How Did You Feel About Your Mission?

My 20-year-old sister is in the process of deciding whether or not she should serve a full-time mission and sent me an email asking me about my experience.   Of course, prayer and personal reflection are her primary decision-making tools; still, she feels that an important part of her process is gathering as much information as she can about what missions are really like.

Knowing that several of my readers are returned missionaries, I asked for her permission to share her questions on my blog.  She jumped at the chance to get wider feedback.  So here are her questions and my responses.  If you’re an RM, please take a few minutes to respond to the questions as well (if you feel comfortable, you could even include where you served — not necessary though)!  We’re happy to take responses from everyone, regardless of how much you enjoyed your mission (or didn’t!) or whether or not you are still an active Mormon.

Thanks in advance for helping her out.  🙂

Here are the questions.  Feel free to either jump straight to the comments and answer them or read my responses first.

1)–What was your thought process when deciding to serve a mission and why did you ultimately decide to go?
2)–How hard was it and why?
3)–What was good about it?  What made it good?
4)–If you could go again, would you?

For the record, I served in the Bulgaria Sofia mission.

1)–What was your thought process when deciding to serve a mission and why did you ultimately decide to go?

My response: It was a fast decision.  One evening, I was hanging out with my then-boyfriend and all of a sudden heard myself asking, “What would you say if I decided to serve a mission?”   I surprised myself with the question, because I hadn’t been seriously considering it.  He was very supportive and told me immediately, “You should go.”  I felt strongly that he was right.  I prayed about it for a day or two after, just to confirm, but quite literally made the decision on the spot.  I started the paperwork process the next week.

Regarding WHY I went, I had multiple motivations.  On face value, it was out of genuine belief in the message.  Beneath the surface, though, I had doubts — doubts about my own worthiness and acceptability before God — and part of me was hoping that a mission would “cure” me of them.  (It didn’t cure me, by the way, but brought them closer to the surface — which was very painful, but ultimately painful enough that I was forced to deal with them. It has been a LONG process, and six or seven years later I am just now finally resolving these issues in my life. Still, I often wonder if this healing would have happened without my mission, or at least have happened so early in my life.)

2)–How hard was it and why?

My response: It was very, very hard.  You hear about missions being hard in some wonderful, Christlike, “people are rejecting our message and that’s hard” kind of way — and while that’s part of what made it hard for me, it wasn’t the hardest.  What was hardest for me was dealing with high expectations.  I was operating under the assumption that if I would “obey with exactness” I would be blessed with success.  As someone who is prone to perfectionism in the extreme, that translated to an almost unbearable amount of pressure. For a period of time I even made a conscious decision to stifle my sense of humor, believing that lightheartedness was displeasing to God.  I took the weight of the world on my shoulders, something I didn’t need to do, since that’s why Jesus came and all.

Having said that, I don’t think everyone reacts to a mission this way.  Many people are not perfectionists and don’t have God-related anxiety problems.  I recognize that and don’t think it would be fair to universalize my experience to everyone else.

3)–What was good about it?  What made it good?

My response: There were lots of good things.  I loved: the language; the culture; the food; the sense of utter belonging; the way my legs ached after a long day of work; the connection that came when I talked soul-to-soul with someone on the bus or on the street or in their living room; my companions — every single stinking last one of them, even when we drove each other nuts; putting that nametag on in the morning and feeling like I really was an Ambassador of Jesus Christ; getting into all kinds of crazy scrapes and not feeling even a little afraid, because I knew we had angels protecting us; dropping to my knees and pleading with God on behalf of another person; giving a year and a half of my life to a cause higher than myself, just because I believed in it.

4)–If you could go again, would you?

My response: Yes, if by the question you mean would I still choose to go at that point in my life.   No, if by the question you mean would I serve another mission today if I could — or, honestly, probably ever again.  🙂  It was hard for me, but I trust that God meant it when He said I should go, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experience.  I do not regret serving my mission.

Does it sound like I’m conflicted over the experience?  It’s because I am.  Anything truly meaningful is fraught with conflict.   I imagine I will always be conflicted about my mission, feeling both tremendous aversion and tremendous longing whenever I think about it.

I will say this.  If I could do it over again, I’d care less about numbers and rules and whether or not I’m doing it “right”…and just love people.  Just listen to them.  I wouldn’t try to force conversations about the Restoration when people don’t even know that God loves them.  I’d talk to them where they are, see if I could bring any hope into their lives, and forget about a personal agenda to baptize them.  Would that have made me less successful or “respected” in the mission?  Maybe.  But I might have also done more good.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.  What are yours?  Feel free to answer with as much or as little detail as you’d like, anonymously or not.

