Charity, Women, and Priesthood

[ 26 ] Comments

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.

“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”~ Deepak ChopraSometimes while I am  going on my merry way I am blessed with a little glimpse of understanding. A little piece of the puzzle snaps into place. A clue. An A-ha! moment. Revelation.

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.

a hug for happinessPaul 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.

photos by: katerha & flequi

26 Responses to Charity, Women, and Priesthood

  1. ji says:

    Thank you for a wonderful article!

  2. Michelle says:

    Beautiful.

    I would take that one step further, too, to acknowledge that charity, the greatest of all, is Christ’s love for each of us. Love outward for others is only fully possible because He first loves us.

    It is because of Him that I don’t covet the priesthood. Ordinances to me are all about the gifts He gives us. I love how you captured your feelings about that as you hugged your precious children.

    • Britt says:

      Thanks for bringing up the important point that Christ is the source of charity. Our perfect, immortal Christ. Because of Christ we will never run out of love…and no matter how imperfect we are.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Lily says:

    Wow. This post is empowering. Thank you for reminding us that when we receive and are filled with Christ’s charity we have everything-male or female.

    • Britt says:

      Charity is absolutely genderless! That is something I’ve always loved…in my attempts to follow Christ I don’t need to overcome gender to do so.

  4. Brenda says:

    Love this, thank-you! I heard Elder Bednar speak once about his role as an apostle. He said that even though he visits thousands of people at a time he is always looking for “the one” out in the audience. The Spirit leads him to one person that he needs to minister to. Even priesthood leadership has that high calling to be charitable. As your post so wonderfully points out charity is the highest calling.

    • Britt says:

      What a great example of looking for the one…and a reminder that a leader has to choose to do that just as any of us would!

  5. Ramona Gordy says:

    Thank you, this made my day.xoxoxoxo

    • Britt says:

      I always accept hugs and kisses ;) virtual ones are especially mess free! Glad you could feel the spirit brighten your day!

  6. Linda says:

    My gracious dear sisters, don’t you see that WE, as Women and Mothers, ARE at the Center and Heart of it All! We are the Creators of ALL the Parts of the Body! We have, through the Power of LOVE, both Physical AND Spiritual, ALL the Power that is Truly essential for the Eternal Creation and creating of universes yet to be created. Ours is the Central power, the essential power, the most Godly power (our Heavenly Mother IS a GOD!) ! (forgive me for saying it, but the Priesthood on earth is but a secondary power to help men become who they should be) I believe that if the Priesthood is the power to create worlds, the Women in the eternal realms will obviously HAVE THAT power FULLY as well, because it is her CREATIVE powers that GIVE rise to the reason to create more worlds in the first place!

    • Liz C says:

      But that creative power is not accessed except through cooperative creation with men. Both are vital in the Plan for humanity, and both should be fully engaged in the great endeavor of embodying charity (love as Christ loves us).

    • Britt says:

      Love is all about uniting and cooperating and working together and understanding each other. The key aspect of love is not to be above, or better than or first…but with. That some men pretend that priesthood can be used as a better than or a separator, should not inspire us to do the same…but instead recognize that any power from God is meant to unite and bless and inspire. Any power from God (Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother together) is also a reminder that God is all powerful and all knowing

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. This is wonderful. You know I wouldn’t be surprised if the priesthood IS love. We know that God IS love, right? So perhaps the power of the priesthood is love; the power by which world’s are created, by which life is created, that enlightens our understanding, EVERYTHING. You have given me much to think about! Thank you.

    • Sharon Kaye says:

      This has given me some new insights. Here are my thoughts: Could it be that the priesthood (God’s love) is given to men to help them develop charity (God’s love). And, women are given a more natural inclination for charity as a gift. In this sense, the priesthood is a vehicle for getting to charity. Then, women who are seeking to have the priesthood are seeking to obtain the vehicle to the gift (charity) that they already have.

      • NotMolly says:

        I don’t think so; we all have full access and responsibility to develop charity (love) as disciples, entirely independent of any responsibilities to administrate with priesthood authority. Saying that all women are naturally inclined to charity is a very broad brush; men or women might have a more easy time accessing the divine birthright of love.

        I think men are asked to administrate the priesthood because that’s what God has asked them to do. Women don’t have less access or a lesser role–we’re all called to be disciples and further the work of God on earth, and we can all minister through the development and good use of love.

      • Emily says:

        Sharon – I thought you were going to say, perhaps men are given priesthood to develop charity and women are given pregnancy and birth, and hence the major nurturing of children to develop charity. I know because of my children, although I thought I was pretty charitable (naturally), that I really have a long way to go.

