Twenty-four years ago I left home to serve an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This was a huge step out of my comfort zone for me on so many levels. My time in the field was not what I expected and because of that I had to make peace with the outcome. As I thought about my experience I came up with some advice I wish I could give myself twenty-four years ago. Since I can’t, I will share it here.
1) Your mission will not be what you expect. I like to feel as if I’m in control of things. Or, at least, a few things. So I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was wrong. Not really wrong as just inexperienced.
I went to a Pompeii exhibit one time and learned that the people of Pompeii didn’t have a word for volcano. They had no experience with a volcano so in essence it didn’t exist for them. That’s typical of any experience in life. We don’t know until we know. Whatever you anticipate about your mission is probably not how it will play out. That’s life.
2) Serve your companions. Actually, I did receive this advice pre-mission. You will serve with companions that are going to drive you crazy. You will serve with companions that have no common sense. You will serve with companions that are so odd you would never willingly associate with them on a personal level. Somehow you are going to have to live and work with any one of these mixes for weeks or months. It can be a difficult task. But it is a great opportunity to learn interpersonal skills and communication. Satan succeeds in secrets so learn to communicate effectively. True communication leads to understanding. Service can even help you learn to love that trying person. It may happen you might end up with a new friend. Or you could part ways and never see each other again. But during the time you serve together learn to serve.
3) At some point, you may want to give up. It may be one day, one week, one month, 6 months, or even 9 months in. But at some point, you are going to reach a physical exhaustion you have never felt before. You may contemplate why you are even out there serving or get stuck wondering if you have done any good.
When this happens, take a deep breath. This part actually is expected.
First, sit down and write a venting letter. Send the letter to some predetermined friend you asked permission to be your “venting” buddy. Your mom should never be your “venting” buddy. After the letter is written and sealed (notice not emailed but that letter should be written in long hand for maximum effect) you get down on your knees and say a thankful only prayer. Mention everything you are thankful for. Every. Single. Thing. After saying your prayer climb into bed and get a good night’s sleep.
Repeat as often as needed.
That is the advice I have to offer. Now I’d like to tell you about a few of the benefits you can expect to receive.
1) You will see the mechanics of the church and how it operates. This will become particularly useful to you when you return home and begin serving in the church in other callings.
2) You will have the opportunity to learn charity. Real charity. The pure love of Christ charity.
3) You will gain experience in communicating with the Spirit. This is the best school to learn the language of the Spirit. Use the time wisely.
In short, this time could be the best time of your life – to date. But it won’t be the best time of your whole life. It’s a start. Continue to build on it and learn new skills and gain new experiences. Let your mission mature you spiritually. What you get out of it will be totally up to you.