Originally published March 16, 2014 on earlyhomecoming.com.
When a missionary comes home early, the decision to stay home or to go back out becomes paramount. For some, the decision will be clear-cut: they will immediately know which path is right. For others, the decision will be rather difficult. And still for others they may know which path they want to take but struggle knowing whether or not that path is the right one for them to take. Or, they may know which path is right but struggle with that knowledge because it may not be the path they want to take.
I’d like to talk to all four of these types of missionaries, and anyone who is trying to help someone they know and love in this situation. Real quick, if you are trying to help, the best thing you can do is to not put any pressure on your missionary to make a decision one way or the other. Perhaps you think you know what is best for that missionary, and maybe you do. However, the only people that really know what is best is God and that missionary and inspired priesthood leaders. Beware of making your missionary feel that he or she must choose a certain path in order to make you happy. Accept whatever path they choose. Realize too that either choice was probably a difficult one. Also, there may be things going on that you are unaware of.
For instance, I have a friend that came home early for medical reasons, but chose not to go back out after he had recovered because of how harshly he was treated by others in the field. He was called lazy, told his heart wasn’t really in the work, told he was faking it, and eventually when he asked to be sent home, he was called a quitter by his mission president. According to the doctor he met when he came home, the illness that he asked to go home for would have killed him had he stayed on his mission even two weeks longer. When he recovered from his illness, he had no desire to return. He was too angry at those who had mistreated him, and too scared that something similar would happen to him again. He lost friends for his decision. He struggled with his testimony. He met with a counselor to overcome the anxiety that developed from the incident. He had had every desire to serve and do the Lord’s work before becoming sick, but now he felt so frightened every time he thought about returning to the mission field. People didn’t understand him. He decided not to return to the mission field. I don’t know if he prayed about his decision or not, but I imagine that he did. Even if he didn’t though, he deserved love, respect, and understanding.
Another missionary that I’ve become acquainted with, told me that she came home early for medical reasons, knew immediately that she wanted to go back out, recovered, went back out, then was hit by a vehicle, and sent home again. She struggled with knowing whether or not she was supposed to be on a mission. She wondered if she had not been a good enough missionary and if that‘s why she had been sent home twice. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go back out. She decided to go back to school, but after doing everything she could to prepare for school, felt unsettled about returning. She read her scriptures, prayed, and started changing her prayers from “Which path should I take?” to “Is there still work for me to do in the mission field?” She then made the decision to go back again, prayed and asked if it was right, and felt peace. She has since been making preparations to return. She is still nervous that she will get sick or hurt and have to come home again, but she knows she still has more work to do. She has decided to follow the Spirit and do what she knows is right for her.
My story can be read in detail by clicking here. I’ll summarize it by saying that when I returned, I prayed and prayed to know which path was right for me, and the answer that kept coming back was that either path was right. It eventually came down to the one that I wanted to do. And I had to admit that deep down, I wanted to go back to school. I did not want to return to my mission. Although I had had some good times on my mission, most of it had been emotionally challenging for me and there was the fear of getting sick again. Plus, I really just wanted to go back to school. I felt guilty for not wanting to go back on my mission, but then again, I’d been told that either path was right. I counseled with my stake president, went to the temple, read my scriptures, and prayed. I did everything I could to make sure that whatever path I chose was the right one. Looking back now, I am glad that I went back to school because I don’t think I was emotionally ready at all to go back on my mission. I think I had several things I needed to heal from besides my illness. I also think that if I had chosen to go back on my mission, God would have strengthened me that I would have been able to complete it. There was no right or wrong. God blessed me for returning to school, just as he would have blessed me for returning on my mission.
I think there is often the expectation for missionaries that come home early that as soon as they get better or “figure things out,” they ought to go back out on their missions. Particularly for young men, who are told that they have a priesthood duty to complete their missions. Indeed, President Thomas S. Monson said, “Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much.” (see President Monson’s talk from October 2010 General Conference here). However, please note that President Monson said, missionary service is a priesthood duty, not completing a mission, and not even going on a mission, although I echo what he says that “every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission” (from which I assume he means full-time mission). Missionary service can be done in many, many capacities and the Church is starting to make more of an effort to let members know about the other options for missionary service rather than full-time proselyting missions.
I encourage anyone that is trying to make the decision about whether or not to return to the mission field to pray, read their scriptures, talk to priesthood leaders, and go to the temple if possible. I encourage you to search your heart to know what your inmost desire regarding the decision is. Then, I encourage you to make a decision and take your decision to the Lord. If your decision is right, I promise you that you will feel the Spirit tell you it is right, however the Spirit talks to you. If you have forgotten how the Spirit talks to you, ask the Lord to remind you. Recall a time when you know the Spirit spoke to you. Remember how that felt. Then, follow that prompting. If, like me, you do not get a clear-cut answer, make the decision that you feel is best for you and trust the Lord that He will follow-through on his part and help you in that decision. For more about the Spirit, see Elder Bednar’s talk The Spirit of Revelation.
No matter what your decision is regarding staying home or going back out, no matter what your reason for coming home, know that the Lord loves you, is there for you, and will not abandon you. He is listening and he will make the right path known to you at the right time. If He takes awhile to let you know, don’t get frustrated. Practice patience. As Elder Bednar said in the aforementioned talk, “Both the history of the Church and our personal lives are replete with examples of the Lord’s pattern for receiving revelation ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ For example, the fundamental truths of the restored gospel were not delivered to the Prophet Joseph Smith all at once in the Sacred Grove. These priceless treasures were revealed as circumstances warranted and as the timing was right.” He has not forgotten you. He may even be waiting for you to act
Also, know that you are a good person. The feelings of doubt, of worthlessness, of anger, etc. are normal. If you are scared to go back on your mission, or just don’t have any desire to return know that that is normal too. Don’t let these feelings consume you, but do acknowledge them and work through them. Keep reading your scriptures, keep praying, and keep being open to the promptings of the Spirit. The Lord will guide you. It will all be okay. Keep moving forward and one day you’ll be able to look back and see just how much He helped you and blessed you.
June 2018 Update:
This topic is discussed in more detail (and more specific to each reason a missionary may come home early) in my new book, Early Homecoming.