Cover image: “In Her Image” by Caitlin Connolly. Visit caitlinconnolly.com.
“We know nothing more about our Mother in Heaven than that she exists.”
I have heard or read some iteration of this comment over and over again from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This lack of knowledge that many members have about our Heavenly Mother and lack of belief that there is anything more we can learn is one reason why she is so infrequently mentioned in our wards and congregations. If we do not know anything about Her, then what would there be to say?
Fear of speculation is another reason why our Heavenly Mother is often not spoken of by members of the Church. Church teaching manuals sometimes include counsel such as “Avoid Speculation. Although the Lord revealed a number of glorious truths… there are still many things that we do not fully comprehend. We should avoid speculating about details that the Lord has not revealed or that are not supported by reliable sources” (1). The lack of members’ knowledge about Heavenly Mother, combined with a fear of speculation, can often lead members to be overly cautious and never study or mention Her at all.
So do we really know nothing more than that She exists? Are there any “reliable sources” that we can turn to so that we can study about our Eternal Mother with greater confidence? Is there anything we can say without it being considered “speculation?”
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught in his 2022 April General Conference address, “little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library application.” (2) The introduction to the group of Gospel Topics essays which includes the one Elder Renlund referenced states that the essays “have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” It declares “We again encourage members to study the Gospel Topics essays… as they ‘seek learning, even by study and also by faith.’” (3)
We have been encouraged to study the Gospel Topics essays, including the essay “Mother in Heaven.” This resource has been approved by our prophet and apostles, and it is being held up by them as a reliable summary of things that we “know” about our Divine Mother. That means we can joyfully learn about our Mother from this document, and confidently share what we learn within our families and congregations without fear of speculation.
So what do we actually learn about our Heavenly Mother from this document? I hope all will study it for themselves as they have been encouraged to do, but following are some of the truths that I discovered as I did so.
1. Her existence is not speculation, but a “cherished” doctrine.
The “Mother in Heaven” essay states that “The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.” (4) According to church teaching manuals, “A doctrine is a fundamental, unchanging truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (5) That means that the existence of our Mother in Heaven is a fundamental unchanging truth, and it is one that is and can be “cherished” rather than avoided or feared by members. While prophets, seers and revelators have restored the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother and are the only ones to establish doctrines such as this one for the entire church, “each of us can also receive our own confirmation that the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are true. This personal revelation comes through prayer, scripture study, and the witness of the Holy Ghost.” (6)
2. We are Her children.
The “Mother in Heaven” essay declares that “all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother.” We often habitually speak as if our Heavenly Father is the only parent of our souls, but we can know and share that we are our Heavenly Mother’s children as well. In this life, if children are lucky enough to have a mother in addition to their father, wouldn’t we think it was critical for them to know this important fact? We honor restored truth, our Heavenly Parents, and all of their children when we embrace and share this greater knowledge.
3. She loves us.
In church, we often hear phrases about the love of our Heavenly Father, yet in the quote mentioned above the essay states that we are “beloved” by our Divine Mother as well. The essay also shares a quote from President Harold B. Lee in which he states, “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”
Isn’t it wonderful to be able to bear witness that both of our Heavenly Parents love us infinitely, and not just one of them? Isn’t it wonderful to know that the influences of our Divine Father and Mother’s love are constantly working to help us from beyond the veil? Doesn’t this offer even more peace, hope, and purpose in our lives, just as it does so to know of the love of both of our earthly parents if we are lucky enough to have it? We express a more holistic truth and again honor both of our Divine Parents and Their beloved children on this earth when we understand and share this knowledge.
4. We were created in Her image.
A statement by the First Presidency, quoted in the essay on Heavenly Mother, says that “all men and women are in the similitude of the Universal Father and Mother.” We often say that we were created in the image of our Heavenly Father, yet we know that all of us are also created in the image of our Eternal Mother. While it can be powerful for both male and female children to understand that they have characteristics passed down to them from their mother, it may be especially important for women to recognize that their bodies, which in the world are so often held to unhealthy standards and judged in damaging ways, were created in the image of their Eternal Mother’s perfect, glorified body. When we acknowledge that all of our Heavenly Parents’ children are made in our Mother’s image as well as the Father’s, we honor restored truth, our Divine Mother, Her children; and especially Her daughters who have inherited the feminine traits of Her body.
