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"How are you feeling about your son leaving soon?" has been my favorite question lately. My answer is kinda mixed. During July and August I was surprised and excited. Then on September 14 he flew to and from San Francisco by himself for a day. The purpose was a quick visit to the Finnish consulate for a visa. He had fantastic instructions to get from the airport to the BART to the consulate, but waiting for the interview took longer than planned. Leaving the consulate he had less than an hour until his flight was supposed to take off. That included a 32 minute tram ride, printing a boarding pass, airport security, etc. In all honesty, he should have missed that flight home. But he didn't. Call it a miracle or a test of faith, or whatever you want to call it. But for my boy who loves to be punctual, boarding a flight 7 minutes before take-off was pretty intense. Long story short, I think we all realized a few things that day. There are so.many.details I can't control, and I have to trust that God will watch over him, and he will learn and grow and become a better person in the process.

That day it hit me that he's leaving and going someplace really far away. Helsinki is much further than San Francisco. I can't protect him or help him or do anything for him except pray. I've struggled with the idea of letting him go. Is he ready? Have we taught him well enough? Can I really send him across the ocean to a place I've never seen?  

All through October I churned through memories of my own mission in Paraguay; I wrestled with my own faith and whether or not I really believe; I threw an email temper tantrum to my local church leaders. Finally, one morning late in October there was a feeling of peace that came into my heart. I realized I will be fine, and my son will be fine. But there were six weeks where I was in limbo. I spent six weeks praying and wondering and hoping and struggling. It's kind of awesome to finally feel settled and sure, confident that this next step is okay. (BTW I really believe. I recently wrote an essay called Things I Know which summarizes my faith and my conviction, and why I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

Why do we do it?

Ultimately the answer is really simple. My son gets a chance to spend two years learning how to love. The main idea here is to learn to love God, and to love your neighbor.

My son gets to spend two years in practical application of this great commandment to love. He won't have to worry about money. He already saved $6K to contribute to his own expenses, and we'll cover the other half. He won't have to worry about school or a career; he won't have to worry about girls and dating. Basically he gets a time-out from all the tedious details. At a carefree time when many young adults become me-monsters, he has time and space to become less selfish.

In the Old Testament, the Lord instructed Moses to teach the children of Israel. Leviticus 19 has counsel to be holy, to keep the sabbath, to obey the commandments. v. 18 "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord." In verse 34 he reiterates, "But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." 

My memories of the people of Paraguay include warmth and generosity. On hot days during the summer, we could always count on a stranger to give us a cold drink of water or tererea. They'd invite us to sit with them in the shade, literally welcoming us into their circle. Even when families had little money, they freely shared their food with us. I will always remember their generosity even in the face of great poverty. Having been a stranger in a strange land, those verses about loving your neighbor hit home differently.

This admonition to love your neighbor is repeated throughout the Old Testament. Some of my favorites:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-5 "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they might."
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 "Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations."
  • Micah 6:8 "...What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

In the New Testament, people asked this question: "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 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 neighbor as thyself." Matthew 22:36

1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful text on love. The NIV 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 reads as follows: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

Another fancy word for love is charity. The KJV 1 Corinthians 13:13 reinforces this truth: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

At the end of the day, at the end of this mortal journey, there's no actual stuff we take with us to heaven. The whole point is to become people who are filled with love. I hope my son begins this chapter of his life knowing how much we love him and how much his Heavenly Father loves him. I hope that as he works and waits on the Lord, his heart will grow and his capacity to love will increase. I hope that as he serves and teaches the people around him, he finds satisfaction and joy.

When we lead with love, we emulate the perfect example of Jesus Christ. "The gospel of Jesus Christ defines both your message and your purpose; that is, it provides both the "what" and the "why" of missionary work." (Preach My Gospel p. 5) I love this painting by Akiane Kramarik and I love that it's been one of my son's favorites as well.

So to return to my original question: "How are you feeling about your son leaving soon?" Well, I'm happy and sad, I'm glad for him to go and excited for the adventures he'll have. For now, I get to watch as a transformation begins. Tomorrow morning he begins Day 1 of online training at home, with a small cohort of students. In a few weeks, they'll all meet together in Provo, UT at the Missionary Training Center, right by BYU. They'll continue learning Finnish and learning to teach, and learning how to practice the first great commandments to love God and to love other people.


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