This Sunday is Mother’s Day – and I (like many others) want to do something special for my wife. I want to do this because she is special to me, and because of all the mothers in the whole world that I know, she is the one that I love the most.
I thought hard about all of the things that she loves (vacations to tropical beaches, Disney cruises, home renovations and/or home décor) and then I decided that the thing she would probably love the most is for me to write a blog post about Alma and his visit to Ammonihah (found in Alma chapter 8-9) as a tribute to her awesomeness as a mother. So you’re welcome dear. Please note that while this post has drawn much from her greatness (that I get to see regularly), it is also a tribute to all of the women and mothers who truly make the world the great place that it is. To be clear, mothers are NOT just those who have birthed and/or raised their children and mothering is NOT limited to immediate parent/child relationships.
Backstory for context: This Book of Mormon story takes place in 82 B.C. (a.k.a. the end of the 9th year of the reign of the judges) and Alma (who has recently retired from his day job to focus on preaching the word of God) has recently completed his sermons in the cities of Zarahemla (Alma 5-6), Gideon (Alma 7), and Melek (Alma 8:4-5) and has just arrived in the city of Ammonihah.
Alma starts to preach to the people, and the very first thing we learn is that “they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.” It took all of 1 verse (Alma 8:9) for us to relate Alma and his preaching to motherhood right? How many mothers can say (about their children or spouses or friends or co-workers or the world) that “they would not hearken unto the words of [insert mother’s name]?” I’ll give you a hint – it’s all of them.
“Nevertheless he (Alma) labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his spirit upon the people who were in the city”. How many mothers labor much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer in order for him to pour out his spirit upon the people under their watchcare? The mother I know best labors much in the spirit, and wrestles with God in mighty prayer – all the time.
Verses 11-12 further describe the people of Ammonihah and their murmurings in response to Alma’s teaching. In today’s language they said something like: “you can’t tell us what to do”, “you’re not the boss of me”, and “your rules are stupid”. I would guess there are a few mothers out there that have heard something similar to this.
Then we read in verse 13 that the people “withstood all his [Alma’s] words, and reviled (criticized) him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city.” Now, at first glance we might say that’s a bit of an extreme parallel to motherhood, but if you reflect honestly I can promise that the mothers we know the best have all been criticized, spit upon (burping babies) and caused to be cast out (hello teenagers with locked doors and raging emotions that say things like “I hate you” or “you are the worst mother ever”).
Motherhood is starting to look a whole lot like Alma in Ammonihah right?
After being cast out of the city – in the moments immediately following this rejection – Alma is feeling pretty lousy (just like mothers do sometimes), “being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul”, because of the people who were in the city. Just like a mother, Alma was weighed down because of the people he served and cared for (and their choices), not just because he didn’t get his way.
It’s no surprise then, that during this time (after he was rejected and while he was “thus weighed down with sorrow”) that an angel appeared to Alma and said to him: “Blessed are thou Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great reason to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him.
Just like Alma, mothers are sometimes “weighed down with sorrow” because of the people they love. Motherhood is extremely tiring work, and more often than not it is the most thankless work that all to often only pays in criticism, being ignored, forgotten, taken for granted, spit upon or even cast out by those whom they are trying to save. And, as hard as it is for us to understand it is in this great sorrow and tribulation and struggle that the angel comes to offer a pick-me-up (please see 1 Ne. 20:10-11 and Luke 22: 41-44 and verses 4-6 of Hymn 85).
But before we take our next step, let us try to fully understand Alma’s feelings of sorrow. He probably feels like he has failed in his spirit-led quest to preach the gospel to the city of Ammonihah. He might be wrestling with his self esteem or his effectiveness as a prophet using the logic that would go something like this: “God called me to this office, and he led me to this city, and I preached here, and even though I can look back and see some baptisms, repentance, or conversions in the past from other cities, this most recent failure (and my sorrow because of the people) in this city must mean that I did something wrong, or that I wasn’t good enough, or that I failed in my one duty (as prophet) and therefore God is disappointed in me because I’ll never be as good a prophet as Moses.” Sound familiar yet?
Now, I understand that there isn’t anyone who can fully grasp the trials and daily hardships of motherhood like another woman/mother – but can we all suppose for just a minute that when the angel came down and told Alma to ‘cheer up because you are awesome’ it may not have immediately prompted him to jump up and down and cheerfully say “you’re right – I do have ‘great reason to rejoice, and I am awesome”. Can we imagine the possibility that it could have made his feelings of sorrow even worse? Worse because it highlighted the fact that he wasn’t finding ‘joy in the journey’ during the hardest of times and therefore wasn’t appreciating the struggles of his sacred prophethood. After all, didn’t Alma already know that being a prophet wasn’t always just the pure joy of baptisms and the conversion parties and the spiritual outpourings? Didn’t he know that being a true prophet also included a fair amount of being spit on, cast out, and reviled? Didn’t he know that there must be opposition in all things? I think he knew that, but I also think that Alma was a bit surprised with how hard it was at the moment, and with just how sorrowful he felt when they wouldn’t even listen, and with how hot the refiners fire can be.
Now, it’s not mentioned in the official record, but what could have also contributed to Alma’s sorrow was all of the super happy photos on his prophet friends’ Instagram feeds of their baptisms, conversion stories, miracles, great hair, great teeth, perfect kids, and super clean tents, crops, and herds. Yet, here was Alma (in the real world) learning from his own experience that being a prophet was stinking hard work and it weighed him down. In fact, I think Alma was learning that it was the hardest work that he’d ever be asked to do.