I’m excited to read what people have to say about their missions — and I’m sure my little sis is, too!

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on October 13, 2010, in Advice, Mormonism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. 1. I played with the idea when I was 20, brought it up to my dad who said you finish college then we’ll help you pay for it. I graduated college when I was 22 and turned in my papers that summer! I had a dear roommate as well that was filling out her papers with me so it was an exciting time
    2. It was hard but not as hard as normal life. After being on my own for 4 years it was sweet to financially not have any responsibilites. I had some emotional times but over all the hard things (like learning the language) were so tiny compared to the fun stuff. Even now it’s hard to remember the hard stuff I just remember the good times.
    3.Good wow, everything. The people, the culture, the message, the other sisters, your leaders, the atmosphere. Ahh the mission was amazing. So many awesome families, spiritual meetings with other missionaries, other amazing missionaries. There’s just something about having no other responsibility then to spread the gospel that makes the mission so simple and fun! Oh so many fun experiences and memories! I think it’s all about your outlook cause I dated a guy before I left that hated his mission but he had bi-polar tendencies.
    5.I would totally go again. My folks are on a mission right now and I love thinking about mine as they tell me stories. I for sure want to serve with my husband. But if I could go back and talk to pre-mission Janae I would tell her she would be crazy not to go! To much fun to be had and spiritual enlightenment to gain!!! You just can’t regret a mission, nothing like it!!

  2. oh I served in the California Los Angeles Spanish Speaking Mission and LA Temple Visitors Center

  3. 1 — My thought process was colored by the fact that the previous 15 years of my life were filled with adults, and later peers, who were all completely unambiguous that I Would Be Sent On A Mission.

    Therefore, I knew I would be sent, and it was a simple act of cultural and spiritual obedience both from those adults and out of the sense I had that the Gospel message was true. I decided to go because I wanted to meet that expectation.

    2 — It was excruciatingly difficult. The second hardest work I’ve ever done (with the hardest work related to a different church calling).

    I’m basically introverted (meaning I draw energy from solitude and contemplation), which makes the society of young adult missionaries a constant energy drain; one is never without one’s companion.

    I was also laboring under false notions that a) nobody really liked me, and b) I was actually better than anyone else. That personal pride made the work harder than it had to be.

    At the same time, I was able to recognize that it was *good* work, in the best possible sense. Worth doing. Worth the stress imposed by mission life. Worth the constant rejection and unremitting discipline.

    3 — I gained uncounted instances of confirmation about the basic truths found in the Gospel. I was too young at the time to realize the full personal benefit of that. I learned that I was not better than anyone else. I was too young at the time to really internalize that. The people, the culture, the mission presidents and their wives. It was good to be basically socially abused by the people of a foreign culture, and then come to realize that I loved them anyway.

    4 — I would have made the same decision to go at the time I went, knowing what I know today. The notion actually occupied my dreams for years afterward.

    I also have a keen interest in going again as an older missionary, together with my wife. The idea of being able to render service, especially in the Church, is very appealing. My folks are on a mission these days as well, and it’s made my mother happier than she’s been in many years.

  4. 1)–What was your thought process when deciding to serve a mission and why did you ultimately decide to go?

    As a young Mormon man, going on a mission was simply expected. I didn’t feel like there was pressure, because there did not have to be; it just seemed a given that I would go. Furthermore, for better or for worse, I grew up idolizing my father. He went on a mission, and I felt like that was something I had to live up to. Third, I was resolved to not marry a girl who would be satisfied marrying someone who did not go on a mission.

    Nevertheless, I was pretty wishy-washy about it for awhile. But during the General Conference before I turned 19, there was a segment from a talk about valiant saints in Africa, and for some reason, I was completely overwhelmed. I broke into tears, I was hit so hard by something. A few minutes later, I saw my mother in the hallway, and I pulled her to the side and told her I knew I was going on a mission, and I was going to Africa. I could see her visibly affected, like she knew it as intensely as I knew it. It was one of my foundational spiritual experiences.

    I was sort of surprised and disappointed when I got called to the Duesseldorf Germany mission, though, and the dischord between my personal revelation (and my patriarchal blessing that seemed to agree) and my actual mission call sowed the seeds of my eventual decision to leave the church.

    2)–How hard was it and why?

    Some things about it were really hard. Overcoming fear can be hard. Dealing with blows to your testimony can be hard. Homesickness can be hard. Dealing with other missionaries can be hard. Your mission president, depending on how he is, can make it really hard. If you deal with depression, that will most definitely be hard. If you serve somewhere with a low baptism rate, the futility of the work can be hard. Feeling guilt and shame for not living up to perfect standards is hard. Playing head games with yourself about your motivation can be hard.

