By Emmaline Wilson, author of Sisters Know Best: Mission Advice from Sisters to Sisters (justforthesisters.blogspot.com)
Everyone who comes home from missions talks about their companions. The ones they loved, the ones that drove them crazy (unfortunate, but often true.) My mom, who served in Ecuador way before sisters going on missions was cool, told me about a companion who had little in common with her. After the mission, this sister told my mom, “Sister C—–, you were the companion I loved the most, because you were the hardest to love.”
1) Ouch! But sometimes true.
2) True love is much less dependent upon the person we are assigned to be with, and a lot more with how we treat them. How we love them. True love has everything to do with a mission. Here is the Savior’s directive, the two greatest commandments, as found in KJV Matthew 22:36-40.
“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
For most missionaries, learning to truly love your neighbor—your companion, or even more difficult companions—will be the true task of your mission. You will love the people. It’s easy to love your mission president and his family, who you maybe see once a month (and that’s a lot for some missions). Loving the members you serve comes naturally.
Learn to love your companion.
Some of the best mission advice I heard came from a sister bearing her testimony during my first transfer on Temple Square: love the Lord, then love your companion. Talk to the Lord, then talk to your companion [okay, so I’m paraphrasing]. You develop true love, charity, the pure love of Christ, as you come to serve Him by serving her (or him).
For most of the missionaries I know, companionship relations, not the language or memorizing scriptures or even rejection, is the most difficult part of a mission. Hands down. If someone blows you off on the street, big deal–if you can laugh (or cry) about it with your companion. On the flip side, if you just came from the most stellar lesson but can’t look your companion in the eye, nothing will be good enough.
To truly love and serve your companion(s), you will do whatever it takes to show her that you care about him, or her. For some, that means making that dinner; for others it is eating his cooking! One companion may love you if you make her bed, another won’t care about that unless you’ll wake up 15 minutes early to go running with her. Some appreciate notes. Others compliments. Trusting your companion may be one of the biggest gifts you can give to him or her.
So how do you love your companion? Let me count the ways… Having just finished The Five Love Languages, may I offer some tips on general ways to show love? Figure out the type of things your companion truly needs and appreciates, and do them. Selflessly.
- Words of Affirmation. This means things like: “Wow, Elder, your language is coming along great!” or “I really appreciated those tuna fish sandwiches you made while I was blow-drying my hair, you’re the best!”
- Quality Time. Obviously, you will spend lots of time with this individual. 24 sur 24, as they say in French (we say 24/7). Make it quality time, make quality conversation by getting to know who he or she is, what they think or dream about, why they chose to serve and why they are choosing to stay. As for you, choose to listen.
- Receiving Gifts. Don’t go crazy spending all your food money on your companion, but “gift” things he or she appreciates. Now, sometimes that’s clothing items, other times it’s a bite of an ice cream cone. His favorite candy bar included in the birthday package your family is sending. A sticky note that says “I love you Sister ______!” in her PMG. You’ll find ways.
- Acts of Service. Service comes in many ways–some obvious, others not so much: cooking, cleaning, making beds, doing what he wants on p-day even when you think that museum sounds boring and will interfere with the 14 letters you’re planning on writing. You get it. One of the more interesting ways I served a companion was not talking to her before 9 a.m. each morning (for those who knows me, that’s super difficult. But… she was most definitely not a morning person).
- Physical Touch. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this publicly, but I hugged each of my companions every single night after companionship prayer. Others wanted more affection (so, you know, the occasional backrub could be a good idea!), a few might have appreciated less… but appropriate physical touch can really help on some of those hard mission days. Know your companion, and if they aren’t at all touchy, express your affection another way. It never hurts to ask.
In short: the more you know your companion, the better you serve him or her, the more you will love this person God has assigned you to be with. True love will be the gift you obtain, a love and unity that can pervade your companionship and everyone you teach and lighten the stress of missionary work. As a missionary, there is nothing better than being in the Lord’s work together!