Mary Holland McCann: Characteristics of the Mother of the Son of God
A National Geographic headline in 2015 read, “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman.” Our world is full of people seeking power and influence, but two millennia ago it was a young girl’s choice to have faith in the Lord and become a mother that left the greatest everlasting impact on all mankind. Some may cheapen the value of a mother, but on this week’s episode, Mary Holland McCann helps us look closer at the characteristics that made Mary who she is and how the example she set for her son changed our world.
God holds a special place for a mother seeking His help.
Mary’s book: In Mary’s Arms: A Christmas Message for Mothers
Sister Patricia T. Holland’s book: A Quiet Heart
All In episode with Justin Coulson: Justin Coulson: How Might Jesus Parent?
Scripture: “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).
“There are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother” (President Boyd K. Packer, “These Things I Know”).
“Your teaching techniques will be secondary to what you are as an individual. Your traits will be more remembered, compositely, than a particular truth in a particular [teaching moment]. This is as it should be, for if our discipleship is serious, it will show, and it will be remembered” (Neal A. Maxwell, “But a Few Days,” address to CES Religious Educators, September 10, 1982).
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).
2:35- One Mary
4:00- Influence and Responsibility
15:42- Submissive and Humble
20:51- Receptive to Revelation
25:28- Consistent Example
31:09- An Unintentional Tribute to Sister Patricia Holland 36:03- More Than An Instagram Bio
40:30- When a Child Suffers
45:15- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:01
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In her book, In Mary's Arms: A Christmas Message for Mothers, Mary Holland McCann writes of the mother of the Son of God. "Mary would have been the one to teach Jesus to walk and talk. She would have been the one to dry his tears and to smile when he laughed. Hers would have been the face he first saw expressing the love of God," end quote.
Despite seeing manger scenes at Christmas that portrayed the Savior as an infant–wrapped in swaddling clothes next to his mother–sometimes I think we forget that Jesus was ever a child and with that, we forget that he had a mother.
On today's episode we will talk about Mary the mother of Jesus, her mission and her example. Mary Holland McCann, the daughter of Elder Jeffrey R. and sister Patricia T. Holland, has a bachelor's degree in English from Brigham Young University. She is married to Lee McCann and they are the parents of five children.
This is All In an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am honored to have Mary Holland McCann on the line with me today. Mary, welcome.
Mary Holland McCann 2:12
Thank you so much. I'm honored to be here as well.
Morgan Jones 2:16
Well, I am–so I've been looking forward to this. I love Christmas. I read your book earlier in the–well I've read it pre-Thanksgiving, which is probably a faux pas in and of itself, but I loved it so much and I have been anxious to have this conversation with you. And so I think I'd like to start with a quote that you share in the book. And it says, "As there is only one Christ, so there's only one Mary," and that's from Bruce R. McConkie. I wondered for you when we say "As there's only one Christ, so there is only one Mary," what does that quote mean to you?
Mary Holland McCann 2:56
So I really think what it means–I think probably what Elder McConkie means and what our doctrine teaches is that her role as the mother of the Son of God was foreordained. Just like we believe–just like I believe the roles of Eve and Sarah and Emma and other truly remarkable women of this world that have really furthered the Lord's work were all foreordained. We believe apostles and prophets were foreordained.
And likewise, I think there are many women who have been given special assignments and responsibilities to further the work and hers was to be the mother of Jesus Christ. There is only one Mary, and it is such an important role, just could not have happened by happenstance. And I think each of us as women has a divinely appointed role in motherhood both in this life and in the next life. And Mary's was just specific to the Savior of the world.
Morgan Jones 3:58
I love that so much. I love Mary and have such a special place in my heart for her, and obviously you do too. And so I feel like this episode is going to be kind of like a fan club gathering and everybody that listens can just join us in that. But I love another quote that you share in the book, and it's from Robert J. Matthews.
And he said, "When we consider the strong influence that a mother has on the personality and attitude of a young child in the home, we sense the responsibility that our Heavenly Father gave Mary by entrusting her with the rearing of his chosen and beloved son."
And I love in this book, Mary, how you kind of take . . . you take Mary's example and a characteristic of Mary and how we see that in her life and in the life of Jesus Christ, and then you have kind of something that relates to motherhood and then you also, at the end, it all always . . . you have something about your own mother and how she taught you this characteristic. And we'll talk more about that later.
