While most missionaries are able to complete their full two years or eighteen months of service, there are also many who are not able to due to health problems or other issues and are honorably released before that period of time is complete. But even with an honorable release, returning home early can be a difficult and emotionally challenging experience.
It can be very easy to focus on your feelings of disappointment from not being able to serve a full two years or eighteen months. Asking “why me?” and experiencing a range of negative emotions is common. Many missionaries even experience false feelings of unworthiness even though they were honorably released. While these sentiments are normal, they are not productive.
“I felt angry at first. Angry that I lost the opportunity to complete something I had worked hard at for so long. It felt like defeat. I was worried about how I was going to explain it to everyone. And if they would really believe me. The whole thing caused me a lot of anxiety. It took a long time for me to realize that I was being selfish. All of these feelings I had of guilt, anxiety, and nervousness were all centered on what other people thought of me, or even what I thought of me.” – Stetson
“My focus was no longer on others and was on my own self. I had difficulty refraining from judging myself negatively. The shame nearly destroyed my will. It was hard to separate what happened from my worth. In fact, my mind would take memories and twist them to support my negative emotions…True principles and treasured memories became vulnerable to being twisted.” – Chris
“I essentially felt like a failure, even though I was really sick, on bedrest, no insurance, finally went to the ER, and so on and so on. I still felt like a failure. I was depressed, I didn’t know how to move on. I felt that people were either judging me or just felt sorry for me. Coming home early felt like one of the worst things to ever happen to me…for any missionary who comes home early (honorably), you are facing the entire population of those you interact with. The biggest challenge of all though, is facing yourself.” – Sara
These negative feelings need not become (and SHOULD NOT BECOME) a dominant factor in your life! Coming home early from your mission is a hard trial to endure, but like all trials the Lord gives us, you can ultimately find strength from the Lord and find that this trial is for your good (see D&C 122:7-9). The following advice comes from other missionaries who were honorably released early from their service.
Remember the phrase “honorably released.” The Lord has accepted your sacrifice on His behalf. This is the most important one of all. You need to understand that receiving an honorable release means the Lord accepts your service, regardless of the amount of time you spent in the mission field. Remember this fact. Try to keep your memories focused on the positive experiences you had while serving, and don’t let your mind twist these treasured experiences negatively. If you continue to struggle with negative emotions, pray to the Lord or ask for priesthood blessings for additional strength and help.
“I decided to ask God. I prayed and prayed to find out if God really did accept my sacrifice of service. Over time I began to feel the acceptance and peace that I had completed exactly what God wanted me to complete. No matter what anyone else thought, I knew that God accepted my sacrifice. And that was enough.” – Stetson
“I needed more priesthood blessings, and that is what helped me a lot hearing words come from my Heavenly Father that only reassured me that I would be okay.” – Sara
“The evening when my mission president came to our apartment to give the news of my official and honorable release, he gave me some council that really helped me after I got home. He said that he wanted me to know that there was no reason why I should regret my decision. The Lord loved me and was proud of me, and that he, as my President, had received a similar positive confirmation about the decision…that the offering I made on my mission was acceptable to the Lord. I didn’t choose to get sick. I didn’t choose to be unable to go out and work. And the Lord knew that – my decision to come home early didn’t invalidate my entire mission.” – Shannon
Build a support network. It is absolutely vital that you surround yourself with people who will support you and help you get through your this transition. Family members, church leaders (especially your stake president and bishop), and professional counselors are ready to support you, not judge you. Meet with them as often as you need to; they want to help. Even though there will probably be those who don’t understand that you were honorably released because of circumstances beyond your control, surrounding yourself with those who do understand and support you can go a long way towards overcoming this trial.