    But the day to day isn’t really that hard. You egt used ot being on a mission and it’s not a big deal. You get up, you knock on doors, you eat meals, you go to appointments, you do some street contacting, you visit some members, you go home, you go to bed. P-Day comes often enough. Transfers come often enough. The routine can be crushing but it gets broken up enough that it’s not the end of the world. And if you have a good relationship with your companion (and sometimes you will, and sometimes you won’t), a lot of the hard stuff is way less hard: as with anything, cameraderie can make a world of difference.

    3)–What was good about it? What made it good?

    When you have a good relationship with other missionaries, it can be great. Like I said in response to the question above, cameraderie can make the darkest night seem bright as day.

    A mission can be an adventure, and that part is great. You’re always going somewhere new and meeting new people. You’re always seeing new things you wouldn;t see if you were visiting as a tourist.

    I think living the simplified life of a missionary is really good for you. The distractions of TV, the internet, pop culture, etc. really are distractions. On a mission you can get to know the real you, and that can be an amazing thing. You grow up. You can develop an identity independent of your peers, your clothing style, or your list of likes on Facebook. You can have incredibly fun times that you wil never forget–way more fun than the time you spend on the internet or whatever.

    If you learn a new language, that part is great. Fully functioning in a foreign language is awesome, period.

    If you let yourself have an open mind, you can learn so much from other people, especially your companions. You get to make friends with people you might not have a lot in common with. You take interest in their interests. You learn how to have real relationships, and how not to have them.

    Finally, there is no time in your life other than on a mission when you will be able to give so much time and attention to spiritual development, and that’s awesome. You are not distracted by all the insignificant crap out there, and you ahve time to grapple with the stuff that really matters. I think that’s important and worthwhile. A mission is worth it for that alone.

    4)–If you could go again, would you?

    Would I go again now? No. Setitng aside the fact that I no longer am a member of the Church, a mission is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s a Mormon rite of passage, and there’s no need to go through it again. If I had stayed in the Church I would have considered going on a couples mission with my wife when I was retired, but that’s a completely different proposition.

    Am I glad i went? Heck yes. I don’t regret it at all, even given the fact that I am now an unbelieving, apostate ex-Mormon. My mission was an important experience and it’s an important part of who I am. I learned a lot of important things, and I stuck through it when it was hard. I value that. Would I do a lot of things differently if I went back in time knowing what I know now? Sure, maybe. But that’s not an option in real life, and all said, I am a better person for having gone on a mission. I was working hard to do something I believed in and something I thoguth was right, at great sacrifice, and I think that’s a thing inherently worth doing.

  5. 1. I was a 19-year-old male in the Church. Did I really HAVE a thought process? (wow, at least a double-meaning going on there, heh heh…do ANY 19-year-old males have ANY kind of thought process???)

    2. You know, now that I’m like five or six years removed from the experience, I don’t remember how hard it was. I think about individual experiences and say to myself, “Wow, that must have been very difficult!”, but I don’t primarily dwell on the difficult side of it. I think one surprising aspect of a mission is that you come to a strange realization that, hey, this is just LIFE for you. You reach a point after 6-8 months where it’s no longer some super-adventure, but rather a fairly mundane, repetitive experience, where many times your most exciting event each day is meeting up with your district at the Irish Pub (and even that experience doesn’t live up to what a non-Mormon idea of “meeting up at the Irish Pub” would equate to!).

    The things that were difficult for me were:

    — Being away from my loved ones.
    — Being a glorified salesperson. Let’s face it–if you are good at sales, you will be a leader in the mission field. If you are bad at sales, but good at speaking the language, you will be a trainer and a branch president (yep, that was me). I HATED contacting people on the street. I HATED knocking on doors. I always felt like people should be able to do whatever they wanted to do; it was their life, and Bulgarians had a very rich history, and culture and customs that did not need changing. I hated the Americanization of something that was infinitely richer, deeper, and, yes, a bit darker, than what we were bringing to them.
    –Not getting to talk as long as we wanted to for Christmas and Mother’s Day. You get two days a year–give us the freaking day off!
    –Not being allowed to stray from my companion. I just wanted to do simple things, like go for a little run, or find my own place to pull out my guitar and rock out as hard and loud as I wanted to.
    –On a similar vein, I hated having music options controlled. I am a big fan of music, and feel that different kinds of music have different effects on a person. When I want to pump myself up for an early morning workout, I do not pump Jenny Jordan Frogley through my headphones. I want AC DC. Sometimes I wanted to listen to music that had a little edge to it; it’s therapeutic.
    –I hated all the rules. I’m the kind of person who is obedient by nature. I don’t go out and do really crazy things. But I need autonomy and trust. If you try to force me into a box, I will break free from it. Just let me know what needs to be done, and let me do it the best way I know how. I was a great English teacher, and I baptized a lot of people who like me as an English teacher. I did not give a memorized schpiel at a front door very well, however. In fact, I sucked at it. It was so contrived and forced.

