Charity, Women, and Priesthood
by RI Editors
This guest post comes from Britt, a mother of 10 currently living in Texas. She loves mountains, beaches, good books and a sense of humor.
I struggle with understanding the priesthood and its relationship to me as a woman. It’s complicated, or maybe I’m complicated. Most of the time I put my lack of understanding on the back burner and go on my merry way enjoying the blessings of the gospel. It’s not lonely on the back burner; I have many things I don’t understand perfectly yet. I spend a fair amount of time dusting off my doubts and studying and praying anew, making slow progress. I can’t spend all my time there. I have found my life to be more peaceful and joyful when I focus on my blessings. Besides, if I spent all my time feeling full of angst over my spiritual questions, I’d have no time to feel angst over my mothering.
Recently I was preparing a lesson about the Gifts of the Spirit. Whenever I ponder gifts of the spirit, I’m quickly reminded of Mary.
I met Mary on my mission. She was a beautiful Indian woman in her late twenties. She had some learning disabilities and other health issues. The Indian caste system designated her “unclean.” She wasn’t welcome in the school system, and had no place in society. Even her family’s wealth could not buy her a place. She had just recently learned to read using the Book of Mormon. She wanted to serve in her branch and offered to learn how to conduct music. It took her months to find the beat. Literally months. She had conducting charts all over her house and listened to hymns for hours every day to practice. It was nothing short of a miracle when she finally got it. We loved spending time with her. With her heart-warming smile and childlike spirit, Mary was a breath of fresh air.
One day after Mary had succinctly explained a section of Isaiah to us, my companion suggested we take Mary on splits with us. A few weeks later Mary and I happened upon a self-appointed minister. He was argumentative and dismissive of what he saw as two young, ignorant women. He smugly spoke about the importance of gifts of the spirit as markers of true disciples of Christ.
Then he turned to Mary and asked her point blank “What gift of the spirit do you have?”
My heart broke.
With how her people see her, how her own family sees her… did this sweet lady know how God sees her? Did she know her worth and her gifts?
I so didn’t want this to be a horrible experience for this beautiful woman. I ached for her. I couldn’t think of a way to save Mary from that question.
Mary responded without a blink.
“I have the gift of charity.”
The pure truth of her statement was so powerful it confounded that man and has ever-after stirred in me. Her Father in Heaven had given her the greatest gift of all and she knew it. As we walked away I thought of the scripture, “By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34)
Mary’s confidence in her gift came to mind when I started reading in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Paul invites us to appreciate our role in the body of Christ, whether we are a foot, an eye or a head. In addition to asking if all are apostles, Paul invites us to consider the more “feeble” gifts.
Feeble. As a woman, in relation to the priesthood, I sometimes feel confined to the feeble. My mind bucks at the gentle reminder that we can’t be everything and instead I cling to the invitation to “covet earnestly the best gifts”.
I had my own ideas of what those “best gifts” could be. My thoughts wandered. Maybe it was the idea of one body part not accepting another, or maybe it was the juxtaposition of coveting as a positive trait, but my mind went to mutiny and treasure seeking and pirates. (No, I don’t understand how my brain works either.) I was suddenly transported from gifts of the spirit to a pirate ship. I have noticed this feeling before, not the pirate feeling, but the desperation and wanting.
Perhaps Paul was sensing this kind of potential when he changes tack and says “and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” In one clear sweep he takes me from the pirate ship to heaven. There is no confusion with charity. Love is powerful. Charity is not crumbs off the table of the real stuff…it is the real stuff.
I remember the power of Mary. Her love is palpable and has power to enlighten those around her. Love can unite and teach and heal. Love is the best gift.
This best gift is not only available to me as a woman, it is encouraged, supported and officially endorsed. It is the motto of the Relief Society that charity never faileth. With all of the seeking and coveting and misunderstanding, wouldn’t it be amazing if we were all actively seeking charity? Coveting it? Instead of worrying about who is at the head of any particular place we could be opening our hearts. What is more powerful than love?
Charity is always available to me. No matter my calling, my health, my education, or income, I am always free to choose to love or not to love. I’m reminded of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, in which he states
We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
To choose to love in such circumstances… what strength. There are always opportunities to love. Maybe not in the way we would choose, maybe not with the energy and style we would like… but love is always an option.
Paul invites us to “seek ye earnestly the best gifts” because he knows the best gift is the most powerful, yet the most available to everyone. Charity is the most identifiable characteristic of God. Charity is the most necessary part of Zion and heaven.
I’m not settling for something lesser or more feeble when I choose to focus on love. Choosing to focus on love is not easy. As much as true charity is generally admired, it is very seldom applauded or rewarded.
Charity generally works best one person at a time. People in positions of power are not any more able to love than I am. Each of us will have to understand and meet the need of one person at a time.
Charity is seldom in the spotlight; it can’t adequately be measured. It is frequently subtle, gentle and quiet. It can fill a lifetime, demand everything I am, magnify my talents and uniqueness. Charity never faileth.
Now all of this doesn’t mean I never wonder or question. I don’t learn that quickly and I still have many doubts.
Just last Saturday my darling twins were baptized. Before the twins were born, I had this unrealistic idea that I would give birth to one baby, snuggle the baby and love the baby up for a bit, then give birth to the second baby and have some time with them. That didn’t happen.
When they came out of the waters of baptism I wrapped them each in a towel and told them how much I loved them and Jesus loved them. The personal nature of this simple ordinance allowed me that moment I had been wanting. It was short and wet and all surrounded by chaos… but it was so beautiful and still.
Later, as they were confirmed, I sat at the back of the room wrestling a toddler and an 8 month old. All three of us were tired and hungry. I could feel creeping feelings as doubts, desires and wonderings creep into my mind. Why am I not involved? I want to be there in that circle or with my girls. They were “Oh that I were an angel!” kinds of thoughts. How wonderful it would be!
Interrupting these thoughts was the quiet whisper that I had everything I needed where I was. I was not lacking. I was not missing out. I was loving.