But I wondered if we start off here with this quote that talks about the influence that a mother has on her child, what have you learned about the responsibility of a mother?
Mary Holland McCann 5:20
So that's a huge question. I really believe that to bring a spirit into this world–which is what we do as mothers–is to take on a tremendous responsibility. I've always kind of smiled when someone announces that they are, you know, having a baby, "I'm having a baby." Because of our understanding of the plan of salvation, bringing a spirit into this world is so, so much more than merely having a baby, quote–unquote.
We're really–as mothers–what we're doing when we give birth and bring a child into this world is helping an individual's soul in their progression towards salvation. And in essence, we kind of call them from the premortal world and give them physical life.
And likewise, those of us who are blessed to know the truth of the gospel I think are then responsible to also try to provide spiritual nurturing and spiritual growth and develop their spiritual life in the same way as their physical life, to teach them about covenants and ordinances and all of the elements necessary for their path on the plan of salvation that needs to take place in this mortal life.
Mothers, you know, really, mothers are, in essence, entering a partnership with God in nurturing a physical and a spiritual life. And no one–I believe–in this life has the potential to have more of an influence on a child than his or her mother. And I think God expects us to walk up to that. This is his power, He's the one that has power to give life and He shares it with us. He just doles it out. He just hands it out and says, "You get to share in this with me," and I don't think we're to take that lightly.
We wouldn't have this gift without Him. And so I think He expects us to be grateful and to respect that power that He's sharing with us and honor it and I think the way we do that is by taking it really very seriously, the kind of sort of immense responsibility that it is.
Morgan Jones 7:36
I agree completely and I love in the book how you kind of highlight the fact that Mary didn't take the responsibility lightly. And you write something–this is a little bit of a lengthy quote so I hope you'll bear with me but you write this, "She was afraid and He knew it. Mary–foreordained before the world was formed, chosen by God and destined for greatness–was afraid. What distinguishes her is that she went headlong into her fear and found her faith.
"She asked only one question of the angel, which was to wonder how this could be possible, inasmuch as she was still a virgin. This innocent sweet question only illustrated what little she knew of her mission, the power of God, and what lay ahead. But with her question answered, she squared her chin and followed her faith.
"I love the faith Mary showed here"–this is you still writing–"But I love even more that she found it in the midst of her fear, the story wouldn't be the same for me if she were more confident, because it simply wouldn't seem real. To be the mortal mother of the Son of God, Mary would have been full of human emotions, including fear. However, she would also have to be one who would never allow that or any other emotion to deter her faith. She would have to be a mother who could teach her son, that nothing, including fear, can keep you from honoring God's will."
I think that's so powerful, especially in light of what you were just saying about how, like, you know, we don't have any sense when a mother becomes pregnant for the first time, and I've never experienced that, I know that I have no sense of it, but we have no sense of just what we're in for. But Mary was still afraid. So I wondered, how have you felt similar fears in your role as a mother after having a baby and what has helped you overcome those fears?
Mary Holland McCann 9:37
So I think–at least for me–and maybe this is my personality or my approach to motherhood, but fear is probably one of the greatest emotions that I feel and have felt and I think in part it's because of the previous question that you asked me about responsibility.
I think when you really–and this does grow on you as you age in motherhood, right? I mean, when you're a young mother and it's your first baby, it's kind of all about the cute clothes at the Baby Gap and taking them out for a walk in the stroller and what kind of a great name you're going to name them.
And as you mature as a mother, and also I think as you mature spiritually, which generally happens at the same time because nothing drives you to your knees like being a mother does, you realize this is something bigger than cute clothes at the Baby Gap, and you've got a work to do.
And it's–frankly, it's nothing short of terrifying a lot of the times. And I think, you know, Elder Holland gave a talk a couple of conferences ago in which he talked about what it means to be a mother and he used words like "To carry," "To give life," "To bear," "To sustain." And as he pointed out, those are phrases and words that we think of as God-like responsibilities. Those are things that the Savior did for us and the God the Father does for us.
And yet, we have to do that as mothers and it feels daunting and terrifying to feel like you can do something that feels like only a God can do really very well, because we're human. And so the pressure is really immense. The more you learn and the more you grow, you almost get less confident only because you understand really, more what it is that you're involved in. You feel like in order to do this, you've just got to be at your spiritual and emotional best at all times just to kind of cover ground zero.