    3. I echo many of the same things that Katie mentioned: the language, the food, the individuals, the culture! It was, despite the monotony of what we were doing, a very magical experience at times. You feel so awkward and clumsy trying to speak this foreign language and blend into a culture that has different values and customs, and yet at times you’ll have these strange experiences where you will say something as fluently and perfectly as if you were a native speaker, or you will find yourself behaving in a way that you never would have before you went.

    I loved the experience of learning. I loved pouring over the scriptures. I have this unverified (and probably unverifiable) claim to be the first missionary to read the entire standard works from cover to cover (to cover to cover to cover to cover, if you count the other books…) all in Bulgarian. Partly, I feel I can make this claim, because the Doctrine and Covenants weren’t even available in Bulgarian until like halfway through my mission, so there were only a group of missionaries who got them at the same time as me and had the desire and skills to read their scriptures in Bulgarian, and then out of those, I just kind of assumed that none of them had made the effort to read the entire Old Testament in Bulgarian. Yes, I am a nerd. Big time! But I loved pouring over the scriptures and finding hidden metaphors, and incorporating that knowledge in lessons that I taught. I loved learning the language and finding ways to rearrange my Anglicized syntax so that it better matched what Bulgarians were doing with the language. I loved helping newer missionaries enjoy that amazing feeling of communicating effectively in another language.

    I loved the powerful feeling that you would get at Zone Conferences, where the collective desire to go out there and be better than ever as at an all-time high, and President Johnson would look out at you with his “spiritual eyes”, where he had one eye kind of squinted more than the other, and a voice, choked with emotion.

    I loved theorizing with elders about how the gypsies must have been a fulfillment of Biblical prophecies about the Lost 10 Tribes of Israel, and talking about where the Church was probably hiding the Sword of Laban–they didn’t want to reveal it to us yet, because then we wouldn’t have faith anymore, but a sure knowledge, which would require stricter obedience than we were able to give. I loved the camaraderie amongst the missionaries; the pre-P-Day sleepovers, and hitting immodestly dressed women with water balloons from our balcony, and coming up with the BEST pranks to play on greenies.

    It really was a unique period in my lifetime.

    4. My answer is very similar to Katie’s. I would not go again, if given the opportunity. I am no longer active in the Church, although I am far from hating it or wishing I had grown up differently. I feel that missionaries ultimately are doing a disservice to the world by trying to force everyone into a cookie-cutter mold that is oftentimes not compatible with their culture and lifestyle. I also still have occasional recurring nightmares about living up to mission expectations or being called back out, because I didn’t finish the last few months of my mission (in fact, I actually served a month LONGER than I was supposed to, so I don’t know why that haunts my subconscious).

    I think now, at age 27, with a fully developed frontal lobe, I would make a terrible missionary. If I were to go again at this point in my life I would, as Katie mentioned, place much more emphasis on creating meaningful relationships with the people, and look for opportunities to REALLY serve them. I would not “lock my heart”, as missionaries are instructed to do, but would rather open myself up the possibility that they might have something to share with ME. I would ditch my companions frequently, read unapproved literature, and set aside at least a good several hours a day to do something fun for myself. I would probably be sent home very quickly–rightfully so, for someone who is completely agnostic!–but I would make a great experience out of it.

    Ironically, I can confidently say that if it were not for my mission, I would still be active in the Church today. Like Katie said, your mission will not cover up your doubts and fears, but rather expose them. Oh, I’m sure that during your two years, they will get you all fired up and gung-ho about everything, so that you don’t really notice them at the time. But when the name tag comes off and the head-shaking goes back to normal; when all of your photographs are boxed up and you cease to start every sentence with, “Well, when I was on my mission…”; when all of that starts to happen, you will kind of synthesize your experience, and see how it fits within a greater context in your life. Now, for some people, it becomes a faith-promoting pillar upon which to lean during times of weakness. For me, it was a push in the direction of expanding my perspective to extend beyond the comforts of the Wasatch Front, and to really look at what I wanted to get out of my life.

