Drew Young is a native of the east coast, growing up in Connecticut, and now resides in Utah with his wife and daughter. He studied at Brigham Young University where he helped in teaching and developing curriculum for various student development courses and is the current publicity manager at FranklinCovey. He’s been sharing his story with numerous audiences around Salt Lake County for the past five years and has been featured in LDS Living’s YouTube series and magazine. His first book titled, The Meaning of Your Mission: Lessons and Principles to Know You Are Enough, is available for pre-order now and launches in July 2020. You can learn more about Drew at his website.
I was lying on the floor in my bedroom experiencing a crippling panic attack, one of many that day. I had just returned home early from serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I felt like a failure. The ensuing months involved bouts of debilitating depression, numerous medication prescriptions, countless therapy visits and, at times, feelings of wanting to end it all.
It was in these moments that I learned a valuable lesson: we all have a mission, both in and out of the Church, and there is meaning in our missions. Regardless of what we may be going through: struggling with addiction, not feeling good enough, experiencing same sex attraction, feeling lonely and forgotten, battling mental illness, etc., there is purpose behind the pain, and there is hope in our struggle.
The purpose of this article is to help all leaders within the Church come to an understanding that life is “iffy” and how they can be a resource for good to those they shepherd during “iffy times”. The reality is that sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan, and sometimes what we expected would happen gets turned on its head and we have to find a new way to become the person we are supposed to be.
A Confusing Time
Thousands of missionaries have just been “reassigned” to their homes for an unknown period of time due to circumstances outside of their control, namely the Covid-19 pandemic, but some also come home earlier than expected for different reasons such as mental illness, past sins unresolved, or other circumstances.
Many of these missionaries are feeling confounded, misunderstood, and confused for what the future holds for them. Thoughts and questions are racing through their minds on a daily basis, such as:
“Did I fail the Lord because I only served six months?”
“Is my full-time mission over?”
“What do the ward members think of my early return?”
“What does my family think of my early return?”
“Should I wait to be reassigned or should I move on with my life and go to work/college?”
These questions can be tough to answer… and they can be made even more difficult when ward members and leaders do not show the inspired care and understanding towards their feelings and their futures.
We all Have an Individual Journey
Through my experience as an early-returned missionary, I will lead you through a “how-to” focused article for helping these precious young people of the Church feel heard, understood, and guided on their own individual journey to fulfillment and prosperity; or, in other words, I will help you to know how you can aid these missionaries in discovering and fulfilling their missions – both within the Church, and in their personal lives. I hope you’ll think carefully and prayerfully about what I write and apply it into your ministering and friend-shipping of these missionaries.
First Sunday Fears
I’ll never forget my first Sunday back from my mission. That whole first week back I was experiencing an identity crisis like never before. There wasn’t one day that I didn’t think to myself,
“Who am I? What will my future look like? Why do my family and friends keep asking me when I’ll go back out on my mission when I haven’t even had time to figure out my future? Is there something wrong with me?”
I’d had the whole week to lie low, but this would be the first time I would be seen by everyone in the ward…. And I was terrified. I remember getting ready for church in my oversized suit that I was supposed to “grow in to” over the next two years and wondering to myself how I was going to tell everyone what happened to me, and what my future was.
As crazy as this may seem, I even considered walking into church with some crutches so that people wouldn’t automatically judge me. (As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I came home because of mental illness)
As we entered the chapel it was as if a spotlight turned on. I felt like all eyes were on me. The whole day was filled with members asking me all types of questions that were tough to answer… not because they were hard, but because I didn’t know the answers myself.
I went home feeling like crawling under my bed and spending the rest of my life there. No one understood me. No one knew what I had been through. No one could even see my illness. I never wanted to go to church again.
It ended up being a very difficult first month back, as each Sunday passed, more and more people would come up to me and ask questions. More and more I had to make up a timeline for when I would return. More and more I felt like I wasn’t good enough. More and more I felt my testimony slipping, and my desire to give up growing.
What Do We Do With All These Missionaries That Have Come Home?
First, the things we should not do:
- Don’t stop, and stare when you see the individual. This makes them feel like they are being judged, regardless of who is staring, and regardless of what actual intention they have.
- Don’t ask unnecessary questions. Here’s an example, “So, this was unexpected! I bet you’re super bummed, right?” Another question is, “So, are you going back out?” and “Why did you come home?” Some missionaries won’t care, but others will feel disheartened, misunderstood, and ostracized by members who can’t empathize with their situation.
- Don’t be concerned with why the individual came home or if they’ll return to their respective missions, but instead focus on loving them and being their friend.
- Don’t think less of them. You have no idea what their life has been like up to this point.
- Don’t gossip about them to family, friends, or other members. Like I said, you don’t know the whole story,
- Regardless of what leadership position you hold, don’t tell people that a mission is a saving ordinance. It’s not. It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow, but it is not essential to one’s salvation.
Now the things we should do:
- Welcome them home and praise them for the service they did perform… regardless of how long or short it was.
- Write a letter or text of encouragement to them. Tell them that you have their backs, and that you will support and love them regardless of what the future holds.
- Practice the golden rule, or as I call it, the Godly rule. Treat them like you would want to be treated if you were in their situation.
- Help them get to work. Offer to have them help at your company, hope clinic, or provide service with the Priesthood, or Relief Society groups.
- Pray to know what the Lord would have you do. Perhaps you will be prompted to bring them cookies, or it may be to not talk to them at all. God knows the hearts of all his children. He will help you know.
- Remember that the greatest gift you can give someone else is helping them discover and fulfill their mission in life – not through your timeline or agenda but based on the individual’s personal circumstances and desires.
God Has a Unique Plan for Each of His Children
Another principle that will help us be more understanding and welcoming is this: the Lord doesn’t tell us to go and do something, no help provided, no hope promised, and no blessings offered if we fall short. He rewards those who are willing to serve, regardless of the length or perceived impact that service has. People describe their life as a mission. If that is the case, are the only ones who succeed the ones who live longest or garner the most social media acclaim? Of course not. It’s what we do with the time and opportunities that are given to us that matters.
We are all God’s children, He has a plan for each of us, and that plan is unique based on individual circumstances, abilities, desires, and destinies.
It is never wise to make pre-conceived judgments because we never know the whole story behind why someone acts the way they do.
It is not up to us to be the final judge.
It’s up to us to love, to be compassionate, and to be kind.
Miracles Will Follow
Whether you are a stake president, relief society president, bishop, teacher, mom, dad, missionary, or any other leader in any capacity, let us remember that we all have a mission to perform on this earth. Part of it may be formal in a skirt or suit, but most of it won’t be. As we go throughout our journey of mortality, I hope we will do the necessary things to discover our missions and help those around us do the same.
I am living proof that the Lord answers prayers and guides our steps, perhaps not in the way we would like, but in the way that is best for us.
Trust in the Lord. Fear not. Pour out your heart to Him, and then listen for what He asks you to do next… then do it.
Miracles will follow.