The Faith of a Child: Missionary Work and the Army of Helaman

This morning, there was a small war in the Wright household.  Boy # 2 (aged 9), was  putting on his rubber boots, scriptures in hand.

"Are you taking your scriptures to school?", I enquired, wondering if he was going to have personal scripture study during his "reading time" and if this was O.K.

"No, I’m giving them to Nathan.  I’m hoping he will accept the gospel."

"Um, I’m not sure that is the best way of doing this.  Those are the special scriptures that you got for your birthday and maybe we should talk to his Mom and Dad before we give him a Book of Mormon."

Feet were stomped, tears were shed, I think a pass-along card was pocketed for more clandestine missionary work. 

Which of course, leads me to wonder about the role of children as missionaries.  I worry sometimes that I am the shyest missionary in the entire church. Some might find this odd, since I was a young adult convert and would presumably want to share how the gospel changed my life with everyone. 

But joining the Church was difficult. I lost friends — some drifted away as the nature of my activities changed, some called me a “sell-out” for getting married and having a baby so young(25). Some are still close, but I still feel a chasm exists between us occasionally. And I’m not sure if my parents will ever get over being excluded from my temple sealing.  Consequently, I have spent a good amount of time trying to prove how “normal” I am and how I am the “same” person, just a better version of the old me.

It is against this backdrop that our second son appeared in my life.  Of all of our children, he seems to be the most spiritually inclined. From an early age, he engaged both adults and children in gospel conversations, “Do you go to church?”, “Why don’t you go to church?”, “You should go to church!!”

He loves the scriptures and has an unusual ability to remember the stories in minute detail.  In his enthusiasm, he sometimes corrects Primary teachers or leaders on a finer point and is usually right. He is very generous and sensitive with other children.

A few weeks ago, I watched him with a heavy heart as he went off to school with his father; a Book of Mormon tucked under his arm to give to his teacher (his idea). It was wrapped in white tissue, tied up with blue wool with a note he had carefully written in his third grade scrawl.

The school he goes to is a bit unusual — he will have the same teacher for his “core” subjects from Grade 1-Grade 8. She is a lovely woman who I have a great deal of admiration for and has in many ways become an important part of our lives. She came to his baptism last year and knows we are LDS but that’s about it. I’m quite sure she is happily committed to a spiritual path. I felt uncertain about how she would interpret this gesture and its implications for the future.

I have really mixed feelings about children engaging in missionary work. They are without guile and eager to share because they love. They also may lack social skills, ask awkward questions, not know when to quit or be perceived as being “put up to it” by their parents. While I am excited for him to learn about the beliefs and traditions of his friends, I would not want a family actively trying to convert him at this age.  As I sit here telling myself that no one is offended by being offered some orange juice, I feel a certain heaviness.

Maybe I just want to protect him from the scorn of the world, knowing that as I do so, I could be denying him an important experience.  Maybe I am simply jealous of his commitment and fearless directness. Or maybe I just wish I could be less tentative and have the faith of a child.

Comments

  1. Heather — Thanks, this post is kind of history now, but I fixed the link anyways. You probably know better than anyone in the Bloggernacle how technically impaired I am :)

    Natasha — Nice to see you around. Wait until you get to Grade III and all the Old Testament blocks. My favourite incident so far was when the class was told the Creation story and Gareth got into a big discussion with his teacher because he kept insisting that Jesus created the Earth, not God. Last year, when they were drawing a picture about St. Francis and Satan (can’t remember the story exactly), he was the “expert” and handed out plenty of advice to the other kids on how to draw him. His teacher is great though — she says she is enjoying having a little theologian in the class. :)

  2. HL Rogers says:

    Gosh Heather! You sure you don’t have something else to add! :)

    I find my children are always embarassing me. I try to remember that most adults they embarass me in front have children of their own and so know what children do. But I often think of my job as less of parenting and more socializing my children (that is teaching them how to exist within a social environment).

  3. Matt. 18:3
    3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little achildren•, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

  4. That is a great post, but I’ve nothing to add. So why am I commenting. Well why not?

  5. Thanks Kris, for a great post. I have to say that I had a similar experience with my son somewhere in the midst of first grade (last year). In the course of one week, early on he took a pass along card to school to hand to his teacher (he originally wanted to give one to each of his classmates, but I redirected his attention to just his teacher [oh, the guilt!], then two days later he was fixed and determined to deliver to him a Book of Mormon, gift wrapped and all.