5. We have the potential to become like Her.
The essay says that as children of our Heavenly Father and Mother, we have “a divine nature and destiny,” and that “our highest aspiration is to be like them.” Therefore, every time we talk about becoming like Heavenly Father we can also add our Heavenly Mother to that statement, especially when speaking to any group including women. This is more accurate as well, for if the Church professes that gender is a part of our eternal identity, then the female half of humanity can technically never fully become like Heavenly Father. In our current church dialogue, the phrase containing only our male Father is almost exclusively used, and when we include Heavenly Mother we honor Her, a more holistic truth, and the glorious potential of our Heavenly Parents’ daughters.
6. She helped to design the Plan of Salvation.
According to the essay, “we are part of a divine plan designed by heavenly parents who love us.” This means that what we usually refer to as our “Heavenly Father’s plan” is actually our “Heavenly Parent’s plan,” for our Mother together with the Father participated in designing it. This understanding helps us to internalize even more fully the value of women who then also have the potential to someday gain the knowledge, wisdom, and power needed to participate in something as grand as designing the plan of salvation. It can also provide a beautiful example of partnership between a husband and wife working toward a common goal, showing how such partnership is godly and divine. When we include our Heavenly Mother as one of the authors of the plan of salvation instead of solely referring to it as the Father’s plan, we honor restored truth, our Divine Mother, the power of partnership between men and women, and the potential of Her daughters.
7. She works together with the Father for our salvation.
The essay teaches that “our heavenly parents work together for the salvation of the human family.” Our Heavenly Mother is not just sitting back watching the plan unfold while the Father does all of the work, She is actively involved in the movement of our souls further along the path to return to Her and our Father’s presence. We may not know the details of exactly what Her work looks like, but we know and can say that She is a part of it. Acknowledging that She is working together with the Father in executing this plan honors the Mother and Her daughters who will also have important work in the salvation of their children and humankind, and again provides an important example of the holiness of partnership in marriage.
8. She is an exalted being. God the Father could not have been exalted without God the Mother, and vice versa.
The “Mother in Heaven” essay teaches that “Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven.” Knowing that our Mother in Heaven is an exalted being alongside the Father, can teach us much more about Her, as we have been taught what being an exalted being means.
The Gospel Principles manual states that “Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation” (7). If this is exaltation, and we know that our Heavenly Mother is exalted with the Father, then that means that She lives in great glory. She is perfect. She possesses all knowledge and wisdom. She is the Mother of spirit children. She is a creator. Knowing and sharing that our Mother is an exalted being is a significant witness to the spiritual power and potential of women. Also, our understanding from the essay that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother needed each other to reach this state can again provide a beautiful and important example of partnership and equality in our marriage relationships.
9. She has been part of our doctrine and discourse from Joseph Smith onward.
The gospel topics essay teaches that members of the early church reported that Joseph Smith taught them the truth of our Mother in Heaven being “side by side with the divine Father” during his lifetime. Included in the footnotes to the essay is the story of Zina D. Huntington. Zina had lost her mother, and while speaking to Joseph Smith of her grief she asked him, “Will I know my mother as my mother when I get over on the Other Side?” “Certainly you will,” he replied. “More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.” “And have I then a Mother in Heaven?” Zina exclaimed. “You assuredly have. How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?” (8).
Other individuals close to Joseph also spoke of this doctrine of a Mother in Heaven, including in a hymn Joseph Smith’s personal scribe W. W. Phelps wrote to honor Joseph shortly after his death (9), as well as Eliza Snow in her poem “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother” which later became our hymn “Oh My Father.” (10) Early members of the church openly embraced, sang of, wrote of, and celebrated this doctrine which they learned about from the prophet Joseph Smith. Can we begin to celebrate Her in word, poetry, and song as they did?
10. We can learn more about Her through the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets.
The “Mother in Heaven” essay teaches that “This understanding [that we are children of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother] is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women.” If this doctrine is rooted in our scriptures and prophetic teachings, then as is true with other gospel topics, searching those resources can continue to help us expand our knowledge and understanding of our Heavenly Mother. It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into how we can learn of our Heavenly Parents in the scriptures, but the verses shared in the footnotes to the Gospel Topics essay, as well as Abraham 4, would be good places to start.
