Saturday, October 6, 2012

My Thoughts on the Missionary Age Change

So today was the first day of General Conference (Mormonese Translation: General Conference is a big shindig the church throws twice a year in April and October, where they gather all the bigwigs together and have a big two day long conference, 5 different sessions, 2 hours each and you hear talks from all the current Apostles and the Prophet and his counselors plus an assortment of other church big wigs. Its broadcast world wide and is generally a big frickin' deal for the Mormon folks).

And generally if theres going to be any sort of big announcement it happens at the Saturday Morning session of Conference.

And today there was a BIG announcement!!

You can read it there but basically they've lowered the ages of the missionaries. Previously you had to be 19 for young men or 21 for young women to serve. Well that's changed. Now it is 18 for young men and 19 for young women.

And I think this is flat out the awesome sauce. And let me tell you why. Some of this makes sense to anybody, some of this only makes sense if you understand the strange world that is Utah Mormon Culture (which is its very own little funky thing).

For the guys lowering the age to 18 is great for those who are ready. You don't have to go right at 18 if you're not prepared or whatever but for those who are ready it means you don't have to go, get started on your first year of college, finally get everything all straightened out and then drop out, move home and leave for 2 years on a mission. That can really put a kink in your academics (but I can testify from personal experience that if the Lord wants you to serve it will all work out regardless but it does add to the anxiety and makes the planning more complex). So now the guys, as soon as they graduate high school can just go straight out into the mission field instead of going to school for one year, THEN going on a mission.

That's nice.

But what I'm really, really excited about is the age drop for the sisters. See they've always had the sisters be older, mostly b/c it helps to keep relationships in the field "mission appropriate" if the sisters are older. (FYI: There is NO dating whatsoever as a missionary. None.) But see one could argue that 21 was perfect b/c that way most of the girls can finish college and THEN serve. Nice right?

Except for this nagging cultural bit of STUPIDITY (I'm callin' it like it is people): If you go out on your mission at age 21, you get home at age 23. And at age 23, in Utah, one of my former roommates had her 6 year old niece come up to her and ask, "Aunt Maggie*, Why are you an Old Maid?" (I would like to note here that Aunt Maggie decided shortly after that experience that it was time to leave Utah and move to Texas where people aren't so very..... Utarded). So yeah. Women in Utah get home from their missions at age 23 and are instant old maids! (Yes I am well aware that the average age for a first marriage for a woman in this country is 27. Utah is weird. Welcome to the dark side of Mormon-Land. Please note this is the culture NOT the doctrine.)

And see what REALLY bugs me about that is that in our culture the common preference is for men to date/marry women their same age or younger. Its increasing in cultural acceptance (see the "Cougar" phenomenon) but its still not the norm. Especially among the Mormon crowd, where probably the most famous tradition (please note tongue in cheek) is this:

Girl and Boy Date and Fall in Love -> Boy goes on Mission and Girl Promises to "Wait For Him" -> Shortly into Mission Boy receives the infamous "Dear John Letter". Girl marries some Hot New RM (Return Missionary). Boy is heartbroken -> Boy finishes Mission, comes home. Finds some sweet YOUNG thing (Who is also "Waiting For Her Missionary"), woos her, wins her and leads her to break some other poor shmucks heart with a "Dear John Letter" and thus the circle continues.

Note if she's "waiting for her missionary" odds are she is between the ages of 18 and 21 (b/c the boys all go at 19 and get home at 21). See now how 23 year old single sister fits awkwardly into this picture. Most of her 23 year old peers at home already have 2-3 children by this point.

And you wanna know the saddest part of it? Those 23 year old "Old Maids" are the fricking cream of the crop. I mean no disrespect to those who don't serve but it is truly amazing the depth of knowledge and testimony you gain as a missionary. That's WHY they send the guys. One could argue that its for the Work of God but lets be honest- a big part of it is to get their moronic twerpy stage over with in a hurry.

In my experience most 18-19 year old guys are twerps. (I am actually quoting my Mission President's Wife here...) And left to their own devices they don't grow out of that until they're 25-30. But a mission is just this incredible thing that if you work, and study and teach and pray and really give your mission your all... It is the greatest refiners fire and when you're done you have Men (and Women) of God.

And these sisters.... I can't think of a better preparation to be a Mother. I have 18 months of serious experience teaching the gospel that I know will help me teach my children. I've learned how to work and study and have the Spirit with my companion. When you get a companion as a missionary - its a complete stranger and you get thrown together for at least 6 weeks and you have to figure out how to get a long with no tension whatsoever so that you can effectively do the work of the Lord. That can be quite a challenge if your personalities are.... less compatible. Its fantastic prep for learning how to work and communicate and study and pray with your Eternal Companion (aka Your Spouse).

So these AMAZING sisters who you would think the guys would be LINING UP for a date with them, often take YEARS after their mission to find their spouse, largely b/c "They're Older".

How stupid is that?!

Oh and lots and LOTS of sisters just plain don't get to go b/c they get married long before they got anywhere near 21 and could even think about praying about, "Should I go on a mission?". But now they're 19. The guys have been gone for a year so hopefully some of the hormones have cleared their heads and now they get the chance to really pray, "Am I supposed to go?"

Its more complicated for sisters than it is for most guys. For most guys, since the 70s or so the standard has been, "Every worthy and able young man should serve a mission." But for sisters, not all of us are called. And yes if they're supposed to stay home and get married straight away that will still happen but I just think it will be easier and more sisters will be able to serve.

And that is just so fricking exciting. And I am so happy for them. And jealous really. My father called me and was like, "Wow, only 15 years and Caleb can serve a mission!" And my Mom started to scold him for stressing me out and ya know... that thought doesn't stress me. I want him to go with my whole heart. The thought of him getting married and leaving my house, that stresses me, but a mission? I'm just excited and crazy jealous.

Because I loved my mission. I absolutely did not want to come home. I missed my family but that was it. If I could have still seen my family regularly as a missionary they would never have gotten me to leave. I will still resolutely say that it was flat out, hands down, the single best thing I have ever done FOR my whole life. And I'm so grateful for the chance to serve and if it wasn't for my family now I'd be beating down the door for them to let me serve again. I still dream about it actually.

So yeah. Just my two cents. I'm sorry if it really sounds like I've got the hate on for the Utah Mormons. They're okay, mostly. Just certain cultural quirks make me twitchy.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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