Although my sample size would be considered insignificant, a recent discussion in our youth Sunday School class about worries over serving a full-time LDS mission transcended our cinder-block corner classroom and could apply to other members of the church wherever they live.
It helped that a recently returned missionary was in our midst who humbly prayed in Honduran Spanish to begin class and whose contributions validated, squashed or most importantly helped find solutions to some of the worries entertained by pre-missionaries.
We also turned to the Book of Mormon and the words of King Benjamin to help address each of the following fears or obstacles, in no particular order.
• Lack of knowledge
Not a single missionary is immune to this fear before or during a full-time mission. Recent converts to the LDS Church, as well as those with a lifetime to prepare, will no doubt play mental games of minimizing their ability to teach doctrine that they may not fully understand themselves. King Benjamin told his sons they would prosper if they relied on two tools: obedience and searching the scriptures. (Mosiah 1:7)
It’s also helpful to note who Benjamin chose to teach and lead his people: not necessarily the scholars, but those who were just, grateful, peacemakers, obedient, rejoiced in the gospel and were filled with love for God and all men. (Mosiah 2:4)
Benjamin knew that the mysteries of God are unfolded not to those who “trifle” with truth, but to those who open their hearts to understand and their ears to spiritually hear confirmations by the Holy Ghost.
In some forms, love can be a tricky obstacle that keeps us from committing to serve a full-time mission. Our class discussed a few that included selfish love of comfortable living, romantic love that won’t grow fonder during a two-year absence, crippling love from helicopter parents and loving the approval of men more than God. Benjamin didn’t mince words when calling us all “unworthy creatures” who were no better than the dust of the earth. But he also showed us by example how to shake off the dust and be profitable servants who love God first and then manifest that love through service.
• Being short-tempered
The mere idea of being stuck 24/7 with a missionary companion whom you’ve never met and initially share little in common seems a sure-fire path to contention for any 19-year-old kid who’s spent the last few years solidifying his independence. If one or both has a tendency toward short tempers, the risk of contention rises even more. One Sunday School student made an apt observation that being a tenacious fighter by nature is both a blessing and a curse, but as you “direct your tenacity,” he said, “you’ll succeed in your mission and get along with companions.”
• Temple worthiness
The Lord has never required anyone to be perfect in order to help with his work, but he does need us to live in such a way that our conscience is justifiably clear and that we’re working toward our potential. Receiving a temple recommend from a priesthood leader is, in some small way, similar to our inevitable judgment day before the Lord. We would all do well to follow King Benjamin’s example of “walking with a clear conscience before God.” Repentance is the key.
• Physical challenges
Every young man, woman and couple aspiring to serve must cultivate healthy habits and focus on becoming their best — mentally, physically and spiritually — if they want to make the most of missionary service. King Benjamin eloquently teaches of Christ’s Atonement and his physical suffering for each of us that surpassed anything we could possibly endure, including pain, hunger, fatigue and anguish. His perfect empathy helps us overcome challenges of both body and spirit.
Nothing distracts more from missionary service than indulging an addiction. From pornography, overeating or over-shopping to drugs, gambling and gaming, each of us has a potential weakness that could spiral into an addiction. Service to others is a perfect antidote, but overcoming the addiction must happen before we don a black name tag, not after. A full-time mission should not be considered a rehab of abstinence, but instead a manifestation of prior success in overcoming the “natural man” and learning to “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” instead. (Mosiah 3:19)
My conscientious crowd of high school seniors is still trying to conceptualize how to earn enough money this summer to pay for a stint at college and then two years away. We talked about the importance of personally preparing financially to serve but also realizing that an elder wearing a $500 suit next to an elder with a clean, thrift-store ensemble stand equally as ambassadors of the Lord. Benjamin recorded the names of all those who would “take on the name of Christ” and promised they would be “blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual” if they were faithful. (Mosiah 2:41)
• Compromising education, career goals
It is admittedly hard for 19-year-olds to spend at least two years working toward their future only to then take a two-year hiatus. A full-time mission shouldn’t be seen as a side road to future success but as an intense enhancement of their skills and abilities to succeed in the real world of business, family, education, leadership and career.
• Lack of family support
I was somewhat surprised when the boys in my class suggested that lack of family support would be a great hindrance to service. Since all have parents who would shed a tear but then jubilantly back-flip out of the MTC driveway if given the opportunity to send a child on a two-year mission, I think it was their way of admitting how significantly family support bolsters a desire to serve.
• Social phobias
While some teens suffer serious cases of anxiety, mere social phobias about doing what’s right have been mostly conquered by my group of 18-year-old students. When I proposed the idea that social fears might keep someone from serving a mission, an understated solution by a wise student immediately became our class goal for the week: “Just get over yourself.”
Share your additional solutions to worries of those contemplating full-time missionary service.