Why I Almost Went on a Mission

Andrew Sdoubt, faith, Happiness, missionary, missions, Mormon, Mormons, obedience, questioning, testimony 86 Comments

I hear there’s a Primary song — “I hope they call me on a mission.” I’ve never actually heard it sung, but I vaguely know that it does exist and that there are some members who have their kids sing it enough that they internalize it. I never grew up with that, of course.

Missions just never seemed for me. At first I was apathetic to the concept, and then I was doubtful. Then, I became opposed to the concept. Why should I derail my life? (The answer of: “Because it’s what the Lord wants you to do” or “Because righteous people should want to be obedient” fell flat against me.) What good could a mission really do for me? Why should I try to convince people who already have religions and ways of life that they are wrong?

As someone who grew up in the church, I’ve never been able to understand converts’ perspective. I’ve never been able to understand how someone can listen to two clean-cut 19-year-olds and go from there to testimony. I’ve just never had to do it (but when I’ve seen the missionaries at work, or I’ve heard the lessons, it’s been wholly unconvincing. So much for feeling the spirit.)

Eventually, I started seeing some people go on missions. People who I knew weren’t really the most worthy people (not that I’m judging). I didn’t pay too much attention to it…I assumed they had cleaned up whatever their indiscretions were. So when these people started coming back much more mature, I was amazed. They had clearly been transformed on their missions and now they were back wiser. (I guess I’ve had the luck of never seeing a missionary faith disaster case.) I began to respect the missionary ideal…even if I was not quite sure if it was for me.

I remember…it was around Easter a few years ago…it had to be before Easter, because I remember Easter was the day of my epiphany. Anyway, some time before Easter a few years ago, my father had been my young men’s adviser, and I remember asking him about how people get testimonies. I remember arguing something to the effect that I couldn’t have a testimony being raised in such comfort. I’d need to be subjected to all of the worst things in the world and then be forcibly humbled. It was pretty deep, I thought. My father didn’t agree. He said something about how Christ suffered for us so that we didn’t necessarily have to suffer all that stuff if we’d follow by faith. Why stick your finger into an electrical socket when you can just accept by faith that it’s not a good idea? Sure, the former will give you a physical experience that you won’t soon forget…but it could destroy you first.

Still, I thought I needed some thing that would shake my foundation so hard that it forced me to need Christ.

Then came Easter. I don’t think there was anything in any particular lessons about it (so I guess this is the point where I’m supposed to say the Lord has great sense of timing for personal revelation — yeah, right), but I came to realize that all a mission was is a controlled way for people to reach the humble rock bottoms of their lives.

I apologize if this is a naive and warped view of a missionary experience.

When I read about missionary experiences, they don’t sound particularly enjoyable. Or rather, the enjoyable ones are rare. But it seems that most missionaries either don’t focus on the unenjoyable aspects, or when they do, they miss the point. However, I was looking for a fiery field to walk in, and a white (hot) field was ready to harvest.

Back then, I thought that even though I’d hate the experience and I’d hate myself for it, in the end, I’d have a thicker testimony. So, it was with that that I had that kind of LDS-ism…if you can only desire to believe, after all…

So, I have a period of time in my journal where I tell myself that I must tell the Bishop, my father, etc., to make me go on a mission no matter what. That I cannot be allowed to back out of this.

…As you can see, I haven’t gone on my mission, and even though I have a few years, I don’t see it in my future. In the end, I have to accept that even though I recognize such an experience would change me, I would hate such a change. Perhaps it’s pride or whatever, but I don’t want to come to look at my life as something I despise. Yet that’s what I feel the mission experience, and a full-out commitment to the church would bring.

I look at so many people who have ended up wrecking themselves because of some church expectation or requirement…twisting themselves in emotional or financial or spiritual knots…and for what?

Comments 86

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  2. My bishop convinced me to go on a mission. I was twenty and had no desire to go. After a short (an hour) visit with me at his home, he convinced me I needed to go on a mission (I think my dad put him up to it). I went, and it wasn’t all fun, but it wasn’t all misery either. I made it through the hard parts (bike wrecking in the middle of nowhere, new convert calling me in the middle of the night because her boyfriend made fun of her for joining the church, running out of miles on my car and trying to figure out how to get to the next teaching appointment, getting caught in a thunderstorm with no shelter on a metal bike), but still managed to enjoy myself from time to time. And it gave me tons of great stories to tell for the rest of my life.

    The times I was miserable, I just kept telling myself “this is just for a little while,” though two years seemed a lot longer back then than it does now, and “this will make me a better person” and “when I’m done, I’ll be an RM” (sort of like how I approached getting my Bachelor’s, “when I’m done, I’ll have my degree”).

    When I got back, I was a better person. How? I don’t know. I was two years older, but I had been through a lot of hardships. I always thought a mission was a crucible, like your story alludes to. And I think a mission is a way for the Church to whip young men into shape. It serves a dual purpose, however. Sanctifying young men in just a side effect of mission work. The main purpose is bringing people the Gospel. You say why should you “convince people who already have religions and ways of life that they are wrong”. I never converted one person who was already comfortable in another religion (though I taught quite a few). But I brought people into the Church who were looking for something the gospel provided.

    I met my future wife when I got back. She may have dated me had I not been an RM, but she certainly wouldn’t have married me. The pre-mission me wasn’t marriage material. The post-mission me was. Serving a mission has a dual purpose. You do it for the Lord, certainly, but you also do it for yourself.

    I’m not telling you to go on a mission. I have no idea how old you are or your circumstances. And I know spiritual giants who never served missions. But I’m encouraging my sons to go on missions and if they do, I know they’ll return better people. They’ll leave as boys and come back men.

  3. An interesting post. I am not sure that mission-as-crucible/pit-of-suffering is how the church leaders would look at it, but there’s a certain amount of truth to it. However, if someone does not want to go, they should not be pressured enough into doing it. Missions are painful enough in the best of circumstances. I’ve been back a couple of years and I don’t really like to think about mine… I think I’ll give it a decade or so until I evaluate it to try to gain some perspective. Until then, there are some memories I really don’t want to revisit. (All that being said, missions are intense and valuable in their own way: I wouldn’t totally rule one out, but just keep thinking and praying.)

  4. “…and for what?”, indeed.

    If our goal is to become like Heavenly Father by trying to do what He wants us to do, then wholeheartedly serving a mission will help most of us achieve that goal. Never again will I have an opportunity to try to consecrate all my time and energy to God. It was a sometimes-grueling and occasionally-incredible experience. And I don’t imagine I will ever again experience so much prayer, scripture discovery, expression of faith, and miracles within such a short period of time.

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    Re 3:

    Frecklefoot, thanks for your account!

    I know that of course, the proper purpose of missions is going to be to bring the Gospel to people, but I too have seen so many people get wrapped up in the numbers and statistics of it all that I wonder if…they are impacted negatively if they don’t meet expectations (or if they sorely underperform even by their *own* expectations). Good point on the difference of finding people who are looking for something the gospel provides.

    Re 4:

    I’m pretty sure the church leaders probably wouldn’t look at it as a pit-of-suffering, so I acknowledge that’s probably a somewhat warped view. I can see what you mean about giving it a decade or so; that reminds me of similar accounts I’ve read of the lengthy amount of time it can take to fully appreciate the experience.

  6. There are certainly those who go to prove something to their parents/friends/girlfriends, and those people really shouldn’t go (if that is the ONLY reason they’re going). I went to prove something to myself (and it worked). I had a tiny (but strong) testimony when I left, but came back with a bigger one (not Schwarzenegger-ish, but maybe Stallone-ish). I think you’re right that the Church leaders probably don’t think of a mission as a pit-of-suffering, but I think it ends of being that more often than not. How can it not be? For the first time in most kids lives they have to rely solely on themselves, not their parents, friends, family dog, etc. I can’t think of any experiences from my mission that make me shudder, but I do remember some that make me think, “yeah, that kind of sucked. Glad that’s over.” I certainly didn’t experience anything that I’d be afraid to have one of my boys experience (when they’re old enough). But I served my mission in the safe and tranquil ’80s, YMMV.

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  8. I think statistics are a necessary evil of missionary work. I never had high baptism numbers, though I didn’t beat myself up over it. What were we supposed to do if we didn’t have anyone ready? Baptize random strangers off the street? But if all the other areas are baptizing 50 people a week, and you’re baptizing one, that’s a pretty good indication something’s wrong. Yeah, I always hated “numbers” (what we called them), but now I can see they needed to be tracked.

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    I mean, I can see how it is a necessary evil, but…somehow, I can’t just value it like that and feel ok. 50 people vs. 1 person means a lot on one scale, but then on other scales, I don’t think it means much at all. I’d be more ok if someone were, for example, making closer connections to the few people they baptized, even if it led to less baptism, than to go for as many people as possible as if it’s a game of whack-a-mole (haha, not saying that the area that gets 50 looks at it that way)

  10. With respect:

    “It ain’t about you”.