Individuals may also be surprised at how much has been said about our Mother in Heaven by our prophets, seers, and revelators. I have begun studying and compiling their words about our Eternal Mother, and thus far have gathered 15 pages of quotations from the leaders of the Church. One example from our Prophet Spencer W. Kimball teaches that “God is your father. He loves you. He and your Mother in Heaven value you beyond any measure. They gave your eternal intelligence spirit form, just as your earthly mother and father have given you a mortal body.” There is so much more that we can learn about our Mother in Heaven and about what we can say about Her from our modern day prophets if we just take the time to seek it. If you are looking for a place to start, the BYU studies article referenced in the Gospel Topic essay’s footnotes entitled “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” is an excellent resource.
11. We honor the women around us when we acknowledge our Heavenly Mother.
The “Mother in Heaven” essay states that “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.” This teaches us that not only are we allowed to acknowledge our Mother in Heaven, but that when we do so it lifts up and honors Her daughters around us. Our Mother in Heaven is the greatest example of where covenant-keeping women are headed and what they have the potential to become. When we speak the truths that have been restored about Her, it connects women to the unique spiritual power within them, and helps men to see and respect this spiritual power as well. It gives us all an even greater understanding that women are not secondary, and that they matter, now and forever.
The “Mother in Heaven” essay states “As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited.” This is true. Our present knowledge about our Heavenly Mother, our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Atonement, and many other gospel truths are limited, and I am sure it will continue to be limited throughout this mortal life. These limitations do not keep us from sharing what knowledge we do have about other gospel topics however. We joyfully share what has been revealed regarding these other topics.
Our doing so shows God that we have received and appreciate the truth we have been given, witnessing that we can be entrusted with more. As the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 13:12 says, “For whosoever receiveth, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever continueth not to receive, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Are we showing God that we have truly received what light and truth has been restored about the Eternal Mother of our souls? Or are we continuing to neglect or even intentionally exclude what has been given, which could lead us to lose some of the light knowledge that we do have?
Let us not neglect half of what the essay describes as the “divine pattern established for us,” for how can we follow a divine pattern when we are excluding half of the picture? Let us not continue to speak a partial truth when we have been given a fuller, more holistic one. Let us not hide the beautiful light of restored truth we have received about the Mother of our souls “under a bushel”, but with love and gratitude hold it up upon our candlesticks, that we and all those around us may benefit from the important illumination it provides (Matthew 5:15).
I hope we can lovingly invite the Mother of our souls back into our minds and hearts alongside the Father and Son, and share the truths that have been spoken, written, taught, and approved by our leadership in the “Mother in Heaven” essay. Perhaps in doing so we may also prove that we are worthy to receive more of the “great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” we have been promised are yet to be revealed (Articles of Faith 1:13). Perhaps, in doing so, we may come to find our own tender, glorious Mother and Queen.
- Latter Day Saint History: 1815-1846 Teacher Material (Religion 341), Lesson 25, accessed here April 7, 2022.
- Renlund, Dale G. “Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny,” accessed here April 7, 2022.
- Introduction to Gospel Topics essays, accessed here, April 7, 2022.
- “Mother in Heaven,” accessed here, April 7, 2022.
- “Fundamentals of Gospel Teaching and Learning” in Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Accessed here, April 7, 2022.
- Gaunt, Larene Porter. “How is Doctrine Established?” Ensign, September 2013, here).
- “Exaltation” in Gospel Principles. Accessed here, April 7, 2022.
- Fuller conversation found in Gates, Susa Young. History of the Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of L.D.S., from November 1869 to June 1910. Accessed here, April 7, 2022.
- W. W. Phelps, “Come to Me,” in “Poetry, for the Times and Seasons,” Times and Seasons 6 (Jan. 15, 1845): 783.
- “My Father in Heaven,” in “Poetry, for the Times and Seasons,” Times and Seasons 6 (Nov. 15, 1845): 1039; “O My Father,” Hymns,no. 292; see also Jill Mulvay Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow,” BYU Studies 36, no. 1 (1996–97), 84–126.
Paul HApril 26, 2022
With plural wives being a celestial principle and the diversity we see among the races of our Heavenly Father's children, is it not possible that there are Heavenly Mothers, and not just one from which all our spirits sprang? The scriptures teach there was a spiritual creation before a physical one and children look like their parents. This concept strengthens my faith; it does not offend it.
CarolineApril 26, 2022
This is excellent. And truth be told we don’t really know that much more about Heavenly Father and it is enough. What we know we can love , and we can trust that we have all eternity to become reacquainted with our Parents. .