“Coming home after serving my full-time mission was harder than leaving home had been,” said a young Canadian returned missionary. “I’m usually not an emotional person,” he added, “but during the first months after I returned home, I felt a great deal of emotion. Often I didn’t understand my mixed-up feelings. At times, I would go to bed at night and cry. I was embarrassed and put on a front for my family and friends because I didn’t want them to know.”
This returned missionary is not unlike others who come home after full-time missionary service. For two years, their happiness has depended upon their relationship with Heavenly Father and upon a daily missionary schedule of praying fervently, pondering the scriptures, and serving others. Now home, they are at a crossroads and must choose from the mission routine those patterns that will last a lifetime.
Many returned missionaries grieve over the abrupt loss of the opportunity to serve as full-time emissaries of the Savior. It is not uncommon for sisters, elders, couples, and even mission presidents and their wives to experience a difficult transition period during which they sometimes feel alone or confused.
If you have returned from or are going to return from a mission, you will eventually make a successful transition. But understanding some of the challenges you may face at home might help you sort out your feelings and be patient with yourself. It will also help you to discover how to be “in the world. … [but] not of the world.” (See John 17:11–14.)
What to Expect
Missing the Mantle. One elder explained it this way: “I felt the mantle taken from me upon returning; spiritual things that had come with such ease in the mission field suddenly had to be worked on to be at the same level they had been during my mission.” Most dedicated missionaries feel something of a “mantle” that seems to wrap them in the Lord’s power. When you leave the routine of missionary labor, you’ll probably need to do what one returned missionary found necessary: “Work harder to receive the inspiration you were used to receiving daily.”
Remember that spirituality is a product of right living, correct choices, and divine guidance through meaningful communication with Heavenly Father. Although you have tasted the sweet fruits of such effort as a missionary, you now need to work on these familiar spiritual tasks in a context outside your mission.
Experiencing Culture Shock. Don’t be surprised if your feelings upon returning home mirror those of a young woman from Pocatello, Idaho: “Leaving the Peru Arequipa Mission, I suffered more of a culture shock when I came home than I did when I arrived in Peru.” Some missionaries undergo “reverse culture shock.” It is not hard to imagine the feelings of missionaries who have lived and taught for eighteen months or two years among people they truly loved, and who have now returned to a society that seems, by contrast, to be wasteful and ungrateful.
Living without a Companion. While being with a companion twenty-four hours a day was probably one of the most difficult adjustments you made upon entering the mission field, when you return home you may find it equally difficult to not have someone constantly by your side. Many returned missionaries feel a certain uneasiness and loneliness, even though they also feel some initial relief at finally having time for themselves. One thoughtful returned missionary commented, “The thing I miss most is not having a companion who is working for the same goals and level of spirituality. Not even my parents can completely fill this gap.”
Find good friends, responsive Church leaders, and close family members who can ease this adjustment for you. Sharing your feelings will ease your sense of isolation.
Returning as a single sister. If you are a single sister who has already completed college, going home to a job might feel restrictive. Some sisters choose to pursue advanced degrees, find new jobs, or move to metropolitan areas with other active single adults for a better social life. One sister said that upon her return home, she made the transition by “preaching the gospel, cleaning up the ragged edges of [her] genealogy, and helping others to serve.”
Returning as a Couple. Most people take the adjustment process of couples for granted, assuming that, surrounded by children and grandchildren, couples will have no difficulty in readjusting. But coming home presents many of the same challenges single elders and sisters face. It takes time before any missionary feels comfortable at home. One couple who recently returned from serving on the small islands of Madagascar said, “On our mission, what we did made a big difference. Being at home cleaning the house doesn’t seem to have any purpose.” The pain at having left meaningful service takes time to overcome. Some couples, in fact, decide to devote even more time to such service, and they put in papers for second and third missions. Other couples continue to serve the Lord by helping children and grandchildren reach various spiritual goals.
Facing Up to Your Mission. Not every missionary experiences the best time of his or her life while serving a mission. Perhaps personality conflicts, health problems, lack of motivation, or weather and cultural conditions hindered you from serving wholeheartedly in the field. The important thing is that you learn from the experience and move forward.
Establish a pattern of steadfastness in the gospel and serve well in whatever Church service to which you are called. Talk about your feelings with your parents, bishop, Relief Society president, or home teachers. And remember, baptisms are not the only measure of a successful mission. Equally important are helping to fellowship new members of the Church, encouraging less-active members toward full activity in the Church, giving Christian service, planting for a future gospel harvest, helping companions, and deepening your own conversion.
Rediscovering your family and friends. Adjusting socially may be one of the most difficult transitions you’ll make. Even relating to family members again can be difficult: the joyous atmosphere welcoming you home fades as family members move on with their responsibilities. It might seem that some family members are immature and lack spirituality. Friends may seem uninterested in your mission experiences—or, even worse, may try to include you in unwholesome activities. Obviously, you must exercise sound judgment and avoid even the appearance of evil. Remember that you will find happiness in your transition only if you choose the Savior, even if it means giving up old friends and follies.