    After class I felt compelled to ‘explain’ my son’s interest in giving the book. The teacher graciously acknowledged that it was a beautiful moment for him, receiving this book he knew was so special to my son. This was actually a special moment for me, to hear this, and the next day he actually made a very beautiful hand made thank you card for my son.

    I had, however, an interesting conflict of emotion. On one hand, I was thrilled and inwardly beaming that my son was so interested in sharing his religion. On the other hand, like Kris said, I felt uncertain about how this gesture and its implications for the future would be interpreted. My son attends the same type of school as Kris’ where he will attend gr 1-8 with the same teacher and class.

    That I might ever have mixed feelings about my children engaging in missionary work, until that moment had never occurred to me (what?! I am a returned missionary, for goodness sake!), and observing my reaction was a bit startling. I felt the need, like Kris’ to not be perceived as attempting to convert, thus my compulsion to speak to the teacher after class. Never before had I experienced both guilt and pride in the same moment.

    I guess this is what having children can do for you!

  6. It is hard to teach children social skills. My children have some real strengths, but conversation and social skills aren’t strengths for them.
    I try to help them learn that other people don’t go to our church, some go to another church, and some don’t go to church. I try to help them understand that it is ok if they don’t believe what we do. I don’t want them to ever think a friend is bad or an adult is making a bad choice to drink coffee.
    Telling kids that they are in charge of themselves is a big thing in Kindergarten and 1st grade (NO tattling, that is) and it can carry over.
    Kids should know that they shouldn’t hurt others’ feelings because they don’t know about the gospel. But I don’t think they should be stopped from sharing the gospel. Only taught how to respect others, listen to others and accept others.

  7. Heather P. says:

    I’m almost done here. I just made another discovery. If you want to link to a nice-looking html version of recent conference addresses, start here (only downside – no searching from this page). The orange juice talk looks nicer on the screen here, in my opinion, than where I linked in my first comment. Okay. There. Done.

  8. Heather P. says:

    Sorry for the mini-threadjack, and I forgot to say that I used to do the exact same thing. At first I couldn’t figure out why later the links didn’t work.

    And here’s a question on the topic: how much is missionary work taught in Primary? I remember some of the songs – not just “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” (for the future) but also “I Want to Be a Missionary Now” and some about sharing the gospel. I just wonder what it’s like now. And I’m not sure what I think about children as missionaries – probably somewhat ambivalent like you. It’s great that they are excited and full of faith. And yet there do seem to be other issues like you mention.

  9. Heather P. says:

    Thanks, Kris, for sharing your thoughts here.

    I mean that “thank you” but I don’t have much to add to the topic.

    I do have one other small point – I don’t think the “orange juice” link goes where you want it to. It just goes to the “frames” for the church publications searches (it’s misleading, because if you’ve recently looked at something, that’s what comes up in the content part, but if you haven’t, it’s blank in the middle). This is the talk you intended to reference, isn’t it? (That example has stuck clearly in my head – I was a missionary when that talk was given, but even still I was sometimes afraid of “offending” people.) When you’re using the search engine in the Gospel Library for Church Publications and you find the talk you want, you have to click on “Bookmark” (top right) and a new window will open. If you copy that URL (web address), it will be a permanent link to the talk. (I usually take the frames off by deleting everything after the .htm starting with “?f-“)

    I hope I haven’t “offended” you by offering this “sweet” piece of advice ;)

  10. Kris, that’s one of the most touching posts I’ve read in a while. Thank you!

    And yes, children doing missionary work seems odd to me too.

  11. danithew says:

    What a great post. Thanks.

    When I was five years old I was at a new best friend’s house drinking hot cocoa and must have made some kind of offhand comment about the Book of Mormon. At that age I hadn’t yet comprehended that this family (and every other family in the neighborhood) didn’t have the same scriptures that we did. They asked what the Book of Mormon was and I was shocked that they could not what the Book of Mormon was. I promptly quizzed them about other books in the LDS canon as well.

    “Do you have a Doctrine and Covenants?”

    “No.”

    “You don’t?!?!”

    Do you have a “Pearl of Great Price”?

    “No.”

    “You don’t?!?!”

    Needless to say, my friend’s parents and my parents had a discussion about what these books were and why I was so amazed they didn’t have them.

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