An Open Letter To Every LDS Early Returned Missionary & Those Who Want To Understand Them:
Words that needed to be said.
First, I’m so sorry you’re hurting. Obviously, I don’t know your situation & I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I know it’s hard, & it makes me so sad that this is your heavy cross to bear. But it also kind of makes me happy & I’ll explain why. I can only imagine the growth you experienced during your service. The love you felt for those you met & taught, the frustration, adventure, & the strength of your testimony as it grew with each experience. But now you’re here on an unanticipated journey that will hopefully lead to more growth than you could have imagined, a solid knowledge of the Lord’s love & personal plan for you, & an added sense of your mission & purpose. But before all of that, before you’re grateful for this pain & confusion & you can understand more fully what you’ve gained instead of seeing only what you may have lost, it’s probably going to be really, really hard.
Most Missionaries return home early for any combination of 3 reasons:
1. You’re sick physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. The goal here is healing.
2. You’re sick spiritually. The goal here is not shame but repentance; spiritual healing.
3. You don’t want to serve. The goal here is to understand that you are still so, so loved.
If you’re anything like me, when you returned home you felt broken. Maybe you’re still in shock, reliving whatever unexpected experience or trauma crossed your path. You’re probably confused, processing your circumstances & uncertain of what’s ahead. I’m learning that’s not uncommon.
Coming home I was somewhat inconsolable. I sobbed, not wanting to leave my mission. I was scared because I didn’t know what was making me so sick, or what would happen upon my return. I felt embarrassed for returning home early & guilty for not loving every second of my mission. That first Sunday I refused to attend my home ward. I was prepared to be invisible until I could return to my mission, hoping that if I was careful no one would ever know I had come home. I felt like I had let everyone down… Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, my family, friends, ward members, my Mission President, the leaders of the church, those in Chile, my fellow missionaries, & even perfect strangers. I wondered if I could have worked harder, what I could have done differently to stay, and what I might have done wrong to be in this situation. Was it my fault? Maybe something I’d neglected to do or something I hadn’t thought through? I worried what people would think or say. What were they saying, & were they right? Could I have done more? Should I have crawled to appointments, used a wheelchair, been kinder, prayed more earnestly, or shown more faith? It went on & on. Feelings of guilt, embarrassment, sadness, inadequacy, & uncertainty weighed on me, & seven months later they still resurface.
But I want to tell you that if you’re feeling that way you’re wrong & it’s never felt more right for me to say that to anyone.
You have not failed. Heavenly Father is not punishing you, He loves you more than you know. He’s not thinking back to every moment of your mission saying, “You could have done more. If you hadn’t stopped to rest, eaten a snack, or fixed your shoe. If only you had shared your testimony with more conviction or spent more time studying…” Every time you think that or feel guilty because you’re convinced you’re not all that you should be, I beg you to stop. Think about a dear friend or family member and imagine they came to you with these feelings. What would you tell them? I’m quite certain you wouldn’t tell them what you’re telling yourself. As with anything, talk it over with the Lord. Work out the guilt you may feel & refrain from judging yourself more harshly than He would.
But even if you’re not beating yourself up, feeling guilty about things you probably ought not to feel guilty about, this experience is still terribly hard. Sometimes you’re lost & you don’t understand why this happened or what it’s doing for you or how it’s helping you & that’s hard. So, I want to make it perfectly clear that it’s okay to be sad about what happened. It’s okay to miss your mission, to be confused & not understand how it could feel so right for you to serve as a full-time missionary, but also be right for you to return home earlier than anticipated. So, hear me say this: You don’t have to be strong all the time, that’s not what He asks, but He does ask us to continue faithful, to trust Him, & to believe in good things to come. “There is one thing the Lord expects of us no matter our difficulties & sorrows: He expects us to press on.” -Joseph B Wirthlin
Having said all of that, & knowing it’s so easy to forget the reassuring thoughts of the Spirit & slip into the traps & discouragement of the Adversary, I have some advice. Not all of you will appreciate everything listed, but I’m confident you can find something that will help you. This is what helped me.
