Chapter 11: Physical and Emotional Preparation

Missionary Preparation Student Manual, (2005), 89–97


Introduction

Prospective missionaries must prepare themselves for the rigors of missionary work. President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized the importance of having good mental and physical health while serving a full-time mission:

“This work is rigorous. It demands strength and vitality. It demands mental sharpness and capacity. …

“… Missionary work is not a rite of passage in the Church. It is a call extended by the President of the Church to those who are worthy and able to accomplish it. …

“Good physical and mental health is vital. …

“There are parents who say, ‘If only we can get Johnny on a mission, then the Lord will bless him with health.’

“It seems not to work out that way. Rather, whatever ailment or physical or mental shortcoming a missionary has when he comes into the field only becomes aggravated under the stress of the work.

“We simply must face up to the facts. We are spending millions of dollars on medical care and countless hours assisting those with problems that make it impossible for them to perform the work. …

“… There are other areas where those with serious limitations may work and have a satisfying experience. And the Lord will bless them for what they are able to do. …

“Permit me to emphasize that we need missionaries, but they must be capable of doing the work. …

“There should be an eagerness and a desire to serve the Lord as His ambassadors to the world. And there must be health and strength, both physical and mental, for the work is demanding, the hours are long, and the stress can be heavy” (“Missionary Service,” First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2003, 17–18).

An understanding of the rigorous nature of missionary service and proper physical and emotional preparation will enhance a prospective missionary’s ability to adjust to a new lifestyle and succeed in the work of the Lord.

“Good physical and mental health is vital.”

Doctrines and Principles to Understand

  • Prospective missionaries should prepare for the physical and emotional demands of a full-time mission.

  • There are honorable alternatives to full-time missionary service for those individuals excused by priesthood leaders because of their physical or emotional circumstance.

Supporting Scriptures and Statements

Prospective missionaries should prepare for the physical and emotional demands of a full-time mission.

Missionary work is rigorous and demanding. Prospective missionaries are expected to qualify for service in the mission field. This involves not only their level of worthiness but also their physical, mental, and emotional preparation. If a missionary is struggling with physical or mental health, he or she will be at a disadvantage in this aspect of building the kingdom of God. Mental and emotional health is also critical to the success of a missionary in serving the Lord with “all your heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2). Developing good habits of eating, exercising, sleep, and personal hygiene before the mission call will enhance the likelihood of successfully adapting to the environment of missionary service.

President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled priesthood leaders on their responsibility to judge the physical and emotional readiness of missionaries:

“We ask you brethren to be more selective in those you recommend. Let your young people know what will be expected of them if they are to serve missions. Let their parents know what will be expected of their sons and daughters. …

“I recognize that the position we have taken will appear unreasonable and harsh to many parents, who will plead that their sons and daughters have the opportunity of missionary service. But, brethren, we feel that we must bring back into focus the real purpose of missionary work and the need for certain qualifications in order to accomplish that purpose. I hope that all concerned will realize that it is better not to go, than to go out and have to return in disappointment and with a sense of failure after a very short time. Brethren, may the Lord bless you with inspiration, with direction and guidance, with love for those for whom you are responsible, and with the courage to stand up for what you know to be right and reasonable. …

“Permit me to emphasize that we need missionaries, but they must be capable of doing the work. …

“There should be an eagerness and a desire to serve the Lord as His ambassadors to the world. And there must be health and strength, both physical and mental, for the work is demanding, the hours are long, and the stress can be heavy.

“We are not asking for perfection. The work of the Lord is done by ordinary people who work in an extraordinary way” (First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2003, 18).

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the importance of daily care for our bodies: “Many people … have difficulty finding the time for sufficient rest, exercise, and relaxation. We must schedule time on our daily calendars for these activities if we are to enjoy a healthy and balanced life. Good physical appearance enhances our dignity and self-respect” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 17; or Ensign, May 1987, 15).

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a former heart surgeon, spoke of how physical exercise benefits mental health: “Appropriate physical activity helps to combat depression” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 8; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 8).

Missionaries should not begin their mission with bad habits that have the potential to grow into serious problems. Every person can change and improve. Prospective missionaries who have developed poor diet, hygiene, and physical activity habits can begin now to change their behavior. Self-discipline can be learned at any age, but the process is not always easy. If you master the task before entering missionary service, you will save yourself from much grief and frustration.

Prospective missionaries should evaluate their lives in the following areas and make changes that prepare them physically and emotionally to serve the Lord:

Nutrition: Missionaries should be good examples of following the Lord’s law of health—the Word of Wisdom (see D&C 89). In addition to avoiding harmful substances, “the Lord declares that the following foods are good for our bodies:

  • Vegetables and fruits, which should be used ‘with prudence and thanksgiving’ (see D&C 89:10–11).

  • The flesh [meat] ‘of beasts and of the fowls of the air,’ which is ‘to be used sparingly’ (see D&C 89:12–13).

  • Grains such as wheat, rice, and oats, which are ‘the staff of life’ (see D&C 89:14–17)” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 187).

