You’re on Satan’s Side

When our oldest was eighteen, he decided he didn’t want to serve a mission. He was (and still is) an exceptional big brother to his siblings, my right hand at home, an Honor student who would go on to earn two academic scholarships to university to study Law and Business. He was active in church, attended Seminary, enjoyed going to youth activities,  – but still, he wasn’t interested in being a missionary.


Were we sad? Sure. Disappointed? No. We’ve tried to raise children who can make their own prayerful choices and then have the strength, resolve and confidence to follow them through.  We told him we love him, we’re proud of the young man he’s become and we would support him in his decision.

Not long after, a member of the Stake Presidency visited our ward and spoke to the young men, in particular, the ‘prospective missionaries.’ He asked, who is planning to go on a mission? Every boy raised his hand. Except for my son. The man then proceeded to single out my son. He said, among other things, “You have to choose what side you’re on. It’s very clear. If you’re not choosing the Lord by going on a mission, then you’re choosing to be on Satan’s side. It’s that simple.”

When my son told me what had happened, he was quietly upset. He said, “I don’t think this church is the right place for me.” My heart broke for my boy and I was so incredibly angry. With that man who had treated him with such callous insensitivity . And yes, with a church culture which dictates that a young man MUST serve a mission, or else he is inadequate somehow. A church culture that would have us believe if a young man doesn’t choose a mission then he must be weak or selfish or a sinner. That he must instead, be choosing Satan.

The sad irony is that not all the young men in the class that day – ever went on to serve missions. Yes a few did. But others didn’t. For a variety of reasons. One of our son’s friends went so far as to submit his papers because of the pressure from family and friends, but when the call came, he refused to go. It was a tough time for him and his parents. His father threw him out of the house because ‘no son of mine is going to turn down a mission call…’  How many others submit their papers, leave on missions and then go home early – because they went for the wrong reasons? Because they hadn’t felt confident enough or supported enough to NOT raise their hand when the recruiter came calling?

That’s not the only time the culture of Mormon missionary perfection has reared its judgemental head. When my son got his scholarship acceptance letters, I posted a photo on social media of us with our boy, informing our family and friends of the good news. A proud mother, I also wrote a mini-essay about how much I love him, how excited I was for his future, and all he would become. Many celebrated with us and wrote to congratulate our son. Then I got a message from one of my dearest friends. A one-liner note – “Is he planning at all on going on a mission?”

No congratulations. No warm wishes. No #Yay!
Only a single sentence loaded with judgement. I don’t usually use the F-bomb. But I was sorely tempted to that day.

Today my son is in his second year at university. Still my right hand when it comes to his siblings, listening to my #BusyMum rants via messaging and giving me long distance advice and cracking jokes to make me laugh. He’s still my heart. Still my beloved. I’m still ridiculously proud of him and I thank God every day for the blessing of being his mum. He only attends church when he’s home for the holidays. I see how he keeps his careful distance from others in the ward. Yes, he’s polite and considerate but he no longer goes to church activities. I don’t know how much of that is connected to his no-mission choice. I can only guess as to how welcome – or unwelcome – he feels around other Mormons.

That makes me sad.

Today’s lesson in Sunday School was about Christ’s condemnation of hypocrisy – the obsession with outward appearance and a neglect of inner holiness. We talked about how the scribes and Pharisees were caught in a rigid system of legalism to justify themselves and others before God. How they often did things like attend worship services, pray, give to the poor and go to the temple, not because of their faith, but out of a desire to be seen as righteous by others. We were challenged to look within and ask ourselves, how are WE hypocrites?  Saying one thing but doing another. Pretending to be someone we aren’t. And like the Pharisees, getting bogged down in the complex tangle of church rules and programs – so much that we neglect the “weightier matters”, things like mercy, faith and Christ-like love.

Why do we sometimes pretend? Is it because we’re afraid we won’t be accepted if we are transparent about our beliefs or our differences? It would have been so easy for my son to lie.  To raise his hand and ‘go with the crowd’. To pretend, that yes, ‘I’m like everyone else. I’m committed to being a missionary.’  What was the big deal? It was only a lesson with a visiting stranger from the Stake. Who really cared if he faked it and put his hand up?

My son cared. About being honest and about representing his true self. And I’m going to take a wild guess and say that his Heavenly Father cared.

