As A Woman?

A few days ago I posted this quote from Chieko Okazaki at Times & Seasons, and asked readers if they believed it was true.

We know that on some level Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything–absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means Jesus knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer–how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student-body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked, and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.

Today I’m sharing the next segment of the quote. Ready?

There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he doesn not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands about pregnancy and giving birth. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion.

His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) What does that mean? It means he understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter callst o say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your tow-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children who ever come are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that.

I believe Jesus comprehends all of my experiences in mortality, including those unique to womanhood. Why? because I interpret the scriptures to say that Jesus is connected with every human being (not to mention every living thing) through the medium of the spirit, and that through this avenue he experiences everything that we experience.  He’s aware of everything happening to everyone at every moment. He suffers and rejoices along with us–and there’s no division along gender lines.

Yes, Jesus has a male body, but the life in every body is the holy spirit. There’s not a separate spirit for men and women. Whatever I sense, think, and feel is part of the current that is constantly flowing through him.

What about you? Do you believe that Jesus truly understands your experiences–including those rooted in womanhood? And if so, why?

About Kathryn Soper

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

30 thoughts on “As A Woman?

  1. I truly believe Jesus understands my experiences as a woman because if He didn’t, the Atonement wouldn’t apply to me. How could it? If He understands me as He says He understands me, then it would HAVE to include all aspects of motherhood. Motherhood, to me, is one of my greatest challenges, and it illicits my highest highs and lowest lows. If Christ was unable to understand these lowest lows (crowning at childbirth, anyone?), then how could I expect to partake of His offering?

    Of course, I don’t understand HOW He was able to understand and experience it all –but as you said, the Spirit is the same. I can imagine Him feeling all the pains of childbirth –without actually giving birth, know what I mean?

    And truth be told, what Sis. Okazaki said makes me very happy. Everybody wants to be understood (on every level), and Christ does. He understands me, and I’m very grateful.

  2. The closest analogy I’ve found to help me understand the atonement is childbirth. One person goes through a lot of pain in order to enable a person/people to the next step of their journey. So I think Jesus understands women and their experiences.

  3. I absolutely know He knows all of it. I know it. And that’s the part I think most of us tend to sort of forget. We really ARE never alone.

    I loved this post…

  4. I remember a talk someone gave in a sacrament meeting comparing the Atonement to childbirth, especially that moment in the garden when Jesus thinks he cannot go on to the moment of self-doubt in the transition phase (the woman giving the talk is a doula). I wish I could remember all the details, but it was very beautiful. Like others have said, Jesus has promised that his love and his gift apply to all, and I have felt the spirit confirming this to me. The “how” of it all is the mystery and the reason for faith.

  5. i absolutely believe that Jesus Christ understands every little thing. just like cheryl said, if He didn’t, then the atonement wouldn’t apply to everyone.

    i have to tell you that i believe the fact i found this post today was no accident. i am going through a very difficult time in my life right now and this reminder that He understands every tiny little thing because He literally experienced it means so much. thank you for sharing this. by the end of reading your post i was in tears.

    i hope you don’t mind, but i posted this article on my blog (with all credit to you) and told my readers to come over and comment here. i believe one of them already has. (if you do mind i will take it down, i just wanted you to know.)

  6. I totally agree. Jesus Knows because that is the only way he can give us personal comfort that only some one whos been there can.

  7. Of course I don’t mind. Thanks.

    I appreciate these comments very much. I was just re-reading the post and realized I should’ve clarified my point about the life in our bodies being the holy spirit. What I meant by this is that mortal life is a function of the spirit. We’re all on life support in a very literal sense, dependent on the spirit to sustain our every breath. That spirit which fills each of us emanates from Jesus, and is the medium through which he knows us so intimately. So while I certainly agree that there’s a significant element of mystery here, there’s some interesting info in the scriptures that explains in part how Jesus knows us the way he does.

  8. Kathryn, I’ve never thought through this question before. Honestly, I don’t know if I have an answer yet. I’d certainly like to think so. But I’m not sure.

    As a child, when I asked why the scriptures were only for boys, I was taught that “man” and “men” really meant “mankind.” But in truth, that is only sometimes true. Sometimes men (at least in practice) really only means males. And I’ve never found a reasonable way to tell when I’m included and when I’m not.

