By Emmaline Wilson, author of Sisters Know Best: Mission Advice from Sisters to Sisters (justforthesisters.blogspot.com)
Truth: coming home from a mission well-served is never easy, never. But although it may not be easy, it can be good. There is much to anticipate, much to expect, and much to look forward to; I’ve always said that the mission is the best two years (well, eighteen months) so far. And I believe that’s true.
But it’s still challenging to come home.
Elders have it a bit differently—those young boys who sacrifice their PS3’s and basketball games to transform their lives for the Lord. For them, it’s pretty much expected: you go on a mission. Then you go to school, get a job, find a nice girl, et cetera.
It’s just not so obvious for girls.
I mean, what if you’ve already graduated? Or have a masters degree? Or had a successful career as a kindergarten teacher before the mission? Myself, I had about three semesters to graduation after my mission, and that was stretching it out because I was terrified of the unknowns of post-graduation life. What if you want to change your major and career plans now, after eighteen months of totally new life experiences, but you have over 100 credits of pre-mission schooling? (I can relate, really. My poor parents…)
Please, don’t mistake me; fear about post-mission life would be the worst reason in the world not to serve. We need sisters serving for the hearts they can touch while missionaries, but perhaps even more importantly we need sisters to come home, serve faithfully in Church callings, and become spiritual giants as they are mothers in Zion. Missions can be the catalyst for having an honorable life as a daughter of God.
During my last week in the field, my mission president pointed out that over 1,000,000 missionaries had returned home in our dispensation… and they were all okay! It’s true! I felt so reassured that if the Lord could help everyone else return with honor, He could help me, too.
That’s not to say it will be painless. Spiritual experiences never really are, now, are they?
I often talk to RM sister friends about the difficulties of coming home from a mission. My friends and I talked about the 3-5 month slump. Barring those who got engaged, married, or began a highly intense job or course of study right after the mission and never had time to miss their missionary service days, many of us feel… lackluster, directionless, without purpose. If you feel that–don’t worry. Most of us do.
We also remarked that elders always talk about their improved study habits. Not to boast, but I was a pretty darn good student before my mission (my grades and professors would attest to that fact)… and less so after. Many of my RM sister friends were just like me. Studying something non-essential for salvation just didn’t seem as relevant or needful as helping people reach eternal life had the previous 18 months. I came to realize this: a lot of perfectionist women serve missions and return, realizing that there are more important things than achieving an A+. So… study, but if your habits are different, or not as ideal, ask yourself about keeping a balance. In my experience, return sister RMs tend to favor balance over perfection in their schooling—which may not have been the case pre-mission. In any case, don’t fret if you haven’t magically become the perfect student/teacher/employee you’d imagined a mission would make you.
For former missionaries, I know how helpful it can be to actually have guidance on things to return home to do to. Perhaps these ten tips can help your transition from “Sister” to [first name here]:
- Pray often. It’s still a commandment after the mission, too.
- Try not to feel embarrassed about having missionary habits [note: this does not mean wearing all of your mission clothes all the time or ending conversations all after 45 minutes! You can listen to new music now, and even hug boys. Or marry them. Wow]. For example, I prayed every time I got in the car until someone teased me about “living in the mission”… but seriously, what an awesome habit?! Wish I’d kept it.
- Get involved—immediately. Don’t just sit around; keep living. I went back to school less than two weeks after I got home and made a focus of helping people, volunteering at the MTC, spending more time with my family, and looking for jobs. It helped, a lot.
- Consciously decide which mission habits are important for you to keep up. 6:30am wake-up & exercise? I had thought that was the best habit ever.. until about ten days after coming home, when I decided that while I did want to keep morning scripture study, there was nothing wrong with waking up at 7:30am… or 9am… and that exercising at night instead wasn’t a sin 🙂
- Keep setting goals. While you probably shouldn’t worry about daily “numbers” or planning for thirty minutes, it’s nice to know that you’ve finally written that letter to a friend. Or gotten your grade on that test. You know yourself: be realistic but keep stretching.
- Study the scriptures daily. You’ve been teaching about this, and living it… keep teaching it and living it. Maybe your family or your roommates need that kind of example right now.
- Don’t stress about making it “to the altar” immediately. You’ve been trusting in the Lord and His timing while you have found and taught people to put them on that path to eternal life, trust that He will do the same for you now. In His timing.
- Find activities, relationships, callings, etc. that help you find purpose. In my case, I was able to tutor a non-member friend in his Book of Mormon class at BYU, which was a great experience, a good relationship to build, and helped me realize I was still doing things to build up God’s kingdom.
- Volunteer and go out with the missionaries. You know, the way you wished members would during your mission… just don’t forget to let the current full-time missionaries lead the lesson!
- Talk about your experiences with other returned elders and sisters, especially those who came home around the same time. You’ll realize that so many others are going through exactly what you are dealing with (or maybe have dealt with, already). Some of my closest, dearest friendships came from this… like when we gave ourselves a “dating class” using Preach My Gospel Ch. 9 or simply told mission stories. So call your companions! Call your MTC friends! Talking about it, or writing for you journal-ers, can be so therapeutic. It’s a way to internalize the lessons you’ve learned and keep your mission alive.
It’s a fact of life: barring those called to serve on the other side of the veil, we all return someday, all million-plus missionaries. We can all make it, with the Lord’s help! No worries if you feel less-than-cheerful some days, but do not be discouraged (see Elder Kevin Pearson’s 2009 talk, here). If you feel the bitter, remember that you will also taste the sweet—the fruits of gospel living are unchanging (2 Nephi 2:11-16). As you do that, you have indeed returned with honor.