Does our church culture breed hypocrisy?  By requiring people to always say and do the ‘proper’ thing, rather than accepting them for who they are, as another child of God who’s flawed and trying to find their way? This is tied to how often we judge others. We make it difficult for each other to be honest about our imperfections. We make it a struggle for our sisters and brothers to reveal their weaknesses, ask their questions, express their doubts and live their truths.

Sis Chieko Okazaki wrote, “Somehow we get the message that Heavenly Father doesn’t want the real us. He wants the prettied-up us, the does-everything-right us, the almost-perfect us. Sometimes we believe that Jesus is saying, ‘Clean up your act and then come back.’ But He wants us just as we are – broken, feeble, imperfect, limited in understanding and limited in achievement.”

I love this truth.

But as I think about that long-ago Sunday when a church leader told my son he was on the same side as Satan, I ask myself, how welcoming are we of the broken, feeble, imperfect and limited in understanding…? Of those who love, live and worship Christ in a different way than we do?  If our church is a ‘hospital ‘ for the sick and afflicted and not a ‘museum’ for the beautifully perfect – then why are we so often, so ruthlessly exacting in our expectations of those who come to this hospital seeking strengthening, love and fellowship?

Church should be a place where we can feel the love of the Saviour – through the fellowship of our brothers and sisters, uplifting messages of the speakers, the Sacrament renewal of our baptismal covenants, inclusive and engaging gospel discussion, beautiful music, and the care and concern of teachers and leaders who are sincerely committed to the youth they have stewardship over. We all have a part to play in creating a church environment like this and I’m grateful for those who have helped my children feel of that love throughout their years in Primary and YM/YW. I hope I’ve been that kind of teacher and leader during my various callings.

How can we do better and be better? Our Sunday School reading included Christ’s response to the lawyer who asked what the greatest commandment was. – “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

And yes, on these two commandments, hangs every ‘motivational’ talk we give to young men. Even if they don’t want to go on a mission.

Post by Lani from New Zealand

16 responses to “You’re on Satan’s Side

  1. That is why it is so important for us to go to church for us (as individuals). You are doing the same thing that you are accusing the stake president of: judging. If we stop going to church because of something a church leader or member of the Church says then we are judging them. I have come to the conclusion that if I have a testimony of the Church, then I will not let anything a leader says or does stop me from going. They are human just like me. I will forgive them, forget about what was done or said and focus on the Savior. I will not allow the actions or words of a human stop me from worshiping God, the Savior, and my testimony of the restoration. I will do whatever they ask me to do so that I can bless, baptize, confirm, give priesthood blessings, and ordain my own family members. I will do as the Lord has taught– forgive. There are just too many people looking for the mistakes of leaders of the Church. Yes, you will find them. You don’t want to be judged–then don’t judge. Forgive and understand that WE ALL say and do things that are not right. Go to church for you. Do the best at your calling. Help where you can. Teach where you can. Love where you can.

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    • I agree our goal should be to build our own personal testimonies of the Saviour and where He wants us to be and what He wants us to do. Each of us is responsible for our own journey and our own spiritual progression. But we should be mindful always of how we talk to our children and youth in this church, especially those who are still trying to find their way in an often troubled and challenging world. When we use shame tactics to try and bully people into making “right” choices, they will backfire. I don’t agree that it’s being ‘judgemental’ to write this article or to point out this example of where a Stake leader failed miserably in his duty to my son. We can all learn from the good and the bad decisions that our church leaders make – and most of us have served or will serve in a leadership calling at some point in our church lives. So hopefully, my sharing this example can help us to be better and do better.

