Charity is not Optional
One of my favorite things about the Church is that it provides lots of opportunities to serve. Even when I have struggled with certain aspects of my religion and found Sundays uninspiring, I recognize that getting out of myself and doing for others makes me a better, happier person. And the LDS faith consistently offers me chances to serve and be served. So now that my 15 year-old son is attempting to boycott Sunday attendance on the grounds that he doesn’t “buy into it,” I am struggling to get him to understand that being Mormon is so much more than belief. In fact, for lots of us, belief is beside the point.
Last night we had a talk and I said that if he was going to refuse to go to Church on Sundays, he needed to find someplace he could go and serve instead, like a soup kitchen or a nursing home. This irritated and perplexed him. “You just think I don’t want to go because I’m lazy.” Of course I think he’s lazy–he groans when I ask him to empty the dishwasher. When I told him that in our family, we serve each other and the community, and he couldn’t do that staying home watching Myth Busters, he countered that the three hours spent in Church are not service hours.
While that may be technically true, I disagreed. The connections I make on Sunday, the people I interact with, the stories I hear shared, and just observing my fellow saints, all this creates and/or enhances my willingness to reach out to others. His reply totally floored me. “Yeah, but it’s not like you spend three hours a week outside of church serving people.” Oh the cluelessness of a know-it-all teenager. I contemplated telling him about all the time and resources I have already spent this week–and it’s only Tuesday. But much of what I do would not qualify in his mind as “service.” For example today a few of us who work in YW busted our butts to fix the prom dress of one of our girls. My son would find it ridiculous to spend so much time and effort finding a way to add sleeves to a strapless dress so that it would cover a bit more flesh without ending up looking “too Mormon.” I did not inherit the modesty gene and thought the dress was fine. But to this YW, it mattered a lot. And even though I swear sometimes God rolls his eyes at me when I pray for all sorts of silly things, I know he listens and blesses me just the same. So too I am trying to value the things that matter to the people around me. (And the dress looks gorgeous!)
And this is a big part of why I want my son at Church. I want him to notice who is feeling excluded. I want him to take the time to talk to the chatty, lonely sister who passes out programs. I want him to see that his YM leader has prepared the lesson specifically with him in mind, that he is loved by this community that has served him his whole life. And that they need him too. I can accept that he doesn’t believe. But you don’t have to believe in Christ to be Christ-like. So whether in an LDS chapel or a secular venue, I will teach my kids that charity is not optional.