    A few years ago President Hinckley publicly read a letter from a young girl who asked whether girls could go to the Celestial Kingdom. He said that of course they could. He seemed a bit surprised that someone would not understand this. But even as an adult, I understood perfectly. How do we know that THIS TIME girls are part of the picture?

    In evaluating this quote, it might be significant to note that it was stated by a woman. She was a general leader, but not a general authority. In a very cursory glance at the current Gospel Doctrine teacher’s manual, I can’t see a single authoritative quote from a female leader. I found a couple of stories ABOUT women, but no quotes from woman used to substantiate a principle. As much as I hate to ask this, how much authority does this quote carry?

  9. It’s from her book _Lighten Up_, 174-175. Originally given in a Stake-level address.

    Alison, I don’t have an answer to your question about authority. My belief in the principles stated have nothing to do with Sis. Okazaki’s level of authority in the church and everything to do with how her views mesh with my interpretation of the scriptures through the spirit. I’m not telling people they need to believe Sis. Okazaki because she’s speaking Doctrine; I’m asking whether they believe what she says, and why.

    I do appreciate your candor and your question. I’d like to explore several of the topics you’ve mentioned in future posts.

  10. I have absolutely no doubt that Christ understands our every experience–even those that are unique to women. This is something I believe not because it’s been written somewhere, but because of a few specific experiences I have had and some that other women I know have had of which I have been a small part in which it was witnessed to me.

    The atonement transcends gender (and every other qualifier). I’ve never had any doubt that “his people” is inclusive of all people:

    And he shall go forth suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind, and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith, He will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people, and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people, according to their infirmities.–Alma 7: 11-12

  11. I am horribly ill when I am pregant and I was feeling awful during the spring of 2001 and while watching General Conference during that time, Neal A. Maxwell’s talk, “Plow in Hope” totally spoke to me. “Moreover, Jesus not only took upon Him our sins to atone for them, but also our sicknesses and aching griefs. Hence, He knows personally all that we pass through and how to extend His perfect mercy—as well as how to succor us. His agony was all the more astonishing in that He trod “the wine-press alone” I knew he took upon himself our sins, but I never thought about all of our suffering as well. I firmly believe that he understands and has felt everything and I am so grateful he does know how to “succor” me.

  12. I am deeply uncomfortable when people make comparisons between childbirth and the atonement. I had a bishop make the comparison to me shortly after I gave birth to my fourth child. I wanted to slug him. I don’t think that my giving birth to a child comes even close or can be compared to the atonement. And I don’t like the comparison. It feels sacreligious.

    And I guess I can say that at this point in my life, I’m not sure I really can say with all honesty that I think that Christ really experienced or understands the unique pains that a woman goes through. And it becomes even more incomprehensible to me when I suffer through my menstrual cycle. So I can say I have my doubts.

  13. I have to clarify my above comment. I do not think that my pains or sorrows are worse than what Christ bore. It’s just that at this moment, I am hung up about the gender thing.

  14. I love how you saved this part for Segullah.

    This is definitely my belief. I can’t comprehend how to have faith in a Being who doesn’t comprehend ALL things.

  15. I believe that Christ knows how we suffered. I just don’t understand how. I have faith that He knows what I am going through, and that when I go to Him with a problem, He will comfort me.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing that, Kathy. When I whine to my DH that he just doesn’t understand how frustrating/boring it is to try to get things done with a little monkey literally hanging off my legs all. day. long, it’s nice to know that there is a male out there somewhere who does understand.

  17. My answer is yes, I think Jesus understands completely how we feel. The times I know this best is when I am in deep pain and go to him; his comfort, his promptings are never off target. How else could he know how to succor me in the hour of need if he didn’t know the circumstance and the soul personally?
    (This may be off subject but my hypothesis on how he does this is through the relativity of time. I believe in some way he does actually walk through each person’s life with them. Call me looney, it’s OK.)

    Today before reading Segullah I made a post on my blog about a lack of understanding in my church unit. Thank you for this post, to put things into perspective. It always needs to be about Him.

  18. I know it, too.

    The scripture Dalene cited comes to my mind. Also, the following verse adds some interesting insight: “Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people . . .”

    It sounds like He COULD know all we suffer simply through the Spirit.

  19. Kathryn, I would welcome your insights.

    I did misread your initial question–rather confusing it with the ongoing discussion on T&S. I do believe that Christ understands what women go through, but I’m not sure how much he understands by actual experience.