15 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Circumstances
- Know that the Lord accepts your service. There’s a story in the Doctrine & Covenants about this. The Lord had commanded the saints to build a Temple in Jackson County & then after seeing their struggles He rescinded it. The saints obeyed the command, going willingly to serve with all their might, but as enemies came upon them the Lord told the saints that He no longer expected them to continue. In your case, those enemies might be an illness, weakness or doubt, & we can know that although we didn’t complete the anticipated task our efforts are appreciated. Most of all we can know that the expectations are no longer the same; The Lord is not requiring what He used to & He accepts our service. He’s grateful that we went willingly, offering all you had.
“…when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.” D&C 124:49
I want you to remember that we all have the same destination, so it doesn’t really matter how the Lord wants us to get there, full-time mission or not. Every member a missionary, just a little different mission. More on this: Here.
- Keep up the good habits. For some this unforeseen turn of events can be a real test of faith, but I’m begging you to keep praying, keep studying, & keep believing. Things will get better. Exercise, eat right, & pray, pray, pray. Remember this is about reliance on the Lord. Maybe this is how you learn the best & you wouldn’t learn to rely on Him in the same way or use the Atonement of Jesus Christ in every moment if you were in a different situation. So keep doing the things you were doing & being the person you were being while you were serving.
- Read the Book of Mormon over & over again. Get a new copy & mark it up. Pick something to look for: Examples of faith, Gratitude, Attributes of Christ, The love God has for His children, Enduring to the end, etc.
This has helped me more than I can say. I keep one on my desk, one in my bag, & another on the chair by my bed. I’ve had so many new insights & answers come to me while I’m reading. I keep a picture of Christ inside to remind me why I’m reading & a note card to keep track of what the Spirit tells me. I’ve received so many incredible insights as I’ve read & had so many questions answered. The Book of Mormon brings out the very best in us & renews our desire to follow Christ –That’s why we read it every single day.
- Keep busy. Be active & involved in your life at home, whether you are home for a few weeks or home permanently. The best thing for you to do is be involved. Attend your church meetings, school, exercise classes; whatever you can handle & feel is right for you, but fully immerse yourself in this life for as long as you’re here.
- Always stay worthy & prepared so that you could return. Live so you could enter the Mission field or the Temple at any moment. Even if you have no intention of returning, it’s a good rule to live by & a way to ensure that you’re living right.
- Take time to heal. It’s important that you do not rush healing. You may feel like you have to get right back up or that you cannot feel hurt, but that’s not true. Maybe you’re grieving your mission, lost opportunities & experiences, or the way your body used to be. Do not diminish your pain. It’s real. Just because someone else may have it worse doesn’t mean your leg isn’t broken; it doesn’t mean you’re not suffering too. There’s a fine line between obsessing over your pain & acknowledging it. Be an advocate for your health & what you need. I don’t know that you’ll find someone else who will be, so be your own.
- Don’t focus on what others think. This can be really hard. I was told, “Don’t worry whether or not people are judging you, 99% of them are not.” Sometimes I think it’s more accurate to say, 99% of them are trying not to judge you. The truth is that unless someone has gone through what you have they do not understand. This means they won’t always understand your decisions or reasoning. They might think you should be doing something more, but don’t let people tell you that you should be moving faster than you are. “It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” Mosiah 4:27 Don’t demand things of yourself that aren’t fair. If you’re really struggling or you’re sick enough that you cannot function normally, then don’t expect yourself to & don’t let others tell you what you’re ready for. Push yourself, but be patient. More on this: Here.
- Assemble a team. Family, ward members, missionaries, friends, your Mission President & his wife, etc. Find someone to talk to, update them often, & tell them how you’re really feeling. –If you think it would benefit you, which it definitely might, LDS Family Services offers 6 free sessions to ERMs. I’ve never been so I’m not sure what it’s like, but I’ve heard they can really help. If not, find a friend, talk to your parents, or meet with your Bishop.
- Constantly remind yourself that life is good. If you’re like me, you’ve had to spend a lot of time in your room being sick, resting, & trying to heal. It can be dark, quiet, & sometimes lonely. I often find myself forgetting my purpose or how sweet life really is, so I ordered a bunch of 4×6 pictures & taped them up to remind me that life is good. They’re pictures of people I love & those that love me, places I’ve been, places I want to go, my mission, & Jesus Christ. Do something you love, get outside, & keep a record of blessings you’ve seen, tender mercies, & acts of love or kindness people show to you. Gratitude can heal.
