The Gospel Doctrine lesson #7 manual objective is “To help class members strengthen their testimonies of the Prophet Joseph Smith and to encourage them to find happiness through trusting in the Lord and keeping His commandments.”
To reflect on what your legacy will be for your posterity.
During the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1780), it wasn’t uncommon for women to die in childbirth. With the increase in literacy, amongst nobles and common folk, some women were able to give instruction and share their hopes with their unborn children in the form of letters in case they perished in childbirth. These letters are known as mothers’ legacies. Unfortunately, mothers’ legacies weren’t usually preserved – the writing of women, particularly about domestic things, was considered unimportant and not worthy of archival.
One legacy that has survived is The Mothers Legacy to Her Unborn Child by Elizabeth Brooke Jocelin. It was published in 1624, two years after her death in childbirth. It is unclear as to why Jocelin’s legacy was published. Perhaps because of her nobility.
In her legacy, Jocelin gives instruction to her husband and advice to her unborn child. As is common in legacies, Jocelin focuses primarily on religious instruction and having moral character. She writes to her husband:
“I desire her bringing up may bee learning the Bible, as my sisters doe, good housewifery, writing, and good works: other learning a woman needs not; though I admire it in those whom God hath blest with descretion…Yet I leave it to thy will…If thou desirest a learned daughter, I pray God give her a wise and religious heart, that she may use it to his glory, thy comfort, and her own salvation.”
In 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft, considered by many to be the mother of the feminist movement with her seminal book, A Vindication of Women’s Rights, was pregnant with her second child and writing a novel. On August 30, 1797, she gave birth to Mary Godwin (who would grow up to marry Percy Shelley and pen Frankenstein). Wollstonecraft died ten days later from an infection caused by the placenta not being fully birthed. In her unfinished novel, Maria or the Wrongs of Woman, the title character is expecting and spends a significant portion of the novel writing a mother’s legacy,
“Addressing these memoirs to you, my child, uncertain whether I shall ever have an opportunity of instructing you, many observations will probably flow from my heart…From my narrative, my dear girl, you may gather the instruction, the counsel, which is meant rather to exercise than influence your mind.—Death may snatch me from you, before you can weigh my advice, or enter into my reasoning…For my sake, warned by my example, always appear what you are, and you will not pass through existence without enjoying its genuine blessings, love and respect.”
I kept thinking about mother’s legacies as I was studying this lesson wherein Lehi finishes his father’s blessing. In 2 Nephi 3, he speaks to his youngest son Joseph of two other Josephs: Joseph of Egypt and Joseph Smith. Lehi directs his son to be righteous like these men and to follow the council of Nephi that Joseph’s posterity may be blessed:
“And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.” (v. 24)
In 2 Nephi 4, Lehi ends his blessing speaking to his children and their posterity:
“I should leave a blessing upon you; for behold, I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it. Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents. Wherefore, because of my blessing the Lord God will not suffer that ye shall perish; wherefore, he will be merciful unto you and unto your seed forever” (v. 5-7).
I’m struck how these parents from different times, races, genders and cultures want the same things for their children – to be blessed, to be happy and doing good works. Even as a single, childless woman, I cannot help to think but that I would want the same for my hoped-for posterity.
Have you give much thought to what you want your legacy to be? Would you testify of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? That Jesus is the Christ? That the Book of Mormon is scripture? Some other truth your life has taught you?
I do not know what my future holds. So, I will leave you with this woman’s legacy:
The sole purpose of this Earth school is to develop godly attributes and to make and keep covenants. It was divinely designed to be messy. So, boldly engage with life that you may be transformed. When you fall, because you will, know that the Father’s love is a given, that the repentance process is a gift, and that the healing power of Christ’s atonement is real.
Be kind and loving to yourself and to others. It is through the difficult process of learning to get along with ourselves and each other that we develop our godly attributes.
There are many roads to happiness. However, living the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way I have found sustainable peace and joy.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Stewards of Our Children, Sydney Young
We are all stewards of our children. We don’t own them. They are all Heavenly Father’s children.
Raising Children in Paradise, Rebecca Hendrickson
Another scripture which has proved helpful many times is Abraham 4:18. I found this scripture while wondering how I could give instructions to my children and have them obey me. Just asking my 5-year-old and 3-year-old to go tidy up their room wasn’t working. “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” I realized that for children that young, I actually had to watch them obey, and encourage them along the way. That was a very helpful insight which led to one of my parenting hints (I keep a list for myself inside the cupboard): “Never make a request unless you are willing to help them follow through.” Sometimes children just cannot obey without a little help from a parent. Happily, this gets better as time goes on. I don’t need to watch my older girls clean up their room, but I do follow up with them, always.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Defenders of the Family Proclamation, Bonnie L. Oscarson
We eagerly teach our children to aim high in this life. We want to make sure that our daughters know that they have the potential to achieve and be whatever they can imagine. We hope they will love learning, be educated, talented, and maybe even become the next Marie Curie or Eliza R. Snow.
Protection from Pornography – A Christ Focused Home, Linda S. Reeves
How do we lead our children to deep conversion and to access our Savior’s Atonement? I love the prophet Nephi’s declaration of what his people did to fortify the youth of his day: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, [and] we prophesy of Christ…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
The Finished Story, Gayle M. Clegg
My husband’s great-grandfather Henry Clegg Jr. was a finisher. He joined the Church with his family when the first LDS missionaries went to Preston, England. Henry had a view of his destination in his mind as he and his wife, Hannah, and their two young boys immigrated to Utah. Henry left his older parents, who were too feeble to make such a long and arduous journey, knowing he would never see them again.
While crossing the plains, Hannah contracted cholera and died. She was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. The company then moved on, and at six in the evening, Henry’s youngest son also died. Henry retraced his steps to Hannah’s grave, placed his young son in his wife’s arms, and reburied the two of them together. Henry then had to return to the wagon train, now five miles away. Suffering from cholera himself, Henry described his condition as being at death’s door while realizing he still had a thousand miles to walk. Amazingly he continued forward, putting one foot in front of the other. He stopped writing in his journal for several weeks after losing his dear Hannah and little son. I was struck with the words he used when he did start writing again: “Still moving.”
When he finally reached the gathering place of the Saints, he began a new family. He kept the faith. He continued his story. Most remarkably, his heartache over the burial of his sweetheart and son gave birth to our family’s legacy of moving forward, of finishing.”