And yet as mothers we're subject to pride and selfishness and exhaustion and grumpiness and just bad days. So we have this divine calling that we have to carry out as humans in a fallen world, and sometimes, frankly, the two just don't mesh. We're sort of a little bit behind the gate before we walk out the door, and it's–and it's hard. But I believe God knows that, He knows what He has to work with, He knows our limitations, He knows not only the limitations of mortals, but the limitations of each individual Mother, which we're kind of bound sometimes by our own personalities or tendencies. And He's going to make it happen for us.
No one's more invested in these kids loving and living the gospel and becoming successful than He is. And so if he's got any material to work with in a mother, I think he's going to make it happen for us. So I think–I guess that's a long preface to answer your question that the only way I've really been able to face this kind of daunting fear of motherhood is to remember that at its core, salvation is God's work. And He sustains those whom he calls to help in any calling.
And he's not going to extend this–the most important of all callings, much more important than a kind of church calling we might ever receive–He's not going to extend that and then just leave us alone to do it alone. So I think like Mary, we hang on to that. And she had some fear and she had some questions, but she just kind of squared her chin and went headlong into it. And I think that's all we can do, it's not going to be a perfect process.
It's fortunate that we have years and years and years with kids, because you can have a few really bad days in there. You can have every other day be really bad–or days and weeks and months at a time be really bad. But over the course of 18 to 20 years that you kind of have with a child in your home, you hope that some of the good things factor in in the long run, things balance out and Heavenly Father's there to help and he's invested in everything going as well as it possibly can.
Morgan Jones 13:42
Right? I love the idea of being in a partnership with God in raising children. I was just listening earlier today for something else that I'm working on to a past episode of this podcast where I interviewed a guy named Justin Coulson, and he was talking about the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 123, verse 17, where it says, "Therefore let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power, and then may we stand still with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God. And I was thinking he was talking about how he feels like that's what parenting is like that, and what we're supposed to do is to cheerfully do all that lies within our power, and then we'll see the salvation of God.
And I had never thought about that scripture as seeing the salvation of the people that we love. I've always just thought about personal salvation, but I think that there's something really powerful about recognizing that we are working in partnership with God and that if we just do all that we can do, then he will make up the difference and we will see salvation in the lives of those that we love.
Mary Holland McCann 14:58
I love that. That should be every mothers theme scripture. We should have it tattooed–
Morgan Jones 15:06
Mary Holland McCann 15:06
I thought of missionary work when you were talking about that. Missionaries out there, just 18-19 year old kids doing the best they can, brand new in the gospel themselves, six years out of primary and they're out there trying to aid the Lord in the salvation of others. And I think he says, "Yeah, just cheerfully do all that you can do and leave the rest to me," and it absolutely applies in motherhood as well. I love that.
Morgan Jones 15:31
I think, you know, as a missionary, I remember thinking so many times, like "I have no business [doing this]" and probably the same thing, same feeling.
Mary Holland McCann 15:42
Morgan Jones 15:43
I love how you kind of go through these different characteristics of Mary, like I said, and fear, talking about the fear that she experienced, and then another thing that you talk about is how she was submissive and how as she faced these things that would have been scary, her reply was, "Be it unto me according to thy word." How would you say you've learned the value of being submissive in your own life and specifically in your role as a mother? Because I think mothers are like–I don't know, my mom's really submissive, bless her heart.
Mary Holland McCann 16:19
Yeah, I think, and you know, interestingly, listening to you ask that question, I think . . . and this is how motherhood sort of refines you. I think submissiveness and humility, those two words specifically are things we learn as mothers, the deeper we get into our mothering years. Or at least for me, that's been the case.
I think when I was a young mother, I thought I knew everything. I thought, "I got this down. I know where I'm going." In fact, I still remember I was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting on motherhood. I was a brand-new mother, I had one one-year-old daughter at the time. And I–honestly, I'm still so embarrassed when I think back about that talk. I wish I could go back to every woman in that ward and apologize for ever thinking I had anything to say or anything to offer.
So if there any women out there from the Leon Valley ward in San Antonio, Texas, I am officially apologizing.
Mary Holland McCann 17:21
And you're sweet to just smile and be patient with me. I'm still embarrassed about it. But the point is, I learned later that I didn't know what I was talking about. And like I said, motherhood is the one thing where you may be as experience goes and time goes, you get less confident simply because you understand more what a great undertaking you're taking part in.