“The first thing to do is to really just tackle the [negative] feelings head on. Immediately after I got home I started participating in talk-therapy sessions with a therapist who also happened to be a member of the Church. He/She will help you feel better and help you
realize that it’s not your fault you couldn’t serve for a full two years.” – Matt
“When I first came home, I met with my stake president and talking to him helped. He stopped me in my tracks when feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness hit me. My mind connected the idea of coming home early with being a bad person. My stake president nipped that false connection quickly. I also met with someone from LDS Family Services. The idea is to have a support network to communicate with and determine when thoughts were running amok.” – Chris
Find worthwhile ways to fill your time. Whether this means getting a job, returning to school, or finding ways to volunteer in the community, filling your time with meaningful activities will help you avoid focusing on negative thoughts. Keeping busy will help you have a purpose and meaningful goals to work towards, which will help prevent negative emotions from taking over.
“For me, the best way to avoid letting various memories become twisted is to stay busy doing worthwhile endeavors. School and work kept me busy and looking forward into the future. It also prevented me from judging myself harshly and from feeling worthless.” – Chris
“I was really scared to go back to BYU where I thought people would be very judgmental; but everyone at BYU was very loving and supportive!” – Matt
Sunday School Answers – the way to get through any trial. Just because you were not able to serve a full time mission does not mean you missed out on any secrets of how to overcome trials and challenges and live a happy, productive life. Find strength from the Lord through the habits that you have learned, and were strengthened, during the time you were able to serve. However, be careful to make sure you are letting these habits motivate you rather than remind you of negative feelings associated with your mission. If this occurs, seek additional help from your bishop, stake president, or another trusted source.
“Prayer is a necessity. Scripture study as well. The things you would [need] to help you through any trial; it is no different. There are things learned in the mission field, but I don’t think you really learn new skills or habits or secrets that only return missionaries know. I think you become stronger in the spiritual habits you already possessed, and you develop new ones, but it is nothing besides being better at praying and studying the scriptures and maintaining those basic habits encouraged by our Heavenly Father.” – Sara
“It is important to keep spiritual habits but it is also good to let them uplift you and not make you feel like a failure. Things like this can trigger negative emotions. Do things in moderation. Set aside time to read scriptures daily. Pray in the morning and pray at night. Treat it as communication with God.” – Chris
“After I came home, anytime doubt or thoughts of whether or not I made the correct decision would come, I would go back and read my journal from that time and remember how I felt when I received my answer to come home. I would pray and ask for help to have the faith in myself to be confident in myself, and then I’d go back to [the scriptures] and remember that the Lord had accepted my offering and was pleased with the work I had done.” – Shannon
5. Look Forward, Not Backward! When all is said and done, remember that being honorably released means that the Lord accepts your service as a missionary, no matter how long you served. You still have quite a bit of living left to do. As Elder Edward Dube of the Seventy noted in the October 2013 General Conference, “In the sight of the Lord, it is not so much what we have done or where we have been but much more where we are willing to go.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/look-ahead-and-believe?lang=eng) Now is the time to move forward with faith as you continue to serve the Lord.
Some concluding thoughts from our missionaries:
“Being honorably released early from a mission is not what will determine whether we reach our full potential or not, it is what we do with the experience that will. I realized I was getting in my own way, and the only way to get around the barricades I was setting up for myself was to simply, MOVE ON. There is a word I somehow chose to ignore, “honorably”. If they are telling me that I was honorably released, then I am OKAY. At this time in my life, I have so many other things to be grateful for: my incredible husband who loves me with a love so pure, it reminds me of my Savior every day; finishing and even still furthering my education; family who supports me and loves me through and through; my testimony.” – Sara
“Heavenly Father has a plan for all of us! Chin up, whether you need to be serving at this moment or serving a service mission is between you and our Father in Heaven. Trust your parents counsel and stay close to your Bishop and Stake President, surround yourself with
greatness!” – Matt
“As more time passes, it is easier to develop a long-term perspective. I will probably live until I’m 120 years old. I have plenty of time to fill up with doing good and making my life awesome!” – Chris
“No matter what anyone else thought, I knew that God accepted my sacrifice. And that was enough. It’s his work anyway, not mine. Who am I to think that I didn’t get to serve long enough? I am grateful for every second I got to be there. In the end, I just had to forget myself, trust in God, and go forward with faith. He has a plan for me. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways aren’t ours.” – Stetson
For more information to help you adjust to your post mission life, see: