Dear 100 Hour Board,
Needing a little help here.
My parents are two of the most orthodox Mormons I've ever met. I'm very seriously dating a boy right now who, after MUCH consideration determined not to go on a mission. It wasn't an easy decision for him, and he counseled with bishops and therapists, as well as prayers with God to come to this conclusion.
However, I still am getting a lot of crap from my parents because he "isn't fulfilling his Priesthood duty unless he goes on a mission" and because of this, he won't have enough conviction to the Gospel to be a good husband and father in the future.
To me, this sounds like toxic orthodoxy. I don't think it's fair to say someone won't be a good member of the church or a good father just because they didn't go on a mission.
I'm worried that in the case we decide to get married, this will alienate us from my family.
Is there anything you would say as words of comfort, or perhaps something I could say to my parents to help them be a little more open-minded?
I think Anne hits the nail squarely on the head down below, so I won't waste your time with all of the thoughts I have that are similar to hers. What I really want to bring up is one simple question directed toward your parents.
If he counseled with his Bishop and a therapist and came to this conclusion, why would they think they knew better?
From what you said, this was not a decision that he came to lightly and they need to acknowledge that, as well as the fact that not all men who go on missions turn out righteous, and not all righteous men went on missions. There's no certain correlation between the two. You could also remind them of all the ways that he is fulfilling his Priesthood duty while staying right here: ministering, going to the temple, giving blessings, participating in the Sacrament, etc.
Ultimately, I think you just should have a frank discussion with your parents. Explain to them how uncomfortable they're making you and that continued nagging on this subject will only alienate you. Remind them that you love them, but that boundaries are important and they aren't respecting yours. If they continue to not be adults about it, I'm sorry, but you will have done your part and acted maturely, which is all you can do sometimes.
I'm sure your parents are loving, wonderful people. But they're wrong. They're wrong to be so judgmental about a situation they clearly don't understand. I don't think you should be rude about it, but I think you should tell them that they're wrong, because it sounds like something they need to hear.
As far as comfort goes, at least know that you're not alone. My parents came to visit me last week, and a man I'm currently seeing asked if he could meet them. I broached the subject with my parents, and my dad wasn't overly enthusiastic about the idea because, according to him, he wasn't particularly interested in meeting a man who couldn't take his daughter to the temple (this particular man is not LDS). And while I respect that, and I know my parents just want me to be happy, it hurt a little bit to consider how quickly my dad would dismiss the happiness I've found because it doesn't align with his vision for my happiness.
I'm sorry this has been a source of contention between you. But like the other writers suggest, talking through things with your parents and maybe even your boyfriend is going to be your best option. But more than just debating the point with your parents, I would suggest explaining to them that you care about this person and he makes you happy regardless of his decision not to serve a mission. Hopefully they'll respect you and your feelings and won't say anything more about it.
That sounds like a rough situation, and I'm sorry you're going through it. I love what the other writers have to say, and I would just add, talk to your parents about how you're worried this will alienate you. Most parents want what's best for their children, and it sounds like your parents' concern about your boyfriend serving a mission is coming from a (misguided) place of love for you. If they really love you, and it sounds like they do, they should be pretty motivated by the idea of getting a closer relationship with you. So tell them that you love them and want a good relationship with them, but you're also an adult who makes your own decisions, as is your boyfriend, and it's not their place to tell him or you how to live. Be firm about making your own decisions, but also let them know that you don't want it to come between you. The ball is then in their court to either accept your decision and be close to you, or to not accept it and drive a wedge between you.
Best of luck, friend.
On a similar note to Quixotic Kid: this kid's bishop has a responsibility to help guide his spiritual development. Your parents probably know that and understand that's his job and not theirs, but lots of parents are protective of their children in dating, sometimes erring too far on the side of conservatism. A few thoughts:
Your parents probably wouldn't object to you marrying someone like Nephi, right? He was a prophet, he was an obedient son, he was consistently seeking the Lord's will and following it, etc. But Nephi killed someone. That's a way bigger commandment than going on a mission. So why is it okay? Because although "thou shalt not kill" is a generally applicable commandment that we are always responsible for following and which most of us would interpret to go against the type of thing Nephi did, God knows what we need to do and will tell us. Sometimes His revelations to us may result in us being asked to focus on a different commandment or being given dispensation to break a general commandment.
Now, if it were me, I would probably want to be pretty confident that the boy had been appropriately reflective and was really following divine counsel and that whatever reasons he had for not going on a mission were not otherwise going to make our relationship struggle. However, it seems like you guys have discussed this at least to some point, and you're still comfortable with it.