So I had a lot of plans then when I was a young mother for exactly how my children were going to be, who they were going to be, and it was because I was going to make them that way. I felt like I had complete control. And as the experiences of motherhood sort of began to refine me over the years, I really began to realize that most of who these children were had very little to do with me.
God made them, they were intelligences before they were spirits, and they were spirits before they were given to me. And they came exactly how God intended them to come with brown eyes or blue. You know, we can somehow accept that a child is born with blond hair or brown hair, but we don't want to think that they might have come with personality traits or tendencies that we can't change any more than we can change the color of their eyes.
I do think we help and we have an effect and we steer and rub off edges, but they come with spiritual tendencies and personalities and intellect and strengths and weaknesses and everything in between. And I think the earlier you see that in motherhood–I wished that’s something I had learned better as a younger mother, because then I think you can be more effective.
That's when I think you finally become humble and submissive, and say, "You know what, this isn't really about me. This is between God and the Spirit that He sent to me to help kind of along their plan of salvation, and He knows best how to help them. He's their Creator."
And when we finally tap into that as mothers, I think we have a power far greater than our own. Obviously, we share in God's power in that way. And I think he gives us the power and wisdom to know how to set boundaries, to know how to discipline, how to love, and sort of expect and ask the best of these children to try to get them to rise up to their God given potential and yet know how to love and comfort and catch them when they fall.
And again, those are Christlike qualities and you don't tap into that without a lot of humility and a lot of submissiveness and saying, "I know I can't do this on my own," and "Will you help me?"
Morgan Jones 19:56
That reminds me of a couple of things. One, I was just with–my uncle has triplets, little babies. And I was just with them, and they all three have these very distinct personalities. And I thought, man, that's so interesting. You know, we talk about every kid having their own personality, but very rarely have I gotten to see like three little babies that are just like, wow, you couldn't be more different.
But the other thing is like, my dad always talks about the–and you've probably heard this before–something about somebody saying, before I had kids, I had no kids and this many theories on how to be a good parent. And now I have this many kids and no theories. And I think that that is–that's so true and I am ready to be humbled in that regard.
Mary, another thing that you talk about is how Mary took the time to treasure her experiences as a mother and to ponder them. And you write this, "As partners with God in the rearing of children, mothers can seek and expect to receive revelation from heaven. Do we seek it when trials come and our children struggle? And when we wonder what to do, do we fall to our knees and seek guidance from Him who loved them first? We can receive heavenly instruction and insight in all of its forms, if we will only ask," end quote.
How do you feel like the Lord has helped you receive personal revelation for you and your family? And President Nelson is so big on, you know, hearing Him, and we've talked about that a lot on this podcast, so how has that personal revelation for your family strengthened your belief that we all really do have the capacity to hear Him?
Mary Holland McCann 21:49
I think, again, motherhood is . . . gosh, motherhood is such a great playground or training zone, if you will, for so many of these characteristics and traits we're trying to develop as human beings because it's like an intense little microcosm of trying to make you the most Christlike–in some ways, even Godlike in the sense that He's a parent–that you can be, so.
But interestingly, I think that my first thought as you asked that question is that I don't think you do feel–at least I haven't felt revelation or minute by minute guidance every minute. I mean, if I had to pick an adjective for my now, 29 years of mothering, I think it would be floundering. I think I just sort of like was floundering, it's the only word like just sort of bailing around trying to strike out and find and do what's best.
I remember one time my husband came home from work late. And I left a note, just taped a piece of paper on the door before he walked in and it just said, "The kids won tonight."
Morgan Jones 22:58
Mary Holland McCann 22:58
When he opened the door–I just wanted him to be a little prepared for what he was going to see when he opened the door. Because there was just–there were toys just strewn everywhere and food left on the table, dishes didn't even make it to the sink and homework left undone. I had sent a teenager to bed in tears, I went to bed in tears. It was just a night of surrender and I didn't know what I was doing.
And I think, like everything in our earthly experience, God doesn't always give us play by play instruction. Because if He did, we wouldn't be learning to be goddesses one day. If He were going to do that we might as well save ourselves a lot of trouble and stayed in the Garden of Eden. But we agreed to get out here and try and work and practice. And so, I think as mothers we work and we think, and we reason and we try.
But having said that in the floundering moments, I do firmly believe that there is no more important work that we have to do and that righteous mothers or mothers who are at least trying to be righteous, have a unique right to revelation. President Packer, taught–I have this quote in my bedroom before I walk out the door every morning–"That there is nothing more effective or powerful than the prayers of a righteous mother."
