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What I’m Listening for in Conference

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 04, 2014

Every six months, someone is sure to remind us that preparing for General Conference means identifying some personal need or question, then listening with an ear toward hearing counsel on that need. People often testify that they receive the answer to their question, either through the explicit words of some speaker or by listening to a talk that may not have addressed the question directly but still inspired relevant reflection.

I’ve done that. For more than 30 years, I’ve listened to Conference praying for counsel on one particular topic. Candidly, I’ve never heard or been inspired with anything having to do with my need. It’s not like I’m seeking any specific answer – any inspired counsel in any direction would do – but only to have my great need addressed with whatever answer the Lord or his servants offered. I’ll no doubt go on watching for that counsel, although the practical use to which it could be put narrows as the years pass, and may soon be moot. Still, I hope …

This year I’m adding another question to my Conference Watch List, one provoked by my poor initial reaction to the Women’s Meeting last weekend. Oh, in most ways it was a good meeting – the Bloggernacle has certainly provided many positive reports, all of which I recognize as accurate descriptions of the meeting I watched. But for me one repeated point grated on my ears.

Daughter.

The speakers all emphasized that we are daughters of our Heavenly Father. This echoes a theme we’ve heard over and over in recent years: The Relief Society history was titled Daughters in My Kingdom. The Young Women theme announces that “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father …”

It’s true. I don’t doubt it. It’s hard to imagine a more noble station than to be daughters of God. But still, it grates on my ears to be called daughter so often, and I’ve tried this week to understand why.

At first I wondered if it was because daughter conjures a mental image – in my mind, at least – of a child. We’re most closely identified with our parents – with being sons or daughters – when we are young, living in our parents’ home. Did I object to the frequent repetition of daughter because it is infantalizing? No, I finally decided, because even though daughter may be most often used for children and teens, I’ll always be my earthly parents’ daughter, as well as a daughter of God, no matter how much time passes. There are some very elderly women in my ward who are sometimes introduced as “Ernest L. Wilkinson’s daughter,” or “J. Reuben Clark’s granddaughter” – these sisters certainly are not being infantalized by being labeled daughter.

I tried to ease my discomfort with the label by recalling that a daughter is the heir of her parents in many ways. She may inherit a portion of her parents’ worldly goods. She is the heir to whatever heritage they provide her in the way of a good name, a worthy ancestry, and other less tangible goods. Certainly that is true of being a daughter of God: that label comes as a divine birthright; I inherit some of his traits; I have a claim on his protection and love; I may grow to be ever more like him, all because I am his daughter. Surely there could be no greater blessing!

And yet being called daughter so often still bothers me.

I think I may understand why, now.

In the natural course of things – natural in mortality, and, I think, natural in the eternal sense – the status of a son or a daughter comes not from any act on the part of the son or daughter, but through an act of the parents. Although the veil between mortality and premortality may obscure relevant knowledge, I am not aware that I did anything in particular to be born as the daughter of my mortal parents – it was their choice, their acts, that brought me here. Even though, as I understand premortality, I was eager to come to this earth, I am not aware of anything I did to be called into existence as a spirit daughter of God – He was the Creator, and both my eternal spirit and my opportunity for mortal life came as gifts from Him.

Being daughter seems to be a passive thing, not something I caused, but something I was blessed with, as a free gift. And that, I think, is what bothers me about being praised  (or encouraged, or honored, or whatever term you want to put on the “sister-leaders’” purposes for stating that daughtership so many times last Saturday evening) for being a daughter of my Heavenly Father.

When I was a schoolgirl, my mother cautioned me more than once – I don’t recall whether in response to some incident or simply because she thought it was important – that while I was “smart” I must not let that go to my head. “Lots of people are smart,” she reminded me. “You didn’t do anything to be smart – it was just something you were born with.” She taught me – and illustrated it in her own life – that what mattered was not the gifts you were born with – brains, or beauty, or musical talent, or coordination on the athletic field – but what you made of those gifts. Don’t brag about being smart – put that brain to use by developing your talents and making something of yourself. It’s not where you start, but what you do, that matters.

The gift of divine daughtership, as invoked so often last week, feels entirely passive – something I didn’t earn but was given, something that can have merit only if I actively develop it (whatever that means) and put it to use (however that can be done).

And so that’s what I’m watching for this Conference weekend: How can I turn my status as a daughter of God from a passive gift, no matter how appreciated the gift might be, into something that calls for specific action from me, something that makes me actively a daughter of God and not merely the bearer of a stagnant title.

Care to share what you’re listening for this weekend?

