To Whom It May Concern:
I used to count down the days until I could start my mission papers. And submit them. And leave. That feels like a lifetime ago.
If you want the numbers, I could have left 267 days ago. Ish. 357 days ago I could’ve had my call. I could be almost half way done with my mission.
But I’m not. I’m going through the motions: work, school, dating. My friends are on missions or married, for the most part. And that’s okay.
Something you, and probably most of my friends and family, might be wondering is, “What changed?”
My desire to serve a mission changed as my reasons for going changed.
Now, a little disclaimer. Some of my biggest faults and downfalls are my pride and stubbornness. I recognize I am at fault for the change in my attitude, but in sharing my experience, I hope you will know how to better help the pre-missionary in your life.
I was encouraged to death to go on a mission. Encouraging is wonderful, until you start using inappropriate tactics. I was told by family that I should go on a mission for several reasons, including but not limited to:
- “You are more prepared than most missionaries who are in the field.”
- “You have such a strong testimony and conversion story.”
- “You have gone through so much, you could relate to so many people.”
While there is truth to their reasoning, it doesn’t mean I am ready to go on a mission. There are a lot of mental and physical things I struggle with that would influence my ability to be a missionary. Realize your pre-missionary needs to prepare more than just spiritually.
As a part of encouraging, I’d like to point out using guilt to motivate someone to serve a mission. Don’t. I’ve been told that I would be a waste if I did not serve a mission. Think about that for a second. Yes, I went from being against the Church to being an advocate, but there are so many ways I can share my testimony other than by being a full-time missionary. Also, people have told me I’d be letting my family and ward down by not going. If that’s how you feel about it, I’m sorry you’ve made yourself so personally invested in my decision, but that’s something you are going to have to take up with God.
Serving a full-time mission and making the choice to do so is a very personal, sacred choice.
For Young Men
Yes, it is a commandment you serve. Your intentions in doing so should still be pure. Not ready at 18? That is fine! That is more fine than some would lead you to believe. I have friends who waited till their 20’s and still served a strong, faithful mission. Some young men definitely should wait. Don’t push your pre-missionary to go as soon as possible. It needs to be as soon as they are ready. With that, some young men can’t serve missions for various reasons. This is something many struggle with in the LDS culture. As long as a young man has been honorably excused and continues to serve God how he can, he has fulfilled the commandment to serve.
For Young Ladies
You do not have to serve a mission. I cannot stress this enough. Since the age change, there has been this culture of “go on a mission now or get married now,” which is insane and not the gospel. Please do not tell young women they will be less of a wife and mother for not serving a mission, because that is absolutely not true. What makes a young women a great wife and mother is following what God has prompted her to do, whether that is serving a mission or not. Serving as a Sister is a wonderful thing. The world needs sister missionaries. But for us, that decision is strictly between us and God, and that should be respected. With that, Sisters can leave at any time and shouldn’t feel pressured to go at 19.
Culture vs Reality
I’ve mentioned several times throughout this letter the culture that exists within the LDS church in relation to missionary work. I don’t know if it is because I’m stubborn and unconventional, but I don’t want people to think that the culture is what the actual teachings of the church represents, because it isn’t always. In his announcement of the age change for missionaries, President Thomas S. Monson uses very careful and exact wording.
“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.”
He was also precise when addressing the changes for young women:
Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.
Please keep the prophets words in mind when encouraging prospective missionaries to serve.
There are other traditions within the church that surround missionary work that I’d like to address, but I will do that in a later post.
My Reasons: Then vs Now
Since the moment I decided I could no longer deny the truthfulness of the gospel and the teachings of the LDS church, I decided to serve a mission. I wanted to share the doctrines that had saved my life and made me so happy. When the age change came, I was even more ecstatic. Although I’d already decided to go, now I could go right away.
The more time went on and the closer the time came for me to leave, the more people told me what to do. This is my stubbornness becoming my downfall: I will want to do something, until someone else tells me to do it. At first that was fine, I was glad people supported me and wanted me to go, but eventually it became “You have to go” instead of “It would be cool if you went.” The final straw was people telling me I had to, even though I am a young women, who have a choice if they should go.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t encourage youth to serve missions. Just please be wary and realize God sacrificed everything to give us our agency, don’t take it away from someone.
I have made the decision to serve a mission. This week marks the third availability date I was planning to set, come and gone without me having started my papers yet.
And that’s okay.
I may not leave on my mission until I’m 20, or 21, or even 70.
And that’s okay.
Because I have chosen to serve God and His children, and to Him, that is all that matters.
Sister Renee Carver