And I believe that. I hang on to it every day. I believe God holds a special place for a mother seeking His help in teaching His children. Because it's the reason for His existence. It's His work and His glory. And not only do I believe He will reveal what's important or what we need to do, but also give us the courage and the strength to then be able to act on that knowledge because those are sometimes two parts of a question. Sometimes as a mother, you can kind of feel like you know what you need to do, but do you have the energy and the strength to do it? Some days that's harder than others.
And so I feel like that revelation is not only knowledge based but sort of endowment based. That he endows us with a little extra power and strength when we need to, because mothering is tough. You're in the trenches a lot of the time, and I think He blesses us to be able to stay engaged, when we're tired and know how to facilitate and strengthen the character of these children that He sent them with. And so when we ask Him to help us, if I believe anything, I believe that He will.
Morgan Jones 25:27
That's beautiful, thank you. Another thing that I really appreciated is how you talk about the overwhelming nature, that having as much influence as a mother has on a child can be for that mom, and you write, "It is far less important to plan the perfect family home evening or buy all the copies of the scripture videos for your children to watch, than it is to be what it is you're trying to teach them. Children learn by example."
And you quote Elder Neal A. Maxwell who said, "Your teaching techniques will be secondary to what you are as an individual. Your traits will be more remembered compositely than a particular truth and a particular teaching moment. This is as it should be for if our discipleship is serious, it will show and it will be remembered." What does this quote mean to you? And why should that take some pressure off of us as mothers, people that are trying to raise little children?
Mary Holland McCann 26:38
So I think–and I think I answered your last question this way, which is maybe not very helpful, but it's a double answer, which is both extremes, which is in some ways. It's–it maybe even feels like more pressure because there's, you know, there's just no room for hypocrisy in motherhood.
The last place that we can teach and say one thing, and then try to be another thing and think we're going to get away with it is with children. And anyone who's had a teenager for five minutes will confirm that what I am saying is true. They will call you on the carpet if you so much as look down the left side of the road and then decide to turn right. So I guess what I'm saying is confirming Elder Maxwell's quote, which I've also carried around with me for 20 years is that children learn best by example. And our unspoken sermons will mean so much more to them than those spoken.
I tell this story in the little book, so forgive the repetition, but my dad tells the story of he was in graduate school, Connecticut, and I was like two years old two or–yeah, about two. And he came home from school one day earlier than normal. My mom was in bed with her knees tucked up reading her scriptures highlighting them like I've seen her do every single day of my life.
And as a two-year-old, I was sitting up propped on the pillow with my little blue flimsy copy of the Book of Mormon in my red crayon just scribbling all over and underlining everything. And I, I think that's what I'm trying to say is I think I learned to love the scriptures, before I could even read them, because my mother loved them.
And she didn't have to do a lot of teaching and family home evening lessons about reading the scriptures. Sometimes we'd get gentle reminders, but even those weren't necessary because my brothers and I each grew up knowing that you just love the scriptures. And that's what our mom does and that's what we do. And it sort of wasn't even a thought.
And she did that without any verbal teaching. So I think that's the point instead of researching and reading and looking on Pinterest and combing the internet for ways to get our children to read the scriptures as mothers, we just need to read the scriptures.
And instead of worrying about how to get them to go to the temple, they just need to see us going to the temple. So in some ways, that's a little bit relieving, because we don't have to try to come up with lots of creative ideas for teaching, but it's also a bit of a–another feeling of weight or responsibility that we have to live our lives in the way that we want our children to live our lives and then trust that they're watching.
And even if that takes time, and even if children stray, I really believe the tentacles of example are really hard to ever fully outrun. I mean, who doesn't hear their mother's voice in their ear when they're thinking about things or deciding things or see their mother in their minds eye? I'm 52 years old right now and I still–when I have days where I feel a little distracted to read my scriptures or too tired or whatever I will get an image of my mom at 79 years old in her house in Salt Lake City in what I know she calls her "Scripture chair," curled up and reading her scriptures.
And I know that happened today or yesterday or whatever any given day I'm struggling with just like I know the sun came up. And that's, that's as a 52-year-old who should know better, and I still sort of rely on my mom's example. There's a power there that's greater than anything we can try to come up with to manufacture.
