So my mom and I made a trip to Nauvoo a couple weeks ago and I met the sweetest sister there at the visitors center who has been out for about 3 months. We talked for a good hour and it was completely inspired and helpful for both of us. She asked me a lot of soul-searching questions about my mission that nobody has ever asked me in the 8 months I’ve been home. It’s helped me be able to remember the things I learned on my mission – things that are really important but somehow get a little lost when life catches up to you. Most of these things I learned were things that took me my entire mission to learn, some I didn’t quite get until after I’d come home. All of them are things I will need to remember throughout the rest of my life.
Here are just a few that I wanted to share (Note: I am writing these directed towards missionaries, because that’s how I learned them, but I want each of you to apply it to your own life since not everyone is preparing to serve a mission, is on a mission, or has served a mission).
1: Don’t get discouraged when the going gets tough, wherever you are in life – whether you’re preparing to serve a mission, are on a mission, just been home from a mission, never served a mission, or don’t even know what a mission is. A mission is hard. Especially if you’re trying to do what’s right and follow the Lord in all you do. You are put with each of your companions and in each of your areas for a reason, whether it be to learn to love and serve your companion or the people in the area, whether it be to let your companion learn to love and serve you, or perhaps there is something you need to learn from what the area itself has to offer (or not offer, you might think sometimes). It’s going to be hard – some companions you might feel like you want to choke them in their sleep, some don’t do what you think they should be doing, others just… you love ’em but you just want to run screaming from them sometimes. But you’re with them to learn something or help them learn. Some areas are more successful than others – you’re constantly teaching and finding people to teach with what seems like no effort at all. Other areas just never have anything to do but knocking on door after door after door. You feel like there’s no point in even going out every day so why don’t we just stay in and find productive things to do in the apartment instead? Remember to be obedient to the Lord’s commandments and mission rules – honestly, they’re there to teach you and to help you through the discouragement that inevitably comes. Sometimes you might not feel so productive or successful when night after night you write zeroes for your daily achieved goals. But how do you know you didn’t touch someone’s (including your own) life today, even if everyone just slammed the door in your face? Forget yourself and let the Lord’s work happen! He knows where you need to go, what to say and who to talk to. He understands that it’s hard to keep going when seemingly no one is ever going to accept the Gospel. But I testify to you that things go so much more smoothly when you can learn to be selfless and search for more things the Lord would have you do instead of doing what you want to do. Sometimes you’re not there to change anyone’s life but your own because you have lessons to learn and ways to improve, too. Remember Abinadi going to his death probably thinking he didn’t change anything, yet he still did as the Lord asked? Alma was touched by Abinadi’s teachings and brought hundreds to the Gospel because of one faithful servant of the Lord who was obedient and served with all his heart instead of being discouraged and staying home.
2: Remember your relationship with God and work to keep it strong and in tact. As long as you remember to communicate with Him DAILY and with SINCERITY, you’ll be just fine. I learned how to pray on my mission. I mean to REALLY pray. It’s not just thanking God for things and asking for what you need. It’s really communicating with Him, telling Him EVERYTHING. I learned that it’s okay to be mad at God, but you have to tell Him and not bury it inside and just brush it off saying “I shouldn’t be mad at Him – He’s God!” I found that doing that only made it worse, but acknowledging how I really felt, good or bad, and pouring out my heart and soul to my Father in Heaven, telling Him absolutely EVERYTHING really strengthened that relationship I have with Him and allowed me to let go of the negative feelings and embrace the positive. As long as I remembered who I was to God and that HE needed me to be exactly where I was for whatever reason only He knew, I did just fine. I was (AM) happy. I felt like I was doing well and I was successful, even when it didn’t show in the numbers we’d send to the mission leaders. Your relationship with God is priceless because it allows you to see who you really are and what you can become, what you can achieve because of those things. You are the son or daughter of God, which means He loves you, which means you are NOT worthless with no talents or purpose to your life, which means you CAN make a difference, wherever you are.
3: Don’t get discouraged and overwhelmed by everything you have to do. Just take it one step at a time – You’re going to feel like you have about a billion goals to achieve in a day or in a week. You have to set goals for the amount of lessons you teach, new investigators, people who attend church, personal goals, companionship goals, district goals and zone goals. You’ve got goals your mission president assigns you to do. Goals of what you want to work on to better yourself. Goals you need to help your companion with. And it just goes on and on. Here’s my advice on that: Pick ONE thing to focus on for yourself, your companion and your area each day, week and/or transfer. Listen to your mission president – he’s inspired of God to have you work on certain things. Don’t try and do everything at once. There’s plenty of time in your life to learn and grow. Most importantly when setting goals: Pray. Your Father knows you and He knows what it is you need to work on most. My mission president challenged each of his missionaries to pray every night and ask “what one thing do I need to do tomorrow to be a better missionary?” He also challenged us to continue doing that throughout our lives and applying it to whatever role we were in (daughter, sister, mother, wife, student, etc). He promised that the answer would be immediate if we listened for it and that we then needed to do everything we could to work on it the next day. The answer might be a different one than the night before or it might be the same. Whatever it is, focus on that one thing and DO IT. Heavenly Father doesn’t care how MUCH you grow, only that you are growing – quality, not quantity!
4: Never forget the reason you came on a mission – if that reason for coming on a mission was only because of peer pressure, you better find a better reason, because that’s not going to be enough to keep going when things get hard. You have to WANT to be there. If you start getting homesick and thinking of how much you miss your family, friends, books, etc, take some time to recoup. Take a few seconds to think about it, then move on and remember “I came on a mission because…” It’s okay to be homesick. It’s okay to want to go home. A mission is HARD. There is going to be at least one time when you feel you’re not strong enough to continue and it’s okay to take some time for yourself, to regain that strength you need to continue forward. It’s okay to do that when you need to but it’s not okay to dwell on it and let it consume you. As a missionary, you’re thinking only of others 24/7. You are constantly serving the Lord. I testify that He WILL help you get through whatever you’re struggling with, now, on the mission and after. As long as you have the desire to serve Him and do your very best, you are qualified and called to serve. He knows you and He knows what you need. He knows what you’re going through and He wants nothing more than to help you, but you are going to have to do your part in seeking, knocking and asking. If you take time each day when the going gets tough to remember why you’re out there serving your Father, He will give you strength and power to continue forward with His work. Because it is HIS work and it WILL prevail.
As I remember these lessons I’ve learned and find ways to apply it in my life now in preparation to return to school, in preparation for future marriage and family, and in preparation for whatever else the Lord might see fit to send my way, my life becomes so much easier. There is discouragement and failure around every corner, but if I take time to remember the Lord and my relationship with Him, remember why I’ve chosen to follow Him every day of my life, and remember to take it one step at a time, the discouragement fades and I only see my failures as successes because instead they become lessons and experiences I’ve gained to make me stronger.
So I suppose in a nutshell, my advice to anyone with a desire to serve the Lord: Always remember Him, seek His guidance, and then learn to listen to and follow the Spirit. He’s ALWAYS there telling you what He needs you to do. Seriously, ALWAYS. Every minute of every day. We just have to listen and choose to do whatever it is at the time He tells us to do it. The more you learn what the Spirit feels like to you and the more you listen to Him, the more often you will recognize Him speaking to you. The more we listen to the guidance of the Spirit and do the Lord’s will, the closer we come and feel to our Father, the more truth we come to know and the easier life becomes.