I took two of my children to a Black Baptist church last year, bribing them with the possibility of some great music. It worked. They both accompanied me, and they loved it. My son could never remember the name of this other church, but he’d later ask me, “What’s the name of that church where they play the drums and guitar?” And sometimes, “What’s the name of that other church I want to join?”
He frankly does not enjoy Mormon church services — and I believe his feelings should be considered. He represents many others. The stats are rather depressing. We are losing our youth. Good, wake-up music would help us retain some.
Nonetheless, we are not in church for the music.
So, for my son, this is what I would say:
Son–I admit it. We could do better. But, there is in the LDS Church a vision of you as an eternal being which you find in few other churches. (Those that believe in your eternal life tend to think you spent some time as an insect.) Our doctrine suggests that before you were formed in my belly, God knew your spirit, and that you knew your Heavenly parents and understood that mortality would be a time of essential growth in a timeless span. Some have called it a test. I call it PROVING GROUND. You will prove to God, to yourself, to your family (the one you’re in now and the one you will have) who you are. You will become greater than you had ever imagined. In the midst of your current growth spurt, those ever-demanding high school classes, and church meetings which feel like a long recording of scriptures by someone who apparently graduated in the study of monotony, you aren’t feeling much “proving” in the works. But there will come a time when you will need to know that because Jesus Christ accomplished the atonement, the resurrection will happen. So far, you’ve gone through funerals and even served as a pall bearer, but you haven’t been brought to your knees by the news that someone you love has died. You will.
You have been ordained to the priesthood, but you don’t yet understand it. Since I have seen your father grow in his own understanding, I fully believe you will do that as well. When you were small, you got very excited about our start-of-the-school year blessings. The idea of being like the rest of us was fun. You sat on the chair with your feet dangling eight inches above the floor, and your dad set his hands on your head to bless you. It was so cool that you had to contain your giggles. Now, it’s just another, “Aw, do we have to?” ritual. But my dear son, I have felt your dad’s hands on my head and sensed power which I know came from beyond him. He has told me things in blessings which I were answers to prayers I had never shared with him. He has blessed your brother and your sister in the midst of their pain, and the pain has instantly subsided. It doesn’t always happen that way, but I have seen it happen too many times to deny.
You’ve said you think all Christian churches are true. I agree. Every church which acknowledges that we all will eventually recognize that Jesus is the Christ is telling the truth. But I choose the particular vision of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I choose the vision of our own potential godliness–that we can literally be co-heirs with Jesus Christ of all the Father has. I choose the reality of continuing revelation, growth and repentance, for us as individuals, as a family, as a church, as a nation, as a world.
I want you to serve a mission, and for that mission to be only the beginning of a habit of service. I’ve taken you to places where you’ve seen poverty–but the poverty wasn’t nearly as important as what I showed you in its midst: JOY. You have met great men and women who happen to be very poor. You know their stories. I want you to know the stories of other great ones, and a mission puts you in position to do that and to develop the pattern of doing it.
As you imagine the divinity of a baby in swaddling clothes surrounded by barn animals, you can also imagine the possibilities of a child with AIDS in Africa, of a homeless man in Chicago, of a hare-lipped baby in Guatemala. Beyond seeing the nothingness of ourselves and our neighbors, true Mormon doctrine tells us that we all are the work and glory of God. I know of no more magnificent doctrine.
It’s no surprise that you aren’t thrilled by the prospect of three hours of recycled talks and lessons. But the truth is, you haven’t sensed your need for the Savior yet. Sometimes, your heart must be broken first. I remember seeing my brother–who was a lot like you–weeping as he partook of the sacrament. It was in the hospital, and he had survived an accident doctors said he couldn’t survive. It took months before he was strong enough for us to wheel him–IVs intact–to the hospital’s sacrament meeting. His hand was weak as he lifted the bread to his mouth, and I wondered if I should help him. But he managed, and I saw the tears come down his cheeks. I hadn’t ever seen those kinds of tears from him.
Be patient, Son. I’m guessing you’ve had glimmers of recognition that despite the monotony and slow hymns, we’re about something very important. If you continue, the glimmer will widen into a radiant circle, embracing you and everyone you love. Eventually, if you grow in love and charity, your heart, like Enoch’s, will spread “wide as eternity.”
That, to me, is the gospel at its core. Hang in there.