    Have a problem giving 10% of your income to the Lord? If not, why would you have a problem giving 2 years (10% if you’re 20ish) of your life to the Lord?

    If someone is “twisting themselves in emotional or financial or spiritual knots” over church expectations…my guess is that they are at a learning period on the pride cycle.
    That’s why we are here.

    Best of luck.

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    Re 10:

    What’s to stop someone, though, from “learning” all the way out the church? Of “learning” that they really don’t *have* to take that? Even if you grant such an explanation as “well, they just weren’t humbled enough; they kept with their pride” — a clever answer — this doesn’t change that now, there *is* someone who is moving on and moving away. Which should be problematic in more of a way than just sighing and saying, “Oh well, if only they weren’t so prideful…”

  12. Well, this is a terrible forum to have a discussion, but to be honest, missionaries aren’t supposed to be new convert’s closest connections within the Church. That’s where fellowshipping comes in. Before a new member is baptized, they should have several connections (friends are even better) within the local ward. Otherwise, new members become inactive as soon as the missionary is transferred. Though I developed several friendships during my service, that isn’t really part of the calling. The calling is to teach. Now baptizing fewer people who are better prepared, I totally agree with that. Baptizing people who swiftly become inactive just to get numbers is completely wrong.

    But it happens, and usually to the guys who get high numbers. I could rant about this (and I think I will), but some missionaries are very attractive and charming and use those assets to get high baptism numbers. They care nothing about whether or not the perspective member really has a testimony or is ready. But it’s implied, “if you really like me, you’ll let me baptize you.” That’s totally wrong, but that’s how a lot of Elders got high baptism numbers. Life isn’t fair, and those baptisms didn’t help anyone. When I got back from my mission and started attending the single’s ward, my fiancee was the RS President and I helped her track down 200 girls who were listed as inactive because they fell in love with the missionaries who taught them and never attended Church after their baptism. Some had never even been to Church once! Now that’s wrong, and that’s why I said numbers are a necessary “evil.” They help keep track of activity within an area, but they can also drive some companionships to baptize the unready, which I think is what your point was.

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    Re 12:

    I don’t think it’s a terrible forum to have a discussion…of course, then again, perhaps I was misled when I figured out what blogs could be useful for.

    I can definitely see what you’re saying about the missionary’s position vs. the fellowshipper’s position, but then it, I dunno, makes things seem even more cold. Like the church organization is even less about people than normal. It’s probably, as Bruce in Montana might say, just part of that pride cycle to think this.

    What I do see is that we don’t seem to have good fellowshipping, even if this is always pressed to be the ideal. We don’t have good connections for new members, and many times, we don’t have ways to establish those good connections (new members who, in some way, do not fit with the general demographic of the ward…will be awkward.)

    I guess in a roundabout way, I was musing on this organizational disconnect, trying to play around with the idea, and trying to see the other perspectives with it. It seems, for example, that the church is going to be much more adamant about recommending/advising that everyone go on a mission (or, to correct, that everyone be worthy to go on one), but there isn’t so much emphasis on fellowshipping even for non-missionaries. This teach, preach, but do not reach is discomforting, but it need not be so. It’s not a fundamental problem that can’t be improved upon.

  14. Andrew S,

    Going strictly from the words of your post (and I have nothing else to go on, so I can’t say whether what I’m think I’m seeing is actually there), you may want to consider that one of your sticking points is a pervasive focus on self. The “what’s in it for me” seems to be both overt in your choice of words and also between the lines.

    I’ll admit that one of the reasons I wanted to serve a mission was because I’d grown up watching a long procession of guys I didn’t particularly admire pre-mission come back as the kind of man I wanted to be. Yes, what you experience on a mission can transform you if you take the experience seriously. (This is different from taking YOURSELF seriously, which I did for most of my mission, which I do not recommend.) And yes, missions can be personally difficult and challenging. And very rewarding, even without a lot of teaching experiences. (I only baptized two on my European mission, which was par.)

    While the crucible of faith experiences changed me, I’d say that factor is about third-place for me. The most transformative parts were learning to recognize and act according to the spirit and (probably a tie) the fact that for the first time in my life, I was living for someone besides myself. I was shocked by how much I cared about the people I was teaching. I’d never experienced anything like that before. The love I’d felt for my family and friends prior to my mission had actually been very self-centered. It was different as a missionary. I had never really felt anything approaching the kind of empathy and concern I had for people I knew, let alone for these people I barely knew.

    I arrived on my mission so immature, particularly relative to the other missionaries, and I struggled a lot with my own personality traits that didn’t serve me or anybody else well. And then come the times that the Lord fills you with love and empathy for someone, and you just cannot help but being changed by that. Missionaries are given very adult responsibilities, and it’s kind of scary because you’re dealing with real people that you really care about. Few missionaries arrive ready for the challenge. And yet you have these people in your life that you desperately want to help — not because you wanted a notch for baptism numbers, but because you’re feeling a taste of how God feels about them — and you just have to become the person they need rather than holding on to the person you currently are. That part happens without you noticing it.

    I went on a mission largely for myself, and most of the noteworthy changes to me happened while I was thinking about something (or someone) else. Living for someone else is what God does, and when you serve the mission that way you start thinking and behaving more like Him without even realizing it. That’s what changes boys into men on missions, or at least that’s what allows the profoundly difficult challenges to transform you. (Believe me, they don’t have to transform you!) If you drop the “what’s in it for me” mentality and go for no other reason than you believe that would be pleasing to the Lord, you’ll be on track for much bigger breakthroughs.

    I’m not trying to put you on a “you self-centered baby” guilt trip, but if you’re fishing for feedback, you’ve got to expect a few bites from us sanctimonious types. There’s pretty compelling evidence in your choice of words that your mindset is an awful lot like the self-centered one I grew up with. I don’t know where else besides a mission I could have abandoned it.

  15. Seems to me you have kindof painted yourself into a corner and will likely end up regrets no matter what you do.

    Can’t not go on a mission because you will miss that unique experience.

    Can’t go on a mission because you seem predisposed to making the mission experience a crucible (and probably a crucible for any missionaries you would be serving with).

    I have never considered my mission a sacrifice, I gained much, much more than I could have doing anything else with those 2 years. It wasn’t always easy, but it would be very selfish to call it a sacrifice.

    And just a little aside, a mission is only 2 years, wait until you have kids if you want to talk about potential crucibles, those 18+ years will make any mission challenges seem petty.

  16. An aside: Missionaries do not go out to convince anyone else that they are “wrong” — not if they’re good missionaries, anyway. They ask people to do things that will allow them to have spiritual experiences. They help people acquire personal experience and testimony of truths they had never before considered. And, while they’re at it, they teach them basic doctrines and help them understand and keep commitments.

    You shouldn’t be surprised that the missionary teaching experiences you’ve observed weren’t all that convincing. It’s not false modesty when the more effective missionaries report that they didn’t convert anybody but that they saw a lot of baptisms. The spiritual experiences that convert people almost always happen when no one else is in the room!

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    Lorin, good comment. This is hitting into some of the deeper stuff.

    It leads me to another issue…it is through the lens of the self that we discern different matters. We say “I don’t want that” or “I do want that” or “I trust this advice” or “I do not trust that advice.”

    If we take a step back away from that — which is a valid thing to ask — then what would make us able to say, “OK, then I’ll be selfless and go on this mission” as opposed to “OK, then, I’ll be selfless and do *insert some other request*”? What would make us able to say, “I will go through strife and ‘endure to the end’ for a cause,” with this off-chance that we actually end up actually wrecking ourselves? After all, although this particular example (mission) is unique to this church in some ways, there are parallels in any philosophy, religion, life choice, etc., It seems that taking a perspective of faith might allow for this opportunity to say something like, “Well, really, the church/this path/this way is right. Any problems that people have with it are from their misunderstanding/their deficiencies/their fault.” And it could certainly be that that is the case…but before we know for sure, we do have this misunderstanding. Things don’t work out cleanly. Not everyone gets the same answers back when they ask the same questions. I mean, even if you don’t recognize that that could happen — through no fault of an individual — in the church…couldn’t you at least recognize that for the many, many other religions, philosophies, and mindsets, it could?

    So it seems to me that, let’s say that my mindset is like the one you grew up with. It could be that if I were to go on a mission, then I, like you, would be transformed for the better. You’re here now, and I trust that you are as you say.