Since missionaries are often responsible for choosing and preparing their own food, prospective missionaries can begin preparing themselves now by learning to make proper food choices and then maintaining proper dietary patterns throughout their missions. A steady diet of high-calorie fast foods, carbonated drinks, and high-sugar treats should not be the norm. A balanced diet that includes the basic food groups, where possible, is preferred. Missionaries who serve in foreign countries may need to adapt by seeking the most nutritional and healthful foods available.

Regular exercise: All young men and women should participate in regular exercise. Three basic requirements of a physical activity program, regardless of a person’s age or ability, are exercises for flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance (aerobic or oxygen-using exercise).

Physical exercise will help you prepare for your mission.
  1. 1.

    Flexibility—These exercises stretch muscles, tendons, and ligaments and should be done daily.

  2. 2.

    Strength—Each major muscle group should be exercised.

  3. 3.

    Cardiovascular endurance—These exercises strengthen the heart, increase overall fitness, and improve mood. Walking and bicycling are good activities to prepare for missionary service.

“All young men and women should participate in regular exercise.”

Proper hygiene: Proper hygiene can prevent many infectious illnesses. It includes regular hand washing (probably the single most important procedure for good hygiene and prevention of many illnesses) and frequent bathing or showering.

Dental care: Teeth should be brushed and flossed daily. Prospective missionaries who are not already involved in a regular dental care program should see a dentist as soon as possible to allow time for evaluation and treatment before their missionary service. Prospective missionaries should request information and instruction on preventive dental care.

Prospective missionaries should be involved in regular denatl care program.

Living quarters: Missionaries are expected to keep their apartments clean and orderly. The physical surroundings in which they live should reflect the dignity of their calling.

Immunizations: The Missionary Department will provide additional direction on immunizations once a missionary is assigned to a mission. However, there are standard immunizations every potential missionary should obtain. Consult with a doctor regarding the recommended immunizations.

Treatment of illness and injury: Missionaries should be healthy when they enter the mission field. Prospective missionaries who suffer from a physical or emotional difficulty should obtain counsel and treatment from qualified individuals in order to facilitate their recovery before entering the mission field.

Prospective missionaries must disclose accurate health information as part of their mission application. The interruption or premature termination of a mission because of unresolved health problems is often personally devastating to the missionary and his or her family. Accurate and complete health information, as requested on the missionary application, is essential and must be available to the General Authorities making the mission assignment.

Preparing emotionally: Along with physical preparations, mental and emotional preparations are necessary to be a happy and effective missionary. Learning to deal with change and challenges in a positive manner while keeping focused on the purpose of the mission is an important part of a prospective missionary’s preparation.

Individuals with good emotional characteristics often possess several of the following traits:

  1. 1.

    They feel comfortable about themselves.

    • Their emotions (fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, worry, love) are under control.

    • They can deal with the normal disappointments of life.

    • They have an easy-going attitude and are able to deal with most situations.

    • They appropriately deal with their own shortcomings.

    • They respect themselves and others.

  2. 2.

    They feel good about other people.

    • They are able to consider the interests of others.

    • They have friendships.

    • They are accepting and are well received by others.

    • They respect differences in other people.

    • They can be bold but not overbearing.

    • They can feel they are part of a group.

    • They feel a sense of responsibility to others.

  3. 3.

    They are able to meet the demands of life.

    • They do something about the problems that arise.

    • They accept their responsibilities.

    • They adjust to their environment when necessary.

    • They plan ahead and do not fear the future.

    • They welcome new experiences.

    • They make use of their natural talents.

    • They set realistic goals for themselves.

    • They are able to think and make their own decisions.

    • They put their best effort into what they do and get satisfaction from doing it.

Young men and women can involve themselves in activities to enhance their emotional preparation for missionary service. Valuable activities include:

  • Learning to control emotions while working out problems and relationship issues with others.

  • Talking with parents, a bishop or branch president, or a professional counselor, when needed, to resolve personal issues and relationship problems.

  • Participating actively in the Church by taking part in missionary lessons, offering prayers, giving talks, and conducting meetings when requested to gain confidence in speaking in front of others.

  • Doing one’s best in school, attending school regularly, completing homework assignments on time, attaining satisfactory grades, and abiding by the school’s rules.

  • Pursuing hobbies and interests.

  • Spending some time away from home so that the separation from family during the mission will not be so dramatic.

  • Developing friendships and learning to feel comfortable in groups.

  • Learning how to work.

  • Learning to manage money by paying tithing and bills and saving money for one’s mission.

  • Volunteering to work with the full-time missionaries.

Understanding that a mission includes many of the same challenges we face in regular life will aid in your emotional preparation. President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of life’s frequent trials:

“It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal.

“Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out.

“There is great purpose in our struggle in life” (“That All May Be Edified” [1982], 94).

