When You Want to Quit Your Mission
It’s true. Full-time missionaries seem to have a target on their back. Recognizing the immense good that can come from missionaries faithfully doing their duty, the forces of evil are on full alert before, during and after a call to serve. Following are two ideas that Satan and his minions will try their best to sell serving missionaries—two lies that if believed and acted on will result in missionaries quitting their assignment.
This is too hard. I can’t do this anymore. Many missionaries come to feel this way at times; and when they do, it might help to remember a promise found in different words in all four of the standard works. The Apostle Paul phrased the promise this way: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). The truth is that we simply don’t know what our limits are. The Lord does, but we don’t. At times we may be absolutely convinced that we can go no further when, in fact, we are stronger than we think we are. If we really are at the point of collapse, as Paul promises, a way to escape will be provided. Something will happen to ease the burden or give us extra strength. As full-time missionaries, sometimes the “escape” will come in the form of a transfer to a new companion or assignment. Sometimes it results from finding a special investigator, having a powerful spiritual experience, or receiving timely inspired advice. In cases of serious physical or mental health problems, escape will come in the form of an early release by priesthood leaders. In whatever form relief comes, come it will. But until that happens, we can take strength in knowing that from the Lord’s perspective, in spite of how intense our pain and suffering, this isn’t too hard. I can do this. And as the Lord has reminded us, “after much tribulation come the blessings” (D & 58:2-4).
Besides having faith that the Lord will sustain us through trials, there are other things we can do that will lighten our load and make it more manageable. For one thing, we can avoid adding unnecessarily to our burden by worrying about things that haven’t happened yet (what might happen next transfer, what might be going on at home, etc.); or things that are beyond our control (problems at home, unhelpful members, little success in spite of great effort, etc.). As suggested above, we won’t be given problems that exceed our ability to cope; but we may overload ourselves by adding problems to our world that are unnecessary and impossible to solve. The Lord will help us handle real problems; i.e., those in the here and now that we can actually do something about; not necessarily the ones we invent or take out of turn.
It will also help if we can avoid putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves. It can be overwhelming if we expect more of ourselves than the Lord does. Wanting to have a perfect mission is fine. Putting effort into being the perfect missionary is required to be successful. But needing to be the perfect missionary will only add unnecessary stress. We have this problem when we feel compelled to do something perfectly and can’t rest, or be at peace, until we are successful. It helps in those situations if we can prayerfully work hard to achieve important goals; but then accept the situation and ourselves if our best effort falls short. For example, if you are having extra difficulty learning a foreign language, so what? Continue to work hard at it but don’t worry about falling short. If the Lord was concerned about it, he would bless you with an extra portion of the gift of tongues. Until that happens, your language difficulty must not be a problem from His perspective. As another example, work hard to have baptisms; but if that isn’t happening, prayerfully search for ways to improve your approach to the work. If no obvious changes that you could make in your approach come to mind, continue your current effort and accept the result. Again, if the Lord was upset with your situation, He would help you change it.
I’m wasting my time. I could give more service and make more personal progress doing something else. Most full-time missions involve a lot of what might seem like wasted time. Constant rejection is normal, appointments fall through, companions get sick or lack motivation, meaningful activities are hard to schedule, and so on. A lot of time and energy can be spent on a mission without much to show for it. Staying committed to one’s mission through these times requires an ability to see the big picture. Following are a few ideas that might help missionaries understand that their efforts are part of something so much bigger than themselves.
1. The goal of most missionaries is to serve the Lord. A missionary is doing that when he or she stays in the apartment with a sick companion. Those days may be boring; but it’s an act of service just the same. Missionaries are serving the Lord when they spend time and energy teaching investigators, even when those investigators turn away. An attempted study session is a step in the right direction even when a missionary’s mind wanders, and the session is unproductive. Finding activities are a way of serving the Lord even when no new investigators are found. In short, the Lord values effort and intent, even when results are minimal. As Joseph Smith said, “if you do your duty, it will be just as well with you as if all men embraced the gospel” (Joseph Smith Papers, ID 1458).
2. Being obedient and serving faithfully when results are meager, or even negative, proves that we are not a “fair weather” disciple. It’s easy to be upbeat and motivated when things are going well. It’s not so easy when there are no obvious results from our hard work. Our continuing to be obedient and serve faithfully when things aren’t going well is a statement of strong character. It shows us to be the kind of person that God can count on no matter what; which will certainly be one of the important conditions on our eventually receiving all of the blessings that He has in mind for us (D&C 84:38). Our faithfulness through adversity is also a demonstration of love and support for the Lord. God is no doubt especially pleased when we do the right thing, even when there is no immediate reward for doing so.
3. Any great accomplishment requires great sacrifice. Perhaps this is part of the reason that the Law of Sacrifice has been such an important part of the gospel from the beginning (Moses 5-16). With regard to this law, we may not be asked to sacrifice a firstborn son as was Abraham (Genesis 221:1-18); or give our life for our faith has some have done. Among other things, our sacrifice is perhaps more likely to involve patiently persevering in faith during times when it appears that we aren’t getting much for the effort. Such sacrifice, at the very least, provides an important growth opportunity for those willing to make it; but it may also have positive results not obvious at the time. As the Lord said, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work” (D&C 64:33). There are many instances in which missionaries leave their mission thinking that they have done little if any good only to find later that their efforts actually resulted in much good.
4. The Lord’s plan is that everyone will have an opportunity to hear and accept the gospel. That piece of the plan is vital because without it, God would be unfair and discriminatory. Every missionary who puts effort into inviting others to come to Christ is a part of that essential effort, whether or not those invited accept the invitation. It’s really not about the success rate (however defined) of any individual missionary. It’s about moving a grand work forward. It’s about playing a part in the most important work going on in the world today. As President Nelson has said, “…the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!” (“Hope of Israel”) Worldwide Youth Devotional, June 3, 2018).
The next time you are tempted to conclude that “I can’t do this any longer”; and/or the next time you decide that you are wasting your time as a full-time servant of the Lord, resist the temptation by focusing on the truth. It’s likely that you can go further than you think you can; and you are never wasting your time when in the service of the Lord.
Dr. Gary G. Taylor