As I read the story of the Gentile woman in Matthew 15 last week I felt tempted to approach the scriptures from a feeling of indignation. But that did not seem like a productive effort. To read the Gentile woman’s experience in Matthew 15:21–28 as solely an example of victimization is to perpetuate the historical narrative about women and reaffirm women’s victimhood––all without providing any deeper, faith-promoting insight. To only focus on one side of the story is to miss the beauty of the exchange. To only see the woman as a victim is to miss the manifestation of a strong, inspiring character.
There is so much good to learn from this story! The Gentile woman demonstrates incredible determination in pursuing a miracle from Jesus, even after the disciples have tried to get rid of her. She shows amazing faith by pursuing healing at the hands of someone with whom she had no social, cultural, or religious intercourse. Her motherhood shines as she pushes against socio-cultural norms to save her daughter’s life. Her wit excels as she accepts the appellation “dog” without reaction and turns it back to Jesus to again request the miracle within the context of His analogy. And you know how the story ends…she gets her miracle.
Though stories about women are comparatively few in the scriptures, the Gentile woman stands out to me as a story of strength and resilience. Over the years, women of faith, wit, and goodness have blessed my life in countless ways. Maybe that’s the new narrative we can write, one of women uplifting others, women carrying others’ burdens, women strengthening each other, women blessing humanity.
Can you think of time when your life has been blessed by a woman? Can you think of opportunities in which you might be able to bless humanity?
In my quest to become a better mother I have recognized a terrible weakness in myself that I need to deal with. I tend to obsess over things, including projects I take on, to the extent that I will doggedly pursue my objective regardless of what is going on around me. It’s a great trait for getting things done but it has some unexpected consequences for my children.
Alma 57 taught me a valuable lesson today about the importance of dropping a project to pursue a more pressing need of greater long term value. In Alma 57 the Nephite army sends out a prisoner transport under the direction of Gid to bring Lamanite prisoners from the recently acquired city Cumeni to Zarahemla. While the transport is underway, Nephite spies show up to warn Gid that the Lamanite army will imminently attack the city of Cumeni. The prisoners rebel upon overhearing the report and Gid’s transport is faced with a choice: fulfill their orders to take the prisoners to Zarahemla or act on the warning of the Nephite spies and fulfill the larger objective of maintaining the city Cumeni and keeping the army strong.
In many ways I face a similar choice almost every day with my kids. I will be working on a project or just doing something around the house that needs to be done and one of my kids will come tug on me with an urgent request. I usually keep working on what I’m doing and offer an appeasement, “I’ll come in just a minute,” “I’m almost done with this,” “can you give me a minute?” They usually continue pestering me until I come/listen, but my oldest daughter has started giving up if I don’t stop what I’m doing and pay attention right away. “Never mind,” she says dejectedly. Sometimes they don’t even ask me to look at things or to listen to a story anymore.
Gid’s small group of soldiers reacted to the prisoner rebellion as best they could but instead of doggedly pursuing the few that got away, the group of Nephite soldiers “took [their] march with speed towards the city Cumeni” (Alma 57:34). As a result, “we did arrive in time that we might assist our brethren in preserving the city” (ibid.). Rather than doggedly chase down escaping prisoners to fulfill their initial assignment, they heeded the warning of the spies and returned as quickly as possible to Cumeni where they saved the army and preserved the city.
If I want my children to talk to me (ever), if I want to be part of their daily play and investigation into the wonders of the world, I need to be like Gid’s group and drop what I’m doing. I need to stop letting my projects take priority over my children. They are my number one priority and I need to demonstrate that to them by listening, by playing, by being mentally, emotionally, and physically present. Yes there are going to be boundaries because sometimes an adult needs to not be interrupted but when I’m doing something that really could be put down for a few minutes, I need to walk away from the project and pay attention to my children. None of my projects are worth hurting my children’s feelings or damaging our relationship. It’s time for me to prioritize my children in everything I do because my relationship with them has eternal value and significance.
The 2000 sons of the people of Ammon agreed to join the Nephite army and help defend their adopted homeland. They requested that the prophet Helaman lead them (Alma 53:19) and when, miraculously, none were killed in battle, Helaman asked how it could be. The answer? “[T]hey had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47-48).
This is the kind of mother I want to be. A mother who is trustworthy, who inspires confidence in and imparts knowledge of eternal significance to her children. The stripling sons believed their mothers and that reliance on their mothers’ testimonies provided a foundation of faith and space in which they could test their belief and develop their own faith and knowledge. They didn’t doubt that God would save them and their faith in His power was proven many times.
I have spent the last few months learning how to make the daily choices that allow me to become this kind of mother. I have learned that becoming this kind of mother must be intentional; such qualities develop out of the little decisions I make every day when I react to my kids’ behavior, respond to their requests, play with them (or put them off), engage them in learning (both spiritual and secular). I am finally accepting the reality that I have to stop letting less significant things take priority and pull me in different directions. I need to be intentional and proactive to become a mother who knows, whose children never doubt their “mothers knew.”
For further reading on this topic, check out Julie B. Beck’s talk “Mothers Who Know” from October 2007 General Conference.