Morgan Jones 30:27
I love that you said that. I was just thinking last night, my mom–like the "Light the World" thing, and my mom sent me like the three things that she loved about me for the December 1 prompt or whatever. And one of them was, she said, "You love the Lord." And I wrote her back. And I was like, "You are the reason that I love the Lord." Because I–like you have–walked in on her countless times reading her scriptures or saying her prayers. And for me like that is what made me want to do those things is because as a little girl, I just wanted to be like my mom. And so I love that.
And I don't know if this was intentional in your book, but it seems almost as if while the book is certainly a tribute to Mary, the mother of Jesus, it also is a bit of a tribute to your own mother. You write about how she calmed your fears and she taught you to be more submissive. And I couldn't help but think about how your mother, Sister Patricia Holland is someone who is so beloved by members of the Church and likely doesn't have any idea just how loved and doesn't get enough credit.
But I read her book, A Quiet Heart–my boss a few years ago gave it to me as a birthday gift and told me that it was one of her favorite books ever. And it has served in the years since as just like a friend that I revisit anytime I'm feeling sad. It's like, "Oh, I'll go pick up A Quiet Heart and read a little bit and I'll feel better." But I wondered, what do you wish that people knew about your gratitude for your own mother?
Mary Holland McCann 32:12
Well, first, I have to agree with you about the Quiet Heart book. I try to read it every year, at least once a year. And every year as I've gone through my mothering years it's taken on new meaning. It's almost like the scriptures that means something to you one day and something the next day. So if you're wanting to do another podcast about a book sometime I will see if I can connect you with her because that's who you should be talking to.
Morgan Jones 32:36
That would be amazing. That would be like a dream come true for me, Mary.
Mary Holland McCann 32:40
Yeah. The book is in some ways a tribute to my mother. But you're right, I didn't set out–that wasn't my intention. I didn't set out for it to be that way. It's just that naturally, everything that I know and feel and believe about being a mother has come from her. And I've always–I think everyone agrees, I think all mothers agree that, that we don't get a lot of instruction as mothers. You know, any career or occupation or even a hobby generally requires a lot of years of study or education or apprenticeship at least or a YouTube tutorial. Like there's got to be something–I just did a cross stitch for the first time and I watched a YouTube tutorial to get me through.
And yet as mothers we don't even have that. So what we do have is our own mothers and we largely learn from them, I think, all that motherhood means. And I know it sadly, it just breaks my heart that not everyone is blessed with a mother who truly understood or understands her role. And that's, that's heartbreaking. But I–but that's why we have prayer, and that's why we have scriptures. And that's why we have temples and divine help.
To help us be maybe mothers in ways that we feel like our own mothers maybe didn't fully understand. But if you had a mother like mine, you would know it's virtually impossible not to be a believer. My mother's testimony really was the air that we breathed as children. It just was in the room. It filled the house. And my mom does mean a lot to the Church. She's married to an apostle. She was the first lady at BYU for 10 years and gave countless talks and devotionals and she's written and co-written several books. She's won awards. She's a classically trained musician. She trained with a professor from Juilliard. She served as a member of the General Young Woman's presidency. She's visited with presidents and kings.
I mean, she is an accomplished lady and she's had a large impact on the Church and in the world, but honestly, that really doesn't mean anything. I was going to say it doesn't mean much to a child, but I really don't know that it means anything to a child. It would not have changed–if you took away all of those things I just mentioned, it would not . . . excuse me. It would not change the woman who was my mother.
If you stripped away every one of those titles or accomplishments, she would still be the same woman who gave birth to me and raised me and the decisions that she made and the way that she loved me. All that mattered to my brothers and me was that she was our mother. And we knew she'd rather be our mother than doing any of those other sort of assignments that she was given.
She never really asked for them, we always knew she did them to serve the Lord. And that taught us also a lesson, but we knew the one thing she really wanted to be doing was to be our mother. And we always knew–she made sure we knew–that nothing made her happier than that. No external or worldly gift or assignment or responsibility, so.
Morgan Jones 36:06
I am so glad that you said what you just said, Because I–one thing that I've had on my mind a lot lately is that–and again, this is coming from somebody that has never been a mom, so full disclosure there–but I feel like I look around at friends of mine, and the kind of environment that I think mostly social media has created, in which it feels like the role of a mother has been degraded.
