7 Mistakes Returned Missionaries Make And How To Avoid Them
Going on a mission is one of the best learning and growing experiences a young man or woman can have. It tests and tries us in ways we have never experienced before. However, the hardest part of a mission is often coming home and adjusting to life as a ‘returned missionary’ (RM). Finding the right balance after returning from a mission is extremely hard. This is evident by the ever-increasing number of returned missionaries who struggle with adjusting. Here are 7 mistakes returned missionaries make and how to avoid them.
1st. Struggling to keep up with healthy habits.
When my mom asked me what I wanted to do when I got home from my mission I told her, “I just want to go home and sleep for a week.” As I’ve talked with missionaries all over the world this is a common theme. Missionaries work so hard that when we get home we just want to sleep.
But the problem is that many fail to get back into the habit of early to bed early to rise. As you stay up into the early hours of the morning temptations are harder to resist because you are physically exhausted. My mission president once said, “The Holy Ghost goes to bed at midnight.” Whereas he was joking when he said this, it is true that the more exhausted you are the less mental willpower you have to resist temptation.
The morning hours also set the tone for your day. Getting up early will provide you with undisturbed time for your healthy habits, like exercising or eating a real breakfast. And let’s be honest, you will look far better for the ladies (or the guys if you’re a sister) if you don’t look like a zombie who has had no sleep.
Another healthy habit is budgeting your money. Just like if you were a missionary and you ran out of money you had the unhealthy ramen diet, the same applies if you budget poorly as a returned missionary. You can’t eat healthy if you’re broke. So budget!
2nd. Failing to establish holy habits.
Holy habits go hand and hand with healthy habits. Just like your body will die without air and water, so will your spiritual life without prayer and scripture study. As a missionary, 8AM-10AM was a time set apart every day to study your scriptures, personally, and with your companion. When you get home that structured time is no longer there, it will be up to you to set time aside for these holy habits. If you wake up early enough you will have time to study the scriptures, not just “read” them. You will also have time to commune with God, not just “say” your prayers. Don’t let your journal habit get cast aside either.
It is also vital to establish the habit of attending the temple. We are counseled to set personal goals for temple attendance. (I try to go at least once a week.) An easy way to do this I’ve found is to work at the temple. For information on how to work at the temple just ask your bishop.
“Consider the reasons we pray and study the scriptures … these holy habits primarily are ways whereby we always remember Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son and are prerequisites to the ongoing companionship of the Holy Ghost.”
Elder David A. Bednar
3rd. Setting goals wrong.
Returned missionaries make three major mistakes in regard to setting goals: They don’t set goals, they let others set their goals, or they don’t set realistic goals.
Not setting goals. Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish”
Without the direction that goals provide, after a few months home many returned missionaries often feel ‘trapped’ in an awful job, living in their parent’s basement, watching Netflix or playing video games all day with no dating prospects. If you don’t like how things are, then set goals to make it better! Goals for education, goals for work, goals for dating, goals for life!
Letting others set your goals. Just as dangerous as setting no goals is letting someone else set goals for you. Take for example being “normal” again. Everyone has an opinion on what a returned missionary should do and when they should do it. Letting others’ expectations set your goals will lead to stress and depression. God has a plan for you and He has revealed part of it to you. Read your patriarchal blessing and then prayerfully set goals to reach those blessings! (For how to get more out of your patriarchal blessing click here). Plus, we are not called to be “normal.”
Not setting realistic goals. Goals are meant to inspire and motivate, setting unrealistic goals always stresses you out and because you fail to reach the goal it depresses you. Take for example dating, a lot of returned missionaries go home thinking, “I’ll go home and get married before the year is over.” And then when they realize how hard dating is, they get stressed/discouraged and give up on dating, or they become bitter at the opposite sex and jealous of the other returned missionaries who are getting married.
Setting SMART goals allows you to avoid all these pitfalls if you don’t know what a SMART goal is, then click here to read about them.
4th. Not Living In The Present.
Many missionaries come home and have a period of time before the next step in life. An example of this is the returned missionary who has a few months before they leave for college. It is very easy during transitioning periods to say “this is only temporary” as an excuse as to why they are not going to do something. Take for example starting to date, “I am only home for 2 months before I head off to college, I’ll just wait to date till I get to college.” The problem is there will always be an excuse, instead of looking for excuses look for chances to live!
When I got home from my mission I found myself living in Williston North Dakota, I needed the money and I had a job offer that I felt I should take. As I sat there in church the first Sunday Bishop Terry Packer stood up and declared “Some of you came here to make money” (I was shaking my head in agreement) “But you are wrong, the Lord does not move His saints for money! He moves them for the Salvation of Souls!” That changed my perspective.