- Extinguish feelings of guilt, inadequacy & failure. We know the purpose of guilt is to motivate repentance, invoke change. Often this is why we feel guilt, but sometimes the Adversary can use guilt to deceive us, to make us feel we are unworthy or have done something wrong when in reality we have not. When I returned home I felt so guilty. At first, it felt like guilt for letting people down, or that perhaps I could have done more, but as time went on that feeling that I could have done more turned into guilt for not loving every second of my mission. I tried telling myself that no one loves every second of their mission & that although I was an imperfect missionary, I worked hard & my efforts were pure. It didn’t matter what I told myself or that others reassured my efforts, the guilt intensified. So, if you’re feeling this way I’d tell you to do what needs to be done: Talk it through with Heavenly Father, ask Him where you stand, & talk to your Bishop. If there’s a wrong to right you’ll find it, & if not you’ll feel so much peace.
- Study the Atonement. Study how it works & how you can use it for all it was meant for. The Atonement is so overlooked & underappreciated simply because we do not understand it. So read about it, pray for help to understand, & know that it’s meant for every second of every day; for sinners, saints, disappointments, joy, peace, anxiety, & everything in between. “The peace & fulfillment of Jesus is literally so good that your bank account can be empty, your body be sick & your heart be broken, but it can always be well with your soul.” Carl Lentz
- Remember this is an opportunity to grow. Trials are just that: Opportunities to learn, grow, & become more of the person God would have you be. If you can look at the trial or difficulty as something else, as an opportunity to grow or as a gift from God, then the bad thing no longer exists. Instead of it being viewed 100% as an inconvenience or injustice, it’s now something God has entrusted you with. Sometimes this can be hard to do, but let me give you an example.
I returned home from my mission after only three short months. When I first returned home there were times I felt cheated out of experiences & opportunities. In a way, I felt like my dreams & aspirations had been stolen from me & I was devastated that the life I wanted may no longer be mine. I didn’t understand why I needed to return home so soon. If I was meant to get sick & have this trial, then okay, but I wondered why I couldn’t have had even a few more months, especially because I became ill just as I was really making progress with the language & enjoying the mission. I was confused & hurt, but through a change of perspective, I learned several powerful lessons; not the least of which is that God could have told me no when I prayed about a mission, but instead He encouraged me to prepare & let me serve, even if it was only for a short time. I can only imagine how devastated I would have been had my answer been no but instead, He allowed me to meet incredible people, have spiritual experiences, learn a language, & experience so much growth. Although I would have loved to serve the mission I expected to, looking back I can see that my mission was a gift & now I see that this trial is an opportunity to learn, add to my testimony, & show Heavenly Father that I trust Him & that He can trust me. You can be bitter about all you think you’ve lost or you can recognize this as the opportunity it is, it’s your choice.
- Write down what you are learning. Keep a journal or share as you write the Missionaries, but write down what the Lord gives you. –I promise if you’re willing to learn, that Heavenly Father will teach you things… How to cope, how to serve, insights from the scriptures, your purpose now or in this life, & how to use pain & suffering for good. He’ll teach you, but it’s important that He sees you care enough to write it down.
- Be kind to yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst critics. Be patient when it’s too hard to write, to mark your scriptures, to pour the milk, to hold the ice pack to your head, to write the missionaries, or to make a phone call. I know it’s frustrating & that sometimes it seems like it will never end, but it’s okay. Accept your efforts, keep trying, & when you get tired learn to rest, not to quit. Be patient with yourself, you’re doing the best you can. More on this: Here.
- Continue to serve where you can. Some of you will have different limitations. Maybe all you can do is write a note once a week, but you have to find something. Bake cookies, accompany the missionaries, ask for a calling, do some indexing, guest teach at mission prep, visit the elderly, or serve in the Temple. You may not be able to do any of that at first, but it’s important that you find something you can do, something that allows you to serve & gives you a purpose. I wrote down the knowledge, insight, & understanding the Lord gave me throughout the week. Not so much about my circumstances but about the gospel & Jesus Christ, & then I wrote the missionaries. Continue to serve; we’re all called.