And it doesn't matter as much to people and it feels like . . . it's not enough to be a really, really good mom, they have to–you have to have like this really cool bio on Instagram. And as somebody that has wanted to be a mom and hasn't had that opportunity yet, it's something that just kind of like breaks my heart a little bit. And . . . I don't know, do you have any thoughts on that before we go on to the next question?
Mary Holland McCann 37:13
Yeah, I mean, I agree. I feel sad that I think young women and even like women my age, I guess there's no age limit on the messages we get about motherhood. And I do think we get messages from the world that make you feel like it's not very important, and that you should be gathering this great bio for LinkedIn, or Instagram or whatever you want to do. And, and I think we just need to be careful that we really think about what matters.
If we really stop and think about why we're on this earth, we are here–if you think about the plan of salvation–we're here to gain bodies, to make covenants to, again, further our steps in the plan of salvation until we go on to the next step. And as mothers, we're here to help other spirits do that same thing. And nothing else matters. So careers and other, even talents, other things that we have, are really just reasons to back up or help facilitate, maybe the real reason that we're here.
So people need money, people have to have jobs. You've got to put food on the table for these children, it doesn't do any good to love and nurture them if they are starving and don't have clothing. So things need to be done. And we do live in a world that we have to participate in. But I just think it's important to keep the priorities, right, and to not let one get ahead of the other to make sure we always know that what I'm here for is this path in salvation.
And now as a mother, I've basically brought 1, 2, 3, however many children in the world to help them and that is my first priority and everything else needs to support that, not the other way around. The children don't need to support what I'm doing. I need–and my gifts and talents and abilities need to support the children in their growth.
And that's yeah, you're right. That's not a message that mothers are going to get. And it's sad. And it's a pretty crafty tool of the adversary, I think, to undermine it. Because, I mean, how can you win such a great victory if he can get mothers to sort of think that what they're doing is not important, and they should be focusing their time and energy elsewhere? That's a pretty great victory for him.
Morgan Jones 39:31
Absolutely. I think your example of your mom is such a great example because it's like, she did all of these other things. Like she has a very impressive bio, but like take those things away and her influence on you would be the same. And I think that's remarkable.
Mary Holland McCann 39:53
You said that more clearly than I did, which is to say, God did send us here as women with talents and abilities and we are going to have different assignments and callings and things that we're doing from time to time. It's just that it shouldn't ever change the priority and what kind of a mother we want to be and who we want to be. And that if we had to walk away from all the rest of it tomorrow or strip ourselves from it tomorrow, are we left doing the thing that we know that is really important? So that's a good way to look at it.
Morgan Jones 40:25
Thank you so much. Um, I did not say that better than you. But another thing that I have noticed, and I'll ask this before I get to the last question. I've noticed that it seems like mothers can be very hard on themselves, and that nothing causes a mother to be harder on herself than when one of her children is struggling.
And at the end of the book, you write this, "When–despite the fact that you are giving everything you know how to give–you find that your children still struggle, you may think God doesn't love you. Please know nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes it's those whom God loves the most–Jesus and Mary and prophets and pioneers–who have been asked to endure the most. Know that when heartache comes, you are in good company, some of the best company in all the world in all of time."
I think you wrote that so beautifully. I believe that it's true. I wondered for you, how have you seen that principle in the lives of mothers you have known?
Mary Holland McCann 41:35
So I completely agree that children struggling is the really, it's the greatest pain a mother can suffer. It's–to me, it's like the umbilical cord was never really cut. It might have been cut physically, but it was never cut spiritually or emotionally. When a child suffers, a mother suffers. In fact, sometimes I almost feel like when my children are struggling, I feel like I'm hurting more or struggling more because I know more. I know what's at stake and can see down the road.
And it's just–it's just the most difficult part of being a mother. And despite our best efforts in trying to do all these things we've talked about in our conversation, we live in a fallen world and our children are going to struggle. And mothers are going to suffer because of it.
I just–sufferings kind of inherent in being a mother. I don't want that to be depressing, because in a way, it's sort of another Christlike attribute. And maybe if we accept it and sort of embrace it and just say these sad times are kind of part of what it means to be a mother, maybe that's helpful in its own way.
CS Lewis has a quote that I've always loved where he says–and I'm just paraphrasing and probably doing a terrible job, but the essence of it is he says, "To love is to be vulnerable. And to love anything means that your heart will be wrung, and quite possibly broken."
