I never served a mission for my church, but it is a huge part of the culture of people who are trying to live our religion. It's a decision that different people come to for different reasons, and it's always something I admire.
It so happens that all five of my children have chosen this path for themselves. They serve for 18 or 24 months between the ages of 18 and 26 and all of mine left before age 20. Some have accused me of somehow brainwashing my children to blindly follow my religion, but having raised these five teenagers and worked with many more in my church, I always laugh at those naysayers and wonder if they've ever MET a 19 year old. They can't be talked into eating a piece of fruit instead of a box of thin mints, let alone brainwashed into leaving for 2 years to wear church clothes all day long and bear their testimony of God to strangers, all for no pay and at their own and our family's expense. That's just not something you do without some of your own conviction.
Because of the realities and difficulties inherent in serving a Mormon mission, I do admire my children. I admire them for their courage to leave home, and their determination to serve so that others might be able to find something that makes them happy. I am glad that living a religion has brought them a feeling of happiness that brings out this desire to share.
For all of my children, it's been a fight of some measure to get to the point of being worthy and ready to serve. Because yes, not just anyone can serve a Mormon mission. It's actually a privilege given to those actively living what they say they believe. For us, that means a life of self-control. The law of chastity means no sex outside marriage and fidelity inside it. In this day and age, for reasons I cannot comprehend, that simple logic has become ridiculous (imagine all the problems in the world that would simply disappear if everyone lived that way. No, really.), but my kids decided to believe it. Other things they live because they say they believe include daily devotion in the form of prayer and scripture study, keeping our dietary laws (no alcohol, smoking, or coffee), and living beyond the urge to simply entertain oneself. They had to learn to serve others and be unselfish. That's probably the main one and the thing that all the other things point to. When you include self-control in your daily routine, you have to fill the time with something good, and turning outside your own needs to see to the needs of others is a good way to do it. It actually comes kind of naturally, regardless of what religion you belong to.
But what all this leads to is the joy and gratitude I experienced just now when my youngest embarked on this particular journey. It was a hard road for him to get here, in ways that are not my story to tell, but that make his victory all the sweeter. He's doing this because he wants to.
This week, while I was lucky enough to be in Utah for a friend's wedding, I got to drop Evan off at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. I loved being with him for the last couple of days before his service started. He has good friends who are part of the story of him having the strength and desire to do this. He was full of joy and earnest anticipation to get started. It was so fun. Here are the pictures.
Now I will look forward to his weekly letters, and some photos to show what he's up to. He is filled with confidence, love for others and God, and so happy to be where he is.