Early Returned Honor

Doctrine and Covenants 124:49

Dear Early Returned Missionary: What I Wish I Had Known When I Came Home From My Mission

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Dear friend,

I wish we could have this conversation face-to-face. This post is the reason why this website was started. There were things that I wish I had known when I came home. I wish I had known someone who could sit me down and tell me things that would have helped to spare me from the agony that I felt for so long. I can’t physically sit down and talk to all of you, although I would if it was possible. So, instead, I’m writing this letter. Even if it’s not the same as a personal conversation, I hope it can help you as you adjust to coming home. I have thought and prayed about this message for a long time. I hope that the thoughts here will be helpful to early returned missionaries, but I also hope that some of them will be useful to those who had the blessing of being able to complete their time in the mission field.

1. Your physical, emotional, or mental health is not an indication of your spiritual health.

When we were in the discussion stage of my coming home, many people kept telling me that I could have the faith to be healed. And I do absolutely believe that faith can lead to healing. The day that I knew it was my time to come home, my family and friends back home had a special fast for me. My emails the next day when I needed to tell them I was coming home all said, “Hey! You can be healed! Missions are good so Heavenly Father will heal you so you can stay!” That was hard to hear. Even before this point, I wondered if I simply didn’t have enough faith. Some people even told me that I didn’t have enough faith. For a long time I believed that I just wasn’t good enough spiritually to be healed. Then one day I got an email from my friend Hayley (you can read her story on the stories page) asking me about coming home early. As I was writing a response to her, I realized something very important: Your physical, emotional, mental state is NOT a reflection of your ability as a missionary!

It is not a sign that you were not praying hard enough or being faithful enough or teaching well enough. DO NOT let Satan convince you that is the case! Believe me, I know that is hard to believe sometimes. Paul repeatedly asked for a healing of something he was afflicted with and was not healed. Does that mean he wasn’t righteous enough or that Heavenly Father didn’t love him or that he was a sucky missionary? I don’t think so.

Did you know that there are early returned missionaries in the Bible? It talks about one of them in 2 Timothy 4. In verse 20 he talks about his companion Trophimus whom he “left at Miletum sick”. I don’t know a whole lot about Elder Trophimus, but I’m pretty sure that during his time with Paul he saw some incredible miracles. Paul himself was healed from a bite from a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3–6). I think both Paul and Trophimus knew that he could be healed. But in this case, it was time for him to rest and recover. I have a feeling that both Paul and the Lord understood that. (By the way, verse 7 in that chapter is pretty awesome for any returned missionary.) Then, in Philippians 2:23-30 it talks about another missionary. This one talks about Elder Epaphroditus. He is referred to as “my brother, and companion in labor, and fellow soldier”. Paul feels that it s necessary to send this elder back because he was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him. Timothy also had ailments(1 Timothy 5:23). Timothy was another great man and a servant of the Lord. But for whatever reason, he wasn’t healed. What about Joseph Smith? He had his young children die. Did he have the faith to heal them? You know, I’m sure he did. Other times in church history, there were miraculous healings in his life. But it wasn’t the Lord’s will.

Elder Bednar said, “Even with strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.”

It took way more faith for me to come home than it would have to have been a missionary because being a missionary was actually the easier path, even as hard as being a missionary is. At one point when we were discussing whether I was going to go home or not, my brother emailed me to ask if I had the faith not to be healed. That is a difficult question. But I can promise you that my faith grew when I accepted the Lord’s will that it was time for me to go home.

The Lord loves you for going there and using your time to serve him in the time that you gave him. Whether your ailments were physical or mental or emotional or whatever else, do not let Satan trick you into thinking that it is a punishment or that you weren’t good enough.

2. It’s okay to have a hard time.

When I came home, I felt like I had to be okay. I had to prove that it was okay for me to be at home by being strong. I felt like I needed to be excited and happy about my sister leaving on a mission two months after I came home, even though it actually tore me up inside. I would get up after my family was asleep and sob for hours, pleaded from relief from the pain of coming home. But soon, the fact that I was struggling so much started to bother me. I KNEW with all of my heart and soul that I was supposed to come home. So why was I struggling so much?

I went through all of the stages of grief. I mourned the loss of my mission. And I ripped myself apart on the inside because of it. I believe that the major reason I became depressed when I came home was because I hated myself for struggling so much when I knew that it was right. A few months ago, I went to a fireside for early returned missionaries. They talked about how going through the stages of grief was completely normal and that every early returned missionary went through it to some extent. Even though I had made it through those stages, I cried in the fireside because I wished that I had known that when I came home.

When you come home, there are going to be “triggers” that set off your emotions. That’s fine. That’s normal. Sometimes they come out of nowhere. I once went to a stake conference with a missionary work theme and sobbed for hours afterwards. Singing Called to Serve made me feel nauseated. It does get better. But sometimes if you know that going to a missionary farewell is going to be hard, you know what? That’s okay. You don’t have to go. And if you do, it’s okay to be upset for a while afterwards.

One of the greatest blessings in my life during my time of recovering was my wonderful roommate. When we Skyped with my missionary sister for mother’s day during the time I normally would have still been serving, I was crushed afterwards. She was so happy and strong. And it was devastating for me because I hadn’t been that happy and strong. I went back to my apartment earlier than I normally would have and cried. My sweet roommate knocked on my door that way and I talked to her a little about how I was feeling. She said that it was okay to be sad that day, but the next day I needed to get up and move on with my life. She said she cared about me too much to let me sit and feel sorry for myself. I appreciated her wisdom so much. She let me know that it was okay to hurt sometimes, but reminded me that I also needed to live my life.

