There are certain rites of passage children go through – the first step, first word, first tooth, firsts, firsts, firsts.

Well, in religion there are also rites of passage – some religions have christenings and baptisms, while others have bat mitzvahs and confirmations.

In the mormon religion children are given a naming blessing after a month or so. Their next rite of passage doesn’t occur until their 8th birthday, when they are asked if they would like to be baptised. The reason for this is Mormons believe people should choose their religion. If they are baptised at birth then they aren’t making that choice, their parents are. Of course, most children “choose” to be baptised because there is so much pressure to do so. I’m sure there are many who also truly believe, or at least want to truly believe.

When I think back on my own baptism experience I remember sitting in the bishop’s office with my father. I was intrigued by my brand new shoes, white with black bows, and completely unconcerned with the questions being asked me. All I wanted was to give the “right” answers and go home to play. I also remember thinking I was going to hell because I wasn’t baptised yet.

All of my friends had been baptised the month following their 8th birthdays, as is tradition. My older brother had been baptised. Me, I was three months shy of my 9th birthday and still skating by, unbaptised. I wanted this. I needed it. I had to be baptised so I could fit in. All the people I knew up until now had done it, and I should too. To an 8-year-old fitting in is practically required, but to an 11-year-old who is already awkward and shy, it seems paramount to their existence.

I’d like to introduce you to my youngest sister:

Her name’s Kati. She’s 11. She’s shy. She has a cute little freckle on her lower left cheek, I call it her beauty mark. She wears braces. She’s awkward. She’s one of the only kids in my family with dark eyes. She gorgeous. She’s brave. AND she makes my heart swell with pride.

My youngest sister wants to please everybody, as most children are wont to do, just as I did when I was younger. She’s afraid to tell people what’s on her mind or what’s bothering her because she worries she’ll say the wrong thing. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. She’s a pleaser.

Even so she has withstood a severe amount of pressure from adults to be baptised. It was nearly two years ago that I first found out about my parents’ dilemma with Kati.

I dropped by one Sunday night to pick up some groceries from my mom’s pantry and when I walked in I was greeted with two missionaries, my dad and Kati sitting in the front room. I was quickly herded to the kitchen where I began interrogating my other brothers and sisters to find out what was going on. At first nobody wanted to tell me, I’m guessing it was because they thought I would explode, but eventually I conned one of my younger brothers into telling me.

“She isn’t baptised,” he told me. “They’re here to convince her that it’s the right thing to do.”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Well, of course she’ll do it.”

“No, she won’t,” he replied. “They come here nearly every Sunday and they leave with a ‘No’ every time.”

I thought for sure she would have caved by now, but I talked to my mom a few days ago and she said the missionaries were just there again this past Sunday. My sister has been telling the missionaries, her bishop, my parents, every adult she knows, my other siblings, her friends and everyone else for nearly four years now that she chooses not to be baptised. My sister, the pleaser.

Although my mom said she’s sick of the missionaries putting so much pressure on my sister, she still allows them into the house because my dad is so fanatical. Obviously there’s something bigger than they can see at work. What child goes against everything they know? What child suffers humiliation and ridicule from siblings and friends for no good reason? No child I’ve ever met.

Ever since I heard about these “meetings” with the missionaries I’ve wanted to take my sister out to dinner and tell her how proud I am of her for standing up for what she believes, or doesn’t believe in this case. I wish I had had her strength of character as a child. I don’t think I ever really believed in the church. I wanted so much to believe. I prayed to believe. But it’s been lost on me.

I’ve never taken her out or told her I was proud of her for fear of my parents’ wrath. I know they blame me, at least in part, for my sister not getting baptised and if I were to congratulate here it would only fuel the fire. I am proud of her though. She is the bravest person I know.

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