that. But there is much to be said for following that counsel.
Another hallmark of true motherhood was said to me by a woman up in one of the Idaho stakes. I had laid down a rather heavy criticism when I found that they were calling mothers and fathers to serve in organizations that took them both out of the home at the same time. I had spoken rather sharply, I suppose. One of the counselors was irritated and observed that they would have a wholesale resignation after that kind of a talk, so I thought I would repent. In the afternoon session I was sitting beside the stake Relief Society president, and I said, “They tell me you have a family of nine children. Would you mind taking a few minutes to tell us how you have been able to raise that successful family and still have been an active Church worker, usually presiding over organizations, all your married life.” I didn’t have the slightest idea what she was going to say, but I prayed that she would say what I wanted her to say.
She said, “Well, in the first place, I followed the counsel and the example of my sainted mother. I raised my children as Mother raised us.” You think about that. Successful motherhood today spans the years and the eternities. If you have done well your job in your home, your sons and your daughters in the ages to come will from your example seek to do likewise.
Second, she said, “I married a wonderful companion. Daddy and I sat down together whenever we were asked to serve in a church position and decided we would both be active in the Church if we could be assigned to organizations where I could be home with the children when he was at his meetings and vice versa.” Then she declared that they had done it that way all of the growing-up years of their children. “And finally,” she said, “I have an unshakable testimony of the divine mission of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
I submit these things to you as hallmarks of great motherhood. Think about them. Great examples of motherhood gone by, companions who cooperate fully in the raising of the sons and daughters, and the testimony of the divine mission of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It roots the family in the things that have to be said and done while the children are growing up if we want to save our children.
I now want to say something to you sisters that is a somewhat delicate subject. Even if circumstances require mothers of families to work because of the insufficiency of their husbands’ salaries, or because they have been left alone in widowhood, they should not neglect the cares and duties in the home, particularly in the education of the children. Today I feel that women are becoming victims of the speed of modern living. It is in building their motherly intuition and that marvelous closeness with their children that they are enabled to tune in upon the wavelengths of their children and to pick up the first signs of difficulty, of danger and distress, which if caught in time would save them from disaster.
This responsibility of parenthood being of the first importance was profoundly impressed upon us by our great leader, the late President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in an address delivered years ago. This is what he said:
“This training work is primarily for the home, built by celestial covenant-bound father and mother, led by a righteous man bearing the Holy Priesthood of the Son of God. This home must indispensably be a house of prayer, must observe the commandments of God, be a home of unblemished sexual purity, filled with happiness; a home of law-obedience, civil and ecclesiastical, in all things big and little; a home of charity, patience, long-suffering, courtesy, family loyalty and devotion, where spirituality is dominant; a home of burning testimonies and great gospel knowledge.
“We must, each of us, so build for our children if we shall escape condemnation and render the service demanded of, and reach the destiny that is provided for us.”
Should there be a woman left in widowhood who has to work, she should go to her bishop and Relief Society president. Relief Society sisters should stay close to such a home and see that when that mother is away there are provided those essential elements that safeguard her home and take care of her little ones. Perchance there may be a season when her children are small that maybe there could be full enough material support so she wouldn’t have to leave her children. Remember, these are days when we must think first of the welfare of the children in the home.
Within the past year a prominent speaker at a local service club dinner was quoted as saying this: “The nation has taken the wrong approach to many problems. We deal with the delinquent after he is a delinquent; the drug addict after he is an addict; the criminal after he is a criminal. We forget that we should work with our youngsters before these problems arise. There is no substitute for the family. This is where the children are brought up, where their habits are created; where they receive strength to face the world. The person who is against the ‘establishment’ is taking his problems out on the community because he has no communication with his parents.” This man, who was a prominent Puerto Rican official, concluded by saying, “The day we by-pass the family as the basic unit, we are going to be lost. In the typical family there is limited time between the parent and the child. This time should be well spent in commonly enjoyed activities.”
How many times have we been saying that same thing in the last fifty years? Now we stress it in the great program we call family home evening. We should be eternally grateful that, through inspired channels, we have been given the family home evening, and the home teaching program by which our priesthood is enjoined to encourage the homes where home evening is not being held that they persist until it can be held.
Yesterday I walked through the foyer of the Church Office Building. There was a young woman with some little children around her. As we shook hands she said, “I just joined the Church a few months ago.” I asked her about her husband. “No,” she said, “I’m alone with my eight children.” And I said, “Now don’t feel alone because your husband is not with you. You stay close to your home teachers and stay close to your bishop.” And she said to me with a smile, “Brother Lee, I have the finest home teachers that anybody could have, and nobody has a finer bishop than ours. We are taken care of. We have a fatherly father who is watching over us, the priesthood holder who has come into our lives.”
I was invited to dinner at a home in Salt Lake City where a father had been without his wife for thirteen years. The mother in the home had passed away; the older children had taken the mother’s place. And I asked how he had been able to do without his wife’s help. He took me to the window and pointed to the Highland Park Ward. He said, “You see that building? I couldn’t have done it without the Church. Thank God for the plan by which the Church assists the home in taking care of their children.”