So remember. You’re normal. You’re okay. You can have a hard time sometimes. Just try not to dwell on it too much.

3. Other people will say unkind things.

I’ll probably do a post just on this topic soon, because it’s a very real thing that you will have to face. My wise mission president suggested that I come up with one answer to give people so I didn’t have to be constantly struggling for something to say. He said I could choose to say as much or as little as I wanted. I recommend the same thing for you. It can be as simple as “Coming home early from a mission is hard. I’d appreciate your prayers and support as I go through this.” or a more complicated story. It can also depend on your level of closeness with people, of course. This did help a lot. But I still had to deal with people saying things that made my heart ache.

In my experience, most of the time people say things when they mean well. They say exactly the wrong thing because they have no idea what to say. Sometimes, though, they may be more malicious. I had some guys tell me that I wasn’t worthy to date. Ouch. I even had family members who were judgement and hurtful about it. Because of those comments, though, I came to understand that no one could define my mission except for me and the Lord. The firmer my testimony was that I had done what the Lord had asked me, the easier it was to deal with those comments.

It’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a lot. But remember that your mission is between you and the Lord. No one else’s opinion really matters. It still hurts. It’s still hard. But keeping that perspective, and remembering that most of the time people honestly just don’t know how to respond, can help ease the pain.

4. You are still a missionary.

Guess what? You might take the name tag off, but you still get to be a missionary. In many ways, coming home early is like having the most precious thing in the world ripped away from you. Some people struggle with depression and have a hard time with the loss of the experiences that make missions so wonderful.

When I came home, I felt like I suddenly had no purpose in life. What could I possibly do that was as important as what I had just been doing? I had a special opportunity a few months after I’d come home to help a coworker who was taking the missionary lessons. This reminded me that as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I still was a missionary. That privilege and blessing had not been taken away from me, even if I no longer wore the name tag and spent all my time actively seeking for people to teach. The more I served people around me and looked for opportunities to still be a missionary, the easier it was for me to handle.

I promise that there are people in your life right now who need you. They need your testimony and your unique perspective, just as people did where you served full-time. You are still be a valued servant of the Lord.

5. You have accomplished your mission.

Feelings of failure are very common among early returned missionaries (I have links about studies on it on the resources page). I know that I felt like a failure, and, to be honest, I still do on my hard days. It’s hard not to. For your entire life, you have known that a mission was 18 months or 2 years. Everyone expected you to come home at a certain time. You expected to come home at a certain time. But it didn’t happen that way.

Let’s talk about the widow with the mites. I wonder if she felt like a failure. All she had was so tiny. It couldn’t have had made much a difference in the grand scheme of things. How could two mites help feed the poor or build temples or whatever the money did at that time? When Jesus saw her offering, however, he tells the disciples that “she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:44). Maybe you didn’t give your all 100% of the time. Maybe you sometimes slept past 6:30. Maybe you weren’t always as obedient as you wanted to be. But if you did the best you knew how to do, in spite of those mistakes that of course you made because you’re human and you’re still working on perfection, then you did exactly what was asked of you. You gave your all.

The theme scripture for this website is Doctrine and Covenants 124:49. It says:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that 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.”

The Lord here is saying that you are not a failure. Enemies came to prevent you from doing that work, and the Lord accepts your offering. That is something that is still hard for me to understand sometimes. But He has told me that, in so many different ways and through different experiences. I know you can get that some reassurance.

Remember, Satan knows that you’re vulnerable right now. So don’t let him convince you that you failed. You know what? You served a mission! You did something scary. You went out there and talked to people. You worked with companions, some of which were probably very different from you and you struggled to understand and get along with sometimes. You went out there and loved those people, even when it was hard and when people didn’t want to listen to the important message that you shared. You bore your testimony and felt it become strengthened. You had hard days and you experienced miracles! You conquered challenges! You got on your knees and prayed your heart out for the people you were serving! You served the Lord the best you knew how in the time that you had! Isn’t that what a mission is all about? What a success! What an accomplishment! What a wonderful experience! Don’t let coming home take away from the blessings you experienced because of and through your mission.

Oh, friend. You are not a failure, and neither am I.

6. You are not alone.

The overwhelming feeling of being alone was the hardest part about coming home for me. I felt like my family and friends had no idea of what I was going through. I didn’t know anyone who had gone what I was going through, and even if I did, everyone is different. There was no way that anyone could understand how I was feeling. Worst of all, I felt like Heavenly Father had abandoned me. I knew He was there, but I could no longer feel Him in my life. And that was the hardest thing that I had to deal with.

Almost every post on this website is trying to send the message that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You’re not. You might feel like you are. Your experience is different than anyone else’s, but Jesus Christ knows you perfectly. And there are many other early returned missionaries who can understand to some levels the amount of pain you are experiencing. Please remember that the Lord loves you. He has not brought you all of this way to abandon you now.

Your mission mattered. And so do you. The Lord loves you so much for the service that you gave. Welcome home, my friend. Thank you for your service.

I would like to do a follow-up post next week with your suggestions. What do you wish you had known when you came home? Post a comment here or on our Facebook page, or email earlyreturnedhonor@gmail.com

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