Born in Southern Idaho and now living in Hurricane, Utah, Dr. Gary Taylor spent his career of more than 40 years working as a clinical psychologist. Now retired, he and his wife have served two senior missions, first in Europe and most recently in the South Pacific. Working with mission presidents and missionaries to offer mental health advice and assistance, Brother Taylor began to see patterns emerge of the common struggles that missionaries have. The experiences have become the basis for his book, Serve Strong and Stay Sane: 10 Mistakes that will Ruin Your Mission and Your Life.

Brother Taylor continues to learn new things in his work with missionaries, emphasizing that as he would work with them he could feel the love and concern that Heavenly Father has for them. He also emphasizes that while the transition from teenager to missionary can be a difficult one, the struggles experienced may not always be mental illness-related, but rather the normal added stress that comes with being a missionary. For some missionaries this can be an unexpected and difficult process to deal with. In this episode, Brother Taylor discusses a number of common mistakes and offers prospective missionaries, parents, and leaders tips and counsel as they prepare for—or assist others in preparing for—effective missionary service.

Episode Highlights

  • Many of the tools that are generally recommended to those suffering stress and anxiety (i.e. going for a run, reading a novel, talking to a friend) are not available to missionaries. Other methods must be utilized. (10:00)
  • Tips and counsel for leaders meeting with prospective missionaries – become familiar with the 10 common reasons why missionaries struggle (12:00)
    1. Having unrealistic expectations (13:00)
      • Mission service isn’t going to necessarily solve any existing personal problem(s) – in many cases it actually makes them more difficult to solve
      • Expecting it to be a non-stop spiritual experience
      • With enough faith and effort baptisms will happen (if that is the measure of success, as defined by the missionary)
      • Be more prepared for an “Aaron experience” rather than an “Ammon experience”
    2. Failing to see the big picture – why they’re there and what it’s really all about (19:00)
      • Bishops and Stake Presidents can help prospective missionaries to set realistic expectations
      • Help them be able to answer the questions “When things aren’t working out, how can I stay motivated to do the right thing?” and “What are the reasons to be here when it doesn’t look like anything productive is happening?”
    3. Worrying about things that are beyond the missionary’s control (23:45)
      • Mission related things
      • Things happening back home
      • Have prospective missionaries inventory their worries (write them down), then take each one and ask, “Is this something I can control?” If not, then decide not to worry about it. If it is, then I need to come up with a plan to do what I can to resolve the worry or concern.
        • Sometimes it’s unclear if the worry is beyond control or not. Parents and leaders can be a resource to go to to understand if there is something I can do to overcome it.
        • ADD (Awareness, Decision, Distraction) technique: When we are aware of a thought, worry, temptation, etc, we make a decision to not go there and then immediately distract ourselves away from the thought that is causing the anxiety
    4. Be wary in thinking and speaking in absolutes, or “all or none” thinking (29:30)
      • Avoiding thinking in terms of “have to” (versus “want to”)
        • Sets ourselves up for stress and anxiety if the “have to” does not come to pass
        • Listen for that type of thinking and reframe it to something positive that motivates us to act
    5. Going overboard with “good things” to the point where they cause stress and/or illness (34:45)
      • Counsel not just for missionaries, but for others as well (including as we serve in leadership roles in the church)
    6. Letting anger and fear get out of control (42:30)
      • Learning appropriate coping mechanisms as leaders and parents that we can then pass on to others
  • How can we better assist those who either aren’t able to serve a mission or come home early due to mental illness, social anxieties, or some of these other types of issues? (46:00)

Links:

Like a Broken Vessel, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Serve Strong but Stay Sane: 10 Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Mission Or Your Life, By Gary Taylor
ServeStrongButStaySane.com

Adjusting to Missionary Life Booklet

Elder & Sister Taylor

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