Successfully resuming dating activities. Even after the mission experience, few returned missionaries enter the social scene with as much confidence as they would like. Many returned missionaries say they feel somewhat intimidated by the opposite sex at first, particularly in dating activities. Taking your time, attending activities with casually formed groups, and double-dating are ways to ease into the dating scene. Each returned missionary should feel free to proceed at his or her own pace. A cardinal rule should be that you date only the type of person who, by reputation and actions, shows that he or she has a testimony and is living gospel standards.
Keys to a Successful Adjustment
Knowing, then, the challenges returned missionaries face, do not let time gradually erode your good intentions to stay close to the Lord. Too often, returned missionaries let their scripture study slacken, sleep in instead of saying their morning prayers, and turn their evening prayers into a few words voiced heavenward in the hope that this dutiful performance will salve guilt feelings.
What a contrast to the account Alma tells of his surprise reunion with the sons of Mosiah after fourteen years of missionary labors. They were “still his brethren in the Lord” and “had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth.” Why? Because they had followed important keys to staying close to their Heavenly Father: “They had searched the scriptures diligently, … they had given themselves to much prayer,” and they had fasted frequently. (See Alma 17:1–3.)
The patterns of life in the mission field can be transferred into daily living, whether you are an elder, a sister, or a missionary couple. Returned missionaries who enjoyed the gifts of the Spirit in the mission field can continue to enjoy them by studying the scriptures, praying, fasting, and attending the temple.
One returned missionary commented, “The best thing my mission president did to help me adjust to life after my mission was to help me make the commitment to read the scriptures daily—a commitment that has been a spiritual anchor for me.” Another said that “coming home shouldn’t turn into a vacation! It’s a time to restructure your life—to keep the essential things from your mission, and to incorporate other good things like dating, school, and work.”
Serving others is a vital part of mission life. Thus, serving others is another key to maintaining spirituality for those who return home. For some, post-mission life becomes a “me-oriented” time of life: my job, my car, my education, my dates. But the successful returned missionary is one who is able to look back on his or her mission as a time of significant service to the Savior and continue making choices that lead to Christian service and gospel-centered progress.
“I think the fewer changes you make from when you were on your mission, the better,” said one returned missionary. Another advised that “even though you’re not a full-time missionary, don’t stop trying to live like one”—at least spiritually. “Using your mission as a tool,” said another returned missionary, “will help in achieving goals and reminding you of all that’s important.”
A mission can serve as a standard for the rest of a returned missionary’s life. Many General Authorities, some of whom have been home from their missions half a century, speak of their experiences as if they happened yesterday. You can retain that same enthusiasm for your mission. Almost daily, you can draw upon the experiences you had and the testimony you built during those days. It would be foolhardy to throw away those months of growth and maturity or to become, once more, the same person who entered the field. Those who continue to nurture the personal growth that was so abundant in the mission field will one day be greeted by the Savior at the end of life’s mission with the words of divine approval: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21.)
How Parents Can Help
In preparing for your missionary to come home, do more than redo the bedroom and plan the family gatherings. Prayerfully seek to know how you can help your son or daughter make a successful transition to post-mission life.
Maintain an active and genuine interest in your returned missionary’s mission well into the first year after he or she returns. Ask questions. If your missionary seems to mourn losing the mission experience, provide time to talk. Assure him or her that it is normal to miss the mission field, and help your son or daughter find ways to keep the mission spirit alive.
Although your returned missionary may still seem young and may evidence some pre-mission immaturities, reassure yourself that a great deal of growth and maturing has occurred. Treat your missionary like an adult.
Shortly after the return home, sit down and discuss schedules, use of automobiles, and any other appropriate family rules. Work out solutions that will benefit all family members and that will allow your son or daughter to function as a responsible adult.
Help your returned missionary to immediately get involved in working toward purposeful short-range and long-range goals. These goals include additional education, meaningful employment, and association with other returned missionaries and young adults who are living righteously. Remember that your missionary has become accustomed to a fast-paced routine, and that taking a vacation beyond a few days will probably not serve him or her well.
Learn all you can about the kind of mission your son or daughter served. Parents tend to place a halo over their missionary’s head. All missionaries accomplish good things during their service, but not all serve with full purpose of heart. Carefully note whether your missionary’s testimony is superficial or strong. Doing so will enable you to be truly helpful during the adjustment period in assisting the returned missionary to get on the right track at home.
Appropriately encourage local Church leaders to issue your returned missionary a Church calling. Local leaders should find ways in which returned missionaries can serve—even if they are in the ward for just a few weeks.
Watch for signs of depression. If talks with you and interviews with Church leaders do not relieve the situation, consider professional help from qualified counselors who espouse or respect the teachings of the Savior.
If your missionary had problems living gospel standards before the mission, don’t assume that the time away will remove all possibility of his or her succumbing to former temptations. Carefully observe how the returned missionary responds to old friends and their invitations to parties, dates, and activities. Remind your son or daughter that people are brought to Christ by coming to higher ground. Helping others to associate with the Young Single Adult group in the ward or stake is the best way to convert wayward friends, not associating with the wrong crowd in an unrighteous setting.
Remember that not all missionaries struggle with the adjustment process. Some have the ability to make a quick adjustment and will not need more than the love of their families and association with good friends to make an excellent transition into post-mission life.