(I’d really appreciate it if responses were on the serious side, not the usual jokey “I’m hoping they announce a two-hour block” responses. Thanks.)



28 Comments »

  1. This is beautiful Ardis. I think it’s funny how sometimes a thought, or a single word from a meeting, can end up causing a whole chain of thoughts and reactions and memories within us. Thank you for sharing it.

    I’m approaching Conference feeling almost overwhelmed with a need for guidance. It’ll be my first Conference as a husband, my first Conference as an expecting father, and my first Conference as one who has been called to hold priesthood keys. It is said that when you read a book over you read it differently depending on your circumstances. I am sure my current life setting will greatly influence the things I hear and the revelation I receive this weekend.

    It’s going to be awesome in the truest sense of the word.

    Comment by Stan — April 4, 2014 @ 8:34 am

  2. What I really need right now, more than anything else, is a personal witness of the Church and its leaders. I need the Spirit to tell me that the folks in charge really are listening to God and are there for a reason. I don’t need them to uncover lots of new “great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God,” but I do need something to tell me that we’re still on track. I’m having a tough time, but I’m hopeful.

    Comment by Anonymous — April 4, 2014 @ 8:36 am

  3. Thanks, Stan. That’s a lot of new roles in your life, a lot of need and opportunity. And Anonymous, it sounds like you’re trying what I’m trying — to start where you are (in your case, being hopeful), and trying to develop that starting point into something more. I hope we all recognize some of what we need in what we hear this weekend.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2014 @ 9:04 am

  4. Thanks Ardis. This is a good reminder that I have perhaps not paid as much attention to conference as it merits.

    I think identity is a complex and ever-changing mix of “inherent” qualities (“born with it”, relationships, things utterly beyond our control) and the things we have active control over. For myself, at least, sometimes I have more of a need to draw on the first than the second.

    Comment by Ben S — April 4, 2014 @ 9:14 am

  5. I want to respond to the question, but can’t say I’m looking forward to anything in particular. What I am looking forward to is the lovely routine of hearing heart-felt spiritual witnesses over and over again. I feel uplifted by the familiar and soothing pattern of it all.

    Also, I am really looking forward to the music. I enjoy me a nice Wilberg choral arrangement, I do, and I also appreciate the meticulous preparation by the organists. This dazzling–if understated–execution of General Conference music is a beautiful thing.

    Comment by David Y. — April 4, 2014 @ 9:26 am

  6. P.S. Your thoughts on being repeatedly called “daughter” intrigued me. If not “daughter”, what? I’m trying to come up with an alternative that is both universal and yet not too generic. “Woman of Christ”? Simply “Woman”? “Member of the Church” is so blase. /dead end

    Comment by David Y. — April 4, 2014 @ 9:31 am

  7. Thanks, Ben and David — I agree that we draw on different roles or resources at different times depending on need — and also recognize the steady, familiar rhythm of what *doesn’t* change. A paradox, maybe, but it’s there!

    David, I don’t know that I need a handy label, but if one is applied, I want it to be something active, not passive. “Church member” or “temple goer” or “Sunday School teacher” or “mother” or “Visiting Teacher” all imply certain activities that imply agency, rather than being the passive result of someone else’s agent. I’m trying to make “daughter” an active rather than passive role — and maybe I’m the only one who feels it’s passive.

    How would you respond to having your role in life/eternity be repeatedly identified as “son”? Wouldn’t you feel like you were always waiting for the chance to step up and do a man’s work? Or does “son” imply a more active role for you than “daughter” does for me?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2014 @ 9:47 am

  8. Not that it is particularly useful in current church discourse, but one can short circuit this discourse with the Doctrine and Covenants, which emphatically and repeatedly frames daughtership and sonship as not the default, e.g., “he [Christ] gave his own life that as many as would believe might become the Sons & daughter[s] of God Wherefore ye are my Son…”

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 4, 2014 @ 9:53 am

  9. Now THAT’s helpful, J., as a way of bringing agency to the thing — we’re of course dependent on the grace of Christ, but there’s an active component on our part (belief, and all that that implies). Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2014 @ 10:09 am

  10. I think the D&C is itself expanding on John 1:12, “to all who received him, who believed on his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

    Comment by Ben S — April 4, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  11. I agree, “son” feels pretty passive. (Also, “son” and “daughter” make me think of the long-ago past, of the pre-mortal life, and hence, even more of a passive label.) The more I think about it, though, I’m realizing that we don’t hear “son” overmuch in Church settings. It’s there, yes. (And a lot of the mutual label “sons and daughters of God.”) But I don’t think “sons” alone is used as much as are “priesthood holder” and “father” for men.

