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Friday, November 15, 2013

Auto/Airline Mechanics, or, When Missionaries Say “I Don’t Know”

by Shawn Tucker:

Some weeks ago I went out with our local missionaries here in North Carolina. They are both wonderful elders; enthusiastic, full of joy and love and optimism, and eager to help. They asked me to go with them to visit a late twenty-something female ward member. This woman, who I will call Amanda, is currently separated from her husband. During the visit, the missionaries talked about exactly what they should talk about. They asked questions to help Amanda reflect on her faith and her covenants. She has struggled to attend church, so they talked with her about how prayer and scripture study may help this and other aspects of her life.

During the course of the conversation, Amanda mentioned how pleasantly surprised she was at some of her estranged husband's recent efforts. She mentioned how he had recently called "out of the blue" with no other purpose than to talk with her. He also asked her to take him to a medical appointment, and she was glad to help him out. She talked about small yet helpful things he had recently done. I asked her what she thought of all of those efforts, and she commented positively on them. I asked if they seemed unexpected, and when she said yes, I asked if those efforts might represent some sort of risk on his part. She agreed that they did, and then responded enthusiastically to the suggestion that she consider acknowledging to him how much she appreciated his efforts and the risk they represent.

Later in the conversation she talked about her struggles to keep the Word of Wisdom. The missionaries of course commended the value of prayer, fasting and scripture reading. I asked her if these struggles were compounded by the current stress over her marriage. When I asked if those things prohibited by the Word of Wisdom might be a way that she self-soothes, she very strongly agreed. We then had a brief discussion about the problems associated with this self-soothing strategy, and we talked about alternatives.

When the visit was over, it struck me that my contributions to the visit were things that the missionaries could not offer. I know I could have never talked about graciously acknowledging risks in marriage or self-soothing strategies so many years ago as a young missionary. The analogy that came to my mind is the comparison of different mechanics. Missionaries are like auto mechanics, in that they understand how engines work. They can help one's spiritual engine or one's relationship with God function better. But this is necessarily a narrow expertise. I imagine that airline mechanics have expertise that include, yet go beyond, those of the auto mechanic. (If this is not true, please comment below and/or pretend.) I imagine that airline mechanics need more experience and training to help those more complex engines function optimally.

I believe that members and non-members can often use expertise beyond what missionaries can offer. I felt that it was a great privilege to offer some small contributions to the discussion with Amanda. Those insights seemed valuable to her. These are some of the great benefits of member-missionary work.

One final insight that occurred to me in this instance is the wisdom and patience of these particular missionaries. They did not pretend to have answers or insights or expertise that they lack. They stuck to what they knew and resisted the temptation to make uneducated and/or unwise guesses. They left a space for me to add something. It can be very powerful when missionaries have the honesty and faith to say, "I don’t know."
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Shawn Tucker grew up with amazing parents and five younger, wonderful siblings. He served as a missionary in Chile during the Plebiscite and the first post-dictatorship election. After his mission, he attended BYU, where he married ... you guessed it ... his wife. They both graduated, with Shawn earning a BA in Humanities. Fearing that his BA in Humanities, which is essentially a degree in Jeopardy, would not be sufficient, Shawn completed graduate work in the same ... stuff ... at Florida State University. He currently teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. He and ... you guessed it ... his wife have four great children. Twitter: @MoTabEnquirer. Website:
 photo Line-625_zpse3e49f32.gif Image credit: Robert Couse-Baker (used with permission).

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