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      • Over my many years in the Church, I have visited with so many people who don’t go to church and express that the reason they don’t go is because of the actions or words of a bishop, or stake president. While disheartening to hear, in many instances, the actual words or actions are very petty. I often think and ponder to myself, why would I let these words or these actions stop me from my testimony of the restored gospel? Even Joseph Smith and many of the early leaders made mistakes. Joseph often mentioned that he fell into the follies of man and sought forgiveness from God. If I dwell on those follies, I risk the possibility of losing focus on the beautiful truths of the gospel. Oh, I’ve lived long enough to be offended by leaders. Years ago, I walked out of church when my boy was deacon age because a leader zeroed my son out as a trouble maker. I didn’t see my son doing anything different than the other deacons and pointed that out to the leader. He insisted my son was the trouble maker. I took my son by the hand and said, “We don’t need this.” And went to the car. It was then that I had the sprit come over me and whisper to my soul these words: What are YOU teaching your son right now? Are you teaching him that you run from your problems? Are you teaching him to be humble and teachable, and to accept criticism and chastisement? Go back in that church and apologize to the leader and teach your son how to forgive, how to be forgiven, and that people can work things out without being offended, angry, and hurt. And if those are the feelings, it’s okay to have them and to work on them, but leaving the Church because of them is not what Christ would want. Long story short, I listened to that spirit and it has changed my life and the way I view leaders and others within the Church. When that same son was sent home from his mission after only two months because a mission president felt he didn’t have the social skills to be a missionary, Imwas heartbroken. Oh how I could have decided this church wasn’t for me or my family. It took a while, but I learned from the spirit that my son had made his offering to God and even though it didn’t turn out the way we thought it would, his offering was accepted by the Lord. In a way, I still feel that the mission president was wrong in the way he treated my son, but I forgive him, and continue to work on my faith and my testimony, and rely on the power of the atonement to heal me. I will not allow the actions or words of someone else break down my testimony. I will continue to look inward as the apostles of old and ask, ” Lord is it I?”

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  2. Unfortunately, it isn’t the “church culture” that breeds hypocrisy; it is the Church itself.

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  3. If Jesus had asked that young man to serve and he said no, Jesus would have said choose ye this day whom you will serve. All young able men have been called to serve. They obviously still have their agency, but you can’t disobey God and be on his side at the same time. That is what the stake person meant. You are on one side or the other and it is important for every person to choose their side. There has to be a reason this young man didn’t go, that should be the focus of inquiry. It could be that he doesn’t believe in the God that has chosen him or he doesn’t believe God has chosen him. Or he may be merely serving his own desires. Whatever the case there are no fence sitters. If someone chooses to be on the other side of the fence you can’t get mad at the fence maker. In this situation the adversary wants us to be critical, of the boy, of the church, and of the leader. Christ would have us be examples, encouragers and uplifters

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    • This year we are studying the New Testament in Sunday School. It’s such a rich blessing to be reading about the Saviour’s earthly ministry and to be reminded of HOW we should treat others. Not once did Christ use public shaming or bullying to teach. When he met with people who were sick, afflicted, suffering, confused, grieving – he welcomed them and made sure they felt loved. If Jesus had been in my son’s class that Sunday, I know without a doubt in my heart, that He would NOT have said, ‘choose who you will serve…because otherwise you’re chillin with Satan…’
      Christ walked with what you call ‘fence sitters’ every day. The marginalized, the oppressed and those shunned by the majority. I suggest you go back and check your understanding of what it means to follow the Saviour.

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  4. This is an awesome article. Thank you for your honest words and your son’s as well. To thine own self be true. I am sure his Heavently Father is looking down and so very proud of his truthful decision.He was treated so cruely, and I am so sorry. Mom you are wonderful ,supporting, loving and being there for him.Bless you both.

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  5. I am a 70 year old retired physician and recently returned from a mission as an Area Medical Director I spent many hours working with missionaries who were not prepared to go on a mission emotionally, or in the tasks of daily living and saw many missionaries return home after a short time on their mission. By and large the greatest single problem was a lack of recognition regarding how difficult a mission is. I saw problems of depression, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy and talked to young people who were suicidal. I personally was asked about going on a mission when I was 19 years old and said no. A year later I was ready to go and even with that extra year to gain some maturity the first 6 months was difficult at best. As an AMA, I would meet with missionaries and frequently ask how many of them had difficulty or thought about going home within the first 4 months and almost always it was about 75%. Missions are hard and require a lot of maturity and dedication. They are a great experience and will help all who go and are committed to living the mission rules and doing all they can to fulfill their calling but now that I have been home from my first mission over 50 years, I can look back and say it has been a blessing to me in my life, but certainly I do not consider it the best two years of my life. My time with my beloved wife and family far exceed my mission in a sense of joy and fulfillment. My mission was one of the turning points in my life for which I will ever be thankful, and I had many wonderful experiences and opportunities to work closely with the mission president as his assistant but I count my years as a husband and father as the greatest 48 years of my life.
    My closing comment is simply this. Just because a young man can go at age 18 and a young women at age 19, does not mean that they should and although we may encourage them, agency is the eternal principle in the gospel for which we fought and over which we lost 1/3rd of our siblings. We never know what burden is laid upon the shoulders of another and we certainly are not in a position to judge the motivations or decisions of others.
    “I will forgive whom I forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”.
    Unfortunately, many are very narrow minded and quick to make judgements, but as my little old grandmother commented when someone stole her purse at church: “My son, it doesn’t alter the truthfulness of the gospel”.