When you are at home, at school, working for the summer or any other transition period in your life always live the gospel and realize people are looking up to you. Remind yourself, “I am here for the salvation of souls.” At home especially be aware that younger kids look up to returned missionaries as heroes and role models, don’t disappoint them. By setting an example of helping around the house and gospel living you will inspire them to do what is right. Help them forge a testimony of the Gospel just like any investigator.
5th. Failing to continue your education.
On your mission, you learned how to study, learn and master a topic. Applying yourself to Preach My Gospel (Or the discussions for the older returned missionaries) allowed you to master the Scriptures and the Gospel and sometimes another language. Applying the same principles will allow you to master any topic. Start with prayer, put your focused effort in and then rely on the Holy Ghost to help you remember and learn what you need to know, The Holy Ghost is the best tutor in the universe.
Never stop learning. Whereas it is not always possible or right to go to a 4-year college everyone can go to an institute and further their gospel learning. If you decide that college is not right that is OK, But always work on refining your craft. If you are going to become a carpenter find someone who is better than you and ask them to mentor you. If you want to do vocational school do that, if you feel that a 4-year college is needed for your profession then go for it. Never stop learning.
“The Lord has mandated that this people get all the education they can. He has been very clear about this”~Gordon B. Hinckley
6th. Becoming unprofessional.
This one is the bane of many returned Elders, from NoShavenmber to being “done with Sunday clothes” we feel like we’ve done our two years, and now we should not have to wear a suit and tie, or even a white shirt to church. We often rationalize it by saying “our suits are old, too loose, or too tight and it is too expensive to get a new one” but really it’s an excuse (Let’s be honest guys, how many of us are willing to drop $100 for a nice pair of basketball/running shoes, or a pair of football cleats).
We get sloppy fast. From the nasty “beards” (I’ve got nothing wrong with a real beard) to the uncombed hair and colored/wrinkly shirts on Sunday. Guys, if we want the girls to be attractive and dress modestly, we must do the same, part of modesty is dressing respectably!
When I got home my suit did not fit anymore. Like many returned missionaries I thought it was just too expensive to get a new suit and I did not want to buy one and then lose weight and have it not fit, so I went suitless. Quickly I found myself not doing my hair and not even caring what I looked like for church, that was until I realized that I need to dress the part.
So I went to Mr. Mac, I had gotten my mission suit from them and lasted my whole mission, so I knew they had good deals for missionaries, and pre-missionaries, but what about a returned missionary? To my surprise, not only were they affordable and professional but when I mentioned my concern about losing weight and the new suit not fitting and they told me that if my suit ever needs to be altered to dry clean it, and I can have them refit my suit! My excuses were no longer valid, it was affordable, nice quality and it would fit me both now and after I lose weight, so I got a new suit. (for my review of Mr. Mac click here)
7th. Buying into the idea that “I have ‘done’ my missionary duty.”
When you finish your mission don’t go back to the way you were before. Your mission was meant to train you on how to be a life-long missionary. Don’t go back to your ‘nets’ as Peter did. At the MTC Elder Holland delivered a landmark MTC talk “Feed My Sheep.” The ending hit me with more power than anything to that point in my life. It made me commit to sharing the gospel and doing my home teaching with zeal forever. Here is the ending of that talk.
“You need to decide tonight whether you’re on a course that’s committed to the idea that you really do love God. You really do love the Savior. And if you do, and I know you do, and I pray you do, we’ll all do this together. We’ll all march into the future together. But, when you do, and when you say that, and when you believe that, then you’re call is to feed His sheep, forever.
Now, can you understand why you must never and may never and can never come back? It will never be the same again. Peter, you can’t go home. You can’t go back to fish. You can’t go back to Galilee. You can’t go back to boats. It’s over. It is a new life, a new day, a new time. This Mission marks that hour in your life. You cannot go back. And if you do, you will break my heart, and you will break the heart of God himself… ‘Do you love me? Well then, feed my sheep. And do it forever.'”Jeffrey R. Holland (Italics added)
A special thanks to those who helped contribute to this article: Andy Procter, Russell Walker, John Dye, Alexis Tayor, Austin Barney, President and Sister Stoker (NHMM), President and Sister Duquette (SCCM), Lizzie Fleck, Eldon Manning, Michele Brown Smith, Hyrum Brown, Devin McKnight, Lance Booth, Shayley Williams, Tyler Webb and Julia Groves. Thank you for all of your help.