    It could also be, though, that I am not transformed for the better. There are certainly many others around who come away with a different picture, and for whatever reason, they never come back. It’s easy to say, “Well, it’s on them; it’s their problem,” but it seems like this doesn’t really resolve anything. It’s just a clever answer that fuses the end of that rope.

    So, how do I take the jump? Even faith itself isn’t the answer, because I could have faith in something that is wrecking me (although perhaps the solution then would just be to “accept” that wrecking as not a wrecking at all — since that language and that perspective is inherently biased toward a self-centered idea about what is “good” for the self)

  18. Re 13:

    Okay, a few things. Yes, the Church, in general, sucks at fellowshipping. But I don’t know how it can improve upon it easily. The best way is for members to actually recognize who is in their ward and introduce themselves to new faces. But, if most members are like me, I have no idea who is in my ward outside of about a dozen faces. So I could easily walk up to someone I don’t know and find out the person has been a member of the ward for 20 years and has never missed a service. Many wards have new members stand up and introduce themselves, but this can only be done in smaller classes (priesthood meeting and RS), but even that’s not perfect because its easy to swiftly forget new faces. So, in short, yes, the Church sucks at fellowshipping.

    That being said, once a person is fellowshipped, they’re often fellowshipped for good. If they meet a few select people, become part of their lives, then they have a pretty poor chance of leaving (hmm, why does this remind me of Scientology?). After they’re fellowshipped, they go to see their friends as well as be spiritually uplifted.

    Good fellowshipping is the ward’s job, and in a perfect world, the missionaries could just hand off the new members and be done with it (because, let’s face it, they’re going to be transferred eventually anyways). But, more often than not, the missionaries (working with the Ward Mission Leader) have to make sure the new convert gets fellowshipped. But this isn’t always possible or feasable, and for a few of the reasons you mention. There may not be a simple answer, but this doesn’t discount the importance of missionary work or make it invalid. And if a new convert doesn’t get fellowshipped, it doesn’t mean that they or the ward members are proud, they just suck at meeting new people.

    The Church is actually going in the opposite direction than you suggest: they’ve just recently said not every young man should go on a mission. There are some kids it could totally destroy, and it looks like they’ve realized that. And they don’t want kids going out who are Evil-To-The-Core who are just going to get their inheritance. Despite this, of course, there is still an expectation for young men to serve missions and sometimes a stigma for those who don’t. I don’t know if that will ever go away.

    But this is getting away from the question of how to better fellowship converts. It’s a hard question without an easy answer, but just because we don’t fellowship well doesn’t mean we’re inhuman, cold or proud. It just means we’re not super-outgoing. Is that a sin? I don’t know, maybe. Is it easy to overcome? No, but the leaders have encouraged us to reach out to new members. But there’s a lot to cover in the Gospel so you can’t spend every Sunday working with members to be better fellowshippers. The field is wide and the laborers are few…

  19. Just a totally different slant from which to view this:

    People who marry in the world in general from age 21-24 have the highest divorce rates, except for those who marry as teenagers – and significantly higher than those who marry from age 25-30. The divorce rate for Mormons who marry in the temple from age 21-24 is statistically similar to those who marry in the temple from 25-30. Why?

    Missions force maturity.

    Honestly, my first impression wasn’t, “This is a selfish person.” Rather, it was, “This person is immature. He needs to grow up.”

    That happens in “the world” after college graduation through having to get a job and support one’s self – assuming that person doesn’t continue to live with Mommy and Daddy. Thus, MANY people reach 22, have a college degree and yet still are not mature and independent. Most missionaries, no matter the state of their testimonies, return having been put through the maturity ringer. They still must struggle in many ways with what life throws at them, but they are MUCH more mature than they would have been otherwise – and if they truly have been preparing to serve prior to being called, they are MUCH more mature, effective missionaries and even further ahead when they get home.

  20. Oh, and just to have this out there:

    The problem with “fellowshipping” is that the very foundation of successful transition is warped by members who don’t understand and follow the Church’s guidelines for sharing the Gospel.

    The missionaries are supposed to TEACH the Gospel and find those who have no opportunity to meet and know members. EVERYONE ELSE is supposed to be found and loved and brought to church and “fellowshipped” by members PRIOR to being introduced to the missionaries to be taught. Why do some missions and other places (like one of the branches and one of the wards in our stake) see more baptisms AND higher convert retention than others? Because the members are the ones bringing people to church with them. When that happens, when the new convert already is a friend of a member and knows the stuff they hear from others is stupid and misinformed, retention occurs; when the new convert knows nobody and has to make a huge life change without the assistance of a good friend (“needs to be fellowshipped”), it’s MUCH harder for them to succeed.

    It really isn’t more complicated than that. Even the best missionaries can have horrible retention rates when “missionary work” gets divorced from “sharing the Gospel”. Preach My Gospel is explicit about that, and it is starkly clear when viewed from outside the ward or branch level.

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    Re 17:

    Actually, I have not. Should I?

    Re 19:

    So, I guess I will show you part of my hand…when I look at the issue, I’m looking at it in a more humane (heh, that’s a loaded word), worldly (gasp!), organizational sense. So if my arguments ignore or challenge the standard spiritual and faith-based answers, well…yeah, I’m doing that. I think that if we have a problem with fellowshipping, then this could be a kind of organizational emphasis issue. I think the church does a GREAT job emphasizing the points on missionary work and its importance (and you and other posters do a great job at pointing out how I perhaps should see it actually…), but is there a way that fellowshipping could be emphasized more? I mean, I guess we don’t have too many official positions for fellowshipping, although I have heard and read of a few. How might that happen? We’ve got this tremendous organizational move towards Preach My Gospel, and it seems like something to revolutionize the missionary paradigm.

    When I look at the mission paradigm as posters have discussed (this is about teaching; missionaries aren’t supposed to be the fellowshippers) and then how missionary work is emphasized (every member a missionary…everyone should be worthy…I hope they call me on a mission), it makes me wonder if there aren’t unintended side effects that detooth fellowshipping efforts.

    I’m not quite so sure if it’s “once fellowshipped, always fellowshipped” either. People can become disconnected. The friends have to *keep on* being friends (which means that fellowshipping is continuous and always active).

    So, if there isn’t a fellowshipping base (which there may not be for all wards…some wards may be better than others at it), then I recognize this doesn’t discount the importance of missionary work. But in a way, this is a faith/spiritual answer. From an organizational approach, if one part doesn’t function as well, the other parts lose effectiveness too. If one part works well but not so well with others, then that loses effectiveness. I like the blunt way you say it just means that people just suck at meeting people — true, but then this is a problem that should be fixed, if the church is concerned about keeping members (I assume it is.) Why do people suck at meeting people? Is it not emphasized enough? Is it not promoted enough? Do we just not know how to do it in a church context? Etc.,

    I don’t quite see the church saying that not every young man should go on a mission. Instead, I see them saying that they are raising the bar for whoever *does* go on the mission…but this isn’t to give people a way out of missions, I don’t think. As you recognize, whether doctrinally or just culturally (and I know…culture can be a fickle thing), there is still the expectation that one go on a mission. If the bar is raised, people ought to just work to reach that higher standard. This is crippling, because it leads even some well-intentioned members to buy that if they *can’t* handle a mission that they are unworthy or bad or wrong or deficient. Or if they do come back a wreck, it is their fault (it couldn’t be the mission’s or the church’s.) I don’t see the church as able to suggest something otherwise, because it has a priority to be the true church.

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    Re 20, I could see that “missions force maturity” idea. And that kinda makes a point in favor of them that seems somewhat convincing, actually. Especially when you say, “Most missionaries, no matter the state of their testimonies, return having been put through the maturity ringer.” Of course, then I’m still in ultimately the “wrong” mindset (church-wise), because then I ask: but aren’t there other ways to put people through the maturity ringer? And then I come to this conclusion that yes, there are. But then again, my immaturity probably bleeds throughout such reasoning.

    Re 21, I can agree with that model. But as you preface it, it’s more of a “supposed” for many wards (such a weasel word, ‘many’, it could be very few wards like this, in reality, but oh well) and not reality.

  23. Andrew, what I described is exactly what the Church teaches in Preach My Gospel – and the leadership has asked that every family have a copy. What I’m saying is that the issue of fellowshipping is not a global institutional problem (meaning a problem of emphasis or direction from the top) but rather a local institutional and individual problem. It’s a problem because the membership (including bishops) isn’t doing what the Church is asking.

    Also, name an alternate maturity inducer that large numbers of people will do for two years – especially one that is focused on selfless service and is paid by the participant. Other churches don’t even try, which has to mean something. The Peace Corp comes to mind as a good option, but I’m not sure there is another one that is unpaid that would come to mind if I focused all day on it.

