Since one of my closest friends recently returned home from a mission, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mission and all that has happened in the past year and a half. Having my friend come home and being able to talk and catch up with him has made me realize something: I am not where I want to be.
About two years ago was when I got transferred to the last area of my mission. That was the point where I finally came to love every part of what I was doing and I really didn’t want to go home anymore. I did want to see my family and friends. I was excited for school to start again. And I was happy to have a chance at implementing everything I’d learned in those 18 months into my “real” life. However, I was not looking forward to being home because I knew it would mean I’d go back to school, I’d go back to my house, and I’d go back to technology and the world. I absolutely loved being able to forget myself, serve people and share what is most precious to me. I was terrified of forgetting what I’d experienced as a missionary and going back to the old habits I had of watching TV and movies all the time, not getting homework done when it needed to, not reading my scriptures like I know I should, spending too much time on Facebook or Pinterest or what have you, and the list goes on and on.
Well, being around such a fresh returned missionary (he’s only been home less than two weeks) has really showed me that those things I was terrified of? I’ve done them all. I’ve procrastinated my homework. I’ve slacked off on my scripture study. I’ve watched too much TV and movies. I’ve spent too much time on the internet. I’ve done all the things I said I never wanted to do again.
As I’ve spent time with my friend and seen who he’s become since I last saw him three years ago, I’ve received revelation and inspiration telling me to stop messing around and remember my goals and dreams that I had while serving my mission. I’ve been reminded that I need to stop living for myself, let go of my selfish desires and again let the Lord be the one leading my life. I feel like I’ve been the one dragging the Lord along behind me as I do what I want to do whenever I want to do it. Instead, I should be allowing HIM to be the one pulling ME forward and letting Him be the one to show and teach me what I need to do when I need to do it.
Sounds easy enough, right? WRONG.
Recognizing these bits of inspiration, acknowledging them and saying you’re going to do them is one thing. Actually going and doing them is another. Breaking bad habits is HARD. Especially when it’s often the only thing you really know. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like I’m a selfish person. Sure I do good things and I serve others. Sure I spend time with my family and friends and show them that I love them. But when I think about it, I often only do those things when I feel like doing them – when it’s convenient for me. If I have the thought that I need to do something, half the time I end up waiting until I want to do it or until it’s convenient. Ideally, I need to be doing those things the moment I receive that guidance from the Lord, when HE wants me to do it. Not the other way around
I have a huge testimony of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I know that He lives and that He has provided a way for me and for each of us to become perfect one day and live with Him and our Father again. I know that everything He taught is everything we need to be doing. But just knowing these things is not enough.
When I came home from my mission (really, when almost anyone gets home from their missions), I was on a spiritual high. I felt like I could do anything I wanted. I felt invincible and as though I would always keep the good habits I had developed for the last 18 months of my life. I did really well at it, too, for a few months. Then it became easier and easier to justify making more and more time for myself until I got back into most of my old habits from before the mission. I might have a stronger testimony than before and I might have more knowledge than before, but I feel like I have taken one or two or maybe three steps back away from my goal of becoming more and more like the Savior. All because I’ve let my good mission habits slowly die away and my selfish every day habits come back to life.
Life has never been easy. For anyone. Certainly not for the Savior. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this saying: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peaces was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)
Continuing in the chapter, Isaiah goes on to say that we have gone astray and we have turned away from the way of the Lord and even though He suffered and felt our pain, he never once complained, nor did He ever wish that we could suffer through our own pain instead of Him doing it for us. The example of our Savior teaches us to “be strong and of a good courage, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). Jesus Christ recognized that His Father was always with Him and that there was never any reason for Him to doubt or be afraid. Our Savior suffered through the most agonizing pain imaginable and probably beyond, yet He only once requested of His Father that He might be spared. And even then, all He did was say “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). The Lord has only ever thought of others needs more than His own desires. My friend is much like that. I almost always see him asking after people and their families, looking for service opportunities, spending time with and loving his family, and trying to discern the needs of the people around him so he can try and meet those needs.
As we go throughout our lives, we might feel great for a little while, taking two steps towards our ultimate goal (whatever that may be). Eventually and inevitably, though, we end up taking one or two steps back again. Right when we feel like we’re pulling ahead and doing wonderfully is the time when we end up stumbling, sometimes even falling. Such is life and such is the nature of the fallen man. There is no way to avoid the ups and downs of life. There isn’t a way to keep ourselves from stumbling every once in a while. But there IS a way to get ourselves back up and continue forward, no matter how small our steps may be.
I testify that that way is in and through Jesus Christ. I may not be where I want to be and I may have taken a step or two backwards from where I was a year and half ago while I was fresh off the mission, but there IS a way for me to step forward again. I testify that each of us CAN change and move forward, especially when we surround ourselves with people who exemplify Christ and who remind us of where we need and should want to be. We can achieve our goals and become who we and the Lord want us to become as we access the power of the Atonement – the sacrifice Christ gave. The more we recognize our sins, mistakes and bad habits, the closer we are to repenting, changing and becoming better. The more we utilize the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repent, the closer we come to Him and the more we become as He was and is.