How I Feel Robbed by my LDS Mission

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was a young man with a spark of faith who determined that the best course of action for my life was to serve an LDS mission.  Okay, I’m being hyperbolic about it being that long ago and that far away in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense, that is now the perception I have of the time that has since passed.

I remember the night I opened my mission call intending to trick my mother by saying that I was going to Hawai’i and my sheer surprise when the joke was on me when I read that I would actually be serving in the Honolulu Hawai’i mission.  Considering that my desire was actually to serve somewhere in Polynesia, I had no reason to be anything but happy about my assigned field of labor.

Amazement flowed through me when I was asked to serve as the district leader while I was in the Missionary Training Center in Provo.  Two of the other young men in my ‘district’ were actually guys that I went to high school with and practically grew up next door to.  I had no reason to think that I was any better than they were, no more worthy than they were, nor more qualified for any kind of leadership position.  I remember one of the greatest challenges being faced was the effect of the MTC food on myself and the other missionaries in my district and the distraction it was when we were supposed to be studying our scriptures.

Then I got to Hawai’i and the real challenges began to set in.  I remember feeling like I didn’t get along particularly well with my trainer, who was simply another missionary who had been out for just a little less than a year when I arrived. Little did I realize that he would be the most motivated of my companions, guys that I spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week with.

A couple months into my mission, I had the happy experience of getting sick with the last possible disease I ever thought I could get on a tropical island, pneumonia. I wheezed just trying to walk up the flights of stairs to our apartment. I couldn’t sleep on my back without being overcome with fits of coughing. My trainer thought I was faking being sick in order to get out of working.  It wasn’t until about the fourth night of my excessive coughing and having to sleep in the reclining chairs in our apartment that he finally gave in and thought that I should see a doctor.

Prior to my mission I could run almost indefinitely without getting tired or short of breath.  Following my mission, working out and trying to be active has been much more of a chore.  My trainer thought it would be a funny joke to make me fat and would double book dinner appointments.  Anybody who knows anything about Polynesian culture knows that many of them don’t eat to live, they live to eat.  Another of my companions had a goal to become as massive as possible.  He talked of wanting to weigh 300 pounds.

During the 13 months I was in Hawai’i, I gained a good 30 pounds and had the stretch marks to prove it.  It’s no easy task to turn down food when the people declare, “Elder, you’re not fat enough, eat more!” There were times that I attempted to turn down food and was later told by my companions that I had offended those who had offered it. It wasn’t uncommon for meals to consist of two rotisserie chickens, one for me and the other for my companion along with plates of lau lau and more-than-generous pots of rice.

Most missionaries are assigned areas that can be commuted by bicycle.  I was assigned to larger areas that necessitated the use of a car.  The only problem there is that eating all that food had little chance to be burned off by the reduced amount of activity when one is confined to walking as their primary mode of exercise. Pneumonia ravaged my lung capacity and excessive food and reduced physical activity wreaked havoc on my physical health. My weight has continued to be a major source of difficulty for me ever since that time, and moving back to higher altitudes does nothing to help my lung capacity.

Today, I came across a snippet from a General Conference talk given by W. Christopher Waddell called “The Opportunity of a Lifetime.”

As a result of that sacrifice, we return from our missions with our own gifts: The gift of faith. The gift of testimony. The gift of understanding the role of the Spirit. The gift of daily gospel study. The gift of having served our Savior. Gifts carefully packaged in worn scriptures, tattered copies of Preach My Gospel, missionary journals, and grateful hearts.

I read this article and was overwhelmed with feelings of grief, for it seemed that my list of gifts was very different:

I returned from my mission 11 months early due to depression not just from the typical rejection that is typically associated with missionary service, but from also having had unmotivated companions. I returned from my mission without several of my missionary journals because, due to weight restrictions on luggage, I mailed home several of my journals that never made it to their intended destination. I returned home with a decreased health capacity that continues to be a struggle today.  I returned home with feelings of uncertainty as to how people would react when they found out that I hadn’t served the typical 24 months.  I returned home wondering if my mission had done anybody any good, because it certainly has seldom felt that it did me much good.

Fortunately, the most important people in my life, my family and closest friends, showed no sign of rejection for having returned early.  However, my mission has never been and likely never will be something that I would declare as the “The best experience of my life.”

Rather my mission was something that I only look back on as the beginning of a walk down a path that has left me confused, lost, and seemingly unfit for the blessings that I thought were supposed to be a result of walking the “gospel path.”

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One thought on “How I Feel Robbed by my LDS Mission

  1. Hello Mr. Cryptanalyst, and thank you for taking the time to read my comment.

    Before I proceed, I’d like to set the stage for my comment so as to better prepare you to receive it the way it is intended to be conveyed. First, a little about me. I am LDS. I did serve a mission. I am still an active member. I was caught by the title of your post, and felt compelled to read on. I feel I have enough insight on this topic you posted about to reply with a comment from my perspective. You have a choice of viewing my comment as judgemental and self serving or perhaps even self elevating, but I assure you now that I have no such intent. Your other choice is to view my comment as coming from a dear on concerned friend who only wishes you the best outcome, and I do assure you, that is my only intent.

    You had the option to write about this topic in a journal, privately, to be expressed by you and for you. Yet you chose to share it publicly, on the internet, for anyone to see. I take that as an open invitation for comment and for discussion. Notice I used the word “discussion.” I did not say debate. I am not the sort to raise a fuss, or to argue points until I’m blue in the face. I do believe in the sharing of knowledge, and although I recognize my understanding of things is far from perfect, I know that discussion often leads those involved to few topics from different perspectives. I would say that is my primary hope in writing you. That you would take the opportunity to see your situation you described from another perspective.