  24. Since I haven’t seen any converts chime in here, I’ll give you my two cents. Well, maybe 50 cents…

    When the Church found me I was newly married with a daughter who was the reason for the marriage. I had been an addict since junior high, had been arrested once, was on the way to being an alcoholic and hated Christianity. I had developed a nice guy persona but would lie, cheat and steal for the things I wanted and luckily was only caught once. There are things from that time in my life that would make most decent thinking people avoid me like the plague.

    Where would I be without the Elders? I would be divorced. I would have spent more time in jail. I would still be addicted and be an alcoholic. Now I own a business, I’m living sober, I have an great family. The is love in my life. I have purpose in life. Coming into the Gospel of Christ has giving me the most amazing blessings, things I could never imagine or hoped for before.

    What if they decided not to go on a mission? What if the member that first introduced my wife to the Church didn’t care for missionary work? I really shudder to think what would have happened to me. In all honesty, I had no problem driving while under the influence, so it’s possible that I could not be around, or that through my actions, someone else might not be.

    Please, PLEASE, don’t be selfish with what you have! There are people right now who’s souls are SCREAMING for deliverance that only will come through missionary efforts. Think for a minute how you could literally be a savior to someone, as literally as if you pushed them our of the way from a speeding car. I will never be able to repay the missionaries. Never in my life could I give them as large of a gift as they gave me.

    Missionary work may be a “crucible for self-improvement” and a maturing element in someone’s life, but on a larger scale it’s about saving lives. Truly going into the depths of the darkness and giving someone a way out. Even those whose life isn’t as messed up as mine was, those who seem on the outside to be doing alright.

    Don’t think about your self. Decide to be a rescue worker for a time. Go and save the ones that really need it. You’ve been given an amazing gift in growing up LDS, don’t hoard it. It needs to be shared. There are a lot more men like me. Save them. Please.

  25. I thought many things along those same lines at first. Actually, I sent in my paperwork when I was 19, but I had very bad problems with depression at the time, and my stake president got a letter with the twelve Apostles’ names stamped on it that said, “Arthur doesn’t have to go.”

    So I took that as my answer. Almost a couple years later, the Spirit told me, “You need to go on a mission.”

    And I said, “Uhhh… okay.”

    And I did. I didn’t want to go. I told people the same thing as you, “A mission isn’t for me, there are crappy missionaries out there, the MTC sucks, blah blah blah blah.”

    All these concerns were immediately silenced by the subtle yet firm promptings of the Spirit, which is the only entity that will be able to convince you to go on a mission yourself.

    If you can’t feel its promptings, telling you to go, then I’d rather you not go.

    As far as the benefits to me, well let’s just say that my mission transformed me from a being that wasn’t really able to live, to a being that can function, and function well, in this world. Simple as that.

  26. I can speak with some singular experience. I was called to a relatively “cozy” mission–San Diego. Great weather, generally relaxed people (except for your occasional youth pastor). But after I had become nice and acclimated to my relatively cozy mission life (since there are definitely worse things than riding in a car all day), my mission president asked me to learn another language. Not Spanish. French. But Hmong…it was like I was in The Other Side of Heaven, even if I had much more by way of technology.

    I was a wandering soul for the next several weeks. Had to sit by as my companion listened to abused wives (I didn’t know what she was saying, just that she was crying). But this experience, as un-fun as it was, proved to be huge for me. Humbling? Sure, why not? But that doesn’t capture it. I experienced something about service, about love through a language so bizarrely foreign to my own. Soon, I was serving people in ways I never thought possible…interpreting for paramedics, helping runaways return home from Mexico.

    Folks can say what they will about it being a cheesy mission story, but the reality is that this cheese is what taught me to love, to see their suffering on a first-hand basis and be in a position to help. Humbling? Sure. But ennobling at the same time.

  27. Post

    re 24: And I guess the reason why individuals and membership isn’t doing it is merely because of…pride? Being stuck in their old ways? etc.,? Is that all?

    I would say that any religion that people are willing to commit to, even at the risk of alienating themselves for what they believe their god would have them do, fits under this. Any commitment, any dream, any higher goal, where people put down their immediate wants for longer-term and grander wants outside of themselves, fits under this. Especially since these people are going to put their money and time into these things. The “selfless service” part is a slippery term in this…because the “selfless” part could end up being quite a few things: it could mean a rejection of the self for the ideals of whatever the greater cause is (whether that be a long-term goal, a utilitarian sacrifice, or something like that). It need not be a formalized mission to fit the “service” part, since even the idea of “service” differs among people. In some minds, missions are just about teaching…in other minds, people would rather have more charity-centric missions. I’m sure there have been posts highlighting the disagreement — and even in these comments, there are those who point out what missions are most definitely not for. So it seems that when you make such a request to find such a thing, you set terms that allow you to be restrictive enough to claim that very few other things fulfill them.

    re 25: Walker, your story is touching, and I know it to be of the utmost value to you. So I hesitate in what I would like to say next (because it concerns something you find personal), so I will tread carefully: what if you had found another caring person who had helped you, but his ultimate message was not toward the LDS church, for example. What if this caring person, out of concern for you and out of selfless service (but perhaps not on a formal mission), spoke from another perspective, whether it be from another denomination or another religion or no religion at all. Would *only* an LDS missionary have sufficed to help reach out to another person?

    It’s a personal issue. Things have unfolded the way they have, so I’m ultimately glad for what you have found. But this seems to embolden me that the issue is more of having a general caring nature for people that can transcend ideology (even if certain ideologies do get people closer to the ideal in certain ways).

  28. My husband never went on a mission. We were 19 (myself) and 21 (him) when we were married. When I met him, he was more mature then any RM that I had ever met. Most RM’s that I had met were busy messing around with girls, not treating them with respect and just making me feel like I wasn’t worth it.

    Then I met my husband.

    He was the first guy to tell me that I was beautiful (beautiful, not sexy, not hot, not smoking, but beautiful).

    He treated me with respect, kindness and his maturity level impressed me.

    When we got engaged, we spent our whole engagement in two states. We were both attending BYU-Idaho, but he was currently on-track and I was not. This is where all our problems started.

    He got back and talked to his student ward bishop. The bishop told him promptly that he should not be engaged and the because he hadn’t gone on a mission that our marriage would a)end in divorce within the first 5 years b)not matter what we did, we’d still get a divorce. I had a former roommate of mine tell me that because he hadn’t gone on a mission that he was “Unworthy to take me to the temple,” and “couldn’t be a good husband and father.”

    Still, I’m rather glad I married a non-RM. He is still more mature.

  29. Re 18:

    > then what would make us able to say, “OK, then I’ll be selfless and go on this mission” as opposed to “OK, then, I’ll be selfless and do *insert some other request*”?

    > It could also be, though, that I am not transformed for the better.

    > So, how do I take the jump? Even faith itself isn’t the answer, because I could have faith in something that is wrecking me

    You may be over-thinking this. I’m reading the general thrust of your comments and questions to be (correct me if I’m wrong): “Part of me wants to go and has the hope that I’ll come out better for the experience. The other part of me is scared that I won’t be able to handle how tough it is, and I’ll come back a failure like some people I know about. Can’t I get the personal benefits of a mission without taking the risk of failing my mission?”

    Is this in the ballpark?

    My opinion (based on actual people I know) would be: Yes, men who are worthy, willing and able to serve a mission but for whatever reason could not, often get that experience via other means. (See Pres Monson as a young bishop, the rapid growth of many adult converts, etc.)

    Such growth experience are also available to those who could’ve gone on a mission and chose not to; however, in my experience, such men have a much higher failure rate in life and in the church than those who did serve missions. They also pay a steeper and much more painful price (and acquire the growth much later) than those who got their kick start in the mission field.

    I’d also observe that you seem uncomfortable with your current decisions regarding a mission. Only you can know why that is. The side of you that doesn’t want to go has been winning so far, but the side of you that does want to go appears to have an awful lot of fight in him. May I suggest that if you let the side that wants to go win (and never look back) that’s the side of you that will serve. As long as you keep feeding that side and ignoring the other, you won’t have to fear an unsuccessful mission.

  30. Post

    re 26: Thanks for the account, Arthur…

    something you had said resonated: “All these concerns were immediately silenced by the subtle yet firm promptings of the Spirit, which is the only entity that will be able to convince you to go on a mission yourself.

    If you can’t feel its promptings, telling you to go, then I’d rather you not go.”

    Not necessarily because my concerns are being silenced by the subtle yet firm promptings (so much for that), but because that’s what I would say…if they feel it, go for it. But if not…then what?