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    • Thank you for sharing your valuable insight and experiences. I’m particularly moved by your comment – “I can look back and say it has been a blessing to me in my life, but certainly I do not consider it the best two years of my life. My time with my beloved wife and family far exceed my mission in a sense of joy and fulfilment…” So often I hear grown men bearing witness of their missions being the best two years of their life – and I honestly find that troubling because, what does that say about their many years as husbands and fathers etc?
      I agree with your wise grandmother lol.

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    • If you listen to President Monson’s announcement on the age change for missionary service, he says that young people can go at the earlier age but that it is based on their maturity and preparedness. I served back in the late 70s and wanted to go home the first day. Back then English speaking missionaries only spent one week in the mission home in Salt Lake City before entering the field. I had a very homesick and depressive feeling that made me feel so overwhelmed that I considered walking out of the mission home. I knew I could not make it with this type of feeling. On Saturday, they told us we should fast and pray for whatever we needed. I fasted and prayed that the depressive feeling would leave my body and that I could have a peaceful feeling and focus on my missionary work. I received a miracle. As I closed my fast on Sunday night, I had the most warm and peaceful feeling come over me. It was also a feeling of joy and reassurance that I was doing something good. The homesick, depressive feeling just went away and was replaced with joy. That experience changed my life. I knew the power of fasting and prayer. I knew that God is so real. Yes, there were still hard times on my mission, but I knew that with God, I could see my way through them. I’m not sure why other missionaries just starting their missions do not receive that same blessing. Maybe it is the Lord”s way of getting these young men and women the help they need for future endeavors. If they find out early enough that they are suicidal, depressed, emotionally distraught, and that things such as missionary work are too hard for them, they can get the help they need to make it in the real world when they take on the responsibilities of work and family. Life in general is tough and we all will face trials and adversities–that is the plan we chose in pre-earth life. That is how we grow to become like Father in Heaven. I love the power behind the atonement and its ability to not only cleanse from sin, but give the power to overcome all adversity.

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  6. This is a beautiful article. Many things for me to consider about myself and how I think of others’ choices. Thank you for this!

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  7. I absolutely love this. My barely 12 year old was recently singled out for the length of his hair. Why oh why would a boy named Joseph Smith who asked for no other 12 year old birthday gift than a suit to pass the sacrament in be shamed for anything. We are commanded not to look at outward appearance but to look as God does into the heart.
    Thanks for summing it up so beautifully.

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  8. Beautifully written. I too have a son that has chosen another path. Wonderful individual, helpful, loving, kind, honest. I could go on and on. I’ve been thinking about these young men who are asked to serve. Back in the early days of the church the men who served were on fire with the gospel inside of them and couldn’t wait to share it with everyone and that is why they responded to the call. In our culture we expect all youth and members to feel this way, but many are raised in the faith and don’t have that same kind of enthusiasm. If we press on & desire that kind of faith and burning testimony I think God will grant it, but no one knows the path we are supposed to walk except God. And quite frankly, some are not ready or interested in pursuing religious truths. I know when I was 19 all I cared about was boys! And God loved me just the same. He even sent me some good ones to choose from (as that is what I prayed for). I had no burning desire to know more of God and his ways. That came slowly, line upon line, precept upon precept as I aged, started a family and matured. We all came here with the freedom to chose. We all have free agency and we cannot expect or coerce those we love into accepting and acting in accordance with the gospel. There’s only one who wants to take away our choices and our agency & that’s not God. I really appreciate your post. I didn’t have time to read every other comment, but I think there are many who know and understand what you are saying. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and may we all try to be less judgemental of others choices.

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  9. Amen! Sometimes the culture of the Church gets in the way of the doctrine of the Church. A mission is not required. None of my mother’s brothers went on missions, and I do not love them less or judge them for it. I would suggest that a mission is a good idea, but that’s not for me to prescribe, that is between them and The Lord. It is also not my place to judge them because of their choices. I don’t know what they’re going through, so my job is to love them. And I would rather a young man stay home because he doesn’t want to, for whatever reason, then to go and come home early, because the frustration and anger associated with coming home early can cripple someone, emotionally and spiritually. We never know what The Lord has in store, and there is no cookie cutter way to get there.

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