I want to digress slightly to a religious subject, one that I care about and I feel like everyone should care about. If you really want to understand conservatism, you have to understand religion.
At a baptism today, the sister missionaries shared the first lesson they teach to people learning about our church. Many people don’t get to the second or third lessons, so this is the only lesson many people will ever hear about us. We obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the best things to put in there and what to leave out.
I still remember vividly my MTC (Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT) instructor asking us to pull our seats a little more closer together. He said, “I’m going to show you how to teach the first lesson.” I don’t know what I expected. I intended to pull out a notepad and take notes. He signaled us to put our stuff away and listen with our hearts. I obliged.
He started off with a simple phrase like, “God is our Heavenly Father. He loves us and has prepared a plan of happiness for us.”
The Spirit overwhelmed me. It overwhelmed everyone in that room. What a wonderful, beautiful message! Missionary work seemed so easy in that moment: All we have to do is tell people those magical words, the spirit will come, and they’ll beg to be baptized. At least that’s what it seemed like at the time.
The sister missionaries began their lesson today in the same way. “God is our Heavenly Father. He loves us and has prepared a plan so that we can be happy.” The Spirit came. It washed over me, bathing me with warmth, peace, and comfort.
I was flushed with memories of that moment when the MTC instructor taught me what a missionary lesson should be like. I was struck by all the memories of the hundreds of times I shared a similar message with people, in Korean or English or whatever. Sometimes I shared it with a smile, because that’s all I could give them at the time. My whole intent was to reach out, heart-to-heart, and have people feel a little of what I felt.
I thought of how I love this church. I love it because this idea is the heart and soul of the church, the assumption that God loves us like parents love a little child, and he simply wants us to be happy. It’s what makes us tick. It’s why we wake up early and go to our leadership meetings and then spend 3 hours in church and then hours afterward visiting the sick and lonely. It’s why I gather my kids together and read scriptures with them or teach them lessons about the gospel. It’s why I’m happy to pay a 10% tithe along with generous donations to the poor.
I love it because that’s all people really need to hear. They’re going through a tough time, a divorce or a child’s tragedy, or sickness or whatever. They are hungry for some kind of hope or purpose to their misery, and everything becomes so clear when they look at their life through that lens. “God loves you. He knows you. He wants you to be happy.” It’s going to be OK!
I wish I could somehow get that message across to everyone. Mormonism is many things, but at the very center of it is that simple message. I want people to think “Joseph Smith: Witness of God’s love.” or “The Book of Mormon: Witness that God wants us to be happy.” or even, “Hey, there’s those silly guys with the black name tags! They want to tell us God loves us and we can be happy!” I want the brand “Mormon” to mean these things, nothing more or less. Mormonism: God loves you and wants you to be happy!
It’s not polygamy. It’s not the Book of Mormon. It’s not even the priesthood authority or our understanding of the trinity. These things are important, but they are not the reason why I am a mormon. I wake up in the morning, grateful to be alive because I know that God loves me and he wants me to live another day. If I don’t wake up, or if I die tragically sometime during the day, it’s OK. God loves me! I face challenges knowing that they are put there to refine me and teach my how to be happy. I see all the tender mercies of the Lord and say, “Ah! Another sign that God is thinking of me and wants me to be happy!” These other things build on that and add to it, and so I keep it as part of my own faith.
Thank you, sister missionaries. You reminded this brother about what the entire point is all about. Thank you for sharing the Holy Ghost with simple words that we sometimes repeat too often forgetting what they are supposed to mean.
To everyone else: I don’t care which church you are in or whether you believe in God at all. I do care that you feel as I do, that God loves you as a child is loved by a parent. God knows what he is doing. He has a plan to make you happy. And he wants you to be happy.