    Do not hesitate to consider other options. If you are looking for a wonderful experience immersing yourself in another culture, you might consider a study-abroad program. You could also volunteer as a Peace Corps member. Another option is to do an internship; I volunteer with One Heart Bulgaria, and my wife and I actually went and lived in Bulgaria for a semester at the end of ’08. That was, in many ways, a far richer experience than many days on my mission, and you have the freedom to go take a train to Plovdiv and hit the shopping malls when you feel a little overwhelmed helping in the orphanages. I don’t want to dissuade you, but I do want you to realize that there are a number of things you can choose to do that will give you a great experience, albeit one that might not live up to the “LDS Standard”, as far as eternal consequences go.

    Oh dear, I’ve said too much! 🙂

  6. Thanks everyone for your responses! I’ve loved reading them! I hope more people share, because I really enjoy hearing about how people have processed their missions. What a unique and life-changing experience for all of us!

    Tony, I LOVED reading your response. It resonated so much with me! I assume that’s because we both served in the BG. I got a major kick out of your description of President Johnson’s squinty “spiritual eyes.” TOTALLY!! 😀

    I always felt like people should be able to do whatever they wanted to do; it was their life, and Bulgarians had a very rich history, and culture and customs that did not need changing. I hated the Americanization of something that was infinitely richer, deeper, and, yes, a bit darker, than what we were bringing to them.

    Besides the anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, this is probably what I struggled with most. I’d had some training in anthropology before my mission, and even though I genuinely believed that people needed the gospel, I always thought it was such a shame that we imposed our American culture on the Bulgarian branches. I always thought we should be more vigilant about finding ways of Bulgarianizing Mormonism, as opposed to Americanizing Bulgarian converts.

    I recognize that’s not fully possible, but I think most U.S. LDS would be shocked to realize how much our culture informs our belief structure, yet how little of it is really necessary to the core teachings.

    Anyway, great stuff everyone. Thanks for your contributions!

  7. Besides the anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, this is probably what I struggled with most. I’d had some training in anthropology before my mission, and even though I genuinely believed that people needed the gospel, I always thought it was such a shame that we imposed our American culture on the Bulgarian branches. I always thought we should be more vigilant about finding ways of Bulgarianizing Mormonism, as opposed to Americanizing Bulgarian converts.

    My brother went to Japan on his mission, and he says this kind of thing was a huge deal–the culture of Mormonism is extremely American and it was a massive mismatch with Japanese culture, but it was imposed and self-imposed under the umbrella of Jesus’s Almighty Gospel in a way that was really destructive and difficult.

  8. But it was imposed and self-imposed under the umbrella of Jesus’s Almighty Gospel in a way that was really destructive and difficult.

    I think this happens even here in the US, where the Mormon subculture gets mistaken for What Is True. For example, does it really make any sense to believe that the God of Heaven and Earth cares for 0.22 seconds whether or not you have two earring holes in your head or (yes, I’m gonna say it) drink a mocha in the morning?

    There is nothing inherently wicked or evil in either of these actions; they are amoral, meaning they contain zero moral content. Yet Mormon culture insists they’re a Big Deal, and as a result they are elevated beyond what is objectively reasonable, even within the constructs of our belief system.

    We could let go of a lot of these things and still preserve the beauty, uniqueness, standards, and lifestyle of Mormonism without too much trouble, in my mind — and this would also make it easier to “translate” the core essence of Mormonism to foreign cultures.

    But hey. I’m not in charge and never will be (which is honestly probably a good thing), so I’ll take what I’ve got and do my best with it — cultural relics included. 🙂

  9. Sure, but in other cultures the disconnects can be a lot deeper. A favorite anecdote of my brother’s is a conference where Elder Kikuchi (who is apparently extremely Americanized) exhorted all of the men to start telling their wives “I love you” all the time.

    That may sound obvious to Americans, but in Japan, that kind of directness just makes people extremely uncomfortable. Japanese husbands may love their wives fiercely and intensely, but saying it directly is just not something that’s within anybody’s comfort zone.

    But in a laudable effort to be obedient, the priesthood brethren started doing their best. The result? Everyone, wives and husbands, became extremely uncomfortable about it. It actually strained relationships.

  10. @Katie–Yeah, Prez. Johnson sure did have those spiritual eyes, didn’t he?

    LDS missions are wacky and crazy, but they sure provide some great memories!

  11. Oh, and I totally didn’t realize you were comps with Allred. I had a companion who TOTALLY had a crush on her, heh heh.

  12. That’s funny about Allred. She was definitely a hottie! 😉

  13. *IS a hottie. She’s not dead.

  14. I am NOT dead. Definitely alive … at least that’s what the doctor told me last time I checked with him.

  15. Allred, good. ‘Cuz if you were…this would be like a super creepy conversation. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by! Love ya!