And I think that's true of motherhood. But I think, you know, isn't that what the Savior does for us? Isn't that the way he loves us? And is any less kind of love worth it? I mean, to invest yourself so fully, that, you know, you're putting yourself at risk for heartbreak and this kind of sadness or sorrow that you really can't experience in any other way I think is what children require. And it's certainly the way God loves us. And it's the way Jesus Christ loves us. We've certainly broken their hearts, and I think it's the only kind of love–there's no lesser love that can give a child what they need.
So I think we get a little taste of how much the Savior loves us when we become mothers and a little taste of how He suffered. And so when times are hard, when children make mistakes, and they sometimes make choices that can break a mother's heart, we just kind of have to hang on. I don't think anything worth doing in this life has ever been very easy or ever really very blissful.
But we know that Christ will triumph in the end and children will be blessed and covenants will be honored. And there is joy ahead and joy to be found for both children and their mothers. We just–we absolutely have to hang on to that faith in order to get us through the difficult times.
I wish I had an easier answer or an easier thought about that, about ways to avoid suffering as a mother, but I just–I don't, I think the kind of love that's required to nurture a child calls for that kind of intensity and that kind of risk. And we hang on when we're in the middle of it and trust in God and trust in the Savior that they're on our side, and they're going to see us through.
Morgan Jones 45:13
I love that. And I think . . . I just, I just went last night to see The Chosen Christmas special. And it shows Mary both when she's giving birth to the Savior, and then toward the end of her life after the Savior has been crucified. And I just thought about, you know, how much pain Mary went through throughout her life, watching the things that the Savior endured for us. And yet, she did what she came here to do.
And so the last question that we ask on every episode of this podcast is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ? And I think that Mary, the mother of Jesus is kind of the epitome of being all in and doing exactly what God asked her to do and sent her here to do. I wondered for you, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Mary Holland McCann 46:20
Yeah, I love that you shared that because I have been thinking about this, I know that you end all your podcasts with this question. And I sort of meandered in my mind through you know, different prophets and scriptural examples that we have and examples in Church History. I've loved studying the Doctrine and Covenants this year and getting more familiar with those Saints.
I mean, if you want to talk about anyone being all in there are countless stories of the incredible sacrifice and commitment and allegiance that was shown and then, but a few days of mulling this over and I thought it's–it's Mary. If you want an example of someone who was all in it's–she's the perfect example. Just for the reasons that you said.
When God asked her to do something she just did it. Without, without complaint, when she was afraid of things that she didn't quite know or understand, and she did have some of that. She didn't let it stop her. She went ahead and took it on, and didn't need to have every answer tied up neatly before she was willing to proceed.
I think she knew and felt certain truths and held on to those with reverence and with passion. Like you pointed out from the movie, she did what God asked her to do. She gave birth to the Son of God, she raised him in the face of immense struggle and watched him die on the cross. Because that's what she was asked to do. And did it without any thought for herself that we have any record of.
Her statement, "Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word," I think that's what it means to be all in. It's to say, "Here am I. I give you my whole heart." I think it means if there's a commandment to be lived, you do everything you can to live it, and not try to find ways to just barely live it.
I think it means if there's prophetic counsel to follow, we do everything we can to follow it and not try to discount it or interpret it to suit our needs or preferences or comfort level. I think it means if our personal views don't quite line up with Church guidelines, then we realign our personal views, instead of waiting or demanding for the Church to realign with us.
In short, to me, it means that we trust God, more than we trust any other person, or any idea or notion in this life. And so we give him and the Church that He calls His own, the only Church on the face of this earth that He calls His own, we give Him and the Church our all. All of our allegiance, all of our faith, all of our devotion, all that we can possibly give, be it imperfect from time to time, then we repent and try again and do better the next day. But we–but in our hearts we are giving it our all.
Morgan Jones 49:27
So well said, thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time to be with me. And I hope that you and your family have such a Merry Christmas.
Mary Holland McCann 49:36
Thank you so much. Thanks for this opportunity. It's nice to be able to think about Mary in the hubbub of Christmas. And we always think about the Savior as we should but it's nice to take a few minutes and think about what this remarkable woman has done and what we can learn from her. So, thank you.
Morgan Jones 49:57
We are so grateful to Mary Holland McCann for joining us on today's episode you can find her book In Mary's Arms: A Christmas Message for Mothers in Deseret Book stores, or on DeseretBook.com Thank you so much for listening we'll be with you again next week.