For your interest I’ve compiled a series of uncompleted steps that I call: Madison’s Declassified Mission Survival Guide. Enjoy.
Welcome to your mission. A week in and by now I’m sure you fully understand how days can be confused with weeks and weeks with days. It must be some quantum physics time tunneling effect caused by the devil in Hell. Really, though, it sucks. I’m also sure you’ve come to understand just how damn hard a mission is. All those people who say it was their best two years can go suck it, cause they are straight up lying. I will be entirely truthful by saying that I hated the MTC and was probably the worst part of the whole shebang for me. The kind of pain a mission can bring I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies, and I have tremendous sympathies for anyone I consider a friend who realizes just how hard it can be.
Without further ado:
- Honesty. I’m not kidding when I say that this is probably one of the most important things I learned to help me survive. When I say Honesty, I don’t mean ‘don’t tell lies’ like it’s traditionally understood. I mean a personal Honesty with yourself and your family. There is no sense in pretending you are loving and enjoying your mission when you aren’t so don’t write home that your are. In my emails home, I didn’t pull any punches. I let my family know exactly what was going on with me. It helped me keep my sanity. You are human and have emotion and the fact that you feel bad emotions about being on a mission is proof how great your life was before hand; it is OK to be sad sometimes. Be as honest as you know how to be with your parents, yourself, companion, and potentially even your Mission President. You’ll find the worse part is missionaries who are so greasy-gross two faced that they’ll be someone to your face and completely different person to the President; don’t be that, it is unbecoming of you as a human being.
- The MTC sucks. No two ways about this one I’m afraid. Especially because you are from Provo and if you stared out a window long enough you’d see someone you knew drive by; this drove me bonkers. I felt like I was in jail for the first time in my life.
- Essentials. Don’t let the mission change your essential bits. The Lord didn’t call Elder [Insert Last Name] on a mission, he called Elder [FIRST NAME] [last name] on a mission. Let the mission flow into your mold and don’t you flow into the mold of a mission. And by that I mean don’t believe that there is a cookie cutter missionary you need to be, cause there isn’t and that’s a false idea that impedes true missionary work. Be confident in who you are and what you and God can make of you.
- Opposite Sex. Don’t pretend like you aren’t attracted to people you’re attracted to. It isn’t healthy to stamp out all thoughts of attraction and sexuality. Obviously missions are times of extreme abstention but don’t try castrate your thoughts or emotions in the name of obedience because you’re going to need them later in life.
- Gospel above Law. I can’t stress the importance of this one. In a normal Mormon boys life there are the standard commandments we all know about and I won’t waste time or space by writing them down. All of a sudden when you go on a mission there are about 50 more rules heaped on you and through the indoctrination of the MTC and the mission in general, they cram Obedience down your throat all day long. Don’t be fooled by this; God does not want your obedience to the white handbook or even to his commandments, He wants you. Mortality and missions might look on the surface like a bunch of hoops we have to jump through to reach heaven, but that way of thinking will not lead to heaven. So if you think you have to keep rules and commandments for the sake of a law, I hardly want you to do it. I want you to keep commandments because you believe in them with all of you. Gospel is a way of living that is in harmony with God, Love, each other, and the essential Goodness of the world.Laws are just an impersonal statement about what you can and can’t do. I’ll be super honest and say that I didn’t really keep the mission rules that I didn’t see a purpose behind. I got out to the field and the Mission President had a whole binder full of rules on top of the White Handbook and couldn’t wrap my mind around how stupid that was. I kept myself pretty tight to what the white handbook says because it’s from a little bit higher up the revelation chain than a my Mission President, but as far as his rules were concerned I saw them as optional. You might think less of me for this, but God already knows it about me, I know it about me, and I would never go back and change it.
- Don’t sweat the small things. The other side to those rules is that even the ones you believe in and try to keep everyday for the rest of your life, you will fail at doing them perfectly. I learned early on that I was not as cool as I thought I was spiritually. This goes back to the idea that pure obedience is not what God wants from you or else he wouldn’t have made it impossible to be perfect. In fact it was just the opposite, God wants you so he set up a situation where we can choose between Him, Obedience, and Disobedience. I sided with God and so did Eve and Adam (get to know that story, there’s a reason they show it in the Temple). Choose God and live how He asks you because you believe in Him. And the other side of the Honesty tip is that you should in no way pretend to be perfect and any better than you actually are. It is actually quite liberating to accept that you’re human and imperfect and can’t do it on your own. This allowed me to be the weepy, grumpy, homesick little boy that I was until it passed. Don’t forget that you are on a mission to do good, not keep rules; they overlap often but not all the time. But failure is a part of progression and even God would tell you that.
- Be Thou For the People. I did a lot of service on my mission. Do not discount the power of service. I believe it to be more effective than tracting because it gives people a better taste in their mouths about missionaries than knocking on doors, cause that sucks. It made my day every day I did service. It gives you time to get out of your shirt and tie and just be a real person. Which brings me to my next tip->
- Be a real person. There is nothing worse than a fake human being. It especially helps you get good relationships with the members and those you teach if you can be a real human being to them and relate to them as [FIRST NAME LAST NAME] would and not act as though there is a ‘missionary-human’ type of relationship that has to be upheld. You will be a better missionary if you can be a real person; promise.
- Make it your mission. Do missionary work how you think it should be done, not how other people tell you. Again, God called you on a mission, the name-tag has your name on it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there are set strategies or methods that work for everyone, cause there aren’t.
- What you’re there for. There are a lot of little sayings about missions and I don’t like most of them; not that they aren’t true, I just don’t like trite sayings. While it is true that a mission is not about you, it is also to true to say that it is about you. The Gospel is full of these weird contradictions and paradoxes, get used to them. You are not on a mission to convert people; if that were true, God would give you a liahona and it would lead to every golden investigator the world has and it would be so easy. But this is not what we find, though you will have an iPad which I never had (but would have loved because it would’ve made missionary work a lot better). What we find is that missions are hard, painful, and for most people, hardly full of golden investigators. You’re in the states so you’ll have a good mix of both, but that’s not the point. The purpose of a mission is to form a relationship with God, to become His man, to choose once and for all whose side you’re on. The purpose of a mission is for God to forge in you the character He intends you to have. He does this by having you focus solely on other people for two years. Just remember that a mission is not about you, but it is, but it isn’t, but it is, but it really isn’t. Forget yourself, but remember yourself. CS Lewis can say it better than me “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
I could sit and write about the highs and lows of a mission all day, but the best way for you to learn it is to experience it. Nothing I say can in any way actually teach you anything, but experience will. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do, and it probably won’t be the best two years. But it will be a priceless experience that is worth more than I can say. I say a lot bad about my mission because it was so stupid hard but I would never take it back; I will never do it again, but I would never go back and reverse my decision to go. But it was a crucial experience that I 100% needed and made me who I am today. So no matter how hard it is, know that when it’s done you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you will never have to do it again.
Also, I should say that it gets better by degrees. It took me a little over 3 months to get over my homesickness and I know that seems like a long time, but it is an eternity if you’re living it. Make friends with the members in the field, they will be some of your best friends and allies. Make friends with other missionaries and the people you teach. Above all, have fun, there is no rule against having fun as long as it’s smart. You’ll figure it out, you’re a good kid.