The thing is, every missionary is different. Some of you wanted to come home & some of you did not. Some of you are sick & some of you are healthy. Some of you will continue faithful in the Gospel & some of you will not. Some of you will return to serve & some of you will not, even after the initial problem may have been resolved. Some of you still believe it & some of you may never believe it again. Some of you will become bitter & some of you will figure out how the Lord wants you to use this for goodness & growth. You’re all different. As humans in general, but especially as members of the church, we each have a very unique & different path to walk, but we all have the same goal. So don’t let anyone make you feel inferior for your life just because you’re taking the back roads instead of the highway, they both go to the same place.
For those that identify with reason number one: You’re sick physically, mentally, or emotionally.
I’m sorry you couldn’t finish your mission, I know you wanted to. I was so upset when I came home because I felt like I had worked so hard & people just didn’t understand, but sometimes the Lord’s plan is different from our plan. The Lord knows your heart. He knows you love Him & want to serve Him.
You know, sometimes our bodies don’t do what we want them to. The human body is somewhat of a funny thing. We are given so much freedom & opportunity… to walk, to run, & do incredible things. God is incredible & I cannot fathom the process of creation. I don’t understand how everything works perfectly; that we can think, how we can evolve & improve & become more than we were yesterday.
However, I truly believe each one of us will have an experience in this life which will cause us to more fully appreciate the Creation, the body, the mind, & the Resurrection. God is like that. We are often given lessons which encourage us to learn about & appreciate different aspects of the gospel: Patience, The Resurrection, The Plan of Salvation, The Atonement, etc.
I know it’s hard. After every doctor visit as we were driving home I’d say to myself… This isn’t going to beat me. I’m going to beat this illness. I’m going to win this battle & I’ll overcome. While I agree with empowering yourself, learning to live beyond your pain, not giving up, & moving forward in a resolve to use this difficulty as momentum for good… I also stand firm in my belief that part of healing is allowing it to be part of us. I think that acceptance invites learning & that unless we choose to embrace the hardship our emotions will get in the way of lessons, putting us in a mindset that is unwilling to learn.
Sometimes all the cards are stacked against you. The ice pack popped while you were sleeping, dark sheets are covering the windows because light causes pain, & your favorite sweats are more red than gray from a recent nosebleed. Maybe your neck is so sore you can’t find a comfortable position. You can’t relax, read, work, sleep, or find relief from the pain. Your prayers are feeble & every attempt seems insufficient & full of pleading. You’re tired but cannot rest. Maybe your life isn’t headed in the direction you wish it was & your attempts to change the course seem worthless. It can be unpleasant & often it’s less than ideal, but there’s purpose in it. I promise. When you are discouraged & feel you’ve given your last effort, learn to rest not to quit.
You probably don’t know why you’re struggling with this trial & maybe you won’t know why until all things are revealed, but there’s a reason. God is kind & He assures us that any amount of suffering or affliction is ultimately for our good. Maybe you’re experiencing limitations to give someone else a chance to serve. Our needs are heard by the Lord, but often others are sent to meet our needs. Because you need help someone else will get an opportunity to listen to the Spirit, serve, use the Priesthood, answer prayers, or build their testimony while you are given peace, comfort, or understanding. Perhaps you’re suffering now to help another later, to find your career, to learn a lesson or change your ways. Maybe you needed to learn patience so you could show another how; maybe you were there to offer empathy & comfort to someone struggling to find it. It’s always to become better, more than we were. We often hear that we just need to focus on learning the one thing a trial is meant to teach us & then it will be over, but I don’t think that’s accurate. I’ve learned so many things during this time of affliction: How the Atonement works & what it’s meant for, to fear God & not man, to respect medicine, to rejoice that the work continues even when you’re not apart of it, the power that lies in prayer, respect for the Creation & the Resurrection, to serve where you are, that it’s okay to need help, that the scriptures can be a very personal guide to our lives, etc. One thousand little things that have made me better.
There are one million reasons why we need trials, but it always seems to be for more than just ourselves & that gives me great comfort.
For those that identify with reason number two: You’re sick spiritually.