    In some ways I see it like a bad accident. If I was run over by a steam roller and had every bone in my body broken, I think it would be fair to say that I deeply understand severe physical pain. Whether or not I actually had a kidney stone may not be terribly relevant in my being able to empathize with someone who has one.

  20. When I was a freshman at BYU one of the Stake RS leaders gave a training and read that quote to us. For years I have carried with me the reality that struck a chord with me that day, that Christ understands when I feel PMS-y. The way Sister Okazaki made it specific and personal was the beginning of me trying to really figure out how the atonement could bless me, how I could actually use it.

    I’m still in the process of learning about that, still on that journey, but I believe it is true, he knows exactly how to succor me, no matter what the cause of my pain or discomfort or sorrow.

  21. I wonder why this quote is making the rounds just now.

    About a month ago, early December, our ward joined another for Sunday meetings, as our building was entirely taken up with our annual Christmas Creche display. The gal who taught our combined Relief Society meeting about Christ used this same Cheiko Okazaki quote in her lesson, reading it bookmarked from “Lighten Up!”

  22. I guess if the church leaders say it’s true, then it must be. I don’t know, though. It seems to good to be true. Like something people say when bad things are happening just to make themselves feel better. It’s not that I think it is definitely NOT true. I guess I just don’t have a testimony of this part of the atonement.

  23. Tough concept. Do I believe Christ suffered more than any of us? Yes. Do I believe that he knows specifically what women go through? I don’t know. I believe he could, though I don’t know how. My husband doesn’t know specifically what I go through as a mother, but he helps me as much as he can and that helps me feel loved and supported. I think Christ would be an even more loving type of person than my husband could be. If He didn’t actually know what it was like to have a woman’s trials, He would still give His love and support. That’s enough for me.

  24. Although I had never read Sister Okazaki’s quotation, I had thought of this before when a friend once remarked that “only a mother knows what it is like for a mother to lose a child.”

    While I didn’t respond, I thought to myself “well I know of one non-mother who knows—Jesus Christ”. Furthermore, men, (and women and children who have never gone through child-birth) might also know because the scriptures state that “all things” can be conveyed by the Spirit.

    Questions about Sister Okazaki’s authority are needless because this doctrine is based on numerous scriptures (try 2 Nephi 9:21, D&C 88:41).

    And for the purpose of ascertaining whether God “knows what it feels like”, the debate between 1)“Christ felt all peoples’ various feelings of mortality during the atonement” and 2)“he knows because he comprehends all things and knows our thoughts” is moot at this point. Either way, he knows.

    One of the great questions of mortality is whether God really is omniscient. It seems to me that a God that isn’t omniscient can’t be the author of a religion powerful enough to produce the faith necessary for salvation. Throwing gender in as a possible barrier to God’s omniscience is a tool of Satan, just as he has thrown in the barriers of God’s invisibility, the fact that he is one and we are billions, etc.

  25. Yes, I believe that He has in some way vicariously experienced every single mortal experience that any of us, women or men, experience. I don’t know how. But I believe He has, otherwise He could not succor us the way we need to be succored, and He would not be able to judge us.

    As far as comparing our own personal experiences to the Atonement, I doubt there’s any one of us who would claim that we’d had an experience that matched the Atonement in intensity. But we all have our Gethsemanes. I think God wants us to have some small understanding of what He experienced us, and so He gives us mortal experiences that are “types” of what His was. This happens throughout the scriptures, so why wouldn’t it happen to us too? In my case, the experience of watching my son’s birthmother lay him in my arms and walk away is a “type” for me–to watch someone go through the most unspeakable anguish possible and me be the beneficiary of that pain, well, that brings my thoughts to the Atonement in a very profound way.

  26. Thou whose bowels are filled with mercy
    I call to Thee, as one infirm
    Ease my fears as hands now hurt me
    And that this babe in me will turn

    Here my flesh is sick nigh to death
    As I cramp and bleed from the womb
    Might Thou bless me with peaceful breath
    That this infant in me might bloom?

    If Thou calls me, save this baby
    That my suff’ring not be in waste
    While Thy Light is still inside me
    I give thanks for Thine atoning grace

    In memory of all the women who used to die in labor-
    This post came as a blessing to me. I thought I could not cry for my daughter who stole from us yesterday and our relationship is severed at this time. I feel like part of me has died. Thank you Segullah

Comments are closed.