By Meredith Marshall Nelson


To comment on the story that opens NT Gospel Doctrine Lesson 9, in which Elder William Bradford counseled about a “higher law of recognition.” He stated: “Recognition from on high is silent. It is carefully and quietly recorded there. Let them feel the joy and gain the treasure in their heart and soul that come from silent, selfless service.”


There’s been a tension in my personal life between a desire for recognition, and a desire to be so pure-hearted that I don’t need it.

I have a little stack of past lives — language professor, musician, music teacher, traveler — but now I’m a birth doula and mostly stay-at-home mom. My first few weeks at home after leaving my full-time university position were rougher than I thought they would be! I had expected it to be paradise, with so much more flexibility in each day and time with my son. And that was lovely! But the accolades were gone. I’m not naturally self-focused, so the degree to which this affected me, surprised me. I found myself telling people who asked me “What do you do?” all the things that I used to do.

Now, I have found an internal balance, and love and joy in my current life. I really claim it! But as I look toward my future academic and professional plans, I catch myself caring about how sophisticated or smart or authoritative I would look in this or that hat. There, do you know how hard it was for me to admit that…to myself?

So, I’ve been meditating on this tension. In Matthew 6, Jesus counsels against hypocrisy, warning that we should not “do our alms” that we may “have glory” and “be seen.” Recognition itself is not the issue here. If we never recognized each other’s good works (whether professionally or in the family and church setting) where would we find our role models? Who would inspire us to be extraordinary? What Jesus seems to care about is not whether we accept or even seek recognition for our good work, but what our motivation for doing good work is in the first place.

If I were to mold my heart to be exactly what I want it to be, I would never say anything just to be heard, and never do anything just to be seen. I wouldn’t stop wanting to be loved and respected, even admired. I don’t feel guilt about that. But I want to be loved for all that is truly good and useful in me and not, “as the hypocrites,” project a false goodness — not choose to be good because I like a good audience.

There’s a tradition about Rabi’ah al-Basri, my favorite female Sufi mystic (y’all got one of those?). It goes like this:

One day, she was seen running through the streets of Basra carrying a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When asked what she was doing, she said,”I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to Allah. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of Allah.”

May what we do this week be only for love. May we rejoice in the public love and approval we receive for what we have done truly. May we rejoice also in our “silent, selfless service.” The former may elevate not just ourselves but also those who are searching for a model of the good life; the latter most deeply enriches our sense of discipleship and our personal communion with God.

And in the end, maybe such pure-heartedness is the ultimate key to success.

Related Mormon Women Project Interviews

Celebrating the Unseen Woman, Heather Farrell

When I was really young, I told my mom I wanted a cause. I remember thinking I should have been a suffragette. I was angry that in Young Women’s we’d spend our time doing cooking or quilting. (We did whitewater rafting and rock climbing, too, but somehow to my young mind that didn’t count!) I had read in history about women who did big, important things to change the world, and that’s who I wanted to be! History never tells you about the women who stay home and raise the babies.

Six in the City, Lorinda Goff Belnap

There was a time where I kind of, I don’t know if “resent” is the right word, but I didn’t really enjoy being a mom. And I was always thinking, I need time for me, I need time for me, I have no time for me. Eventually, I had this epiphany that the time will come. I chose to be a mom. I chose this, and having little personal time is just part of motherhood. And that feeling of resentment or whatever it was kind of left. I felt that was a tender mercy for me.

The Mind of a Mother, Lia Collings

One of my goals is to get involved in education reform. I had started a master’s degree in public policy with an emphasis on education that I decided to drop out of because I had a little baby. At the time it was a big sacrifice to leave that program, but now I know so much more about myself as a person and about the world. I’ll make a much better student and professional when I go back to it.

From Dancing to Diapers,  Lisa Hess Jones

I had to commit myself to this new life, not just try to work a baby into my career. It was a bit of a transition for me to go from performing to full-time motherhood, mostly because my career in the ballet had all been about me: how my body looked, what my costume was like, how strong I felt, if my make-up was on right… And then motherhood was all about focusing on someone else.

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