One of the most memorable Relief Society classes I’ve attended centered around the divine nature of women.
A sister brought up Heavenly Mother and what she imagined interacting with Her would be like. Everyone fell silent and many sisters had nervous looks on their faces. Personally, more than anything, I was surprised and intrigued. You see, that was the very first (and since then only) time I’d heard someone freely talk about Heavenly Mother at church… or really, anywhere.
The teacher quickly changed the subject, but my mind stayed right there.
That Sunday sparked a curiosity in me about our Heavenly Mother. Why don’t we know more about Her? Is it really not okay to talk about Her? In my pondering and research, I discovered that we actually know more about our Mother in Heaven than I thought. Unfortunately, some of this knowledge has been hiding behind long-held myths and traditions. Here are four common misconceptions I found out aren’t actually true:
1. We should not talk about Heavenly Mother because the subject is too sacred.
Many Latter-day Saints can comfortably acknowledge that we have a Mother in Heaven. After all, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states that we are each a “beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” And some modern general authorities have even mentioned Her. But we often shy away from any further discussion on the topic.
A commonly cited reason for this “sacred silence” is that Heavenly Father doesn’t want the world to disrespect and degrade Her.
While well-intentioned, the belief that we shouldn’t talk about Heavenly Mother because She is too sacred has no doctrinal basis. Melvin R. Brooks, a seminary teacher in the 20th century, is credited with the earliest written assertion of this sacred silence:
“Considering the way man has profaned the name of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, is it any wonder that the name of our Mother in Heaven has been withheld, not to mention the fact that the mention of Her is practically nil in scripture?” – Melvin R. Brooks (Melvin R. Brooks, LDS Reference Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, 309-310.)
However, this has never been repeated by a general authority. A study published by BYU Studies, which reviewed hundreds of Latter-day Saint historical references to Heavenly Mother, confirmed that while this explanation is widespread, there’s no public record of this ever being said by a Church president, apostle, or other general authority.
Of course, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Heavenly Mother does deserve our utmost respect and reverence, just like our Heavenly Father and Savior.
2. The first mention of Heavenly Mother was in Eliza R. Snow’s hymn “O My Father.”
The revered hymn, which was originally a poem, reads, “In the heav’ns are parents single? / No, the thought makes reason stare! / Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”
Despite what some believe, this is not the earliest Latter-day Saint mention of a Mother in Heaven. In Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society, Eliza R. Snow is recorded to have said the poem was inspired by the Prophet’s teaching, suggesting Joseph Smith taught of Heavenly Mother. In fact, ten months before Eliza’s poem, W.W. Phelps published a hymn mentioning a “Father in heaven, and Mother; the Queen.”
It’s also recorded that when Zina D. Huntington Young’s mother died, she asked Joseph Smith if she would recognize her mother as her mother when she passed herself. Joseph replied by saying, “Certainly you will. More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven” (Suza Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies MIA, 16).
Overall, early members and leaders of the Church seem to have spoken and testified of Her more frequently than you may have thought. Rachel Hunt Steenblik, one of the researchers involved in the BYU Studies article mentioned above, states that this concept was new to her at the time of her research.
3. Honoring or talking about Heavenly Mother takes from Heavenly Father’s glory and worship.
We know from Elder Melvin J. Ballard that our Mother in Heaven is “glorified, exalted, and ennobled” and stands right beside our Father in Heaven, making her an equal. We also know that we have been commanded to “honor thy father and thy mother.” President George F. Richards taught that this commandment not only refers to our earthly parents but our heavenly parents as well.
President Rudger Clawson echoes President Richards’ reasoning, making another parallel with our earthly parents:
“It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections… We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.” – President Rudger Clawson
However, it is true that we have been instructed by President Gordon B. Hinckley that prayer to Heavenly Mother is inappropriate. This is because we are meant to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who said to “always pray unto the Father in my name.”
4. Heavenly Mother isn’t as involved in our lives as Heavenly Father.
With the rare mentionings of our Heavenly Mother today, it can be easy to feel as though She isn’t very present in our lives. But many Church leaders have spoken of Her influence, involvement, and love for us.
We know that She was very much involved in our creation as well as the development of the Plan of Salvation. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia T. Holland, have even said that our Father and Mother in Heaven continue to create everything around us “lovingly and carefully and masterfully.” And both of our heavenly parents’ involvement in the “divine plan” is affirmed by Elder M. Russell Ballard.
Furthermore, Heavenly Mother continues to play an active role in our lives and influences us more than we may know:
“Knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose Her influence on us as individuals to be less if we live so as to return [to heaven]?” – President Spencer W. Kimball
Just like our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Mother watches over us with care and concern, trying to help us along the way (Harold B. Lee, “The Influence and Responsibility of Women”). She loves all of Her children and looks forward to seeing us again, including you.
Have you come across any other misconceptions on this topic? What are your thoughts and feelings about our Heavenly Mother? Let us know in the comments.
(I would like to note that much of what I discovered came from the BYU Studies article “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” and additional findings by Rachel Hunt Steenblik, one of the researchers for the study. I thank them for their time and invaluable contributions to something so important.)