When Will I Be Old Enough to Be the Prophet?

Yesterday, the prophet died, and today I struggle to explain the concept to my daughter.

She’s four, with a big heart and a belly laugh so infectious I can’t help but feel giddy when she’s amused. She’s at an age where she’s full of questions and feelings and a healthy dose of preschool sass, and so I pull her up onto my lap and I start at the beginning.

“Do you know what a prophet is?” I ask her. She doesn’t, and so I explain.

I tell her that he is a very good man that God has chosen to speak for his church here on earth. I tell her that he receives revelation — answers and direction directly from God about how the church should function and how it’s members should respond to new spiritual threats. I remind her of the comfort and the direction she has received from Heavenly Father on her own when she has prayed.

“Like earlier this week, when you were very mad because mommy made you go to bed. You prayed, and how did you feel after that?”

“I felt better,” she tells me.

“That’s right.” I touch her nose with the tip of one finger. “You felt better. That’s because when you prayed, Heavenly Father heard you, and he answered your prayer by helping you to not be so mad. He talks to the prophet like that too.”

She smiles at me, this wide toothy grin that melts my heart, as if she understands at last what it means to connect with her Father in Heaven. She’s full of questions after that.

“Where’s the prophet now? Is there more than one prophet? And then will he die too?”

We talk about how God works in the lives of his people through these men that he has chosen to lead them, and about how he works in our lives on a more personal level. As we talk I try my best to remind her that she is independently, irrepressibly spiritual, that she is entitled to revelation and comfort by virtue of her very unique existence, and that God loves her so much that he will always answer her prayers. It’s important to me as her mother that she knows she can ask questions and seek help all on her own. She is in charge of her spiritual life, and of building her own testimony, and it’s my role — and the role of all of her church leaders — to support her in that.

When we’ve exhausted the topic, she climbs off of my lap and begins the process of checking her own understanding. She asks me questions she knows the answer to, to see if my answer still matches hers. She makes connections out loud and looks at me to see if I approve. She imagines to fill in the blanks… and then she asks me a question I’ll never be able to shake.

“Mommy, when will I be old enough to be the prophet?”

And I freeze as my heart explodes into a thousand tiny pieces.

“I — I’m not… What do you mean, sweetheart?”

She repeats herself, and I’m even more lost. Answers I desperately want to give her cycle through my mind.

When you’re old and wise and love God with all your heart, you might be old enough.

Or

Age doesn’t matter to Heavenly Father, honey. What he cares about is inside of you.

Even

When you’re a grandma you might be old enough.

But none of that is true, and I believe in honesty.

So what do you say to a little girl who wants to know when she can be the prophet of God? What do you do when you’re a mother who wants so fiercely to raise her daughter with the knowledge that she can be anything — in a church where she can’t be everything?

I’ll admit I said nothing. I stared at my daughter in dumb silence and waited for her to move on, pleading internally for her to change the subject. She obliged, and I was saved. For the moment. I was spared and left instead to ponder the answer to her question.

I know what I would tell my son in that same situation. My older boy is sweet and blond and only two, but one day he might ask me the same question, and I will tell him, “Sweetie, there is only ever one prophet at the head of our church at a time, and so many wonderful, worthy men for Heavenly Father to choose from. What you can do is live your life the way He would want you to: love and serve the people around you, and pray for opportunities to do the Lord’s work. Then, one day when you are much older and wiser, the Lord may need you to serve him in a much bigger way. Or he might not. Either way, you have lived your very best life.”

But my daughter… all the words in my mind seem so harsh. So final. Perhaps it is more a reflection of my state of mind than of the doctrine, but every truthful answer I can think of is blunt and crushing. They send messages I don’t want my daughter to receive. They introduce the concept of patriarchy before I’ve decided how to teach her about it without scaring her. They highlight the inequality that exists in my beloved church and with which I have struggled now for years.

You’ll never be old enough to be the prophet, honey.

Or

Only men are allowed to be the prophet.

Even

Women don’t become prophets, they have babies and make food instead.

Nothing is suitable for me to say to my sweet daughter who believes she can lead God’s church one day. Even when I can force myself to think less bluntly my answers reek of patronization and give me an ache in my chest that I can’t quite shake. Because how can I explain to her that this fleeting dream of hers isn’t allowed? That she will never be trusted to lead God’s people. That Instead, she might one day lead an organization of women under the direction of men who hold Priesthood Keys to which she will never have access. That though she might bear and birth and raise children, she will not be able to bless them or baptize them or ordain them to any office.

How do I explain to her her place in this church that I continue to love, in relationship to the place her brothers will have?

Because while I know through my own experience that there is more than subjugation and sorrow here for God’s daughters, it is hard for me to explain it to my eager, ambitious four year old, while continuing to empower her and teach her that she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to.

I want her to know that she can be president one day, and yet in this church where I make covenants and testify and seek God… she can never be the president. Because of her sex.

It’s an ugly truth. I struggle with it. I wrestle with. I try inexorably to reconcile it with the peace and the love and the divine sense of self I know can be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints… I am committed to this fight for understanding and compassion and glacially slow progress… But am I ready to put this struggle on my daughters lap? Can my four year old begin to understand this truth without drawing conclusions about her own worth because of it?

I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure I ever will. But what I do know, is that she isn’t going to stop asking me. I know because I’ve never stopped asking.

“When will God trust me to do more than cook for the ward party?”

“When will I have a voice that is taken seriously at church?”

“When will I see a woman with authority sitting on the pew every Sunday?”

“When will I see myself reflected in the lives and experiences of my church leaders?

“When will I be old enough to be the prophet?”