A possible discussion with your parents could include something like:
"I know that there's a general commandment for young men to serve missions. However, I also know that God speaks to us individually and ask different things of different people depending on who they are and what their circumstances are. Nephi killing Laban, the Lord telling the Saints that they didn't need to build the temple in Missouri at that time, that kind of stuff. I know you guys want to make sure that my spouse and I are able to have a strong, gospel-centered relationship, and that's important to me, too. That's why as I've gotten to know [boyfriend] I've learned about his testimony and commitment to the Church. We've discussed the circumstances under which he made his decision not to go on a mission at this point in his life, and I'm comfortable that he has sought and followed Heavenly Father's will in this, like he tries to in other areas of life. Because I know he's devoted to following Heavenly Father's commandments and that his decision not to serve a mission comes after counseling with Church leaders, other experts, and, most importantly, Heavenly Father, I'm comfortable that what he is doing is what Heavenly Father wants him to do - which is more important than whether it's what most other people do. I hope that you guys will have the chance to get to know [boyfriend] better so that you can also appreciate his commitment to seeking and following divine instruction. In the meantime, please respect my ability to follow spiritual guidance about evaluating whether my dating decisions are going to lead me closer to the eternal family Heavenly Father wants for me.
Warning: I hinted at this above, but I want to emphasize a bit more. I do not think that the above conversation will necessarily completely alleviate your parents' concerns. They still don't know this guy, and so they don't have any way to evaluate that his divergence from a general commandment is actually righteous (as opposed to just lazy, or uncommitted, or whatever) other than to take your word on his word for it. Furthermore, especially given your mention of your boyfriend discussing this matter with his therapists, it seems to me that you're implying a medical or psychological condition that is a significant contribution to why a mission isn't the right answer for him. This may also be a source of concern to your parents, because dating someone with significant health (physical or mental) issues brings different challenges to a relationship that they may wish you could avoid. I could see your parents worrying that if your boyfriend has some problem significant enough to contribute to staying home from a mission, he might not be in a good place to be in a serious relationship. Their concerns could be justified, or not - I obviously don't know because I don't know you or your boyfriend.
There's a temptation to want a world in which all of our children would be able to marry people whose biggest weakness was like, needing help choosing non-ugly ties or something like that. However, that's not how the real world works. Everyone has struggles, and often these trials help shape us into much better, stronger, and more righteous individuals who are better prepared to love and serve others (including in a marriage). On the other hand, there are a large number of people for whom trials instead lead to giving into temptation, the formation of bad habits, etc. Parents one degree removed from a situation but having seen a lot more of the latter in their lives than their young children have may worry in situations they don't need to because they think their kids wouldn't worry in situations where they should.
- You might explain to your parents that it is more important to you that [boyfriend] follows what God asks of him than what God asks of other people in general circumstances.
- You might explain that because of X, Y, and Z, you're confident that boyfriend is following God's direction on this matter and that means that he's just as worthy as people who follow God's direction when the direction is different (i.e. go on a mission).
- You might clarify that you understand that some people don't go on a mission for unworthy reasons, and that you don't feel that's what is happening here.
- You might consider asking if they have other concerns than just the fact that he's "failing his duty" by not serving. If they bring up concerns about mental health or other issues, I'd acknowledge those issues and explain how/why we were making things work in spite of them.
I guess I'd say there are two big things here. First is that parents who are righteously seeking to follow Christ can be a source of wise counsel. While they may not know enough about a situation to make perfect recommendations, I think it's appropriate to ensure that you've considered the validity of serious concerns they raise. Second is that marrying someone (I know you're not married yet) involves choosing a relationship with them that becomes more important to and dominant over your relationship with your parents. While you should still honor your parents per Commandment 5, I think you're entitled to revelation on whether this relationship is what God wants for you.
I just wanted to sympathize with you. At some point when minnow and I get married (yeah nobody knows when it's a mess), it won't be in the temple*, because his parents aren't members and wouldn't be able to attend. They already felt incredibly alienated when minnow joined the Church against their wishes and a temple marriage would only serve to worsen that. As you can imagine, my parents aren't very happy about that. But it's been incredibly relieving to know that God supports what I'm doing. Because if He does, everything will work out.
I would suggest you talk to your parents individually. My dad is actually more open to the non-temple wedding than I expected—in fact, he's the one who started pushing for it when he realized the alternative was to get a secret temple wedding with no celebration, few (if any) friends and family, and absolutely no pictures on Facebook. I had no idea he'd be so open to the idea until I talked with him individually. While my mom is still pushing for a temple wedding (and who knows maybe it will still happen?), it really helps me to know my dad understands where I'm coming from and can help my mom understand it as well.
Going against your parents wishes, especially when it comes to religion, is tough. But stick with your conscience and with God, because He'll never lead you astray.
-guppy of doom
*referring to the initial wedding, not to being sealed a year after the civil wedding
I think this has already been addressed in far more detail by everyone else, but in the end, you're an adult, and your decisions are your own. Like, be open to feedback, but ultimately, you're gonna have to choose for yo'self what you will do, regardless of whether or not your padres are in love with the idea.
--Ardilla Feroz, who should probably listen more to his own advice