With a desire (and permission) to share their story, here is an insightful, well-written, and emotional memoir of a returned LDS missionary. Any identifying details have been changed or omitted and any resemblance of thoughts or information relating to actual people or events is entirely coincidental.
Your whole life you see missionaries coming and going. You see those from other places of the world come to serve where you are living. You also see those you’ve grown up with leaving their friends and family, for a place they have never been—to serve a people they have never met. It’s truly honorable. But, what do these individuals truly experience while they are away?
I remember hearing my entire life that missions are hard, but that they are worth it. Indeed, they are worth it, but they are also so much harder than I could have anticipated. Returning with honor is also not as easy as it seems from those who speak of it. You’re told the Lord will bless you for your service. Indeed, I have seen so many blessings as I have returned home. What most people do not see however, is a trend that’s not being discussed to the extent that it should. That is, when missionaries come home, after experiencing a roller coaster of highs and lows, tears of joy and of pain, they come home to, what may be, one of the hardest trials they have ever faced.
These are trials of temptation, a loss of identity, a loss of direction, a loss of support, and a loss of millions of prayers. (We all pray for the missionary serving, but do we pray for those warriors once they are home?) This trend of trials and temptations is not uncommon. We see it in the scriptures. In the Pearl of Great Price, we read of Moses’ talk with God, and of the knowledge he gains about his divine identity. However, once it is over, temptation comes. Satan approaches Moses and commands that he worship him. He rants upon the earth and screams. Darkness surrounds him. For Moses, it must have seemed like the whole world is caving in on him. Indeed, he saw, “the bitterness of hell.”
This is what a lot of missionaries go through when they return home. They experience the light of the gospel unlike ever before. Similar to when Moses came down from the mountain, when they return, there is a glow of accomplishment and satisfaction. However, they may feel heartbroken, lost, scared, and torn.
I remember asking the question and hearing the question asked: “How can a returned missionary fall away from the church after preaching the message and being so dedicated?” I cannot answer this question for everyone. They all have their own unique situations and experiences. However, I can answer it for myself in the struggles I faced when returning home.
On my mission I felt a spiritual high. I felt needed. I felt wanted. I felt like I had good friends everywhere I went. When I came home, I felt that mantle and authority fall from me. It hurt. It felt like I had left my power and my coat of armor where I had served. A part of me was gone and missing.
I was told, “Go, live your life! Figure out what you want to do, and do it!” How could I though? I felt as if I had just figured out how to be a fully-dedicated missionary. How in the world was I supposed to drop everything I had focused myself into becoming and go and figure out what I wanted? It seemed so unfair and challenging. I got home and the rigorous schedule was gone. All of a sudden, I had all the time in the world, and I didn’t want any of it. I hated that first few months as I tried to line up both work and school. Once I did, I just felt sort of useless. I wasn’t working to help anyone but myself. The focus I had so fervently dedicated myself to, had now changed so drastically.
As time went on, I started to slip. I heard thoughts in my head over and over that I had a hard time pushing out. There was one small moment where I felt God say, “I am pleased with what you have done,” and then I felt him grow silent. I was so confused, and now I had these voices in my mind telling me I was worthless? It didn’t make any sense. I was supposed to be full of the spirit. I was a returned missionary- one who had returned with honor. Where was my God? Where was my Father on High?
As time went on, I still felt He was silent. I was receiving many blessings in school and work, but I was depressed. The thoughts of worthlessness were so loud and the temptation so strong. It didn’t make any sense: Why would I be tempted to do things I had taught others not to do my entire mission? I had lost who I was. I had a testimony of the gospel and I knew it—I knew I would always know it. But something disconnected. I didn’t know who to talk to.
Prayers felt like I was leaving a message on an answering machine, and I wasn’t getting any return calls. I knew that, though he was silent, He never left. I knew that He has a plan for me, but in the meantime nothing made sense.
That feeling of being alone, and leaving a message for God to answer later, lasted over a year from the time I returned home. During that time, I knew I hadn’t lost my testimony. I didn’t doubt it; I just didn’t always understand. I didn’t always know what to do. What I had done before felt like it wasn’t working. I held on to what I knew and eventually, just like the sun always rises, my trials and temptations were lifted.
So returned missionaries can fall, but it’s not for the reasons you might think. They weren’t bad missionaries. Some just got lost and didn’t have anyone to help them find themselves again. I sure felt like I didn’t have anyone.
Missionaries go through a lot. There is a constant rejection from so many, and there is always a feeling that perhaps you’re not exactly measuring up, or giving your all. I think we all want to give our all as missionaries, we just, sometimes don’t know how.
I have watched several missionaries fall away from the church, or not live the standards as they have known them and taught them for one reason or another. I think of the few individuals who extended love and kind words- they may never know how much I needed them. I am scared to think where I would be without their unconditional love.
My dear Bishop—one, if not the most, charitable man I have ever met. When I was lost, he knew where I was, and he would help me see the good in myself. He would help me remember. Without him I’m not sure where I’d be today. Returned missionaries need this unconditional love. They need to know they are going to be okay, and they need to know they are loved no matter what.
We sure talk a lot about charity, about unconditional love, but we do have a hard time practicing it. That’s all we have to do though, just practice! Loving someone without conditions has changed more lives for good, than that love, which is only predicated upon certain behaviors.
Charity is the one attribute that is the key to all the rest: It is the one that never fails. Charity is the pure love of Christ. Christ has commanded that we love God with all our hearts, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. We all have a long way to go before we will be like Christ, but we might as well start with the first and second great commandment, to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I think that, will change us and everyone around us, more than we can anticipate. All it takes is a little time and a little practice to extend that unconditional love.
I believe that as we reach out to those returning home from their missions, they, like Moses, will remember their true identity as children of God. So when those trials come, they too will be able to stand against the face of adversity and say as Moses did, “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son [daughter] of God…I can judge between thee and God…His glory has been upon me… get thee hence.”
Pearl of Great Price; Moses:1
Bible Dictionary Charity