Mother’s Day and Grace, Mormon Style

As I reflected upon Mothers Day and my relationship with my mother, I saw a potential opportunity to clarify a common misunderstanding about the LDS perspectives on grace and obedience. Some people have heard that Mormons try to earn their way into heaven and seek to keep God’s commandments to score points for blessings, unlike them, the “real Christians,” who obey God as an expression of love and gratitude for grace already given.

Over the years, my mother has given me a lot of commandments. Some were very basic, like “brush your teeth,” “do your homework,”  and “don’t throw lemons at your brother when he’s standing in front of my china cabinet!” (Sorry, Mom! Had no idea he would duck. I am amazed at how quickly you forgave me after that fiasco.)

Other commandments were more difficult or annoying. “No R-rated movies? But ‘Rollerball Murder’ just has a little violence, and a lot of my LDS friends are going!” (I’m grateful that I obeyed on that count, though. Thanks, mom.) One of the most important commandments or recommendations, though, was very easy: “You really should marry Kendra.” Wisest commandment ever.

Sometimes my obedience was driven by fear of punishment or desire for reward. That was in my early years. But as I grew in maturity and in respect and love for my mother, my loyalty and obedience was no longer driven by considerations of risk or gain, but of love and respect. I listen to her and respect what she says and make sacrifices for her not because I want something for me, but because I love her. She’s my mother. She’s given me life and so many blessings that have made my life wonderful. I can’t repay her, but I can listen, talk, obey, and look forward to being with her in the eternities.

God gives us commandments. He teaches us with warnings and rewards. But as we learn to love and follow Him, our repentance and our service becomes natural, motivated by aligning our interests and desires with His will, driven by a desire to be a good son or daughter of God, whom we love and choose to serve. We are grateful for His commandments. Some challenge us, some are easy, but we strive to grow closer to Him by serving, loving, and obeying. Not because we are in some kind of master/slave relationship, but a relationship of a child to a loving parent who has given us everything, whom we can never repay, but whom we can increasingly love and serve.

Mother’s Day can teach us a little about grace.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “Mother’s Day and Grace, Mormon Style

  1. Thanks Jeff, great post! I would like to add that how I treat my mother doesn't change whether or not I reap the benefits of birth, or even whether or not she loves me. Furthermore, my desire to honor her has nothing to do with seeking a reward. Nevertheless, the way I treat my mother does have an effect on the sort of person I am, and on my own happiness. I think the Savior's grace works much the same way.

  2. Well, OK. We're all familiar with theologies that analogize God to parent and believer to child. But the LDS theology of exaltation gets a little extra mileage out of the analogy, since, to paraphrase the famous couplet, as the parent now is, the child may be.

    But I have a question about those R-rated movies you mentioned. First an anecdote: a colleague of mine, a film professor, once told me that a student told him that her religion forbade her to watch The Godfather, which is rated R and was scheduled for an upcoming class. When she asked if she could have an alternative assignment he politely told her no, then expressed his vexation by asking her what kind of religion would outsource its doctrine to a bunch of Hollywood studios.*

    Anyway, how binding are the ratings considered to be for grownups?

    A ban on R-rated films makes sense for children, but it seems to me that any criterion for adults should be a little less crude, a "case-by-case" decision, if only because so many R-rated films have had so much of importance to say about our culture, and have said it with so much artistic brilliance, that to deliberately avoid them seems a shame.

    There seems to me to be so much value in grownups watching The Godfather, and so little harm — so why proscribe them? I'd say the same of many, many other R-rated films, including (just off the top of my head):

    One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
    Apocalypse Now
    Blade Runner
    Silence of the Lambs
    Schindler's List

    These and many other R-rated films have enriched our culture and provided fertile ground for serious moral reflection, and I'm guessing that many Mormons would have no qualms about watching any of them. My question is simply whether the Church considers them "off limits" for adults.

    * The MPAA is made up of the major Hollywood studios.

  3. Jiff, a much better post today. A very easy to understand comparison. A bit egocentric to call that type of Mother's Day Mormon.

  4. Orbiting, there is plenty of discretion left to members. But given how much offensive content can be in PG-13 movies as it is, I think it's a reasonable assumption that R-rated movies will be more extreme and potentially more offensive. What people watch is their personal choice, but I wish to avoid certain things that are typical of R-rated movies.

    I agree that there are gray areas and many LDS people might disagree with my mom. I later saw portions of that movie on television with perhaps the most grotesque moments deleted, and I realized I hadn't missed anything of real value and found the concept dark, disturbing, and hardly worth the damaged brain cells. Probably not as dark and disturbing as, say, Hunger Games, which is PG-13 and everyone seems to love (no, haven't seen it, so I have no right to trash that film, right?).

  5. Jeff, your repeated use of the word offensive reminds me of those controversies that keep cropping up at college campuses, whenever this or that group tries to prevent the screening of some film because they deem it "offensive." (Most recently, the campus was the University of Maryland and the film was American Sniper.)

    As many people (including me) keep pointing out, there's a problem with avoiding things one finds offensive: you miss the chance to learn something new about our often offensive world. Those who are too easily offended wind up limiting their education. Personally, I'm willing to engage art that is dark, disturbing, or otherwise offensive — whether it's in the Bible, a Shakespeare play, or a modern film — in order to learn what it has to teach me. Far from damaging my brain cells, I find that such art challenges and exercises my mind.

    But to each his own.

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