My three-year-old has been having a tough week. Yesterday was our first day back to church after a week and a half of being sick. I guess a straight week of movies, sore throats, coughs, and grumpy parents took a big toll on him because church yesterday was a roller coaster. Both of my children were out of control again during Sacrament meeting and we eventually ended up out in the foyer again because they were screaming and being distracting. Then my three-year-old didn't want to go to Primary (the children's class) and threw a mega tantrum, complete with screaming, banging doors, and yelling at other adults. I finally got him to sit in the Primary room but when I had to leave he threw another tantrum and ended up going to play in the nursery (the class for the babies). I was mortified.
That afternoon when I got home I let myself slip into a depression. I felt totally crushed that my children had been so awful at church. I felt like somehow their bad behavior was a reflection of me and that my worth as a woman and as a mother was diminished. "Obviously", my depressed mind told me, "if my children make bad choices then I must be a bad mother and if I am a bad mother then I must be a bad woman, and if I'm a bad woman then I might as well give up now." I sat for a good two hours stewing and wallowing in my misery-- slowly feeling my self worth draining away.
Then after a few hours, a light of truth penetrated my depression and a still small voice whispered to me, "Heather, your worth in my eyes is not dependent upon how your children behave. Your worth is eternal." Then my mind turned to the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, and her husband Elkenah. I remembered how, when Hannah was so depressed over her inability to have children that she refused to eat and was constantly weeping, Elekenah asked her,
"Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" (1 Samuel 1:8)
Before I'd always thought of Elekenah's statement as very egocentric, that he thought he was so important that he was worth ten other men. Yet this time when I thought about the story I realized that what Elekenah is telling Hannah is,
"Hannah...why is thy heart grieved? Your worth is my eyes is not dependent upon how many children you have or don't have."
Elekenah is trying to remind Hannah that even though she feels great cultural and personal pressure to be a mother that in his eyes she has intrinsic worth; worth that won't change based on how many children she bears or doesn't bear.
It is ironic to me how as women we often feel so much of our worth is dependent upon our children. If we are unable to bear children we feel somehow like we lack intrinsic value as women. If our children behave well, excel, and make good choices we feel like we have succeeded as women and as mothers. On the other hand if our children behave badly, struggle and make bad choices then we feel our worth as women and as mothers is less. Personally I've fallen into this same mindset time and time again. Yet yesterday it occurred to me that if I was to use that same sort of standard (judging ones worth on how well ones children behave) to judge the worth of my Heavenly Parents I would be disappointed. Even our Heavenly Parents, who are literally "perfect" parents, were unable to save 1/3rd of their spirit children. Through no fault of their own 1/3rd of their children made bad choices and are lost to them... irretrievably. I can't even being to fathom how their hearts ache for those lost children. Yet despite having wayward children our Heavenly Parents eternal worth is not diminished... they did all they could.
This reminder of my intrinsic worth penetrated my soul powerfully. I realized that just like Elkenah God did not base Hannah's worth as a woman on how many children she was able to bear. The same is true for me. God does not base my worth as a woman and as a mother by how well behaved my children are. True, He expects me to fulfill the mission he has given me on this earth and to work my hardest to do it well, but in the end He is merciful and understanding. He knows that my children will always have their agency and that I won't be able to coerce them or force them to make the right choices. All I can do is nurture, love, and guide them... little by little... day by day... and hope and pray that they choose to walk in truth and righteousness. If for some reason they don't make good choices-- or if they choose to scream through church for the next 15 years-- I know that my worth as a mother and as a woman is not dependent upon their choices.
Like Hannah... my worth is intrinsic.