I know that my mother loves me. There has never been a time in my life when I did not know this. All things considered, this is really quite remarkable. It certainly speaks well of my mother, and it ranks among the greatest blessings in my life.
There is perhaps nothing greater that a mother can do for her children than to love them. This does not mean a mother necessarily approves her child’s actions or desists from appropriately disciplining and counseling a child in need of counsel. But it does mean a mother shows concern and interest and acts with charity toward her children because charity is the pure love of Jesus Christ.
There is also a woman in the scriptures who I adore whose behavior reveals a true mother’s heart. A Book of Mormon figure, although she is offstage in the early pages of First Nephi, Sariah bursts onto the scene when her sons have returned to Jerusalem to retrieve the scriptural record on the plates of brass. As the time for their anticipated return to camp comes and goes and drags on, we read Nephi’s words that Sariah “complained against my father.” She criticizes him for being a “visionary man” who led the family from their comfortable home, “and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.” She is, in essence, putting it all out there.
This is why I love Sariah. She complains. Yes, yes, to be patient and long-suffering is the epitome of self-mastery, and here is Sariah grumbling and griping. However, it is Sariah’s complaining that gives me hope that I am not lost. In this human moment, she suddenly becomes real to me.
Also, pay attention to when she complains because this gets to the heart of the matter.
Before this moment, there is no record of Sariah complaining: not when her husband comes home one day after testifying of the wickedness and prophesying the destruction of the people in Jerusalem and announces the family will be packing up and leaving the city. Understand what is going on here. From all indications, the family is well-placed socially, successful financially and lives a safe and secure life. Suddenly Sariah is told that it is time to head out into the desert for the camping trip from you-know-where. What does the Lord’s command mean for Sariah?
First, she is going to have to put up with Laman and Lemuel’s incessant, bitter protests. And I highly doubt they were the first to volunteer to help pack up and, once in the wilderness, to shoulder hard tasks. As the wife and mother, much of the setting up, taking down, food preparation (what food there is), cooking, cleaning and nursing would devolve upon her. Imagine how difficult and arduous her role and how heavy her responsibility.
You have to assume she had friends and some social standing in Jerusalem. She certainly had lovely clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, furniture, decor and a lifestyle that indulged a comfortable home, servants and amenities. All that she abandoned when she faithfully put on her hiking boots, pulled hair back in a pony tail, tugged a hat low on her brow (metaphorically speaking) and headed into the merciless, windswept Saudi Arabian desert composed of vast, stark landscapes, blistering temperatures, vicious sandstorms, little water or food and the constant threat of death.
Even this she absorbs without recorded complaint. But when there is the possibility that her sons are dead, she hits her breaking point. Even Laman and Lemuel, the two boys who periodically try to kill their younger brother, are mourned by Sariah. She has a mother’s heart.
I admire Sariah. I cannot criticize her. In fact, when her murmuring is contextualized, she rises in my estimation. She is remarkable.
Fascinating too, her complaining seems more a search for reassurance — which her husband provides. And once Lehi admits he is a visionary man but reaffirms that God is watching out for him and his family, that God will lead them to a land of promise and that her sons will return, Sariah is “comforted.”
With the return of her sons, she effuses, “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons … and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them.” Yes, she had a bit of a meltdown but quickly regained her moorings. She and Lehi “rejoice exceedingly and … offer sacrifice … unto the Lord.” We find Sariah at the altar, worshiping and praising God.
Sariah’s troubles are far from over. Later, on the ship to the promised land, when Laman and Lemuel bind and abuse Nephi, the record describes Lehi and Sariah “being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sickbeds.” Still, to the end, the parents love and exhort their children to righteousness.
And on this and every Mother’s Day, give thanks, and God bless all women, everywhere, who have a mother’s heart, who love and nurture their children in truth and righteousness.