While serving as president of a university stake some years ago, I visited with a wonderful returned missionary. He had loved his mission as most do. Everything he had hoped for, and more, had happened to him. He had grown closer to the Savior, learned how to serve Him valiantly, and rejoiced in the scriptures. All that the prophet had promised him in his letter of call had indeed come to pass.
But now he was concerned. Somehow, he could not feel the Spirit that he had become so accustomed to through his missionary experience. As he discussed this concern with others, they remarked: “Well, this isn’t the mission field, you know. You must come back down to earth and enter the real world again.”
Our young missionary friend had concluded that that was probably true and that he should not expect the spiritual sensitivity that comes with missionary life. But he was uneasy and feeling a loss of something that had come to be essential in his missionary service. He asked, “Isn’t it possible to experience that feeling now, or is that spiritual warmth and closeness not available upon returning home?”
In the years I served as a stake president and an institute instructor, I visited with hundreds of returned missionaries and saw firsthand the challenges that many went through. Most continued to feel and experience the closeness of the Spirit in their lives. Some struggled.
There seemed to be a pattern in the lives of those who maintained that spiritual edge, and it was most apparent in their countenances. They continued to radiate that light that typifies those who are in touch. I would like to share with you what I observed that pattern to be, evidence that they had brought their missions home with them.
They had discovered that a spiritual presence in their lives had little to do with their geography but much to do with an inner heart and discipline, an understanding that “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).
Those of you who served as full-time missionaries were challenged to develop behaviors based upon laws in harmony with what is taught in Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21. The outcomes became predictable: certain behaviors bring fulfilling and soul-satisfying consequences.
The same irrevocable law applies universally and not just in full-time missionary service. It is without geographical limitation. In the Lord’s divine economy, obedience to law brings the blessings of heaven.
Occasionally, a missionary, following his release, will fall victim to this thought: “Well, this isn’t the mission field, so I cannot expect to feel what I was feeling there.”
But, in fact, the opposite is true. When you bring home and apply those principles learned in the mission field, you are prone to feel the Spirit and the Lord’s love more than ever before in your life. Your mission experience becomes a launching pad, so to speak, to even greater spiritual heights.
Following are 10 fundamental principles you learned in the mission field, which, if practiced, will bring daily spiritual refreshment and renewal. The Lord keeps His promises. They are irrevocable. He will do what He says He will do (see D&C 82:10). These are basic, not new to you, but fundamental.
This profound truth was indelibly imprinted on your heart by the witness of the Spirit in the mission field. He is the foundation upon which you must continue to build, the rod to which you must hold if you are to withstand “the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary” designed to “overpower [you] unto blindness, to lead [you] away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24; see Hel. 5:12). This is fundamental and preeminent doctrine. Our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, so declares:
“With all of our doing, with all of our leading, with all of our teaching, the most important thing we can do for those whom we lead is to cultivate in their hearts a living, vital, vibrant testimony and knowledge of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, the Author of our salvation, He who atoned for the sins of the world and opened the way of salvation and eternal life. I would hope that in all we do we would somehow constantly nourish the testimony of our people concerning the Savior: I am satisfied—I know it’s so—that whenever a man has a true witness in his heart of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, all else will come together as it should. … That is the root from which all virtue springs among those who call themselves Latter-day Saints” (“Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 3).
Further, to be nourished by the good word of God, continue to study and learn the doctrines which can lead to spiritual empowerment (see D&C 11:21). The exercise of reading the scriptures daily, particularly early in the morning, when we seem to be more receptive, will bless you as it did in the mission field.
Sometimes our young adults get into a fatigue-producing pattern of late nights and frantic last-minute risings to get to school, work, or wherever. Quality scripture reading experiences suffer in the wake of such schedules. Daily and quality reading of the scriptures opens the door to personal and intimate communication with the Master. The scriptures bring the voice of God into your heart (see D&C 18:30–36; D&C 88:123–26).
You should be involved in ongoing formal study of the doctrines as taught in the scriptures and by living prophets. Do not neglect participation in institute and religion classes in order to hasten your secular studies to completion. Some neglect such opportunities to their own spiritual detriment.
Second, continue to write regularly in your journal.
There is something about journal writing that causes us to meditate, to recommit, and to receive spiritual impressions in the process of such pondering. Frequently, you will have cause to rejoice at how the Lord has been sensitively involved in guiding and watching over you and those you love and care about.
