As a matter of fact, I’ve always been leery of the title of this post. I’ve been nervous when someone purports to teach it in a class or to give a talk about it. But in the last few days I’ve realized that I’d been thinking about it all wrong.
I assumed the topic “Preparing our children to serve missions” meant “How to get your children to serve missions,” something at which I have not really succeeded (my first missionary – and my fifth child – entered the MTC last week).
But looking back, I hope that we have helped to prepare our daughter to serve. And I think we’ve prepared each of our children in similar ways, even though some have elected not to serve. In the end, if our children serve, we want them to succeed as missionaries. To me that means a few things:
1. They need to know the doctrine that they teach. We need to teach the gospel in our homes, first and foremost. Of course the standard memes of family scripture study and family home evening apply. But also our children benefit from seeing us, their parents, live the gospel – that is not only making good choices, but also repenting when we don’t. At the end of the day the Good News of the gospel is the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, powerful enough to rescue us from sin. Our children would do well to see that atonement in action in our lives (and their own).
2. They need to be independent of us. Children who depend upon helicopter parents to meet their every need will be like those seagulls that become dependent on fishing boats to survive. Children who are allowed to grow and do things for themselves (even when it’s easier for us to do it for them) learn how to live their own lives. In our home, children learn to wash dishes, do laundry, clean bathrooms, cook and other practical skills. That’s all thanks to their patient mother who is willing to let them take longer to do something than she could do herself. And to allow them to figure out what they’re going to wear if they haven’t done laundry in time to have that certain article of clothing when they “need” it.
3. They need to suffer heartache and to feel joy. They will surely do both on their mission – either because the work goes especially poorly or well, or because of relationships with a particular companion or agreement/disagreement with mission leaders. Our children need to learn to cope with setbacks and they need to learn how to accept success when it comes, too. This idea is linked to #2 in that parents need to foster independence, but it’s much deeper than just learning how to do chores.
4. They need to learn to pray and to receive answers. I don’t believe that a pre-mission young person will have the same testimony as a returned missionary. Too much happens in the mission field to influence one’s spiritual growth. But departing missionaries are well-served if they have learned to take questions to the Lord and to get answers, or at least sufficient faith to move forward. There will be plenty of icky days in the mission field when things go poorly that they will need to rely on the Lord to help them get through it. My recollection of mission life is that the heartache I felt there was deeper and the adversity stronger than I had experienced before. I needed to know I could trust the Lord to lift me up when I needed it the most.
5. There’s value in being able to get along with lots of different kinds of people. My observation is that shy missionaries are often frustrated. I don’t exactly know how to teach a child not to be shy, but giving a child some specific behaviors to use in shy moments can surely help ease the anxiety. Shy missionaries (or know-it-all self-righteous ones) may not only feel limited in their ability to contact and teach new people, but will also feel the sting of not accomplishing what they came to do. (I’m pretty sure about this one – I started my mission shy and self-righteous…)
Of course there’s nothing on my list that cannot be overcome by a willing and faithful missionary who enjoys the blessings of the Holy Ghost. But how much better to have developed these qualities before entering the mission field?
Are there other things we should do for our children to prepare them to serve?
(I note that the things I’ve listed will serve anyone well, not just missionaries.)