    The title of your post prepared me to read your post by giving me a sense of sorrow. Whether intended or not, I felt drawn to read so as to know how I might help. Now, you might not feel in need of help, and this lengthy comment of mine may not seem to be of value at the moment, but please review it before rejecting it. One may not see the need for a life jacket before struggling to stay afloat, but one would still be wise to review it’s value before rejecting it.

    Now, for the main purpose of my writing. I do not pretend to know you, who you are, or what you’ve been through. I am taking what limited information I have and making deductions and observations about your opinions. So, forgive me if I am mistaken on any particular. You seem to have remorse for your decision to go on a mission. Your description of your expectations (whether created by church leaders/members, family, or yourself) for a mission, your experience, and the results, convey that from the angle you are viewing these events, you are dissatisfied and perhaps disgruntled by your choices. The choices I’m referring to are to go on a mission, to stay as long as you did, to eat what you did, and to leave when you did. I do believe these were your choices and yours to own. I understand there was pressure to make choices a certain way, but ultimately they were your choices and made through your reasoning process.

    I do not know the reasons you made the choices you did. Whether it was because it was what seemed the easiest option at the time (the lesser of two evils or ills), or because you believed that the difficulties and trials you would incur would be worth it because of the greater purpose you had faith in. Not knowing your motivations makes it difficult to address the correct problem as I see it. Suffice it to say, that if you took the easier option, perhaps not to offend someone, that you may not have been putting enough thought and preparation into your decision making. This type of decision making is often related to emotion more than reason. Being that you are likely very analytical (according to the title of your blog), I will focus on the second option of why you might have made the choices you did.

    If you made your decisions of serving a mission, and taking on the possible trials associated with it, because you had a belief in God, a heavenly plan, and a better life or existence for those you were going to teach and serve, you must have lost sight of these reasons at some point. You seem very concerned with what you were hoping to get out of the mission to benefit you, and not too concerned with how you hoped to benefit others. I believe that if this is the case, you have lost sight of the primary purpose for serving a mission.

    I believe Joseph Smith once taught that one cannot elevate the status or position of another without also doing so for himself. The general conference talk you quoted discusses blessings that I believe come primarily from the giving of yourself, and not of the taking for yourself. I know this is a strong generalization, as it doesn’t really apply to the situation of you getting pneumonia and later having degraded physical health. Let me address that topic a little now.

    We have been taught that this world has been in a fallen or less than perfect state ever since the fall of Adam and Eve. This fallen state includes all parts of the world, including the dust from which our bodies are made. Until we have worked out our own salvation and progressed back to a state of living in perfection with the Father, we will continue to have physical ailments and infirmities. This knowledge conveys a topic of much importance. It points to a distant future that we cannot see. It points to results that will only take place after the mortal life, but which rely on the actions we take during our mortal life.

    From where I’m sitting, I still see your having chosen to serve a mission as a blessing. I do so because I have faith that you were called of God to do so. And by his greater understanding and design, there was far greater benefit from you having gone to serve than if you had chosen not to. Perhaps if you hadn’t served, you might have lost an arm or leg in a vehicle accident, or perhaps you might have lost your eyesight working a job you might have taken if you hadn’t left to Hawaii. Perhaps some action on your part in Hawaii saved the life of another, or possible the eternal soul of another.

    Based on the plan you seem to have thought you had for your life, your decisions haven’t measured up to your expectations, but I promise you there is a greater plan for you, and it certainly does require faith to view. Currently, you seem to be relying on the parts of you experience you can see. You trust what you have seen has actually happened, but you choose not to look at that which has also really happened that you are simply not aware of. This is where faith is critical. It allows you to see that which is, that is not currently known to you. If you give place for that seed of faith to grow, it will eventually become a perfect knowledge of the thing you once had faith in.

    I can’t help but think of the story of Job. Had he given up after losing so much, and had lost the faith, he would not have been blessed so ever more greatly in the future. This life is a time for men to prepare to meet God. It’s a time to work out our own salvation. It’s a time to gain experience.

    Who would go to school and suffer through all the homework, assignments, and test without knowing there was a greater purpose to be obtained from gaining the education? Little children do this at the guidance of their wise parents, and maturing adults do this with a healthy understanding that a set of skills will strongly increase the likelihood of entering a profession that can supply one with the income and goods to sustain and elevate ones life. Even so, the struggles, trials, and difficulties we go through in this life are for our benefit and to give us understanding. It is part of the grand design to make it possible for us to achieve our full potential.

    I hope one day soon, you will be able to look at your decisions in life, that were made in faith, and with the purpose to do good, and know that regardless of the results you see now, there is benefit from these decisions. Perhaps the benefit of these decisions might seem only to apply to others, but I say again, that one cannot elevate the status of another without also elevating ones own status. God knows who you are, the intent of your decisions, and will justly issue you the consequences of your choices. The main exception being that the atonement allows for the laws of mercy to satisfy the laws of justice as far as sin is concerned. Sin is knowingly making choices against God’s commandments, and by the wonderfully designed plan, a savior was offered to allow both justice and mercy to be satisfied while also allowing a way for us to escape from the chains of hell. What is required of us is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Faith, repentance, priesthood ordinances, and endurance are essential elements to keep us on the path leading to the celestial kingdom. We are only on a path at this stage, however. We have not reached the destination.

    Good luck to you. May you more effectively have faith to see the good of your choices, and may you seek to serve others for their benefit over your own. May you seek to serve God, for ye are not your own. You have been purchased with a price. You are indebted unto him whether you know it or not. Remember that all good things come from God. “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve;… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

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