Third, look for opportunities to perform simple acts of daily service.
You will receive nudges from the Spirit, ever so quiet ones, but clearly discernible. There may be an impression to call someone, to write, to say thank you to Mom or Dad, to express love to a sibling, to contact someone you are assigned to home or visit teach. These acts usually do not take large amounts of time, although on occasion they may.
I know that when I follow my impressions and act in behalf of one of God’s children, there is a special spiritual reinforcement, a recharge of the spiritual battery, if you will, that the Lord sends. Lots of those “hugs” come in the process of ministering to others. You learned that ever so well in your missionary experience.
These little acts of service are as fulfilling as those that are given to you by formal call or assignment. There is much good to be done in the world which does not require a formal call to perform. Do not wait for the assignment to serve before serving. Service, freely rendered, is evidence of internalized Christlike attributes and is deeply soul satisfying.
No one is expecting you to return and report on these personalized promptings quietly given by the Holy Spirit to serve others. In fact, it is possible no one will notice if you do not respond at all. You won’t even be asked about them. But cumulatively they will bring you closer to the Master and prepare you for your most critical roles of all: husband, wife, father, mother, home teacher, or visiting teacher. To be successful in these sacred relationships, absolute obedience to the enticings of the still, small voice is essential. And as you thus respond, you will bask in the love and peace showered upon you by a deeply grateful Heavenly Father!
This is, in large measure, what you felt daily as you served in the mission field and what some lose sight of after their release. If you are not careful, you can become swallowed up in a world of “me.” It is not intentional, but it comes in consequence of the repetitious routine of work, school, and social and recreational activities that center more on entertainment and fun, for some, than on spiritual growth and service.
Fourth, be in the temple of the Lord as much as time, distance, and other important service will reasonably allow.
The opportunities for meditation and introspection are supremely available in the Lord’s holy sanctuary. In addition, vicarious work for those who have passed on, especially your own ancestors, is most spiritually rewarding. You may wish to seek opportunities to assist in youth baptisms for the dead, initiatory assignments, and so forth. There is a powerful spirit of renewal that comes from providing ordinances for God’s departed children, giving them the opportunity to make sacred covenants related to the house of the Lord.
Fifth, contribute to a regular family home evening experience, and prepare for a family of your own.
Prophets have made great promises to you, single or married, when you set aside time for a regular family home evening experience. You should not unnecessarily delay opportunities, when prompted by the Spirit to do so, to find your own eternal companion and establish a family of your own. Your greatest of all spiritual moments lie ahead as you enter into sacred family relationships made possible by the covenants and ordinances performed in the holy temple.
Sixth, pray regularly, several times a day, as you did in the mission field.
Continue seeking the Lord’s spiritual help (see 2 Ne. 32:8–9; Alma 37:35–37). You certainly learned that lesson in the mission field. But sometimes you get caught up in the routine, the habitual, at home. Things become automatic, and you find that you can do reasonably well based on current strength and past experience. You may find yourself just getting by.
Oh, how you need to be on your knees, petitioning for that sharp spiritual edge! Carry in your heart abbreviated prayers throughout the day, asking for forgiveness, offering a grateful “thanks” for a special impression or blessing, and asking for help when tempted to entertain inappropriate thought patterns (see Alma 37:35–37).
Seventh, do not waste time, particularly in watching or listening to much of the mindless and often profane music, television, video, movie, and Internet programming of the day.
Often, by habit, young adults fall into inappropriate types of entertainment. Selectivity is vitally important. A returned missionary is a prime target for Satan, and these media, improperly used, are some of his most effective weapons of desensitization. They become spirit-numbing and carefully lead one to mental activities that demean, debase, and destroy one’s capacity to feel and thus to resist (see 1 Ne. 17:45; D&C 88:123–26; D&C 42:23). The Savior counsels, “Suffer none of these things to enter into your heart” (3 Ne. 12:29).
You live in a world of technological miracles. You have access through the Internet to resources one cannot begin to imagine. However, lurking there as well is a sinister evil, as deadly as a rapidly growing cancer. If you allow this pornographic disease a place in your heart, the Spirit withdraws itself and, ere you are aware, you are left alone and vulnerable (see D&C 121:37). You must avoid that pornographic playground. The same self-discipline is required relative to the materials you choose to read and the videos you may select to view. Pornography is poison!