    For me, it’s easy to say, “if not, don’t go for it.” But as we’ve had throughout the conversation, things aren’t so clear-cut. We have a cultural (if not some extension of doctrine) stigma that people *should* go (or, at the very least…they should be worthy — so of course, I’m not claiming that everyone, because of a cultural thing, is going to bash non-RMs,)…and it seems like — perhaps this is just more of my warped view coming through — that the position the church is in encourages such an idea. I think in the end that it doesn’t sound as good if someone can say “I just never felt the promptings.” or “I had too many concerns that could not be resolved with no matter how much prayer, fasting, etc.,” It sounds more “church-like” (no matter how terrible it ends up coming out in certain cases) to have these answers like, “Well, that is selfishness” or “that is pride” or “you’ve just got to do it.” It sounds more “church-like” to default to a position whereby the church is right and the individual has the problem. So, if you’re church-ish, this isn’t very reconcilable.

    there just seems to be a divide between these expectations and what often happens many times. Expectation: doing standard seminary answers (reading scriptures, praying, fasting, attending meetings regularly, etc.,) should lead to certain outcome (more faith, better testimony, etc.,) or else, you’re not doing something right. Realistically? You might not be moved. You might be uncertain. You might even get an answer, “no.” But this can’t be reconciled with an orthodox view, so we get all of these kinds of alternative believer positions that I don’t know if all of them can legitimately fit together.

  31. Walker, thank you. I also had a couple of experiences I wouldn’t trade for ANYTHING on my mission, and they always involved the moment when it really “clicked” and the Spirit was so strong I could taste it. I shared one of them on a site I am helping to administer, and (at the risk of a shameless plug) I would love it if you (and anyone else) would share your experiences by writing them and sending an e-mail to me at the address listed on the site.

    Sharing the Gospel: Personal Stories

  32. I suppose there’s a cultural stigma. However, I just have been around good-hearted folks who are understanding of problematic situations. And they’re as much of a Saint as one can hope to be.

    I consider myself to be fairly broadminded when it comes to these things. Yet I have seldom felt out of place in expressing these views to fellow LDS (though I once was called radical…can’t win them all I guess…). People realize there are exceptions. They know that some people are meant for it. Maybe it’s the middle-class, get-in-line-ism that comes with age, but I don’t think it comes with Saintliness.

    I figure if the Brethren can make exceptions (and they do), then the alternate believer positions are quite welcome into the framework of orthodoxy. Let’s be wary of being so willing to be “alternate” that we insist on “alternating” ourselves outside of fellowship by our own accord.

  33. B, I admit freely there are exceptions to the rule, but please note that your husband is LDS and you were married in the temple. My comparison primarily was between children raised in strong, well-adjusted, mature Gospel environments and “the world”. Your husband isn’t an exception to that general rule – and, I should add, you have NO idea what he would have been like after two years on a mission.

    In saying that, I am NOT making a blanket generalization. I have some wonderful friends and family who fit your description perfectly. I also have some friends and family who did exactly as you did – and the husband never grew in the way that missions bring. In more than one case, the wives have paid dearly for that.

    I am speaking in generalities, and I recognize the limitations, but I only can repeat: You have no idea what growth he (and you, by waiting for him) might have experienced by serving a mission. My wife waited for me, and she also experienced much of the maturation process I mentioned as she faced pressure and disbelief from her MEMBER friends for that decision – both in her home ward and at BYU.

  34. Andrew, “No,” can be reconciled. “I can’t,” can be reconciled.

    Honestly, I’m not sure, “I really just don’t want to and think I’ll pass,” can be – since missions really AREN’T about you, but rather the people you are called to serve. Your growth is secondary to that, and I am convinced that nobody but me could have reached a couple of the people I reached when they desperately needed it. I KNOW there is one person whom I could NOT reach. Thank God, my greenie companion who couldn’t speak Japanese worth spitting at was able to reach her.

    The Love of God (Japan)

  35. Andrew,

    I haven’t read all of the comments–toooo loooooooong–so I’ll just chime in with the absolute worst kind of comment in blogland–The Unsubstantiated “Oh Huh!” Are you ready? Here goes:

    My experience as a missionary was nothing like what you describe. I don’t know very many people who experienced what you suggested. I don’t just think you’re wrong, I think you’re waaaaaay wrong. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay wrong.

    Perhaps some of the comments above paint a different picture, but I would suggest that if there is a large amount of agreement with your depiction of what missionary work is like, you’re probably staring at a selection bias in the commenting population.

  36. Andrew,

    Yes, I highly recommend God’s Army. I’ve never seen anything like it to show what mission life is really like. I won’t spoil it for you, but the only scene I didn’t really feel was authentic was the airport hanger scene. I think it shows the fun, boring, easy, and hard times of a mission. I remember that when I went on my mission, most missionaries came back saying “it was the best 2 years of my life.” I never said that. Frankly, the first 18 months were tremendously challenging, and the last 6 months were the most spiritually rewarding. Of course, I didn’t get to choose the first 18 months…..

    There are a number of great LDS missionary movies. I identified with them all, and they all tell similar, yet different stories. If you want to get a good feeling for mission life, with its rewards and disappointments, you should really see all of these. (In no particular order.)

    God’s Army
    States of Grace (God’s Army 2)
    The Best 2 Years
    Errand of Angels
    The Other Side of Heaven

    Finally, though not really a missionary movie, it alludes to an LDS missionary in Germany/Belgium during WW2, and is excellent! It is also a true story.

    Saints and Soldiers

  37. Post

    Re 27: I guess I see what you mean. It’s not cheesy.

    Re 29: I think it’s just tragic that his student ward bishop would say things like that…yet there is that stigma that continues to persist. It makes me wonder if we can *ever* get rid of it without a massive perspective change.

    Re 30: It’s more like

    “Part of me recognizes and appreciates all the stories of change and maturity that many missionaries come back with.

    Another part of me recognizes and appreciates (in a fright/awe way) the stories of personal destruction and chaos that others come back with. I know I could handle it; I’d come out ok in the end, changed for better or for worse, but definitely alive and stronger for whatever resolution comes. But I’m wondering what other people think about that first idea — about the change and maturation aspect of a mission — is that anywhere close?”

    It’s not a matter of necessarily ‘wanting’ to go, because I realize that when it comes down to the true, core reasons, I don’t fit the bill. And as I’ve gone through this conversation (and more such conversations), that’s what I’ve come to realize. Although missions can be maturing events…that’s not why one should go or want to go. I can see and agree with all kinds of peripheral reasons like these, and I can even agree from a theoretical or academic (church-speaking) standpoint with positions like Frecklefoot’s in 12, but then I have to look at myself and say, I have no interest. If we get to reasons for wanting to go like, “I am directed by the Spirit” or “I want to share the gospel,” then I am not motivated in that direction. The spirit does not speak to me on that issue and in fact, if I get any kind of inkling of a feeling, it is a feeling against it and not for it. I have enough respect to not go out, botch it up with some false doctrine (whether wittingly or unwittingly [because I know my position isn’t atypical of what the church wants]), and then come back a disgrace or a wreck.

    The side that doesn’t want to go is winning because I recognize that I *don’t* feel the spirit. But I am interested, intrigued, and not fully comfortable in my position because I recognize that I can’t just say, “Everyone who feels the spirit is faking it.” They have something…and I’m not necessarily sure I even want it, because it drives people to sometimes do terrible things, and it has driven people to do terrible things in the past or in other philosophies or cultures, but it is something intriguing because it is unknown. I am uncomfortable because I have been raised to think my position isn’t possible — that I should be guilty for some fault within me that makes me less ready to believe, or less enthusiastic about the opportunity to share the church because I’m not sure if it’s right for everyone, right for me, etc.,

    I could easily quell all doubts by fully turning away. By going my own path. It would take a while to deprogram some of the cultural assumptions I’ve picked up, figure out what to take and what to keep, but I could do that. Yet there’s still the unanswered question of why others feel more comfortable believing. I can’t just assume they are faking it, or that they are deceived or that they are mistaken. Nope, they are the real deal.

  38. Yeah, there’s probably a stigma against those who don’t go on missions. And there’s a stigma against Mormons in general. And there’s a stigma against liberal Mormons. And there’s a stigma against guys with long hair who listen to heavy metal. Obviously I never gave heed to any of them. Who cares. You’re thinking way too hard. If you REALLY hate it that much, you can just come home early. They’ll buy a plane ticket. If you’re already going to be stigmatized by staying home, then being stigmatized by coming home early isn’t any worse.

    I think you should go.

  39. Post

    Re 33:

    that’s the thing. If anything, I recognize that I probably fit outside the criteria for simply “alternate” believer — haha, there’s a line between believer and not.

    But really I’m wondering how flexible people can be expected to be without compromising what should not be compromised. I have to ask these kinds of questions, because I think that the church can be better if it knows where the line is. If members know how they can be more accepting, but not so accepting that they will accept anything and wash out the distinctness of the church. I’m kinda looking at this from an organizational standpoint: regardless of belief or nonbelief, I can evaluate that certain cultural stigmas, like certain aspects of corporate culture, don’t help the organization.

