I had the opportunity to go to a fireside for early returned missionaries done by The Early Returned Missionary Initiative. Thank you to everyone who is involved with this wonderful program! It was great to meet you! Because there are people who aren’t able to go to firesides like this, I wanted to mention a few of the things they talked about.
- You deserve full credit for time served. You answered the call, you went out and served, and you sacrificed as much as anyone who served the full time.
- See the Lord’s hand every day in your life, even on the dark days.
- Heavenly Father loves us. ERMs have to think hard and work hard to understand God’s will for them. When you come home early, you have to really dig and work for that connection with Heavenly Father. That can be a great opportunity to grow your testimony.
- One bishop who came home early spoke. He is married with two kids. For me, this was important because I was terrified that I would never be able to get married because I came home early. Your life and potential for goodness does not end when you come home!
- It’s normal to feel guilty, abandoned, and even angry. “Why me?” can be a common question. Remember that the atonement can heal every mortal affliction. He knows of our anguish. This speaker felt like his life was broken. But even though he felt like a failure, Jesus Christ didn’t feel that way about him. Heavenly Father knows us perfectly. He is a perfect father who will not abandon you when you need him most.
- We are called ERMs, but the hope is that you can call yourself a returned missionary. You served and did all you were asked to do. To be honest, I still struggle with this.
- For ward members and family: one of the best things you could say is “Thank you. We love you. Welcome home.” Recognize that the missionary has done a lot of good and they have served with all of their heart.
- We all have a different story. Some people come home and it’s easy. Some come home and struggle for a period time, sometimes even for years. We all have different periods of adjustments and that’s okay.
- It’s okay to ask why you came home. The Lord can help you figure that out. When you wrestle with the Lord, you get stronger.
- It’s okay to question why you came home early. But don’t question the fundamental principles of the gospel that you know are true.
- I’ve talked about this one before. When you come home early, it can be a very similar process of grieving when someone dies. You might feel grief and loss. Some people isolate themselves. It can be hard to go to church or see people you know. Sometimes you get angry. There may be some depression. Finally, you accept it. These feelings are normal and natural. It’s part of the healing process.
- You may feel guilt and shame. Most early returned missionaries feel failure, but so do people who serve the regular amount of time. We tend to feel like it’s not good enough. But it is good enough.
- Find a mentor. Find someone who has gone through the same thing. Parents and church leaders might not understand exactly what you’re going through.
- Do whatever it takes to heal, physically and emotionally. But remember that the real healing takes place with the help of the Savior.
- DAC 124:49. One of these ays I will write a whole post about this wonderful scripture. The Lord accepts your offering. Side note: at one point last summer when I was talking to someone about coming home, the person I was talking to said, “The Lord accepts your offering. Why can’t you?” It may seem a little harsh, but it’s a good point.
- The Savior gets what you’re going through.
- And, my favorite: Don’t let it define you. Let it refine you.
A few days after I came home, we were eating dinner and my brother said something that upset me. I don’t remember what happened, but I remember yelling at him that he had no idea what I had gone through. I put my shoes on and left. But I had nowhere to go. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to. No one knew how much I was hurting. I didn’t want to admit how much I was hurting. I didn’t have anyone to call, and even if I did, I’d left so quickly that I didn’t even take my cell phone with me. I just walked, sobbing. Eventually I ended up at my high school and sat sobbing underneath a tree. I don’t know how long I was there. I felt like I couldn’t go home. How could I? I was a failure. A disappointment. I did, eventually, of course. I haven’t told many people about that day under the tree. Every time I think about it I cry because even though I’m okay now, it’s painful to think of how alone and heartbroken I was.
That’s why I’m so grateful for things like the Early Returned Initiative and the conversations I’ve had with some of you readers. No one should have to sit under a tree at a high school because they think they don’t have a place to go. If you need someone to know what you are going through, know that there are resources like this fireside, the Early Returned Missionary Initiative, and of course this blog for you to help you get through this tough time. You don’t have to be alone.