Wives must work to see that their husbands do not neglect the family. It takes planning. I picked up something, or my wife, Joan, did and handed it to me—a statement from an unlooked-for source, Princess Grace of Monaco, in a magazine called Family Circle. She could have been a Relief Society president writing; this is what she said: “I am like anyone else trying to keep a home together. I must fight, I mean fight, for the time to be with my children. My husband and I spend every spare moment we have with our children in an effort to share our lives with them. And where there are no spare moments, I struggle to make them.”
A judge was asked, “What is the greatest cure for juvenile delinquency?” And this judge from New York said, “Keep father at the head of the family.” See that father takes his place at the head of the family. Two of the brethren of the Twelve, myself being one of them, were sent to one of our stakes where the wife of one of our presiding authorities needed help. She and her husband were on the verge of divorce. When we tried to reason with this wife, she said she had been little more than a hired woman in his home; that he had used his business and his church work to absent himself. Whether or not this was true, she had allowed herself to become embittered and had wandered away into the arms of a scoundrel who took her affections away from her husband.
Recently a woman complained that she had been starved for a minimum of sociability and to have her husband share himself with her and his children. Don’t let your husband do that. If necessary, fight for the opportunity so you and your husband and your children can have time together.
I now come to the teacher’s responsibility. My wife, from a lifetime of great teaching, provides for me some of my best ideas. This is from a teacher’s prayer, or teacher’s wish, and I apply it to all mothers:
“My heart and mind ‘speak’ when I behold my child within my door,
For this I know, I must respond aright—ere he doth come no more.
I must needs give him help—
Yea, more than help in course at hand:
Help in searching, reaching, giving what’s his already to command.
He has a mind—God’s gift to each of us;
He has a heart—to feel—and thus,
He has a soul—this is my utmost care.So, if I reach the inmost part of this child within my door,
Then I have taught the thing desired of me and more.”
Another matter of importance we call compassionate service. My Aunt Jeanette McMurrin told me this interesting story. She was widowed and living with her daughter. One morning her daughter came to her and said, “Mother, we don’t have anything to eat in the house. My husband, as you know, has been out of work. I am sorry, Mother.”
Aunt Jeanette said that she dressed and worked around the house, then closed her door, knelt down, and said, “Heavenly Father, I have tried all my life to keep the commandments; I have paid my tithing; I have given service to the Church. We have no food in our house today. Father, touch the heart of somebody so we won’t have to go hungry.” She said she went about with a feeling of gladness, thinking all would be right.
There came a knock at the door in a few hours, and there was a little neighbor girl with food in her arms. Choking back the tears, the widow brought the child into the kitchen and said, “Set them here, and tell your mother that this came today as an answer to our prayers. We didn’t have any food in our house.”
Needless to say, the little girl went back and carried that message, and in a little while she returned with still a larger armload. As she brought the bags to the kitchen table, she asked, “Did I come this time as an answer to your prayers?”
My Aunt Jeanette replied, “No, my darling, this time you came as a fulfillment of a promise. Fifty years ago when your grandmother was expecting a little child, she didn’t have anything to eat and she was lacking in strength and nourishment. I was the little girl who carried food into her house so that she would have the strength to bring her little baby—your mother—into the world.” Then she said, “The Lord said, ‘Cast your bread upon the waters, and after many days it shall return again.’ This time you have been carrying back to me the foodstuff that I carried into the home of your grandmother so your mother could be born into the world.” Compassionate service.
The great King Benjamin, speaking about service, said: “… all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.” (Mosiah 4:24–25.)
The Lord judges us not alone by the things we do but by the intent of our hearts. The Prophet Joseph Smith saw in vision his father and mother and his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom, and he marveled: How could Alvin be in the celestial kingdom since he had never been baptized, and was buried before the Church was organized? And the Lord said, “All who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it had they been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 380.) Thus, wives and mothers who have been denied the blessings of wifehood or motherhood in this life—who say in their heart, if I could have done, I would have done, or I would give if I had, but I cannot for I have not—the Lord will bless you as though you had done, and the world to come will compensate for those who desire in their hearts the righteous things that they were not able to do because of no fault of their own.
The most powerful weapon we have against the evils in the world today, regardless of what they are, is an unshakable testimony of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Teach your little children while they are at your knee and they will grow up to be stalwart. They may stray away, but your love and your faith will bring them back. Remember, paraphrasing what President McKay said, “No success will compensate for failure in the home.” Remember also that no home is a failure as long as that home doesn’t give up. If a sixteen-or seventeen-year-old is incorrigible, don’t give up. Keep the pipeline of faith and love filled and win him back. We are the Lord’s children, and he doesn’t give up.
That the Lord may help us so to do for the salvation and blessing of all our Father’s children, I pray humbly in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.