  16. I want to start off by stating that I served in the California San Bernardino Mission, although I often claim to have served in the California Victorville Mission, due to the fact that I spent almost a year and a half in that city (three different areas, though). I was an English-speaking missionary. I also will say right now that I had a wonderful experience on my mission, even with the hard stuff I went through.

    1)–What was your thought process when deciding to serve a mission and why did you ultimately decide to go?

    I had honestly and sincerely decided to serve a mission when I was young. In my ward, many of the young men left the church after turning 18, but I had made a conscious decision to stay active and to serve a mission. This was reinforced when I was 16 and found myself defending my faith to a large group of friends of other faiths. I realised that I enjoyed talking about my religion with others, and I felt that this would be what my mission would be like. The decision was partly influenced by my three brothers who also served missions, but I also had two brothers who did not.

    2)–How hard was it and why?

    I honestly did not feel my mission was very hard. The hardest thing I went through was being a junior companion after the half-way mark, and serving with an elder who managed to offend just about everyone he met as soon as he met them. This was especially hard because I had already been in the ward for six months and had spent most of that time rebuilding the members’ trust in missionaries. He destroyed all of that within a couple of weeks. That was hard on me, because I saw good people getting hurt by someone who, of all people, had no business hurting them.

    There was one day that I remember as being one of my darkest. It was actually my first full day in the field. My trainer took me out tracting and I had no idea what to say. I was embarrassed and ashamed–of myself. But I was able to learn from it, recognise what I did wrong, and made a personal personal vow to never do that again.

    3)–What was good about it? What made it good?

    The best thing was seeing people change their lives. Very early in my mission, I noticed that the first line in the old missionary handbook stated that my purpose as a missionary was to “bring souls to Christ through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation.” I underlined the first part of the sentence and made that my personal mission: to bring souls to Christ. I recognised that some people would come to Him through different routes. I remember teaching a couple of different families in Victorville that, as a result of our lessons, decided to become active in their old churches again–not LDS churches. I sincerely believed (and still believe) that people coming closer to God in any way is better than not coming closer at all. This mindset helped me overcome the despair that came from being in low-baptising areas (for our mission). It also helped me have a broader view of what I was there to do.

    In addition to that, I met amazing people every day. My companions were great, except for the one that I hated–oddly enough, though, he and I still keep in touch, and he considers me his best companion. Go figure. I learned so much from these young men I was around. I still use their advice in my life and share it with others. The members were amazing, the people in Victorville, even the crazy guy who said he’d join the church when I became the prophet, were awesome. I looked for the bright side to every situation. So when I actually had a door slammed in my face, I was able to laugh when the door popped back open and we were still standing there.

    4)–If you could go again, would you?

    If I could go back to being a 19-year-old guy, yes, I would definitely do it all over again. I would also love to serve a mission in the future with my wife. But I would never want to serve another proselyting mission like I did seven years ago. It was an incredibly important part of my life, but I have moved forward. I am one of those guys who will never describe my mission as “the best two years of my life”–that is just silly. But it was the best two years on the day I got home from my mission. Now the best two years have been the past two. And I hope that I can always say that.

    And now I’m sure I’ve said WAY too much!

  17. Katie, I’m going to throw in my two cents here: I have to tell you (as someone outside the LDS Church) that many things people had to say confirmed some of my feelings about the missions. My disclaimer is that I don’t mean to offend anyone or sound critical being that I’ve not been there and experienced this for myself. However, I have several family members who have made this very decision to/not to go on a mission and I have a few thoughts. Take them as you will and understand that I am a Christ follower (though not a member of the LDS Church).

    I have personally thought about some of these issues and have difficulty agreeing with the approach taken. i.e. attempting to americanize culture vs. embracing theirs and modifying to fit LDS or the dictation of ‘the call’ and how this can affect the spiritual walk of the missionary (shouldn’t their trust be placed in God with regard to where/how/when they serve?).

    That being said, I can completely see the benefits of devoting a portion of your young (or old!) life to God’s service. There are a lot of positive things listed above by those who served their mission which can really present a strong argument for the case. I have a hard time believing that your mission through the Church is the only way you could learn the concepts or have similar experiences.

    As an outsider, I come from the perspective that the many advantages, which you all seem to have in common, can most definitely be found by another route. I feel very strongly that you should evaluate your reasons for choosing a Church specific mission over other types of service to God. And I also believe that you should pray about your OWN CALLING.. Trust that God is going to reveal the right choice for you and if the LDS Church’s mission doesn’t match up, THAT’S OKAY.

