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Perhaps the most singular and provocative teaching of our faith is that men and women of faith and covenant can ultimately be made literal heirs to all the knowledge and power of Jesus Christ – power to “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths . . . . Then shall they be gods, because they have all power” (D&C 132:19–20).
Apparently our long experience with God in the premortal world was not enough to qualify us for such power, however. Our mortal experiences with weakness and powerlessness are essential. We come into this world as tiny babies whose very lives depend on others. We must borrow the skills and resources of others over the course of many years before we can even survive on our own. We carry the lessons of that powerlessness, and sometimes its scars, all our lives.
Young, powerless children may especially benefit from having mothers and fathers who have personal experience with, and compassion for, powerlessness. The Church and society at large also benefit when people familiar with the frustrations, losses, threats, and despairs of powerlessness bring their perspectives and compassion to the tables of power.
Weakness includes limitations and infirmities, such as physical and emotional illness and predispositions, lack of skill or wisdom, inadequate stamina or resilience, self-limiting conclusions we draw from bad experiences or faulty teaching, and susceptibility to temptation. Our humility and faith in Christ qualify us for His grace, the enabling power by which He can “make weak things become strong” in us (Ether 12:27). Christ’s promise to Moroni is applicable to each of us: “because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father” (Ether 12:37).
How Weakness Can Become Power
A story from the life of President Russell M. Nelson demonstrates powerfully the gradual process of growth in skill and power. While the power he sought at this time was healing power, the process he engaged in applies to learning any spiritual power. That process includes experience, practice, careful thought, the help of others, stamina, prayer, and compassion for others and for ourselves as we learn from difficult failures.
In the early days of innovating open-heart surgery, President Nelson, then a full-time doctor, was asked to operate on the heart of a child who was very ill with congenital heart disease. One child in this family had already died from this disease before these surgery techniques had become available. A second child with the disease had died when Doctor Nelson had attempted surgery. Now the family brought this third child to him. I cannot even imagine how fervently he must have prayed and studied and hoped for the gift and power of healing for this little girl and her family. He performed the operation, apparently with good success, but a few hours later this third child also died.
President Nelson writes: “I went home grief stricken. I threw myself upon our living room floor and cried all night long. Dantzel [my wife] stayed by my side, listening as I repeatedly declared that I would never perform another heart operation. Then, around 5:00 in the morning, Dantzel looked at me and lovingly asked, ‘Are you finished crying? Then get dressed. Go back to the lab. Go to work! You need to learn more. If you quit now, others will have to painfully learn what you already know.’”[i]
This is not just a great story about the power or influence of a righteous woman, or our need for resilience in the face of setback, although it is both of those things. It is also a great story about the way we feel when we are exercising our agency to do new things—hard things—and when we fail. It is a story about how we grow in spiritual power by taking risks to solve problems we don’t know how to solve, understand doctrine we don’t yet understand, take on roles we are not sure how to assume, and try to bring spiritual gifts to life that take practice and even facing danger to develop (such as learning to serve with generosity without enabling dependence, or learning to attend to spiritual promptings without seeing every thought that crosses our mind as coming straight from God).
We, with pioneers of all kinds, must be willing to rewrite the old adage, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Perhaps more accurately, if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly while we learn to do it better, rather than not doing it at all. But we will have to learn to get up and try again, no matter how serious our errors, if we are to get better at important, even spiritually crucial, things we currently do not know how to do—things like parenting, forgiving, sharing the gospel, praying, ministering, magnifying Church callings, being a student of the scriptures, building community, or being confident but humble, to name a few.
Exercising spiritual power is one such thing. We can rely on the Lord’s promise that the “doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven” as we practice the principles on which that distilling depends (D&C 121:45; see also verses 34–46).
The Spiritual Power of the Lamb
A fascinating detail about the mortal life of Jesus Christ is that He was not born into the correct lineage to hold the priesthood as defined in His day. He did not function as a priest in the temple and held no priesthood position of authority or power as then understood. Yet He participated in extremely meaningful ways in all of the work of the offices of the priesthood as we understand them today. In perhaps a similar way, women today do not hold priesthood office, but we too participate in the work of those offices in many ways.
If priesthood offices embody the work of God in the earth, then it might be helpful to look at ways that Jesus did that work even without having the priesthood as people then understood it, and to see how women might also participate in the work each of those offices entail.
Women not only participate in that work in our wards and stakes, but women may give us our first experiences with how God’s work and power feel and look.
Women are usually our first deacons, teachers, and ritual creators. The covenant status of our mother may allow us to come into this world “born in the covenant” and sealed to our parents, our mother in essence acting in the role of a sealer for her offspring. There are so many ways that women participate in the work of God in the earth for the salvation of the human family.
I’m increasingly impressed with the many men I know who seem to be as concerned as women are that women not feel secondary in the work of the Lord, or overly prescribed in their participation in it. Most men I associate with in the Church are eager to participate in the life of the family, and eager to have women as full partners in the work of the priesthood. They want to know how to convey more fully to the rising generation of youth and young adults what the work of men and women is in the priesthood. That makes me believe we are ready as a people for more.
I hope we can talk together about how we all can grow in priesthood power to complete whatever the work is we have personally been authorized to do in building the kingdom of God:
- Work we do together in feeding people and helping them feed themselves (deacons)
- Work we do together in teaching the gospel and building community (teachers)
- Work we do together in temples performing ordinances (priests)
- Work we do together in being confirmed with the gifts of the Holy Ghost (elders)
- Work we do together in councils as the governance work of the priesthood (high priests)
- Work we do together in sealing eternal families (patriarchs and sealers)
- Work we do together to obtain and bear a personal witness of the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ (seventies and apostles)
All of this and more is the work of both men and women as we participate in God’s work of saving the human family.
power and godly power are very different, which is why it isn’t self-serving or
inappropriate in any way to seek godly power. Worldly power is about amassing
resources; godly power is about distributing them. Worldly power is about command
and control; godly power is about influence and persuasion. Worldly power is
about getting others to do what you want; godly power is about helping others
get what they want. God has sent us to earth to help us grow in godly power,
which He apparently does by ensuring we have plenty of experience with
weakness, meekness, submission, learning from failure, humility before the
agency of others, and reliance on the grace of Christ. He wants to empower us
with all that He has and is and to teach us to similarly empower others. That
desire and ability is central to His identity, and ours.
[i] . Russell M. Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign, November 2015.