Editors note: This article was originally published on TheReturnedMissionary.com. If you or someone you know came home from the mission before the time that the mission call originally prescribed, even if it was an “honorable release,” it isn’t easy. In fact, most missionaries who come home early drop into a winter of depression that is hard to melt. Click here for some powerful weapons to battle depression. I want to provide a few reminders for you (even if you didn’t and you want to know how to help those who have). Whether you are the one who came home early or it is your son or daughter or niece or nephew or grandchild, these are important things to remember.
1. You Actually Went
You applied to go. You prepared. You submitted your papers. You got your call. You changed your heart. You went out there and did your best. And you’re still a returned missionary. There are many who don’t even go. One area of the eastern US shows that only about 20% of the 19-24 year old young men are serving [1. Click Here to read more stats]. And you chose to serve! That is an accomplishment in itself! You should be proud of yourself and remind yourself that you didn’t have to go. Remember that the promises from the prophet to you (in your mission call) are still true. Here are a few to remember that apply to EVERY missionary, no matter how long you serve:
- The Lord will bless you.
- You will become an effective advocate and messenger of truth.
- The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life.
- Greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully server the Lord.
These are not just promises for full-time missionaries who serve 18 or 24 months. They are for every missionary ever. I hope you know that.
2. Remember Thomas S. Monson
The man who signed your mission call didn’t serve a traditional full-time mission. Neither did Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Robert D. Hales, Boyd K. Packer, Dallin H. Oaks or Russell M. Nelson. Most of these guys were either honorably called home early, or never went. They were needed in other areas and in other ways that were very important. Did this keep them from serving God the rest of their lives? NO. Did it thwart their potential? No. Have they done significant missionary work later in life? You tell me. Just because you came home early, does NOT mean you are useless to the Lord. Get that thought out of your head because it is not of God. Someday you might just become a mission president, general relief society president or even an Apostle. [2. Please understand that I’m not here to say that because they didn’t serve a full mission (or any mission at all), that it is okay to not want to even try to serve. If ye have desires to serve, ye are called to the work. All who have desires, who are able, should try. But just remember your potential is still great even if you don’t or if you come home before the time stated in your original mission call. Some of the greatest leaders of this church did too.]
“Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes.” – Lumiere Okay well, I will tell you that I have been serving a mission for years since I read Elder Clayton Christensen’s book, The Power of Everyday Missionaries. [3. See my review of it here.] I followed his advice and I “called myself” on a mission. I became what Elder Christensen calls an “entrepreneur in Zion.” Someone who calls themselves on a mission – someone who doesn’t need to receive an official calling to do missionary work. My life has completely changed since I made that decision. It has been amazing to see the ways the Lord has been able to use what I am willing to give. The area that I am able and willing to help in most is on the internet. Online missionary work is very needed. Click Here for a list of great suggestions how you can do it right now. If you haven’t heard the story of Seth Adam Smith, watch this video first, then watch the next one after. This is his story of his suicide attempt after coming home early from his mission: He came home early, but he came to himself and went forth with a determination to make a huge difference. Since then, he has created inspirational Youtube videos, written some of the most viral blog posts ever written by any Mormon in history (getting over 30 million readers) and is now sharing his message with the whole world in his new books: Marriage Isn’t For You and Your Life Isn’t For You. He came home early, but this didn’t stop Seth from blessing the lives of millions. You may not write a viral blog post, but you can still bless many many peoples’ lives. Call yourself on a mission. Keep serving. You still can. And never stop.
4. Truth VS. Culture
So, I’m divorced. And I was married in the temple to my first wife. I won’t tell you that story in this post, but now I am happily married. But not in the temple, YET. We have had to wait a year before submitting our request for clearance to be sealed. I know we will be sealed eventually. But when we say we were married and people ask: “What temple?” sometimes it can be interesting to explain to people. We are both temple worthy and we attend the temple almost weekly. But sometimes people don’t understand that. Or because of the culture of the Church, they have seen our marriage as sub-par. This is because of cultural beliefs, not doctrine. When we were married we agreed that we wouldn’t let this jeopardize our marital joy and it hasn’t. It has only increased our value of temple marriage and how important and sacred it is. We have had the most amazing year of marriage and I would be bold enough to say we are some of the happiest people on earth! We don’t let the cultural misunderstandings of very good, well-meaning people get in the way of our love of ourselves and of those people. We know the doctrine, and we will eventually be sealed in the temple. There is a difference between truth and culture. Don’t forget this because there are often many very good people and well-meaning members who may strongly believe that something (that is a part of culture of Latter-day Saints) is actually a truth or a doctrine. There is an example of this in Bruce C. Hafen’s profound book on the atonement – The Broken Heart – where he describes a Newsweek article entitled “What Mormons Believe.” This article was a huge misrepresentation of the LDS doctrine of the atonement and repentance. The author says:
“Unlike orthodox Christians, Mormons believe that men are born free of sin and earn their way to godhood by the proper exercise of free will, rather than through the grace of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus’ suffering and death in the Mormon view were brotherly acts of compassion, but they do not atone for the sins of others. For this reason, Mormons do not include the cross in their iconography nor do they place much emphasis on Easter.” [4. The Broken Heart, p.2 quoting Newsweek article.]