As President Hinckley taught: “Pornography, with its sleazy filth, sweeps over the earth like a horrible, engulfing tide. It is poison. Do not watch it or read it. It will destroy you if you do. It will take from you your self-respect. It will rob you of a sense of the beauties of life. It will tear you down and pull you into a slough of … evil actions. Stay away from it. Shun it as you would a foul disease, for it is just as deadly. Be virtuous in thought and deed. God has planted in you, for a purpose, a divine urge which may be easily subverted to evil and destructive ends” (“Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 51).
Remember how valuable those periodic interviews were with your mission president. If you are feeling a loss of the Spirit, meditate, ponder, pray, and read the scriptures. Then, listen to the voice of the Spirit. Perhaps a good interview with one of your parents or your bishop would be helpful or even required to recapture those feelings of peace and reassurance so precious to you as you served the Prince of Peace as a missionary.
Eighth, continue a regular program of daily exercise.
There is strength which comes spiritually when you discipline yourself physically. And you just feel better when you are in good physical condition. There seems to be increased inner control over things physical when you develop the habit of regular exercise.
Ninth, do not settle for mediocre performance in your life.
Do what you are capable of doing in your schooling, work, and Church service. Young single adults sometimes fall into a “floating” mentality. Frequently, this results in no stewardship and no accountability.
If they are not careful, they develop a habit pattern of “just getting by.” This is spiritually debilitating. For you, as a returned missionary, to be “present or accounted for” is a motto worthy of adoption.
Discipline in schooling will pay big dividends now and later. Excellence in assigned Church callings brings blessings that come from keeping covenants. Particular attention should be given to your assignment as a visiting or home teacher. Partaking of the sacrament weekly is a must.
Giving an employer an honest day’s work is a matter of integrity and a source of character building and spiritual reinforcement. You must be honest on the job to enjoy a full measure of the guidance of the Holy Ghost in your life. Regardless of whether you are well paid, not paid enough in your estimation, well treated or not, work when you are at work. The seeds you sow will bear fruit a thousand times over in your life.
It is difficult to maintain that spiritual edge we have been discussing when giving mediocre effort on the job, at school, or in your official Church assignments.
Tenth, continue to share the gospel.
You know how to do this. You are an expert. You did it so very well on your mission. Bring your mission home with you. Pray and seek for opportunities to share the gospel with others. These will come as you prayerfully seek them. You know this already by your own profound missionary experiences. You bore witness repeatedly of this truth to those you served as a missionary.
Generally speaking, such opportunities will come as part of daily living patterns, at school, at work, at the gas station, and in other ways. Incomparable joy is experienced, and such sharing is soul sanctifying (see D&C 18:10–16; D&C 84:61). Sharing the gospel is marvelous spiritual medicine for you as a returned missionary when you feel a bit down and are longing for that love of the Master you came to know so well as you gave full-time service in the mission field.
In a real and wonderful way, you can bring your mission home with you. A marvelous extension of your missionary experience can bless your life and the lives of others for years to come. President Hinckley’s concern for new converts, including yours, has prompted him to ask your assistance: “Now, you missionaries, you are part of this responsibility of binding your converts to the Church. … When you go home, do not forget them. At all times live worthy of their trust. Write them occasionally, assuring them of your love” (Missionary Satellite Broadcast, 21 Feb. 1999).
You are living in a time when your leadership in your family, in the Church, and in the community at large is vital. You have so much to give.
May God bless you and be with you, a member of that marvelous army of Helaman who has served valiantly as a full-time missionary. We honor you for having been born at this moment in the dispensation of the fulness of times. What a marvelous time to live, to serve, and to raise families! As you bring your mission home with you, we feel confident concerning the future of your family and of the Church because of your understanding of—and commitment to—the truths we have discussed.
As our beloved prophet has declared: “I think we have never had a stronger generation of young men and women than we have today. For the most part they are true to the faith of their forebears. Surrounded by forces that would pull them down and tremendous pressures to pull them away from time-tested virtues, they are going forward with constructive lives, nurturing themselves both intellectually and spiritually. We have no fears or doubts concerning the future of this work” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley , 714).
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
What challenges do returning missionaries face? What can they do to help meet those challenges successfully?
Regardless of where we are in life, how can we nourish ourselves with “the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4)?
What personal experiences have you had applying some of the steps in this article?