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.