    I truly hope I don’t sound like to much of a critic or as if I’m tearing down the Church. That’s not my intention. Rather, I hope that all options be considered and that God be trusted and followed into whichever direction you head–and know that He will show you the way when you fervently seek Him.

  18. Krista, while I think in substance you are correct, I suspect you might not realize the kind of internal theological tension that is created by a Mormon deciding that God has a different plan for them than the Church does.

  19. Thanks for your perspective, Alex! I’m glad you had such a wonderful mission experience.

    Krista, I’m so happy you stopped by my blog! 🙂 As always, I appreciate your respect, love, and support of your heretical Mormon cousins. 😉

    I think Kullervo is right: LDS culture has more pressure to conform to a certain way of doing things than you might find in the religious circles you travel. As a result, following your “own calling,” if it is at odds with The Way Things Are Done, can come with a hefty dose of cognitive dissonance.

    For the record, I think that’s a fault in our culture; it’s not something I’d defend; and I am living proof that it is possible to take your own path while retaining strong ties to Mormon heritage and beliefs. Still, it’s a difficult journey and at times a lonely one. As a result, you shouldn’t surprised if you discover that lots of Mormons just don’t take it.

    Does that make sense?

  20. To take your own path, you have to be able to say that the Church is wrong sometimes, including the part about them not being wrong.

    Granted, if the Church can be wrong, then they can also be wrong about the part where they say they are not wrong. But that’s not an easy thing for Mormons to acknowledge–there’s a prevalent attitude towards the church of seeing it as something objective and reliable. And the Church fosters this explicitly, with illustrations of how obedience is always right and disobedience or going your own way is always wrong.

    The issue of priesthood authority and the way it is taught by the Church and generally understood by Mormons also stands squarely in the way of a go-your-own-way-friendly-Mormon paradigm. If you reject the notion that counsel or instruction by the priesthood is always steadfast and reliable, you wind up undermining a pretty hefty portion of Mormonism’s narrative and it’s explicit justification for existence.

  21. Kullervo, giving yourself ultimate authority for deciding what is true in your life is a scary thing for anyone — why else do we have religions and “experts” and political parties? — but it can be particularly challenging for Mormons for the reasons you’ve outlined.

    However, there does come a point (Fowler Stage 5?) where you can recognize that Mormonism’s own narrative and justification for its existence doesn’t have to be yours — and you can be okay with that. In other words, what it says about itself is interesting and important, but what is more important is how you interpret it and interact with it in your own life — and the differences don’t stress you out that much.

    Not that there won’t be areas of overlap (even significant ones) between its narrative and yours; merely that you have empowered yourself to take it on your own terms, so that your terms are ultimately the deciding factor.

  22. I agree of course, I just want to point out that there are strong institutional resistances that go beyond the normal “I need to grow up and decide what’s right for myself.”

  23. Absolutely, Kullervo. Understand.

  24. Kullervo and Katie,

    Thanks for the feedback. Sorry for the delayed response–somehow I didn’t get feed updates on your comments.

    I absolutely understand that there is heavy pressure on believing The Way Things Are Done in the Church culture; LDS probably more than most. And I in no way was saying that it would be an easy decision to be made. I’m also not criticizing the LDS Church–there are a lot of wonderful things about it! But I do feel that this particular subject of ‘Can I believe in the Church without believing that It’s ALWAYS right?’ could become the last straw for someone losing faith. This goes for any church that raises its children to believe this way.

    I believe that although the leaders of the church (and I’m referring to any church here) are called by God, they are still human. Do they seek to do what’s right in God’s eyes? Of course! Do they do a better job than most of us? Often that’s the case. But they’re human. They will always be human. And, as a result, there will be faults sometimes. I know that this is my mainstream Christian voice speaking here because the Prophet may be more to you than just another pastor of a church; but if we look at the history of the LDS, we can see that there have been mistakes. And almost any Mormon believer would be willing to admit it. That being the case, why can’t that be recognized in the present? Do we only see these issues in hindsight? Are we only free to see these things once the Church itself realizes the mistakes were made? Or can we take a deep look at our own faith and, once in a while, find that there is a slight discrepancy in the words of the Church?

    I don’t intend to speak negatively of the Prophet or any other LDS member who doesn’t think this way. I’m obviously pretty open and I do work hard to be understanding of where others are coming from. But I do also see the need for individuals to find faith on their own; to know what they believe and why and to choose it for themselves. We’re all raised to accept our parents’ faith. And we all have a moment in our lives when we realize that we have to decide if that faith is OUR OWN. The LDS culture just happens to be more infused in the hearts and minds of its followers than most mainstream denominations. We all joke about the ‘Utah Mormon Bubble’ but it’s true. As a result, it’s more difficult for one to realize that it’s okay to find faith for themselves. I think that, in the long run, this could be the downfall of the Church for rising generations.