Another reason that the angel’s words might have failed to put a huge smile on Alma’s face is what came next: the angel continued “I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah and preach again unto the people of the city”. The summary of the angel’s message (in today’s language) goes something like this: “Alma, I see you are sad. But, you have a lot of reasons to be happy; because you have been doing the Lord’s work. Now, go back to the city of Ammonihah and preach again (because they really need your help). See you later.”
Hey moms out there – you tell me if this sounds like an awesome pep talk for sacrament meeting this Sunday (after you’ve spent the morning wrangling your kids to get ready for church against the formidable opposition that is present on Sundays) “Mothers, don’t be sad. You guys are awesome. You have a lot of reasons to be happy, mostly because you are continuously doing the Lord’s work. Now, go back to the city (the crucible of home life) again (because your family really needs your help and in some cases you are their only hope) …. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Following the angel’s visit, Alma realized and perhaps identified on a different level with Nephi (also a prophet) who wrote that he was “overcome because of [his] afflictions, for [he] considered that [his] afflictions were great above all” (1 Ne. 15:5). The trials and tribulations and sorrow that Nephi felt in his day were indeed ‘great above all’, and now so were Alma’s. The same holds true for every single woman and mother out there who tries like crazy every day to be the best she can be despite the difficulties and struggles and hard times of daily life. And every single one of them can claim that their struggles actually are ‘great above all’ because that’s exactly what they are.
The difficulty of motherhood is ‘great above all.’ It is the one job in mortality that is ‘above all’ in goodness and Christ-likedness. The problem with this is that by necessity it means that it is also ‘above all’ in its difficulty and unrelenting demands on your emotions, spirits, and bodies.
Curiously, there is no recorded response from Alma after the angel commanded him to go back to Ammonihah. But, what is recorded is that he didn’t just return, he returned ‘speedily’. He was exhausted physically, mentally, and spiritually yet he returned speedily to the very city that caused his sorrowful exhaustion. This sounds exactly like a mother who at the end of a grueling day crawls into bed completely ragged after giving every effort to her family… only to be summoned ‘back again’ and answers ‘speedily’ to the additional demands of motherhood in the middle of the night for a coughing child, a crying baby, or someone else in need. Could there be a closer tie to Jesus Christ than a mother?
The next part of Alma’s story in Ammonihah can give mothers a welcome ray of hope and allow all of us to appreciate the tender mercies that the Lord provides – especially when he asks for more than we feel like we even have to give. When Alma was weighed down and at the end of his rope, the Lord provided ‘a man’ (Amulek) to receive him as he entered Ammonihah this second time around. Amulek took him in, fed him, and tarried many days with him (Alma 8:26-27). In other words – Amulek was a blessing provided by the Lord to strengthen Alma in his time of extreme need – no doubt a welcome blessing after so much sorrow.
Could there be a better model for Amulek than the mothers we all love?
There are times when the women in our lives have felt just like Alma (weighed down with sorrow) when a friendly Amulek arrives seemingly out of nowhere (provided by the Lord) to feed, care for, and tarry with them in a time of need. AND, there are times when these same mothers have acted just like Amulek (who recognized Alma and heeded a promting) to feed, care for, and tarry with others in need. Many of those times, the Amulek’s of the world were at the end of their own ropes and yet “speedily returned” to feed, care for, and tarry with those whose struggles were also ‘great above all’. And because the Lord is awesome, and because he rewards those who love him – “they (meaning both parties) were filled with the Holy Ghost” (Alma 8:30).
My dear wife knows how to feed, care for, and tarry with me in a time of need. I am so blessed to have her, and we are all so blessed to have the women and mothers in our lives. They – through their Christ-like service – fill us with the Holy Ghost. And because of this, “they [have] power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them…” (Alma 8:31). Oh how our wives, mothers, and women have “power given unto them” in our day. They are the driving force of nurturing our Heavenly Father’s children here on earth, and they do a magnificent job.
Before we wrap up this story of awesome motherhood I would like us to read and understand one more part of this story – which happens to be a question from the people of Ammonihah to Alma (after he’s begun preaching to them this second visit). “As [he] began to preach unto them, they began to contend with [him], saying… Who art thou?”… “And they said: Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?”
The world asks these same questions to our wives and our mothers and our daughters. Who art thou? And Who is God that sendeth no more authority than a mother to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?
For all of us, I hope we can understand exactly who and what our mothers are. Then, I think we will begin to understand how that relates to the reason why God didn’t (and doesn’t) need to send more authority than one man to save the world.
Mothers are the ones ‘speedily returning’ to Ammonihah. They are the ones who are feeding, caring for, and tarrying with those in need. They are the ones who are constantly partnering with Christ in his efforts to develop, nurture, and love his children. And they are the ones pointing and leading all of our souls to him and leading us to his open arms.
To close, please understand that I don’t think (nor would any mother tell you) that every minute of every day is so incredibly difficult that mothers are just constantly weathering the storm trying to make it to the next day – because that’s not the case (even if some days it does feel that way). Mothers are wise and kind and gentle, and they know that “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven”. They also know in a very intimate way that pure joy can be found in selfless giving – and each of them consider their callings as mothers to be their greatest treasure.
I used to wonder why there wasn’t more stories about mothers and wives in the Book of Mormon. I don’t wonder that any more. I have found that If I know what to look for, and if I remember how the Book of Mormon (and the spirit) teach me, every story can be about a mother – because every story in the Book of Mormon is about Jesus Christ – and every story about Jesus Christ can be a story about a mother.
Please celebrate the wonderful women in our lives this Sunday (and everyday) by telling them and showing them how amazing they are and how grateful we are to have them.