    Actually, I think part of the solution here would come if we de-emphasized some of the “rah rah women!” rhetoric. To me, both “daughter of Heavenly Father” language as well as the “divine nature” rhetoric are born of (heh) a desire to build up women. But it feels a little hollow or unsubstantive. Maybe we back off the cheerleading — which at times comes off as compensating for a lack of feminine roles. I don’t know.

    OK, how about this? Taking cues from King Benjamin, how about “children of Christ”? At least that birth connotes doing something!

    Comment by David Y. — April 4, 2014 @ 10:21 am

  12. Oops, now I see that J. beat me on the sons and daughters of Christ thing.

    Comment by David Y. — April 4, 2014 @ 10:22 am

  13. Wow Ardis, I loved this, it puts into focus some of my feelings this week. As I said elsewhere about this “I certainly wish we could start using Women of Christ in that type of parallel versus Daughters of God (although I’m not against using that for YW and Primary-aged children or even me, when it’s paralleled with Sons of God.)”

    I actually went back and counted how many times I heard “daughter” and it was at least two per talk because I felt like it was so much. And I think part of that was that I felt like these women were speaking so powerfully about different issues, and then in using “daughter” took away from what they were speaking about. It was an odd juxtaposition.

    Comment by EmJen — April 4, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  14. Glad to have it, whether from J., or Ben, or David.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  15. Oops, clause in wrong place. Should read: I actually went back and counted how many times I heard “daughter” because I felt like it was so many times and it was at least two per talk.

    Comment by EmJen — April 4, 2014 @ 10:33 am

  16. So it *wasn’t* just me, EmJen — thanks! “Daughter” in this session felt like “covenants” in the one six months ago, as if it had been deliberately inserted because of assignment rather than because it fit the message. Well, I’m still trying to put a positive interpretation on it, to understand what the speakers intended by it. Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2014 @ 10:55 am

  17. Ardis, to me “son” suggests a role: I’m a “son” in many different ways. But it also implies it’s a role I didn’t have anything to do with, at least not that I’m aware of. I think, like you (I hope I’m not being too presumptuous), I would very much like to think that there’s more to me, a greater contribution I’m capable of making, than “son.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being a “son,” I’m just hoping there’s something more that I can do. Does that make sense?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — April 4, 2014 @ 11:10 am

  18. “as if it had been deliberately inserted because of assignment rather than because it fit the message”

    I suppose the question then becomes who gave the assignment, and who did or did not do a good job of adjusting the message they wanted to give to what they were assigned. We don’t have a sure way of knowing if the letter asking people to speak in Conference included a topic, or if, as I suspect, they each got similar inspirations.

    Me, I’d have a hard time adjusting if I was already preparing a talk for conference then something happened to provide inspiration for something completely different. Some people are better at sharp turns than others.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — April 4, 2014 @ 11:21 am

  19. That’s very much what I’m trying to say, Gary. It’s an honor to be a son/daughter of a good father, but that’s a role we inherited, not a role that comes from within. I’m looking for (and some commenters have already suggested) an active role, an interpretation of “daughter” that calls for me to make a contribution — to give, not only to receive.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 4, 2014 @ 11:29 am

  20. Isaiah said, “When thou shalt make his soul a sacrifice for sin, he shall see his seed.” So becoming a child of Christ does involve actively making his soul a sacrifice for our sins.

    I am also listening for things, but I’m not ready to list them in a public forum.

    Comment by LauraN — April 4, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

  21. Frequency of Daughter in General conference

    1850’s – 58
    1860’s – 54
    1870’s – 63
    1880’s – 41
    1890’s – 39
    1900’s – 42
    1910’s – 48
    1920’s – 64
    1930’s – 45
    1940’s – 79
    1950’s – 89
    1960’s – 121
    1970’s – 177
    1980’s – 144
    1990’s – 244
    2000’s – 279
    2010’s – 133

    Comment by anonymoustoo — April 4, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

  22. Thanks for that, anonymoustoo. I was wanting to do a search for that term (or “daughter of”) but didn’t take the time. Very interesting — and is consistent with what I had assumed.

    Comment by David Y. — April 4, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  23. Daughter does seem a little passive, and perhaps contributes to a feeling of powerlessness, or immaturity, or some such thing. But it can also denote a tender relationship, of mutual respect. I really like what seems like a recent uptick in the use of ‘disciple’ to refer to women. If my memory is correct, Julie Beck gave a conference talk emphasizing the importance of women thinking of themselves, and acting as, disciples. I have since tried to incorporate that word into my self- description.

