By the time my son, Remy, was four, I had not told him the story of Joseph Smith, despite all his friends having the ability to recount the story with aptitude. My guilt at seeing him on the outside when the conversation about Joseph and his story occurred among tiny mouths on more than one occasion, drove me to want to tell the story before I was sure the words to say. I tried a few times, fumbling through the lines I’d said a hundred times over on my mission, the memorized pieces engrained deeply in my memory. But the words felt foreign and did not rise from my heart as they once did, and my son, so sensitive to his mother’s vibrations, was slightly off-put and confused by my recounting.
Once, as a missionary, a woman told my companion she couldn’t look me in the eyes as I told the first vision account because my eyes were too strong. I cried tears that were not feigned in too many living rooms to count when I repeated the final words of Joseph about his first vision, “One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” I said these words with conviction on street corners and trailing behind people who did not want to hear us on dusty roads that led to dirt-floored homes. I was so young, and was busy gathering my own evidence about a God who takes notice of us, and the story I told again and again was a foundation of that exercise. I spent 18 months in relative tiredness and discomfort because I loved these words, and yet, when I wanted to, I could not quite speak them to my son. Not because I had lost belief, not because my testimony had shriveled, but because it had changed and I needed more than a set of words to repeat. I needed to speak my own words from my own history and of visions I had had, however dull in grandiosity they compared. I needed to anchor my son in the words of his mother before I asked him to know the story of a boy from 1830.
I want my children to know that spirituality is not just about a set of words being passed between people to memorize and repeat, but spirituality is about stories of people, notions of miracles, evidences of lives well-lived. Spirituality is a nexus of past, present and future stories that have no choice but to intersect, to follow, to ask questions, to blow our minds and shift our paradigms.
At the time this need for telling my son about Joseph Smith felt pressing, we were living in Sweden, which consequently meant displaced, alone, foreign. We were staying a beautiful home full of light and candles in the windowsills. On the wall next to my son’s bed, the wallpaper was made up of golden crowns on a deep blue background. The bed was just wide enough for both of us to lay and make shadows with our hands before he slept. One night, I determined I would tell him the story of Joseph Smith, without any nuances, just the story. We finished making shadows with our hands, then I started, then stopped, then started again. I was surprised to find that the words that came out were not the ones I’d said so many times as a missionary, but rather the most simple version about a boy who had a question, a boy who asked a question without shame, and the joy that the question was noticed and loved for being a question. I told my son that the miracle of a boy named Joseph was not that all questions were answered in the asking, but that he showed us that we can ask because someone is listening.
In that moment, the story of Joseph intersected with my own as I reflected on the miracles of my prayers that had been noticed, and my own son, at the beginning of his spiritual story opened himself to the idea that he too, was worth such a miracle. A year later, I know that my son is not an expert on Joseph Smith, as so many of his small colleagues are, but I do know he has a better sense of a boy named Remy, and hopefully what that boy is capable of becoming as he faces a world full of beautiful questions.