President Gordon B. Hinckley shared an early mission experience that influenced his labors the remainder of his mission:

“I was not well when I arrived. Those first few weeks, because of illness and the opposition which we felt, I was discouraged. I wrote a letter home to my good father and said that I felt I was wasting my time and his money. He was my father and my stake president, and he was a wise and inspired man. He wrote a very short letter to me which said, ‘Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.’ Earlier that morning in our scripture class my companion and I had read these words of the Lord: ‘Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.’ (Mark 8:35.)

“Those words of the Master, followed by my father’s letter with his counsel to forget myself and go to work, went into my very being. With my father’s letter in hand, I went into our bedroom in the house at 15 Wadham Road, where we lived, and got on my knees and made a pledge with the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service.

“That July day in 1933 was my day of decision. A new light came into my life and a new joy into my heart. The fog of England seemed to lift, and I saw the sunlight. I had a rich and wonderful mission experience, for which I shall ever be grateful” (“Taking the Gospel to Britain: A Declaration of Vision, Faith, Courage, and Truth,” Ensign, July 1987, 7).

“Forget yourself and go to work.”

A common challenge confronting many missionaries is homesickness. President Ezra Taft Benson offered a solution to the problem of homesickness: “I have often said one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 200).

On another occasion President Benson taught: “If you want to keep the Spirit, to love your mission and not be homesick, you must work. But, remember the words of President Thomas S. Monson: ‘Work without vision is drudgery. Vision without work is dreaming. Work coupled with vision is destiny.’ There is no greater exhilaration or satisfaction than to know, after a hard day of missionary work, that you have done your best” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 200–201).

President Gordon B. Hinckley quoted a journalist to help illustrate our need to keep a proper and positive view through times of trial. His advice is timely for those preparing for the daily rigors of a full-time mission.

“I enjoy these words of Jenkins Lloyd Jones which I clipped from a column in the Deseret News some years ago. … Said he:

“‘Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed.

“‘Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise.

“‘Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“‘The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.’ (Deseret News, 12 June 1973.)” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 254).

If a person is suffering or has suffered with an emotional illness (such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive behavior), then preparing for a mission may include seeking professional treatment and perhaps medication. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled: “Missionary work is extremely demanding. If you have emotional challenges that can be stabilized to meet the rigors of a full-time mission, you can be called. It is vital that you continue to use your medication during your mission or until competent medical authority counsels otherwise. Recognize that emotional and physical challenges are alike. One needs to do all that is possible to improve the situation, then learn to live within the remaining bounds. God uses challenges that we may grow by conquering them” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 43).

Counseling early with your bishop and stake president about such concerns is vital to your mission preparation.

There are honorable alternatives to full-time missionary service for those individuals excused by priesthood leaders because of their physical or emotional circumstance.

As prospective missionaries work with their priesthood leaders, it may be determined that some may not have adequate health to serve a full-time mission. There are other worthwhile opportunities for service that will aid in furthering the work of the Lord.

Many honorable alternatives to full-time missionary service exist.

Bishop Richard C. Edgley of the Presiding Bishopric explained that some are excused from full-time missionary service: “There are those worthy young men and young women who have in their hearts the greatest desire to serve a mission, but because of physical, health, or other limiting circumstances are honorably excused” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 83; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 62).

President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of those who have limitations restricting their service: “There are other areas where those with serious limitations may work and have a satisfying experience. And the Lord will bless them for what they are able to do” (First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2003, 18).

“There are other areas where those with serious limitations may work and have a satisfying experience.”

Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of alternatives for individuals who are honorably excused from full-time missionary service: “Your physical or emotional circumstance may be such that you have been excused by the President of the Church from full-time missionary service (see “Statement on Missionary Work” attached to First Presidency letter, Dec. 11, 2002). For you there are other ways to render meaningful service compatible with your condition. Your bishop or stake president can help you identify such service where you live. It could be in a Church family history center, temple, welfare project, or employment center, or in a local hospital, care center, shelter, or elsewhere. There are many places where help is needed. You can live at home and contribute powerfully. Such a call can be for a few months or longer. Your stake president will come to know where you should serve and for how long. He will then issue a formal call. Whatever your call may be, study the message of the Restoration with materials the full-time missionaries can provide. Then look for opportunities to share that message. As you conscientiously do that, you will be led to individuals who will be touched to learn more” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 45–46; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 43).

Points to Ponder

  • Is your physical health what it should be for missionary service? How can you maintain or improve it?

  • Is your mental and emotional health adequate for missionary service?

  • What can you do to improve your mental and emotional preparation?

  • Are there any concerns you should discuss with your bishop and stake president?

Suggested Assignments

  • Plan a week’s menu, and then buy the ingredients for, prepare, and serve several healthy meals to family members or roommates.

  • Give a family home evening lesson on good personal hygiene practices or daily exercise.

  • Exercise for at least one hour daily for one week (not including the Sabbath day). For example, you might want to walk briskly for one hour (preferably including walking up and down hills or stairs) each day, or you could ride a bicycle instead of driving to places you need to go.

Recommended Additional Reading

    True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference

  • “Happiness” (pp. 79–80)

  • “Hope” (pp. 85–86)

  • Word of Wisdom” (pp. 186–88)

Notes and Impressions