    Comment by Nancy — April 4, 2014 @ 10:15 pm

  24. Mosiah 5:7 has been rattling around in my head as I’ve read your post, Ardis, and the comments that have followed. After the Nephites declared: “we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things . . . all the remainder of our days” (5:5), then King Benjamin taught them: “because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters, for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you” (5:7, emphasis added).

    I understand what you mean when you say “the status of a son or a daughter comes not from any act on the part of the son or daughter, but through an act of the parents.” However, in this our earthly test, we are given the opportunity to claim that title not because of the act of a parent, but through the exercising of our moral agency to follow (an action) and keep (another action) God’s commandments throughout our lives. From our baptism forward, we have the amazing opportunity to grasp the title of “son” or “daughter” every day through the choices we make and the actions we take. On those days when we don’t do so well, we then can go to our Father through our Elder Brother and overcome our weaknesses and prepare to do a better job of claiming that title the next day.

    I am God’s son through no act of my own, but I am also God’s son through my willingness to do all that I can to show Him I take His test seriously. To me, this is what transforms a passive title into an active, vibrant part of my life on a daily basis. These acts will not save me in my Father’s kingdom (only Christ’s act can do that), but my actions can show my Heavenly Father that I believe on both His name and Christ’s name and desire to act in faith to receive the promised blessings they offer me (see D&C 45:3-5). To my mind, how well we take the duality of being a “son” or a “daughter” upon us will ultimately allow us to be called a “good and faithful servant” at the judgment bar (Matt. 25:21).

    Anything that the men and women Father has called to positions of authority have to say in their Conference addresses to assist me in becoming a better son is what I seek to hear from them over the next two days.

    Comment by Chris M — April 5, 2014 @ 12:25 am

  25. I suppose I have different thoughts about what it took to become a child of God. In my mind, as an eternal intelligent being, I could only become a child of God through eternal progression and eternities of time that must at some point in the past involved my taking upon myself sacred duties and obligations that resulted in my becoming a son of God. I know there are other ways to see our premarital existence, but this has resonated with me for a long time. If you really are an eternal being, what have you been doing for all that time? I submit that you’ve been learning and growing for eons such that now you have risen to the status of a daughter of God. Maybe if we are lucky we will hear something supportive of that view this weekend.

    Comment by RobF — April 5, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

  26. Did President Packer’s talk help any? I found that quite powerful.

    We preach of Christ . . . that our children [or we as children] may know to whom we look for redemption of our sins.

    Comment by Grant — April 6, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

  27. I agree with Chris M. “However, in this our earthly test, we are given the opportunity to claim that title not because of the act of a parent, but through the exercising of our moral agency to follow (an action) and keep (another action) God’s commandments throughout our lives. From our baptism forward, we have the amazing opportunity to grasp the title of “son” or “daughter” every day through the choices we make and the actions we take.” This is true with our earthly parents as well.

    Just because someone gives birth to a child doesn’t mean that he or she becomes a son or daughter. Yes, technically that is so, but I know many parents, some in my own family whose children have chosen to stay away from their folks for years for selfish and immature reasons. As a Relief Society President a few years ago I was aware of children who abused a parent. On the other hand I have witnessed sons and daughters, and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law care for parents in many ways as the parents aged or became ill. I really think that a true daughter or true son earns that name because of respect and love shown to their parent. By following the commandments of God and doing his will, then we actively become his son or daughter.

    Comment by Maurine — April 6, 2014 @ 10:37 pm

  28. I think divine daughter-ship or son-ship gives us a starting point. It helps us to understand what our divine nature is, and what our actual relationship is with God and each other.

    That said, I think Conference’s discussion of covenants (esp the Women’s session of Conference), helps to put this in context. We are sons and daughters partially because of our nature via birth. However, we chose to come here, following Christ’s plan. We made covenants prior to coming here that established relationships.

    Here we make and keep covenants that maintain the relationships we are in. We focus often on the relationship we have with God (father and child), because it is the first and most enduring relationship. But we are also brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, friend, partner, etc. All of it is described by relational covenants. Baptism is an adoption into the family of God, and to take Christ’s name upon us – just as wives often take the name of the husband to signify the relationship and covenant made. Continuing priesthood ordinances (ordination and temple) further define our relationships with God and mankind.

    So, among your many eternal relationships and covenants, a chief one is that you are a daughter of God.

    Comment by rameumptom — April 7, 2014 @ 10:37 am

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