    I pray that young adults will always be seeking truth. And in seeking truth, they’ll find God and his blessings. Whether that truth be found in an LDS Mission or serving on their own, they’ll be fulfilled knowing that they’re on the right path. And in moments of doubt I pray that they turn to God that he may be able to reveal truth to them yet again.

    And Katie, you and your walk of faith are inspiring to me. You ARE proof that there is a balance between doing what the Church expects ‘Because We Said So’ and finding truth and faith in your own life. It’s because of you and others like yourself that I can make the comments above; and confidently believe that there is hope for more than The Faith of Your Parents in the LDS church.

    Thanks to you both for the thought provoking discussion,

  25. Krista, I knew you were smart (it’s in the genes!) but I’m honestly VERY impressed with the depth of your insight here, especially since — to the best of my knowledge — most of what you know about Mormonism comes from Jenny and me.

    (Well, I guess we are super insightful so I shouldn’t be that surprised.) 😉

    Anyway, this really resonated with me:

    [B]ut if we look at the history of the LDS, we can see that there have been mistakes. And almost any Mormon believer would be willing to admit it. That being the case, why can’t that be recognized in the present? Do we only see these issues in hindsight? Are we only free to see these things once the Church itself realizes the mistakes were made? Or can we take a deep look at our own faith and, once in a while, find that there is a slight discrepancy in the words of the Church?…[I]t’s more difficult for one to realize that it’s okay to find faith for themselves. I think that, in the long run, this could be the downfall of the Church for rising generations.

    I think you’re dead on. The church is in crisis right now in terms of retention of youth and young adults. I’ve heard it addressed in several leadership meetings. Some estimates are that we’re at something like 20%-25% activity in this demographic. While part of it just has to do with the “soul-seeking” nature of this developmental phase, another part of it (in my opinion) has to do with this…

    1)–The internet makes it possible for members to find out about challenging Mormon issues much more easily. Because of the tech-savvy nature of the rising generation, less-flattering aspects of church history are literally a Google search away. People often stumble across them quite by accident, but it wreaks havoc on faith — generally because the “unvarnished” version is often at least a little bit at odds with the church’s official position on itself.

    2. There is, as of yet, no clear-cut mechanism for dealing with the cognitive dissonance this produces. The church is still clinging to a position that, at least to some extent, says that questioning its authority is apostasy — and that includes what it says about its own history. So what do you do when you find out some things that you’ve never heard before, that are hard to understand, but you’re not allowed to ask questions about it? Many people just leave instead of staying to struggle it out.

    For the record, I am empathetic to both those who leave AND the dilemma church leadership finds itself in. It is a very difficult situation with no easy answers. But we’re a young religion, and these are growing pains. It’s difficult enough for individuals to swallow their pride and come to terms with their humanity and fallibility, let alone an entire institution with (what I believe) is a genuine a mandate from God to build up His Kingdom. It is easy to get comfortable in this position. Just look at the Israelites in the Old Testament!

    Still, in order to survive, I believe that the church will eventually need to find a way to deal with the disconnect between the message it currently sends about the fallibility of leadership (e.g. “the Lord will not allow the prophet to lead us astray”) and the incontrovertible evidence that shows that, like all human beings, church leadership is indeed fallible and makes mistakes from time to time. This is NOT a condemnation or criticism of them, by the way. How beautiful that God uses fallen people like us to accomplish His purposes!

    I believe we will figure it out — after all, God did promise us we’d be around for a while and I tend to believe Him. 🙂

  26. Katie. YES. Yes, to all of it.

    You, my dear cousin, are such a breath of fresh air. I’m sitting here at work, tearing up over this whole discussion.

    I’m going to agree that my knowledge comes from you and Jen. I did a research project on Mormonism when I was a senior in high school… But I’ll be completely honest and tell you that it was a small ‘non-denominational’ (read: Baptist) Christian High School where it is Our Way Or The Highway. I now feel that all of my research was deeply tainted by both my own mis-conceptions and literature written by non-Mormons (tell me how they could possibly understand the Truth of the LDS doctrines and beliefs?).

    Anyway, thank you. To both you and Kullervo. This has been a wonderful topic of discussion. I’ve felt very fulfilled by talking this out with you both.

    And AMEN to “I believe we will figure it out — after all, God did promise us we’d be around for a while and I tend to believe Him”. I believe him too, Katie! 🙂

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