Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
A 2009 file photo of the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah.
We all know "those" returned missionaries.
The ones who came home early. The ones who were honorably released, but didn't serve a full term. Whether it's one week or 17 months or 22 months, they can end up, sadly, being the talk of the ward. Was it depression that made it so the elder couldn't even make it out of the MTC? Could the sister not handle the mission rules so she asked for her own release? And since sister missionaries aren't "required" to go, don't they get an honorable release no matter what?
Consider for a moment how these missionaries are feeling.
I am an early returned missionary. I came home due to the effects of Lyme disease and am still fighting that battle. (May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and you can learn more about the Lyme Disease Challenge at lymediseasechallenge.org).
I served one year. It was the best year of my life, and the six to nine months after coming home early were some of the worst months of my life.
When I heard my mission president say that I was going home, I had known it was coming for a while. But I had fought to stay out. I was sick. It was serious. But we didn't find out how serious until I came home.
Still, I felt like my world had shattered into a million pieces. Then when I came home, it was like someone had taken a sledge-hammer to those pieces.
What I didn't realize was that the adversary was the one handing me the sledge-hammer, and I was the one smashing the pieces.
Following are six lies that early returned missionaries may tell themselves. Not everyone who comes home from a mission early feels all of these, but I have talked to quite a few who have expressed these very same feelings.
I have to agree with them. I have felt all of these.
1. I don't get the same blessings of full-service returned missionaries.
This is something I didn't know I felt until I was meeting with my stake president explaining my situation. He said that I should not feel like I do not get the blessings that full-service missionaries get upon returning. He said that if these were my thoughts, to stop — because it's not true. I was honorably released and therefore am entitled to be blessed as if I came home like any other sister who served 18 months. The relief I felt was so satisfying. I didn't even realize I felt that way.
2. I can't do hard things.
Our mission motto in South Carolina was "I love tough things!" We said it all the time, and we were reminded that our missions were one of the hardest things we would ever do — and I couldn't do it. That's what I told myself. I had failed. But in reality, I was doing something even harder. I was leaving the mission to come home to get better. For me, that was even harder to do. And I was still doing hard things, and whether I realized it or not, I was making it.
3. I could have done more to stay out.
This is a thought that still comes to my mind a lot. What if I would have been more open with my companion and mission president? What if I would have just prayed and fasted more. What if I would have trusted Heavenly Father more? I think this is a trap that people who come home from missions early can easily fall into. What I needed to realize and accept is that this was God's will. Elder Neal A Maxwell once said, "Faith in God includes faith in his timing as well." The idea that this was all in God's plan for me was impossible to accept at one point in the early months of being home. I didn't want to think that was an option. But we can't think this way. It is a lie, and a torturous one at that. I have spent so many nights thinking about how I could have stayed out on my mission. It doesn't help the healing. Yes, of course it hurts, but I had to accept that it was God's will for me. And once I accepted it, and truly believed it with every fiber of my being, then I could begin to heal.
4. I have let God down.
Now this is one serious lie that I've thought countless times. I felt like I had sinned by coming home early and by so doing had let God down. I felt dirty; like I wasn't worthy. I was wrong to think this way. I was honorably released and sent home for health reasons. I had not violated any commandments or covenants that I had made with God. Yet I felt what I thought was guilt. In actuality, I was feeling shame, and it took me a while to know the difference between those two emotions.
5. I can't go on with my life now.
This is a lie I used as an excuse for a while. Missionaries who finish their full service have a hard time getting back into "real life," but try being home early from the mission. Part of it was that I came home because of a serious illness, but I did not want to think about my life moving on because I was so upset over being home early. It was an excuse I used to mope.
6. People will judge me from now on.
I remember feeling shame when I would talk to people in my ward and tell them I had just returned from my mission. Whether they knew it was an early release or not, I felt like they already knew and they were already judging me. But I was judging myself, and then thinking everyone else was judging me the same way. If they do know the truth and then judge, it's not my problem. I have had to come to realize that I did my best and once again, it was God's will. And I have found that most people are not judging. After all, you are your own worst critic.
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I have to remember that these lies are not from God, they are from Satan — "the father of all lies" who wants "all men that they may be miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:18-27). If Satan can get me to think that I was an awful missionary for coming home, that God is ashamed of me for letting him down, then I could lose hope in the gospel and fall away. I will lose everything I gained in that one precious year.
And it worked for a good while. But we can't give the devil any place to "destroy (our) peace or afflict (our) soul." (2 Nephi 4:27) And it has taken me a long time to figure that out.
Editor's note: A version of this column was first published on the author's blog, blamethetick.blogspot.com.
Sadie is a blogger, you can read some of her blogs at blamethetick.blogspot.com