I kept remembering that Christ gave his all. So I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to follow his example by giving my all, too. By doing this, even in the middle of the trials, I became closer to the Savior. —Logan Groll
I hope they call me on a mission
When I have grown a foot or two.
I hope by then I will be ready
To teach and preach and work as missionaries do.
They aren’t just words to a beloved Primary song. They are the lyrics to dreams of boys and girls around the world. The tune is a staple of Primary sharing time, and many lifelong members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have enjoyed singing it for as long as they can remember.
Logan Groll of Winchester, Virginia, suspects he’s been singing the song since the pre-existence.
Groll's wait finally came to an end when a mission call to Manaus, Brazil, hit his mailbox on March 26, 2013.
I can witness that this young man was among the most prepared missionaries I've ever known throughout my service in the church, which included being the instructor of a stake mission preparation class. He was knowledgeable, confident and had been raised by two of the finest parents a kid could have.
We often speak in the church about raising the bar. In Groll's case, if you raised it again, then again, then again until it was hardly visible, I believe he would still clear it by a celestial mile.
For all these reasons and more, many might find his length of service surprising.
Elder Logan Groll was called for 24 months.
He served less than 12.
Shortly after receiving his call, Groll began recognizing symptoms of anxiety and purely obsessive-compulsive disorder. Looking back, his parents realize he’d displayed behaviors consistent with the diagnosis as early as age 5.
POCD is unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is less about behavior and more about thoughts. These intrusive thoughts, triggered by stress, often work to convince the sufferer they’ve done terrible things to themselves or others. Groll sometimes needed reassurances from loved ones that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Groll was formally diagnosed and saw a therapist before entering the Provo Missionary Training Center. Within a few days of arriving, his symptoms exploded. Despite exact obedience, a loving, patient companion and understanding leaders, each day was a struggle.
The family learned that while on his mission, Groll could only be treated in drips. But according to Mike Groll, Logan's father who also happens to be his bishop, what his son needed was “a fire hydrant.”
So when his brothers in the MTC left for Brazil, Logan Groll went home to Virginia. He was given a medical release and six months to seek help and return to the field.
A toolbox of therapy, medication, prayer, scripture study and significant time with the local missionaries at home prepared him for a return.
Feeling ready, and with the figurative blessing of the doctor and a literal blessing from his loving stake president, Groll resubmitted his paperwork and was called to the Washington Spokane Mission.
He reported directly to the field and hit the ground racing at about the same speed as the jet that carried him there. He had tremendous success and was loved by missionaries and members alike.
He was, at last, teaching and preaching like missionaries do.
Then, like a storm whose tracking and arrival cannot be predicted, his mind flooded.
The pressures and rigors of missionary life and distance from the safety of home made it difficult to enjoy consistent calm. Regular anxiety attacks overwhelmed him at night and during meetings. The discouraging moments began to outnumber those of self-assurance.
Rather than the occasional moment of uncertainty we all feel as a natural course of life, family and work, Groll lived the opposite. Only now and again did his mind slow and his chaotic thoughts align with his steel will. He did all he could to remain in the field. Mission President Donald Mullen and his wife, Melonie, were extraordinarily loving and supportive.
Groll counseled with them, his parents and a doctor. After fasting and prayer, they came to the conclusion that his heart was able, but his body was not. When Groll finally felt completely at peace that his work was done, that the Lord was satisfied with his effort, he accepted an invitation to honorably end his mission and return home.
When I approached my dear friend about sharing his personal story with the world, I expected him to need time to consider it and to seriously ponder whether he had the courage at this early stage of life to go public with such private trials.
I was right. He needed time. Almost five seconds.
Over a series of face-to-face meetings, emails and text messages, this returned missionary taught me more about what it means to honorably serve the Lord than I learned on my own more "traditional" Mormon mission two decades ago.
We first spoke at length of the initial decision to come home when his MTC mates went to Brazil. “I knew it was not healthy for me or anyone else," he said. "I knew I needed to get things sorted out before going back out.”
During his time home, Groll said he prayed to know precisely what he should do for the coming six months. “I received very specific impressions that I should prepare to return and I was led to Doctrine and Covenants 11. I wanted to go when he wanted me to go. I knew it had to be about his will, not mine.”
Groll confides that sleep was difficult during those months and even though he was safely home, he continued to deal with anxiety. He returned to a therapist and they continued experimenting with the right drugs and proper dosages. “I began to believe that even though I couldn’t control my physical being or surroundings, I could control my attitude and my spiritual welfare," he said.
When his new call was issued to the Washington Spokane Mission, Groll instantly knew it was an assignment not from this world. “It was very clear to me that there were people I’d made promises to before this life to come teach the gospel to. And those people were in Spokane.”