Whether it’s an unresolved problem from before your mission or disobedience to mission rules, if you make the choice to correct that wrong then what’s to come may be terribly hard. It may get unbearably lonely. The Adversary is aware of your struggle & he will try to get to you just like he did on your mission. He’ll make you feel guilty, like you failed in some way. He can make you feel alone, worthless, & twisty inside. Maybe your friends & family are having a hard time with your return, perhaps they don’t understand & you’ve heard some harsh things. Maybe those around you are struggling not to pass judgment & you feel that you cannot escape.
I’m not going to list the steps of Repentance, as a member of the church you should be familiar with that process already. I’m not going to tell you that it’s all okay & that none of it matters. Of course it matters & sin should not be ignored. Instead, I am going to tell you how much you are loved, remind you where you can find light, peace, & joy. I want to make sure you understand that you are still a force for good.
The best thing I know to dispel darkness is light: Jesus Christ & His gospel. Do not run away or hide. I’m certain that to some degree you are where you are to learn this above all else: Reliance. To learn that Jesus Christ is the light in darkness.
We try to find the light in all situations. That’s what we’re taught to do & encouraged to do. Be an optimist, look for the good, believe life’s always bright and happy, etc. To some extent I say ever onward because we need to keep moving forward, looking to the light, & pressing on. That’s the only way to do this. Hold onto expressions of love so you can take them out when you need them most. Keep a list of everyone that reaches out to you, keep a journal of tender mercies, answers to prayers, & spiritual experiences, print out missionary emails & notes you’re given.
Do whatever it takes to keep your head up, but above all remember where the real light comes from. You can do all of those things and more, but I believe the Lord will try to show you how to find the light yourself. No matter how much light we try to create in our lives, it may go dark anyway, & what I’m trying to communicate is that the real light, the only light that can actually dispel darkness & offer not just a fleeting moment of happiness, but real joy, real healing, & actual peace is Jesus Christ.
Your journey will be a difficult & painful one, but one that will offer you so much in the end. Peace, joy, & an increased testimony of the Atonement scarcely begin to cover it. That’s why we have trials & afflictions: to grow, to become, to move on & ultimately become more like Jesus Christ & Heavenly Father. Although your situation may not be ideal, please remember that your direction is much more important than the speed at which you’re traveling. So stop beating yourself up. Yeah, you did something you’re not proud of & now you have to attend to the consequences. It’s rough & it may take a long time. Maybe it feels like you’ve ruined everything or that you’ve broken something that cannot be fixed, but that’s not true. You may feel all alone in your pain & suffering, but I give my testimony to the world that you are not.
So read your scriptures, read ‘Jesus the Christ’, & pray. Please pray to your Heavenly Father for that strengthening, enabling, redemptive power of the Atonement to accompany you. You may have to watch the ‘Because of Him’ video 200 times on repeat, but do not forget who He is, why He is, and what He is: The Savior & Redeemer of your soul. He lives for you, He suffered for you, & He died for you. I think that’s why we have any challenge, not just as a need to suffer & grow, but more importantly as an opportunity to truly come to know Him. It’s an opportunity to use the Atonement for all it was meant for; understanding more fully how it can redeem you from your faults & weaknesses, enabling you to be more, & allowing you to be closer to Christ all in one day. Your journey is a difficult & uncomfortable one, but a beautiful one. It’s about Jesus Christ, your reliance upon Him, & not just if you believe in Him, but whether or not you believe Him. Whether or not you trust Him & you believe He is who He says He is & that He can redeem you.
For those that identify with reason number three: You don’t want to serve.
The Spirit has helped me to understand that it’s not always that simple. The reason makes it sound like you just changed your mind. It sounds like you were serving & then stopped loving the Lord & the Gospel & decided you’d rather play video games, which for the majority is not at all the case. Closer to the truth is that maybe you got there & felt this was something you couldn’t do. Maybe you had so much anxiety about the things you were asked to do, or you hated every second you spent trying to do what was expected. Maybe you were feeling like you couldn’t spend so many months feeling uncomfortable or feeling like you’d given up your individuality, because you did not feel like yourself as a missionary. Perhaps you served a good portion of your mission like you thought you would, loving the people & sharing the Gospel, but maybe you woke up one day with doubts that ate at your mind & heart, & after a while you couldn’t sort out what was wrong & what was right, knowing you couldn’t teach something you were so confused about.
