When a Returned Missionary Slips – A Cause of Post Mission Inactivity

Many returned missionaries spend their whole term of service working harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives. They are wholly committed to the Lord and put everything on the altar of sacrifice. They bike through the rain, knock through the heat, spend every waking minute of their lives trying to be the best that they can be because they realize that if they don’t, they’ll always come just short of the true joy that they know they can feel. Some, if they were willing, sacrifice their very will to the Lord, or at least try their very best to do so. Their weekly emails home are filled with yet more gospel instruction and encouragement for their family and friends, paired with powerful testimony and gratitude for the trials that they are experiencing. Ideally, heartwarming stories of investigators being baptized and converts going to the temple accompany their incredibly inspiring letters. All while the inevitable day of their departure from the mission field draws closer.

When they return home they are revered by family, friends, and neighbors. They speak in sacrament meeting and share inspiring stories mixed with subtle jokes about their favorite companions. The missionary’s extended family assemble from the far reaches of the planet (unknowingly displacing all the local ward members from the seats that they staked claims to some years ago) to hear the powerful testimony of their beloved returned missionary, seen in his parent’s eyes as the best missionary to ever serve a mission.

The returned missionary feels honored and grateful to have served and is filled with confidence that he/she did so faithfully. Each day forward they remember the moment when their stake president released them from their calling. Tears fill their eyes when they remember how hard it was to remove the tag they had worn for so long, suddenly feeling naked and empty without it. Yet they soldier on and begin going back to school, listening to music again, re-establishing old friendships and creating new ones. Yet for most, something begins to happen. All the while they are readjusting to life back home in the world, something begins to change.

Satan begins his work.

While on my mission I had plenty of correspondence with fellow missionaries who returned home before I did. All had virtually the same response when I asked them how home life back in the world was. “It slaps you in the face” was the most common phrase that I heard. Having been home now for a few months I can stand behind that claim. Anyone who has returned home from a mission can understand that the world really does “slap you in the face” the moment you finally log back on to facebook.

As the world starts creeping back in, these beloved returned missionaries begin making little mistakes here and there. They realize that they are not the perfect angel child that they thought they were. They make mistakes and get caught up in old habits. If they struggled with addictions before the mission, they realize that the temptations are back in full force, yet they remain strong and continue in righteousness, as is expected of them. They don’t dare tarnish the reputation that they have built for themselves over these past 18 months to two years.

Satan uses what the scriptures call “flaxen cords,” or tiny little strings around your neck. He gets you to slip up on the tiniest things (adding one tiny string around your neck, which is easily broken off). One by one, he adds these strings around their necks and they let him do it because they know that they can easily break them. They forget to read their scriptures every day. They realize that church isn’t as fun as it was on the mission and decide to skip out on gospel doctrine. Or maybe it’s the lack of a sense of purpose and responsibility they once had at church that contributes to their lack of motivation. Whatever Satan uses on them, they start to slide backward ever so slightly.

This is when the bigger temptations come. Their past addictions suddenly start feeling like addictions again, even though they haven’t given in. Their old habits are suddenly just as hard to break out of as they were before they left for the mission. Then, to their utter devastation, something happens. Satan has a victory. This beloved returned missionary makes a mistake that, whatever it truly is, makes them feel utterly worthless. Perhaps it’s with pornography. Maybe it’s something less severe. Maybe they start using foul language again. Perhaps it’s a sickening mixture of all their old problems. Whatever it is, it causes them incredible grief and, because of the pedestal that so many people have put them on, they feel overwhelmed with the thought of letting everyone down. They know they need to confess to a bishop or seek advice from a parent before it will get any better, but the worldly sorrow is almost too much to bear, and many times they decide to keep their reputation and sacrifice joy. This is where these precious servants of God stop going to church. This is where they begin to question everything that they know. Satan clouds their view with ideas such as, “maybe I’ve never felt the spirit.” “Maybe all of this isn’t true after all,” or “If God really loved me, he wouldn’t have let this happen.” These thoughts eat at their souls and dissolve their faith. If they let it continue, eventually their faith will be destroyed. In extreme cases, they become angry and openly oppose the church and its leaders. All while their loved ones watch with tears in their eyes wondering how this could have happened to their beloved returned missionary.

For those returned missionaries who find themselves at some point along this process, know that your pain is not just your own. The Savior bears it right along with you whether or not you let him lessen your own pain. Remember the times you repented and felt peace. Remember personal revelation. Remember the times that you boldly preached repentance and promised celestial blessings for those that would. Remember the joy that you felt when you watched an investigator change their life and embrace the atonement. Remember that the atonement applies to you too. Remember who you are.

For the family and friends of these returned missionaries, remember your own shortcomings. Remember the times that you’ve had to repent and rely on the Lord. Remember the times that you didn’t quite measure up to what was expected of you. Remember when your mistakes made you feel utterly alone. Don’t judge others because of the sins you see affect them as if you didn’t have any yourself. Reach out in love and offer support. Share with them what inspired you about their service. They just spent months upon months giving service to others and now you have the opportunity to give some back.

The Lord loves all of his children. He especially loves his missionaries. Help us returned missionaries remember who we truly are, and don’t judge us when we fall short. Think of what the Savior would say to us if He were here, and help us remember that we can still repent and feel true joy.

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