Despite the continued struggles, Groll believed it was worth the pain and worth the trials. “I wanted to go and bring them home with me,” he said. Not to Virginia, he clarified with a smile, but to their heavenly home.
Groll served in two areas, Hillyard and Beacon Hill. In both, he experienced remarkable success with companions he said changed his life forever. But in his second area, despite so much working in his favor, the anxiety and panic attacks intensified. At times they were so severe, he thought he was having heart attacks. They led to nausea and sleeplessness that began to impact the work.
“I prayed hard, so hard," he said. "But I realized my body was done. I had nothing left to give. And it wasn’t fair to my companion any longer.”
Groll found solace in the Atonement. “I kept remembering that Christ gave his all. So I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to follow his example by giving my all, too. By doing this, even in the middle of the trials, I became closer to the Savior.”
I wondered when he accepted that it was finally time. “I knew there were four people who were pleased with my mission: myself, my parents and God," he said. "And that’s all I needed.”
By now, Groll surely knows many others are pleased, as well. Members he worked with in Spokane rave about his spirit and work ethic. His mission president and his wife call him one of their finest.
When Sister Mullen heard her former missionary was going public with his story in an effort to educate and inspire others, she asked for an opportunity to contribute.
“Elder Groll was wonderful,” she told me. "We love him!”
In addition to presiding over a mission, the Mullen family has personal experience with a missionary coming home early for health reasons. “We have to love them through it," Sister Mullen said. "Things happen and this is between them and the Lord. It is not for us to place a judgment.”
President and Sister Mullen remind their elders and sisters, members and even one another that these are the Lord’s missionaries. "They are known by the Lord,” Sister Mullen said, "and they only need to answer to him.”
Over their two and a half years of service, with the minimum-age change announcement in 2012, their mission being split, the arrival of temporary "visa waiters" and their own complement of missionaries being increased to 250, the Mullens have worked with nearly 600 total elders and sisters.
"All of them struggle at least a little and many of them struggle a lot," Sister Mullen said. "But their work is sacred. Whatever they are trying to give, do, learn and sacrifice is acceptable to the Lord. We need to accept each individual missionary's journey and let it be theirs."
Sister Mullen said she has met with missionaries who may not have realized they had symptoms of anxiety and depression before their missions, but had been blindly coping. “We think they’re not seeing signs because they’re seeking constant entertainment.” She added, bluntly: "My advice is to get off the phone and get out of their bedroom.”
Sister Mullen also spoke of the battle early returning missionaries face at home. The question, she said, seems endless: “When are you going back out?”
She encourages members to take another approach. “Just love them. Support them. Tell them you know they did good work. Tell them, ‘We’re glad to have you home. Now relax!’”
During our interview, she circled back several times to this central concern. “Don’t ask when they’re going back out. Don’t ask details. Love them.”
Sister Mullen also wants these missionaries and their families to know they’re not alone. Mental health challenges are more common than many might think, and it’s not only right to ask for help, the Lord actually wants them to. And the resources, she said, are easily available.
To members and families of those who return early, Groll's advice echoed his cherished mission mother. “Just love them. Acknowledge them, tell them how proud you are and don’t pry. These missionaries really need a strong church family."
He added that his own church family, the Berryville Ward in the Winchester Virginia Stake, was exactly that. He credits their unconditional love and support for his ability to return home, to heal, to return to the field and to return home a final time.
"We like to say opinions don’t matter," Groll continued, "but it’s so important to know you’re loved. Let us know we’re accepted for who we are and who we’re becoming, even if our mission didn’t look like everyone else’s.”
The returned missionary also wants those experiencing mental health issues to know there's no shame and no need to be embarrassed. Some end missions early for breaking legs, some end missions for mononucleosis and some end missions for mental illness. "An honorable release is an honorable release, period," Groll said.
Lastly, once missionaries are home, no matter how long they served, Groll suggests they set three goals. “One physical, one mental and one spiritual. It’s so important we have that focus and direction.”
As our final discussion moved on to school, work, hobbies and the young adult manuscript the aspiring novelist is working on every single day, Groll discussed his continued passion for missionary work and how often he raises his hand to split or team up with the elders in his ward. It’s obvious he may have left the mission, but the mission hasn’t left him.
In fact, he's still serving a mission; he's just not wearing a name tag. He's on a mission to help others with similar experiences find peace.
And what about that beloved Primary song? It still rings in his soul.
I hope that I can share the gospel
With those who want to know the truth.
I want to be a missionary
And serve and help the Lord while I am in my youth.
For Logan Groll and other honorably returning missionaries like him, it’s time to move on to their second verses.
Groll blogs at logangroll.com.