I have the privilege of working with Young Single Adults. I must begin with a full disclosure: I am biased towards this group of Latter-day Saints. I love their intensity, compassion and determination. This group is remarkably candid with their questions, feelings and emotions. They have endless energy and most of them who had the opportunity to serve missions, feel deeply about the time served. They will tell you the mission helped them to come alive in their pursuit of Christian discipleship. They speak of finding themselves in service to others and love to share stories of the change they observed in those whom they taught and of their own spiritual and cultural enlightenment. This clarity will follow them for the rest of their lives.
There are some in this group who also had many of these same experiences but don’t feel justified in speaking about them because they came home early for one reason or another. I often ask the individual sitting across from me in an interview if he or she has served a mission and, if so, to tell me about their experience.
I’m concerned when an early-returned missionary responds with, “yes, but…”. “Yes, but I only served for so long” or “yes, but I had problems and came home early” or “yes, but I had some anxiety or depression issues and couldn’t finish”. I usually respond with, “I didn’t ask how long you served, I just asked you to tell me about your experience”.
Too many early returned missionaries feel as though they carry with them a scarlet letter, which must be revealed at a moment’s notice. They feel as though they must carry it with them at all times and in all places, and must be disclosed to anyone that asks if he or she has served a mission. Many feel as though this will be a spiritual ball and chain which they will carry forever. Some slip into the vagueness of inactivity rather than carry such a burden.
Many of these early birds assume, incorrectly, that there is some negative annotation on their church record that becomes part of their permanent record. Others mistakenly believe that the promised blessings recorded in their Patriarchal Blessing are now null and void due to an early return.
What I wish you early-returned missionaries to know is this:
Remember This: Though perhaps a noble desire to confess an early homecoming, it is not necessary to disclose to everyone who inquires, the reasons for your early return. Just tell them where you served and what you loved about your mission. Constantly confessing your early return, to others, in not a requirement imposed by God or any Bishop, and will not hasten the healing process.
Remember This: For the vast majority of you, your church record doesn’t contain anything but the mission and dates in which you served. Unless you are the membership clerk in your ward, you wouldn’t necessarily know this. I hope this eases your mind a bit.
Remember This: Your Patriarchal Blessing is not null and void because you have come home early. For those who have come home with belated issues, please remember that all blessings are predicated on obedience to the law (D&C 130:20, 21). When the law is broken there are consequences, of course, but Christ’s Atonement opens the door to the way back. Hang onto these encouraging words, “I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts” (2Nephi 28:32). The Savior’s arm is extended all the day long to lift us back up when we have fallen, spiritually or emotionally. I’m sure your Patriarch counseled you that your individual blessing includes temporal and eternal promises. Some blessings are claimed in the next life so focus your attention on the opportunity to repent oft (Moroni 6:8) and be washed clean each week as you partake of the sacrament. This repetitive process enables and empowers us to endure to the end.
Remember This: Focus your current missionary efforts on those who can’t do it for themselves. Recall these words spoken by a beloved prophet, “I hope to see us dissolve the artificial boundary line we so often place between missionary work and temple and genealogical work, because it is the same great redemptive work!” (President Spencer W. Kimball “The Things of Eternity—Stand We in Jeopardy?” Ensign, Jan. 1977). Temple work is missionary work! You can continue your missionary efforts by attending the temple frequently.
Remember This: Something to consider if you came home early due to anxiety or depression. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. Like other organs, it can misfire for a variety of reasons. You may require counseling and medication to repair it. When other organs misfire, medication is often required. I was constantly impressed as a mission president how hard you tried to make it work! Some of you white knuckled it for days, weeks and months while struggling with sleep deprivation and other associated issues. The Lord reminded Samuel he looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) when making judgements. What is the evidence of your heart during the period of time in which you served? 1. You made a sincere effort to serve Christ when you applied for your mission. You went through the long process to qualify. This is a sweet offering of the heart. 2. Your determination to press forward while fighting the constant feeling that you were coming apart at the seams. Your courage and dedication I will always remember. If I could say one thing to you it would be: Find peace in the sanctuary of the temple and press forward in faith until your brain mends.
Remember This: If you came home due to a serious, belated confession, congratulations for putting Christ first in your life. I remember well, a remarkable and highly respected missionary who came to see me to confess a pre-mission transgression that had not been disclosed to his bishop or stake president. He knew the consequence of being sent home was a likely reality. He was about halfway through his mission when he came forward. When I inquired as to why he was coming forward now, when he was over the halfway point of his mission, he simply responded that he didn’t care what people thought anymore, he just wanted to be clean before God.
He could have stayed under the radar though the rest of his mission and confessed to his singles ward bishop when he got home and few would have known his about his dilemma. Yet, this man had become more fully converted to the Lord on his mission and desired only to be clean before God. To this day I think of him when I think of people I know who model integrity. This early, returned missionary, still struggled for a season upon arriving home.
My counsel to those of you who are in this camp is to remember why you came forward in the first place. The evidence of your heart, is your desire to be spiritually clean before God. Keep praying and feasting on the words of Christ until you can renew your missionary efforts in the temple. The Lord is always pleased when another son or daughter of God comes to him. Jesus’ parables of the prodigal son or the laborer in the vineyard illustrate this much better than I can. I do wish the members back home could know of your integrity, but don’t be distracted if they don’t. The Lord knows and that is good enough!
Let’s begin again, Welcome home my friend! Tell me about your mission…
Lastly, if I could give some advice to the members who wish to help the early returned missionary, it would be this:
- Don’t ask them why they are home early! It may be an honest reaction to seeing them or just simple curiosity, but try to suppress the impulse. The early returned mission is very anxious about their first meeting back home and how they will be acknowledged by you and others. How they are received in this first encounter is critical to their emotional and spiritual well-being.
- Don’t assume or speculate on why they are home early; just love and encourage them as if they were your own. This is what they really need at this critical time in their life.
- Don’t ignore the early returned missionary because you don’t know what to say. This makes everyone involved more insecure. Just extend the hand of fellowship and welcome them home. Ask them what they loved most about their mission and listen to their response with a loving and patient heart.
- Remember, even the one who comes home early for a belated transgression, has generally put it all on the alter, in an attempt to be clean before the Lord, this is to be admired, not condemned.
- Finally, Jude’s counsel to the Latter-day Saints, sums it up better than I, he states, “And of some have compassion, making a difference” (Jude 22). One sweet woman I had the privilege of knowing, used to say, “The Bishop and stake president have the responsibility to judge in these matters, not me, my obligation is easy, I’m only required to love them”.