As a missionary there are a lot of opportunities to hear anti-Mormon teachings & even more opportunities to be asked questions you don’t know the answers to, & that’s hard. It’s hard to keep going without those answers, not knowing if they exist here or not. I can’t pretend to understand what you’ve experienced, but I do know what it’s like to feel doubt & that it can make you question everything you thought you knew.
Really it’s none of my business & it’s not anyone else’s either, but I hope you’re not too shaken up. I hope you can keep your relationships without feeling like those you love are judging you. I hope you can remember the way the Spirit made you feel & what to do in times of trouble, even if your beliefs about that may have changed. Most of all I hope you’re able to find your way, wherever that happens to be, knowing all the while that there are people out there who genuinely care about you & will still love you no matter what.
Do Some Good
More than anything I want to remind you that you’re in control. You have a choice every day, lots of choices actually. Some are more trivial, like whether or not you’re going to get dressed before noon, if you’ll call a friend or exercise; & some more important, like whether or not you’re going to attend church, read your scriptures, or let how you’re feeling dictate your actions. These decisions may not seem to bear much importance in the moment, but whether we realize it or not each decision plays a part in who you are. So, each day, whether it seems like it or not, you’re deciding who you are, & who you’re becoming.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I’m in no way trying to diminish your pain or tell you that your circumstances aren’t less than ideal. If this is what you’re hearing please scroll up & read “Take time to heal.” What I’m saying is this: Although we are not always in control of what happens to us, we are 100% in control of how we respond.
“Because of agency, every trial can either make us bitter or better.” –Brother Bryan
Trials can come out of nowhere. Sometimes they knock us flat, taking everything we’ve got and stealing our plans & aspirations, which is exactly why they test our faith. Trials can be devastating, which is exactly why they hold the power to make us either bitter or better. Bitter towards God & full of resentment for all you may have lost, or much better… Better people, better missionaries, better Disciples, & better children of God.
Though times may be trying & circumstances overwhelmingly against you, it’s a choice, & one only you can make. I know it’s hard, but your suffering has a lot of potential to become part of your gift to the world.
Alma rejoiced that the work continued, even if it was without him. His brethren were having success and that’s really what mattered, that the work moved forward. Whatever part you play is important. Do not discount your circle of influence, your divine nature, your enormous potential, your testimony, & your capacity to do good.
A few words to everyone else; to those who know a missionary that didn’t serve for the anticipated period of time.
It’s hard to know what you can do for a missionary that needed to return home early. Partially because it’s not always a familiar situation, but mostly because everyone is so different. Some will want to talk about it & others won’t. Some will get right back up & jump into the next phase of life & others may have limitations for years.
With time most missionaries will recover & resume normal activities, but it’s important that we don’t make assumptions. Understand that just because someone can walk or looks healthy, is taking classes, or works five days a week does not mean that they are necessarily well. It can be hard not to wonder what’s holding someone back when they appear to be functioning normally, or to see improvement & not make assumptions, but just as we all have trials that are not easily seen, remember that theirs may not be manifest on the outside either. The reality is that unless you’ve been through something you really haven’t the slightest idea what’s going on. You don’t see the pain being suppressed & the tears released at night when it’s all felt.
My intention is not to make you feel that what you’re doing isn’t right or that you have to walk on eggshells around every early returned missionary you meet. Instead, I’d like to offer some suggestions that may help you encourage healing, guide your good intentions & help you & your missionary feel a little less uncomfortable, especially during that first year or two.
Do Try To:
- Remind your missionary that every mission has equal value. A lot of early returned missionaries experience guilt & shame when they think of their mission because it wasn’t what they had planned on. They focus on the fact that they did not serve for the anticipated period of time & often feel that they have failed when in reality that is far from the truth. Some people are called to learn a language they’ll use their entire life, others to strengthen a companion, to teach a specific person, grow with a district in the MTC, implement good habits, serve under a certain Mission President, or simply prepare to serve, making them worthy & ready for whatever opportunities come. There are one million reasons why the Lord calls His children to serve full-time missions, & there are equally as many reasons why He doesn’t, or why he calls us home, even when we want to serve. It’s all part of a better plan; one I can hardly comprehend. But I do know this: A mission is to know Him & to make Him known. It’s about being converted to the gospel of Christ. A mission is a mission whether it’s a week, four months, or two years. Lessons were still learned, experiences had, & miracles witnessed. More on this: Here.