    Re 35: I can understand the idea that missionaries aren’t supposed to be about ourselves and our growth, but about the people we reach. And this is a thing that I also don’t see is able to be reconciled: if you don’t want to go, you don’t want to go. If I have an open job opportunity (different kind of thing), but I don’t want it, then sure, it could’ve had all of these benefits, and sure I could’ve had unexpected opportunities to help others), but if I don’t want it, then I really have to want it first before I take it. But to get to a point of wanting it…we haven’t figured that one out in a way that reliably works for everyone.

    Re 36:

    Of course, I’ve got severe selection bias most especially considering my commenting population elsewhere. 🙂

    Re 37:

    Thanks for the watching list!

  40. Post

    Re 39:

    Oh, but here’s the fun part when you evaluate it.

    Even if there is a stigma against guys with long hair who listen to metal…why do they do it? What could POSSIBLY drive them to do it? Ah…They want it. That’s what they enjoy.

    If I don’t think too hard about it at all (which I can do; I think I end up not thinking too hard about things way more often than I should some days…), then I see a few effects. Among other things, 1) my blog entries get dramatically less comments (just kidding, :D), and 2) my natural conclusions *don’t* lead me in the direction of standard faith-promoting answers. And I feel comfortable taking up those stigmas because then, I feel comfortable with where I’m at, who I am, what my ideas are, etc.,

  41. SIGH

    To answer your first question, it’s because METAL RULES. As far as all the other stuff, I guess I can see where you’re coming from. I don’t know. It’s just, my answer came when I least expected it, when I was doing something completely different.

    I mean, part of me was like, “I don’t want to waste two years of my life!” but then I looked on the past two years I’d had. Not really that great. Dated some very crazy women. Didn’t learn too much. Then I thought, “well, if my next two years are going to be like the last two years, maybe I DO need a change of scenery.”

    Just don’t overthink things, dude. I think your heart DOES know what’s right for you. Don’t turn off your brain, but don’t let it control everything.

    But who am I? Just some random on the Internet.

    You can pretend I’m President Monson, posting under an assumed identity to encourage young people to go on a mission if it helps.

  42. Post

    Re 42:

    Of course metal rules. But what about to all the people who can’t hear that? Is it that their hearts are in the right place, but they are too busy letting their ear drums control everything?

    Even when I look at life and the improvements I can make, I come to this realization that I can make an improvement in 1001 ways, plus much more than that. It need not be a certain way. And that’s how things kinda work in general. People choose what they paths they will take by their motivations. Someone decides they want to go running. Another person decides he wants to lift weights. Someone does a comprehensive plan and changes his diet completely. Another will join sports. Some will do stretches or breathing exercises. Each of these people may follow their heart too. And yet the brain may say, “Yoga stretches are lame; consider football!”

    I can take your advice to heart (haha, pun), but it seems that we haven’t resolved that where the heart leads people isn’t necessarily the same place.

  43. “Of course metal rules. But what about to all the people who can’t hear that? Is it that their hearts are in the right place, but they are too busy letting their ear drums control everything?”

    What? No… it means they’re CRAZY or something!

    I don’t know. Yeah, you can probably grow just as well in other ways. I mean, do you not feel that the Lord has commanded you to go? Either 1) He has, 2) He hasn’t, or 3) you don’t know. If it’s #1 then go. If it’s #2, then don’t worry about it. If it’s #3, then are you doing everything you can to find out?

  44. You’re right, Andrew. You can find a really good justification to go and another one that is just as good to stay and not go. When it really comes down to it, the Church’s new standard is for prepared missionaries who want to be on missions – not those who are looking to be converted by a mission. I think they had enough of the problems caused by pseudo-missionaries who didn’t want to be serving missions.

    This is your call. If you really don’t want to go, don’t; if you want to go, do. Just take ownership of your decision and accept the consequences, whatever they might be.

  45. Post

    re 44:

    I’m in a 2 position, so I’m not worried about it for myself anymore. But at the same time, I don’t think that means that I can’t discuss it (You know, I so dislike that one phrase about “those that leave the church but can’t leave it alone” — we really shouldn’t expect people to leave their upbringing or culture alone, and we shouldn’t assume they have the worst motives because they still have that cultural identity.)

    re 45:

    Oh, I will definitely take ownership of my decision and accept the consequences. I’d do that regardless of any discussion of the issues, so no one need worry about me.

    I think, though, it’ll be interesting to see the long term effects of such standards as you raise. If it can set a new standard for church culture in finding prepared missionaries who want to be on missions instead of those who go just because of the expectation or because of self-motivated reasons that still miss the mark, then it’ll be interesting to see how well the intended consequences (more dedicated missionaries who have more rewarding experiences, perhaps) mesh with unintended consequences that are unknown to affect the church.

  46. I don’t know if this supports your ‘crucible’ concept or not. Missions are a little like being sent to earth. They accelerate our learning and development and the potential for both loneliness, suffering and indescribable joy exist. They can be culturally driven, or testimony driven. There is a pattern in all scriptures (I am especially fond of Enos)where once an individual feels the Love of God, their natural resulting desire is that others feel that same love. I think it is a form of ‘oneness’ with God to share his plan with others.

    Like you, I always felt too close to the Gospel and its fruits to appreciate it in an emotionally compelling way. I really made it matter of intense prayer leading up to my departure. It took about 3 or 4 months, but it came in a manner I needed and have always valued. In this process, I also gained a testimony of the adversary, his power and his maniacal focus on making us miserable like him.

    I don’t think you should be looking for an answer that ‘is right for you’. It is not about gaining acceptance for a decision driven by your 20something wisdom – it is an act of submission that you choose. Best of luck to you.

  47. Just a personal story for consideration:
    I always sort of assumed I was going to go on a mission because that was my family’s expectation. At about 18+some, I had decided not to go. I had decided it “wasn’t for me.” I was just passing 1/2 way through college, on track to a career. I had been dating exclusively non-LDS girls since I was 16, and they didn’t encourage me to go – quite the contrary. My decision made my life more tense, since my mom was fairly disappointed but hopeful I’d change my mind. I just didn’t see what the return on investment it would be; my life was progressing just fine, and I truly felt like I was happy. On top of all that, I had been attending LDS Institute and meeting RMs and Pre-Ms, and pretty much decided they were not who I wanted to be.

    Then it happened. I heard a talk being given (I think it was a VHS video of a conference address, but I could be mistaken) which said essentially “every worthy and able young man should serve a full-time mission.” At that moment, the words lanced my heart and gave me a new one at the same time. I knew what the Lord wanted me to do; I knew why and how I had not known it before; I knew I had been called and my salvation was at stake. I was pleased and excited to go from that instant onward.

    So I dropped everything and went. It took me a while past my 19th birthday to get everything squared away, paperwork, etc. to go. I am glad I heard the talk. I’m grateful I was able to have a true conversion regarding going on a mission; I’m grateful the Spirit gave me a personal kick in the pants. It hasn’t happened often since, but it was needed then.

    I knew lots of missionaries who went for all kinds of reasons (love of God, obedience, faith, ‘paying it forward,’ personal conversion, family, bribes, a girlfriend, boredom, travel, you name it), and those with intrinsic motivations having to do with “The Work” always had a better, and positive experience. The ones that came with external pressures were as miserable at least the same amount of time they were happy. Sometimes both they and I wished that they had stayed home instead.

    Meanwhile some of my younger siblings had left the Church and most of its teachings behind, and after returning home my father said to me “I wish they had gone on missions, they would have matured and it would have straightened them out.” I had to tell him that missions don’t “fix” people since they are not intended for the missionary at all, IMO. Therefore, they would have gone out unhappy and come back early, having wasted the time of lots of people in the meantime. It’s better that they have their own wrestle with the Spirit on their own time rather than the Lord’s.

  48. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the crucible theory either. I think college can be a crucible, so can high school. Was it a crucible for some and in some ways? Yes. But so is a job, a family, and everything else in life potentially. Also, some people are prone to suffering (and are carriers of suffering), so everything is a crucible to them. NOT going on a mission can be a crucible.

    The purpose of missions to the church is probably more related to the fact that we have a lay clergy. How do you prepare future leaders and people to fill callings in wards? Through missions. It’s not the only way, but it’s one good way to 1) keep kids busy with something worthwhile instead of hookups, drinking and drugs before they get married, 2) instill self-reliance and responsibility, and 3) give kids (mostly the 19-yr old boys) some independence without just kicking the little birdies out of the nest into the cruel world.