        Now of course, we could say well not all women have children and we could equally say not all men hold the priesthood, so I guess then they couldn’t develop charity? I don’t believe that’s true because there are many non-priesthood holders who are charitable and many childless women who are charitable.

        So, I do like my thought that came from misconstruing your thought, but I guess it’s not solid.

        Someone else above made me again think about how throughout the history of the world, for the most part, men have organized churches and women have always borne children. I deduced because of this that perhaps men’s duty is to organize religion and women’s duty is to organize the family. I haven’t really thought about it more than that, but as a general statement I think that could hold true, but when you hit specifics there is so much overlap. Anyway, that’s just a unrelated side ramble because I’m too lazy at present to post a separate comment.

  8. Jeanne says:

    Beautiful article.

  9. I understand that this post is about you and your personal journey.

    However the implications of your post bother me. I feel like it is equating the gift of charity to being a gender gift and that isn’t true. Women might not be blessed with the gift of charity. Men might be blessed with the gift of charity. It has nothing to do with gender. It is about the individual.

    Also, I don’t like your covert condemnation of women who seek the priesthood as ‘coveting other’s gifts’. Why do you assume that women seeking the priesthood are coveting? Why is it wrong to seek more spiritual gifts?

    • Britt says:

      interesting thought…a vehicle to the gift they already have.

      I do think the priesthood is a way to love and serve. I think the necessity of ordinances makes it unique.

      • Britt says:

        Sorry that reply went in the wrong place…I’m not sure how.

        Rachel. This was one of my worries in posting this. It is very personal. I do not mean to imply that charity is gender specific. I especially do NOT mean to imply at all that men get the priesthood and women get charity.

        Also, please take my coveting of other’s gifts as only applying to me. please. I do NOT mean that to be extrapolated to others. at all. This is how it feels to me.

        If you are interesting in being ordained, I would just say. God has a plan for you…AND you can feel his love and peace now. What worked for me, may not work for you. But I hope that by reading this you can understand that God does have a way of helping you with your desires and concerns and doubts…whatever they may be.

  10. jendoop says:

    Honestly, I wasn’t going to read this post because I’m so over all the back and forth about this issue. I love God, he loves me. Done.

    But I read it and I’m glad I did. I enjoy being a charitable person, in that charity maybe I can even be charitable towards God and allow him to run his church his way.

    • Britt says:

      Your last comment made me laugh. oh that is so me. sigh. I just want to tinker and steady that ark just a little bit.

      It is a LOT to know that God loves you.

  11. Frances says:

    Hey Britt,

    As per usual, another edifying, thought provoking and humbling read. Your insights are beautiful, rich and full of substance. Thank you for articulating “life” (in its rich, diverse & crazy forms) so succinctly and humbly – I am eternally grateful :)

  12. Linda says:

    I wonder if our always “separating” things, of God, of men and women, which gets us in trouble. For GOD tells us He/She are ONE. The overarching principle seems to be to me that THIS (Life) is a simple story of FAMILY. GOD (equal and eternally united male and female) LOVE each other and their CHILDREN. They send us off to college (earth) to learn and choose for ourselves which principles we want to live under for Eternity – with the HELP (atoning and grace bestowing Savior) of our Elder Brother. We are given differing assignments according to our unifying natures and so, someone needs to “administer” the ordinances, and someone needs to be the conduit to bring us “down” to college (earth) and ALL of it is of ONE purpose, co-equal, co-eternal absolutely essential in their UNITY, all BEGUN and ENDING with LOVE – the “beginning and the end”, GOD, the “alpha and omega. Yes, GOD (equal and eternally united male and female) IS LOVE!
    All else is details, ” and the devil is (always trying to distract us with)in the details! : stirring up our mortal pride and ego as to who has the most “power” , more importance, etc. when those concerns are irrelevant, distracting, and deceiving!
    Perhaps that is why one of the most needful principles we can learn (through all this opposition) is that of HUMILITY. We (male and female) each need to come to understand that ALL (POWER-LOVE) is by the Gift and Power of our Heavenly PARENTS, and our Elder Brother and it is to them we look to be able to “graduate” from this “college of Life” and return to them.
    And in OUR UNIFIED efforts (men & women together in Humility) in our several assignments
    we will learn the principle of LOVE as Eternal Power.

  13. Bonnie says:

    This was wonderful. Thank you for introducing me to Mary. Now she lives in my soul to inspire me as well.

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