After a year’s separation, I spotted my handsome son striding across an ancient Italian piazza. I rushed to him and clutched his shoulders. Words I never planned to say tumbled out of my mouth.
“Come home,” I whispered, “Come home, come home.”
Harry was not on furlough from the military. He had not run away or been kidnapped. He was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I had missed him more than I could have imagined. As a non-Mormon mom, I couldn’t understand what had driven my youngest son to put his life on hold for two years to face loneliness, long workdays, daily insults, and a complete lack of interest in his message of salvation. Even though I had had a deep faith of my own for many years, this extreme commitment mystified me.
Searching for Something New
Harry had been exposed to quite a few variations of Christianity. His father, Michael, and I came from Catholic backgrounds, but we each drifted away to other churches. Throughout his childhood, Harry and I had gone to a nondenominational church, a born-again congregation, an evangelical Presbyterian church, and finally to a Methodist church with Chuck, his stepfather and my husband, whom I had married when Harry was seven.
In middle school, Harry ended up back at the Presbyterian church, which had a large, active youth group. But as he got older, it bothered him that many of his peers who claimed to be serious about their faith didn’t act like it when Saturday night rolled around. During his junior year of high school, he told me he wanted to explore something new.
Through an old soccer buddy, he started hanging out with a group of Latter-day Saint teens and visiting his friend Curt’s Mormon church with increasing frequency. Chuck and I didn’t think much of it until he asked if he could go away for a weekend youth retreat. We were surprised and a little amused but gave our consent.
After the retreat, he told us he was serious. “Is it okay if a bishop comes here to talk to you?” he asked. “I need your permission before I can study with their missionaries.” I knew almost nothing about the Mormon faith, so I welcomed the bishop’s visit.
When I talked to the bishop, I had to ask, “If Harry becomes a Mormon, will it separate him from us? Will he feel he’s a better Christian?”
He explained, “Becoming a Mormon should only make Harry a better son, closer to his family.”
“What about going on a mission?” I asked. “Is it true kids can’t talk to their parents during that time?”
“Many Mormon youth do serve a mission,” he said. “But it’s not mandatory.”
I feared the mission, but the strict LDS moral code sounded good to me: no smoking, no alcohol, and no sex before marriage.
As Chuck and I told friends about Harry’s spiritual exploration, reactions were mixed. Too often, we were offered an odd fact or misconception about tithing or polygamy, racism or sexism. On the positive side, many people know about the Church’s “clean living” standards and congratulated us on having fewer teen problems to anticipate.
The response of a messianic Jewish friend of mine was more than shocking: “When I read your note about Harry exploring Mormonism, I immediately began weeping, my spirit was so grieved.” Despite the negative reactions, my young son was impressive; he defended his decision politely and firmly.
Before long, two bright young missionaries gave Harry his lessons, which fascinated me. None of it seemed formulaic, and no topic was uncomfortable. At Harry’s springtime baptism, the church was filled with multi-denominational family and friends.
I was increasingly happy with Harry’s choice. I watched my son finish high school without alcohol fueling his fun, with fabulous friends, and with Christ in his heart and on a poster on his wall. At the same time, he was still a normal teen who drove too fast, spent too much time on the phone, and talked back on occasion. He grimaced whenever I said, “I don’t think nice Mormon boys act that way.”