When I read this, I was disturbed because this is clearly not LDS doctrine. There was a member of the Church who responded to this article saying that this is a very clear misrepresentation of our doctrine. The author of the Newsweek article then responded: “My intent was not to review (doctrinal) books but rather to report how representative members of the LDS Church describe and interpret their own traditions…The point is to determine what doctrines of a church are genuinely infused into the lifeblood of its adherents.” [5. See The Broken Heart, pp.2-3] The point I am trying to make by quoting this from Elder Hafen’s book is that many misunderstand cultural beliefs and behaviors as doctrine or truth. I wrote an article about cultural understanding about the doctrine of repentance because of this very reason. Why is it so common that we ask in prayer to bless clearly unhealthy food to nourish and strengthen our bodies? Culture. Not truth. When there is any shame, guilt or embarrassment pushed upon you by anyone in the Church for being honorably released to come home from the mission, they just may not understand the truth. The truth is that God loves you and through the atonement of Christ and his grace, you are the same as you were before the mission with unlimited eternal potential. Potential to become like God. And just like any other member of the Church, you must activate that power in your life every day. [6. If you came home because of transgression, you also still have unlimited potential through the atonement. Read this article about repentance and be brutally honest so that you can have both Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind.] Remember the truth. Remember the doctrine. Forget the cultural misunderstandings and focus on the good in those who misunderstand you or the doctrine. Remember that people are good and everyone (just like you) is just doing the best they can. When you see people this way, you love them no matter what they say or how they may perceive (or misjudge) you.
5. Go to the Mountain to Pray Oft
Nephi said that he went unto the mountain to pray oft. [7. 1 Nephi 18:3] You should do the same. Go to your secret place. If you can’t find one, read here about 9 closets to pray in when you don’t have a closet. Go to your closet and your secret place. Pour out your soul. Make your relationship with God the closest one and the most important one. Draw near unto Him and He will draw near unto you. Do it often. Daily. More if you can. Go to the temple. Do it monthly and you will see a difference. Do it weekly and it will change your life forever. There is strength that you will gain there that you cannot gain anywhere else. Help from heaven will come. Those in the spirit world who you are working for will come to your aid. Angels will attend you and all your other spiritual activity will be enhanced. There is real power that is activated by going to the temple. Do it. Do everything you have to in order to get there. Repent if you need to. Use the power of the atonement. Go to the Mountain. God is there waiting.
6. Become a Missionary Forever
The issue is not going to church; rather, the issue is worshipping and renewing covenants as we attend church. The issue is not going to or through the temple; rather, the issue is having in our hearts the spirit, the covenants, and the ordinances of the Lord’s house. The issue is not going on a mission; rather, the issue is becoming a missionary and serving throughout our entire life with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. It is possible for a young man to go on a mission and not become a missionary, and this is not what the Lord requires or what the Church needs. [8. See Elder Bednar’s talk “Becoming a Missionary”, October GC 2005]
You don’t have to serve a mission to become a missionary. And you don’t have to lose the missionary glow after you come home from the mission (whether you came home after 1 month or 24 months). The point of serving a mission is to become converted, not to check off an item in a list of things to do to to be acceptable in LDS culture. Don’t just serve a mission, but become a missionary forever.
7. You STILL have a Calling in Life
Just because you don’t serve a mission, doesn’t mean you can’t change the world. Think of Seth Adam Smith. You can still make a HUGE difference in a world that desperately needs more light.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” [9. It has been brought to my attention that this probably was not said by Albert Einstein – feel free to do more research here if you choose. No matter who said it, most of us probably agree that the principle is true.] You are a Genius. You just may not be a pro at climbing trees, that is OK. Be a pro swimmer. You are here for a reason. Don’t let coming home early (or even not serving a mission at all) take you away from that. You have a song to sing while here on earth. Sing your song. Find your personal mission and do all in your power to accomplish it.
8. Snowman the $80 Champion.
This horse was given up for useless when it was sold. It was a plow horse that seemingly had no future. Not in the eyes of the first owner at least. So Snowman was sold for $80. But what happened? ***SPOILER ALERT*** Snowman became one of the most famous horses in history as a jumping horse. It is an amazing story that I would recommend to anyone who wants to be inspired to remember and reach their highest potential. Read it here. You may feel like Snowman right now, but don’t forget your potential. If you feel like an $80 plow horse, remember that maybe you weren’t made for the plow, you were made to jump. Don’t forget your potential. Be your best self! Don’t worry about what someone else thinks you are made for. You were born to lead. You were born for glory. [10. Listen to this amazing talk – You Were Born to Lead, You Were Born for Glory.]