On Being a Missionary’s Mother


It seems like only yesterday that I watched my little boy leave home to forge his way bravely toward kindergarten, thumb in mouth, nap towel clutched tightly in his arms. After kissing and hugging him, I waved good-bye and hesitated only briefly before hopping in the car to follow him—without his knowledge, of course. At a discreet distance I watched as he met each obstacle, from street intersections to sprinklers in the park. I sighed with relief when he made it safely to school, walking alone through the big doors as the bell rang. A lump filled my throat. My firstborn was launched into the world.

Time passed, and we kissed, hugged, and waved good-bye again. Again his hands were clutched tightly, but not around a towel. He carried a suitcase packed with items he’d need for the next two years. How handsome he looked in his dark, Swedish-knit suit and polished, thick-soled shoes. Different emotions passed across his face—anxiety, excitement, love, and maybe even a flash of fear as he faced the unknown.

As he turned to wave good-bye from the stairs to the plane, I too had mixed emotions—pride, happiness, gratitude, and an ache in a little empty corner of my heart. My little boy was going away forever this time; he would return a man.

The day he left was cloudy, and the plane was soon hidden from view. As my husband and I walked slowly to the parking lot, deep in thought and choked with emotion, we gazed toward the western sky. The clouds parted briefly, just enough to let us see our son’s plane winging rapidly away from us toward New Zealand. It seemed he was no longer so much our son as he was a servant of the Lord. I knew he was in good hands, and I was comforted.

Later I realized that in “losing” one son, I had gained dozens of others. Every missionary I saw symbolized my own young elder. Two young men pedaled past me on their bicycles. Is the seat of my son’s once-new suit now shiny from the wear of bicycling? I wondered as they rode by. Does his pant leg have a little tear that goes unmended? Or perhaps he is stretching the seams of that first suit like the healthy senior companion sitting on the stand at stake conference.

When a missionary was called to bear testimony at a meeting, I smiled as my mind wandered to New Zealand. What would my son say? Has the gospel made him bold? Or is he timid and nervous, searching desperately for the right words as he relies on the Holy Ghost for guidance? In later years, similar thoughts passed through my mind as three of my other children each left to serve missions in Sweden and Germany.

On summer days I see tired, hot, thirsty missionaries determined to be enthusiastic as they walk on weary feet and tug at snug collars. I still long to offer them a refreshing drink and a chance for much-needed rest. But these missionaries have work to do, and my concern must not sidetrack my “sons” from their urgent cause.

I watch as a forlorn, bewildered new missionary hesitates at the door of my neighbor. Finally he breathes deeply and rings the bell. I want to stand behind him, whispering words of encouragement. Then I remember that a voice, quieter than mine but much more powerful, can whisper in his heart and give him strength to accomplish that awesome responsibility.

For two years, each of my missionary children did not need me. Rather, they needed my prayers, my faith, my testimony, my letters, and, most important, the Lord. For it is the Lord who in his wisdom and perfect love continued to guide, strengthen, and shape my children for a future I could not see. Though letting go was difficult, I was reassured, knowing that my children were in the best of hands.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson; posed by model

Shirley Farnsworth Berlin is Relief Society spiritual living leader in the Windsor Hills Ward, Ogden Utah Burch Creek Stake.