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.
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.)