- Refrain from passing judgment & help them understand that you accept them. As an early returned missionary it’s hard not to feel like you’re always being judged. Even if you come home for good reasons & circumstances that are out of your control, knowing that you cannot serve in your state of health, it’s hard. For a lot of missionaries, it doesn’t matter whether they walked off the plane or were pushed in a wheelchair, sometimes any reason doesn’t seem good enough. With time we may come to terms with the fact that we could not serve in that state & it was important to return home, but then we face other problems. I’ve talked with a lot of missionaries that don’t feel that they can get better, because with each step taken or new activity added to the schedule they feel as if people are judging them more harshly, saying, “well now you can walk, or you’re going to school so why aren’t you serving a mission? You’re well enough to go to the movies but not to serve the Lord?” This may or may not be true, but it’s hard to rejoice in your progress when others look at you with a questioning eye instead of being happy for you. So, be happy for your missionary & rejoice in their progress. Try to remember that pain is relative & that although you may be able to function with severe anxiety or a stomach that’s unhappy no matter what you do, not everyone can.
- Be patient & kind. Be understanding & patient as they try to heal. Know that it’s so much more than a health issue, sin, or doubt. Most missionaries are experiencing unfamiliar circumstances & emotions. Some might feel that they’ve been cheated from experiences or had their dreams stolen from them. Some are feeling more physical & emotional pain than they could have imagined before their mission. Honestly, I can’t begin to write the hundredth part of what I’ve felt so I cannot begin to cover the feelings of others. For someone who just graduated high school, where their trials used to be failing a test or an injury during sports season, this can be devastating & disorienting. They often do not know how to handle the situation, so be patient as they work things out.
- Ask about their mission, especially at first. Ask if they’d like to share something from their mission. If they don’t want to talk about it they should tell you that, but most missionaries enjoyed at least parts of their mission & it’s nice to revisit those sweet memories. You may have the fear that talking about missions will make them sad, but for most that is not the case. Ask about the area they served in, miracles they witnessed, investigators that impacted them, or what they learned, & then thank them for their service. It can take a lot of courage to leave the comforts of home & all things familiar to share the gospel with strangers, sometimes in a language they hardly know, but they went willingly & in faith.
Do Not Try To:
- Rush healing. Do not ask them to move faster than they can. This one is hard but so important. Because we know that staying busy can do us a lot of good, many of you will be tempted to suggest classes, jobs, or activities your missionary can be involved in, but you need to understand that for those healing this can do more harm than good. Remember that they returned home early from serving because for whatever reason they could not continue to meet the expectations of the mission. So many missionaries feel like they are doing all they can to meet their own expectations & those of the Lord, that any added pressure can plant the idea that their best efforts are not enough. Obviously, if your missionary is well (remember it’s not all manifest on the outside *mental illness) & has watched everything on Netflix for the past 6 months you (family or a Bishop) may want to suggest they add something to their daily routine to invite a feeling of productivity and purpose. However, for someone in recovery, even asking what they do all day, let alone telling them they should be working, in school, or running twice a day, can make them feel as if they’re failing all over again; & although they’re doing all they can right now it’s still not enough for those that love them. So, suppress your good intentions of keeping them busy & know that your missionary is doing what he/she honestly believes to be in their best interest. Aren’t you? Aren’t we all?
We’ll try to be forgiving & in return, we ask for you to try to refrain from passing judgment. Withholding judgment… that’s really the greatest form of charity you can offer a missionary that returned home early. Know that not everyone will return to serve as a full-time missionary & not everyone will be all better in a month or two. Try not to force things or put too much pressure on time or activities. Know that we’re doing all we can, that when we’re able to do more we will, & that we’re doing our best to heal. We’re not perfect & we don’t always know what we’re doing, but more than anything we all just need a little extra love. Know that your efforts are appreciated, that we notice all you do, & that it means a lot when we can see you care.
“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.” –Jeffrey R. Holland
We’re all just doing the best we can, yourself included.