  49. We have had great missionaries in our ward lately that have found people by tracting that otherwise would not be found. Mormons are not predominant here and its not as if the members are not befriending their neighbors, the rural area has just not been tracted out. They have also found and baptized investigators from part-member families that were “hiding” from the church until they got that contact. A high councilor from the stake informed us that the church was going to be moving missionaries from areas of the country where the work has become productive to areas such as ours. We could use you!

    Here are some lessons learned well on a mission:

    1) How to survive spending long amounts of time with a person you can’t stand.

    2) You can actually learn from and appreciate that person you couldn’t stand.

    3) Saying yes to doing things that could be done better by other people, but you happen to be there.

    4) Finding out that because you said yes to doing that thing you didn’t want to do, someone else had their prayers answered.

    5) Accepting criticism, hostility, and indifference directed towards you for things you didn’t do.

    6) Learning that a point behind criticism and hostility was something that could have been prevented with a bit more longsuffering and patience and that you can help start the healing process for things someone else did.

    7) Learning to see different ways of looking at things and doing things, in religion and culture.

    8) Finding out that the different way you see things may become the way you prefer to see things.

    9) Learning to see beyond others faults for the talents they can give.

    10) Accepting the validity of some of your own faults a companion may constantly point out to you.

    11) You can be the stabilizing force that helps someone bear with a challenge they face.

    12) The responses of multiple faithful individuals you collectively work in a foreign setting with no friends or family to whom you can immediately turn may be the stabilizing force that helps you bear a challenge.

    13) You may come home from a mission feeling that it was not a crucible.

    14) You may be able to pass through your crucible because of what you learned on a mission.

  50. Post

    Whoops; sorry guys for not having responded to the most recent comments in a timely fashion.

    Particularly interesting are the comments from Wyoming relating the mission experience to a bit like our choice to be sent to Earth, N’s personal story (and his thoughts back to his father), Hawkgrrrl’s thoughts on some practical (if I guess temporal) purposes of mission (I had never considered it in the sense of preparation for future leaders within the church), and of course, Rigel’s lessons well learned.

  51. Andrew Great Post and Great Comments and apologies if I am repeating what may have been said.

    You Wrote

    “As you can see, I haven’t gone on my mission, and even though I have a few years, I don’t see it in my future. In the end, I have to accept that even though I recognize such an experience would change me, I would hate such a change. Perhaps it’s pride or whatever, but I don’t want to come to look at my life as something I despise. Yet that’s what I feel the mission experience, and a full-out commitment to the church would bring.”

    Do you think that if you went on a humanitarian aid mission (if that’s possible) you would look back at your life and despise the time you spent?

  52. “I’m pretty sure the church leaders probably wouldn’t look at it as a pit-of-suffering, so I acknowledge that’s probably a somewhat warped view.”

    Depending on your personality type, it is not a “warped view” at all. Missions are not for everyone. Witness the number of young men who have been unable to finish their missions. I have five sons, two have gone on missions, two have not, one says he is going. I do not pressure them in any way.

    I went as a 19 year old convert. I remember as if it were yesterday (it has been 35 years) my first companion (my “training” companion who had about 3 months to go) telling me “Missionary work is a joke”, as we rested during our lunch break.

    As I reflect on my mission after all these, I am glad for the experience, however difficult it may have been. However, as I envision a number of experiences on my mission “the pit-of-suffering” reference seems to capture the essence of more than a small part of it. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, as I was not ready for all it entailed.

    My number 2 son loved every minute of his mission in the jungle. Number 1 struggled most of the time. Not a real “rules” person.

    Whatever you decide, listen to what is within.

  53. Post

    Re 52:

    I probably will sound terrible now, but I could see that, but for a separate reason. Assuming that it was a cause that I wholly supported (so getting those kinds of reservations out of the way), I would still have to deal with my introversion (but really, that’s no big deal — I can do that well enough at school or at work as long as I have time to commit myself to the task at hand mentally)…but if there were no such time (or not enough such time) for me to be independent, then that would make me miserable. (My immaturity is probably glowing crimson now, haha). On the other hand, I would probably come to resent myself if at the end of it I came back so different and outgoing that when I looked back at myself, I was unable to understand my previous self. It’s kind of a delicate process (because obviously, as change happens, we can’t be fully aware of how nuanced it is, which is why we don’t even notice it most of the time until we look back at our past self), but it’s just this idea of coming to an unfamiliarity with myself that seems to haunt me.

  54. Post
  55. I am all for missions…..every young man and all that. How many people regret going vs. regret not going?
    I think, however, it is important to realize that you have to go to the temple first. A young man who chooses to go on a mission is also choosing to go the temple and make sacred covenants. You can’t wait until a mission to really believe, to get that faith. You have to be there a little earlier, before the mission.

  56. Andrew–if you don’t think that a mission is for you, then don’t go. You won’t miss it. Missions really aren’t that great. It is common for missionaries to be more mature when they return home, but you’d mature the same amount by going away to college for two years.

    I went on a mission. It was a good experience because I went to an interesting country. If I had been stuck in some state-side mission, I would probably feel like my mission had been a waste. My biggest regret is that I actually kept almost all of the mission rules.

  57. Case in point…

    So I *really* believe that if we convince ourselves that “we can find good in so many ways,” it blinds us to *the* God wants us to find the good. It’s just another way of being agnostic.

    I served in a state-side mission, surrounded by English-speakers, even as I tried to hack through a random language. Plus I was in the ghetto. Yeah…real interesting country. But it was huge. It’s *all* about what you take with you. What you bring to the field. Otherwise, all the horror stories you know can and do happen. Yet I have my horror stories I could share (incompetent mission nurses, what not…). But I would do it all again if asked (it would take a little bit of soul-searching, but I could do it).

    I’m with Arthur. If you *really* can’t feel the “I should go” mojo, then do what you can to be productive in other ways. No thinking member of the Church I know would ever say that a mission-less young man is a burden on Zion. They *would* wonder if the young man were just idling away his time. Like everyone else here, I’m just more bits on a blog. I’m just saying to not become an agnostic without knowing it.

  58. I think people should go on a mission only if they’re totally committed to it. It sounds cliche, but my mission was two of the happiest years of my life, full of learning, fun, yes struggles and challenges, but also deep fulfillment. I feel like I learned more about life and humanity in two years than in the seven years I spent in college/graduate school. And the heartfelt, teary-eyed thank you’s that I got from people I helped and taught along the way made it all worthwhile, warts, bumps, and all.

  59. Oh, I know this might sound harsh, but I feel like someone needs to say it. If someone’s mission was a miserable, horrible, terrible, no good, very bad experience, there’s always the possibility that maybe that person’s attitude just sucked. In every aspect of life, attitude is (almost) everything. Which is why I think people shouldn’t go on missions unless they’re absolutely committed to it; someone who goes purely out of obligation or guilt or whatever will probably end up having a pretty crappy attitude, and that will bring themselves and the other missionaries around them down. So don’t go unless you can develop a positive attitude about it first; and it’s good you’re honest with yourself and others that you aren’t there yet.

  60. 52 “On the other hand, I would probably come to resent myself if at the end of it I came back so different and outgoing that when I looked back at myself, I was unable to understand my previous self.”

    As I look back at friends and even at myself every 5 years or decade were almost completely different people than we were before.

    59″I think people should go on a mission only if they’re totally committed to it.”

    I was one of those who wasn’t totally committed but was glad I went. At the first of my mission I even had to set daily goals “I will just stay this day , this week this month etc and if its really horrible I always have the option to go home”. I think in reality alot of the elders with the raised bar in their heart of hearts do the same thing.

  61. Post

    Ah, so I think this was quite a productive discussion as it winds down :).

    re 56: interesting point on putting those first things first, jks. I guess it’s true that you have to believe before hand, instead of using a mission as something to try to inspire that.

    re 58: that’s an interesting way, Russell, of using the term agnostic. Do you really expect many, most, or all people to know either way? (e.g., know whether there is or know whether there is not a God)? It seems like one can be agnostic and know it fully well…it’s not something one slips into, and not from “convincing” ourselves that we can “find good in so many ways,” either. But then again, I’m thinking we just have different uses of the term.

    re 59 and 60: of course, attitude is critical. The question would be: how to develop such a positive attitude? Can anyone and everyone do it (and is this backed up with anything or just an expectation of how things should work?)

    re 61: Of course, as I look back through my journals, I recognize I am completely different too. And I hate it. So I try to at least be in control of trying to change in some of the ways I would like to change (even though I know I will have much unconscious and uncontrolled change too).

  62. I would also say:

    A mission “ain’t about you”.

    As well as saying that if you don’t feel the calling, if you don’t feel the Lord calling you to go, then don’t go, please.

    Life as a missionary is unbearable if you don’t want to be there (by the way max age is 23 since about 2001)

  63. Ah, it’s def. an issue of how we’re using the word. I’m not referring to the exixstence of God necessarily; when I say agnostic, I’m using it in the precise form of the word: “not knowing.”

    So by saying that there are many good ways to spend two years, the implication is “Who’s to say that one should/shouldn’t go on a mission?” This presumes that one cannot receive a revelation from God on the matter. Now if one *truly* feels that God does not want them to go/does not care if they go on a mission, then I have nothing in response. But brushing it off with “so many good things to do” w/o asking what *God* wants us to do really is skirting the issue. I know when I’ve used this rationalization, it’s been b/c I don’t know what to do, and I don’t feel like God has made it known. Or on other occasions, it was simply my way of expressing confusion at my present circumstances, a confusion that I should have taken as a divine hint to change course.

  64. Post

    re 64: oops, sorry! Comment corrected.

    re 65: Oh, I see then. But then there’s a difference between saying one cannot receive such a revelation and saying that one has not received such a revelation (a difference between strong agnosticism (I don’t know, I can’t know, and you can’t either!) the much more common and reasonable weak agnosticism (I don’t know, but perhaps I could find out). The second is in many ways much more awkward, because you realize that around you, there are people who indeed *have* been compelled to do certain things and who (at least believe that they) know…some things which might not make sense, some things which might make sense. I’m not going to lie; it baffles atheists (or I guess just some) that some people do have a genuine sense of faith, which is why there is nearly as much generalization and rationalization on that side to try to “explain it away” as there is on the other (of people who, from their experience, don’t understand how someone could not, trying to explain that away)

  65. I always wanted to go. When I got out there I was completely unprepared for how hard and frustrating the work would be. The fact that we were expected to baptize weekly added to the frustration — I’m not a salesman. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to serve. Not an hour has gone by since I got home in 1991 that I have not thought about and felt grateful for the experience.

  66. “The fact that we were expected to baptize weekly added to the frustration”

    On my mission we were happy to baptize two or three people per year. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and I wouldn’t trade anything to do it go back and do it differently.

  67. “The fact that we were expected to baptize weekly added to the frustration”

    Sounds like a south american mission? Our quota was 3 to 5 per month, practically one a week.

    But I would trade anything to go back to Pt Kimball’s letter and choose not to sign it. I, generally, hated my mission experience.

  68. South America. I baptized 75 people (more or less). In my exit interview, my mission president expressed disappointment that I hadn’t done more. He encouraged same-day baptisms–i.e. Teaching all six discussions during the baptismal interview — and I just couldn’t do it. At least my conscience is clear. Well, pretty clear. There were at least 15 legitimate baptisms in there.

  69. Robert,

    There are so many stories like yours, were mission presidents don’t do the right thing just to look good to GA’s. Same day baptisms, wow, I wonder what the baptized person thinks.

    I think its time now to radically change the missionary program. Hopefully now that we have a first presidency and quorum president (Packer) who didn’t serve missions, maybe now they will find the inspiration to do so. Its interesting that the new universal manual for missionary work, Preach My Gospel, is also freely available to stake and ward members. Maybe its a sign of the big change that will come one day.

  70. I must say that I don’t take too kindly to the round denunciations of MIssion Presidents. And trust me, I am in a position to be *ticked* at my second mission president. I won’t go into the particulars on this venue, but the man made a snap judgment about my character when under pressure. My mission’s end, we had made amends. After all, both of face odd situations and both of us grew a little from them.

    He was a good man who was thrown into an administrative position with which he was unfamiliar. I was similarly trying to do good in a program that was rather nebulous in its guidelines. He wanted to do good things, he wanted to fulfill the legitimate interests of the “white shirts” in SLC (the auto dep’t was a big issue as well). In spite of some *extremely* tense moments, it all turned out alright in the end.

    Go easy on them. If they fail to do the Lord’s work every moment of every day, it doesn’t suddenly mean that the Lord’s missionary program has fallen apart at the seams.

  71. Honestly, my first impression wasn’t, “This is a selfish person.” Rather, it was, “This person is immature. He needs to grow up.”

    Part of that is looking at a mission as “what is in this for me” instead of “should I obey and serve others?”

    Russell that was pretty much my experience as well. We need to have more patience for each other.

    You’re right, Andrew. You can find a really good justification to go and another one that is just as good to stay and not go because intellect and reason are servants, tools, not controlling factors.

    N. glad you went.

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  74. wearing a name tag and white shirt will not get you into the celestial kindom and will not garantee you a perfect marraige life ect. stop telling girls to marry RM’s.(just because he has worn a name tag hunnie doesnt garantee that he will not hit you!) and Stop telling young men they should serve missions. all this self rightous rubbish is not of God..it is of Man. we were all created by god..so it doesnt mater if we was born in the church or not. bored of hearing about self rightous attitudes. i DID serve a Mission..AND i saw far too many young men on missions JUST because they was scared that no one would marry them if they did not serve or…They would be seen as a looser if they did not go….and if every man who stood on the pulpit and declared that serving his mission was the best experiance in his life…only for one moment said with the same excitement tender words about his family being the best experiance in his life…oh what a better world we would live in! get a grip! get over it!

  75. Fwiw, I’ve never heard one person say their mission was better than their marriage and children – even those for whom it might have been better than their marriages.

    That’s probably answer enough.

  76. Having been raised an athiest in a country of religious cynics I found myself going against the grain by serving the Lord. It was hard, in fact other than motherhood I must say it was the hardest time of my life. It sucked majorly at times, but there were other times that I don’t think I’ve ever felt so happy (except with my kids). If you don’t want to go don’t. It’s an opportunity to serve and to stretch yourself spiritually and emotionally. But it’s not for everyone. I look back to myself both pre and post mission and there was amazing growth intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Serving changed my direction in a directionless life. Until then I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t think I could achieve much at all. After serving I knew I had the commitment to achieve anything I threw my hat in for. And yes I have achieved things in my life I never thought possible.

  77. Post
  78. Andrew, #45 is right. Don’t go on a mission until _after_ you have a testimony. And even if you do get a testimony, don’t go unless you get another testimony (or confirmation) that the Lord does want you to go on a mission.

    After you get a testimony (if you do) then you’ll better understand that people don’t convert or convince other people. The Holy Ghost has to do the converting/convincing, otherwise the person has merely been “sold” on something, and a better salesman will come along later and sell the person something else.

    Many people grow up in the church having been “sold” on the gospel by their parents and local teachers/leaders, and never gain a spirit-borne testimony. Eventually “the world”, or anti’s in particular, can come along and sell them different ideas.

    I admire your self-analysis in this. You’ve put some good thought into it.

    Here’s a hint to help you figure out your own relation to the church and the gospel: Talk to adult converts. You’ve soaked up information from other “lifers”, both your peers and those of your parents’/ward leaders’ generation, but maybe you haven’t gathered enough information from people who aren’t lifers.

    Converts of less than a year often still have that sense of awe and wonder that you can pick up on, even if they don’t have the words to quite describe it. Between 1 and 3 years on, converts often have found the vocabulary to convey the awe and wonder, but haven’t yet fully absorbed the bland “Mormon-speak” that masks their unique experiences.

    Without a testimony yourself, you can’t quite grasp the under-the-surface meaning of Mormon-speak. Some members without a testimony use “Mormon-speak”, and without the Spirit behind the words, the words devolve into meaningless blandness, and can be confusing to others who don’t yet have a testimony. (IE, it sounds like they’re repeating Mormon “mantras”.)

    I hope you keep on seeking.

  79. Andrew,
    I haven’t had the time to read through all the comments but after reading what you have written I think that you should consider what your bottom line is. Is your bottom line to have fun, and live for the day right now? Can you see yourself in the future getting married and having children? If children are something you see yourself having, do you have an idea what type of woman you want to have them with? Is church activity something you enjoy and want in your life? I ask all of these questions only because if your bottom line is serving the Lord then you will do things you don’t enjoy or want to do. If you don’t serve the Lord you will do things you don’t enjoy or want to do. Get the point? The Savior is the perfect example. He did not want to do what He did but was willing because the Father’s will was more important to Him than His own. If you don’t feel a deep need to do what your Father in heaven would have you do then realize that if you think you are escaping not doing what you don’t want to do, just live a bit longer and you will discover yourself at some point doing something that you don’t want to do. The question is where will it take you and will you end up with what you were hoping for? If you are not hoping for specific things, like a wife who is willing to sacrifice to bring children into the world then it won’t matter much. Just choose your foundation. I have never met anyone in life that has not had to go through something they don’t want to go through. I just figure if you believe that you are doing what the Lord’s wants you to do, even if you aren’t having the time of your life, the odds are much better that you will be having the time of your life when all is said and done and you will end up getting what you want….but decide what it is you really want first.

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