John walked off the plane to see his family waiting for him with balloons and a homemade banner. Tears flowed freely as he hugged his parents, his little brothers and sisters, and his childhood friends who had come to welcome him home. After the parties, cakes, speeches, and celebration were over, he felt a little lost, not knowing what to do. On his mission, every day was planned to the hilt and evaluated against his key indicators. Now his family was telling him to take it easy, relax, and just hang out. He’d worked so hard for two years and discovered that he actually liked to work, to study, and to stay busy helping others. He wondered what he was supposed to do with all his newfound free time and often wished he was back on the mission.
John’s experience is not unique. After all the hoopla has died down, your missionary might have a difficult time transitioning back home. As their parent, you might also have trouble knowing how to best help them do it.
Marianna and I love returned missionaries. We have eight children who have served missions and 450 more beloved missionaries from our mission in Brazil who are now home. For the past three years, we have also had the privilege of teaching over 1,300 young people in an institute class specifically for returned missionaries.
Here are three suggestions based on what we’ve learned over the years about how to help your returned missionary transition to post-mission life.
1. Help them remember their purpose has not changed.
Missionaries repeat their missionary purpose almost every day on their mission. It’s found on page 1 of Preach My Gospel: “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” The truth is that this is not just a missionary’s purpose. It is the purpose of all who come to mortality. We start by helping ourselves come unto Christ through learning and living the five principles and ordinances in this purpose that constitute the doctrine of Christ. Once we are on that path, it’s our responsibility to forever help others to do the same—family members, friends, relatives, members, non-members, —everyone! This is the way that we help further our Heavenly Father’s work of “bring[ing] to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
You can testify to your returned missionary that after baptism, all of us must continue to walk this path on a regular basis. Just as baptism was the essential spiritual focus for their investigators, so the sacrament is now the essential spiritual focus for them every week.
Each week, encourage your returned missionary (through your example) to strive to build their faith in Christ through prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and service to others. They did all these Christ-centered activities on their mission. They should not stop doing them now that they’re home. Missionaries teach their investigators to pray, repent, improve, come to Church, live the commandments, and be baptized. Now they must follow this same path weekly by partaking of the sacrament, renewing their baptismal covenant, and receiving the promise that they will “always have His spirit to be with them” (D&C 20:77). Then, you and your children will continue through the next week, and the next, enduring to the end. Help your returned missionary understand that walking this path each week, and continuing to help others do the same, is really what life is all about.
The very first time we held our institute class, we had a great discussion on how our purpose expands to include more “others” after our mission, such as family members, friends, and even a future spouse and generations of posterity. After class, a recently returned sister missionary came up with tears in her eyes to express her gratitude for what had been taught. She related that after being home a week, she had become depressed and started feeling useless. She went to her father and pleaded, “I know what I was supposed to do as a missionary, but what is my purpose now?” Sadly, all her father could do was to hold her and say “Dear, I don’t know how to help you.” Understanding that her purpose had not changed made all the difference and gave new meaning to the activities and opportunities before her.
We’ve often heard the comment from returned missionaries: “But on my mission, I was focused on helping others come to Christ; now it seems like I’m just selfishly focusing on myself, working, going to school, dating, etc.” Help them understand that if they keep their eternal purpose foremost in their minds, then these seemingly self-centered tasks will further prepare them to bring themselves and their future families back to God’s presence. For example, your returned missionary will want to become successful at work—not for personal glory and gain—but for his or her future family, for future opportunities in community service, and for furthering the kingdom of God on the earth. This focus will enable them to be a more effective instrument throughout their lives in continuing to bring others to Christ.
2. Realize they’re not the same person and treat them differently.
While serving a mission, missionaries take on many adult responsibilities they may not have had living at home or going to college. If they are called to a foreign country, they learn to speak another language and to appreciate another culture and its people. All missionaries learn how to buy groceries, how to work with a variety of personality types, how to navigate different environments after transfers to new areas, and how to live within a budget or do without. As their parents, you have not witnessed this growth. Be careful not to take away their newfound adult skills now that they are home.
One returned missionary said: “Coming home from a mission, I, and probably most, if not all other missionaries, felt like we had new talents. We had a lot of confidence in ourselves and in how we could accomplish and do things. But I felt that going home, people did not see that. It was hard to deal with. You know what you are capable of, but these people haven’t been around you for two years, so they really don’t know.”
As a parent, the best way to find out about how they’ve changed and how they want you to treat them is to listen. After all the celebrations have died down, find a quiet place and have a long talk together. They have been interviewed every quarter during their mission, so they’ll be used to this. Ask them open-ended and sincere questions that will help them to speak freely. Here are some suggestions, but the Spirit will guide you to know how to adapt these questions for your missionary:
- How do you feel you have changed on your mission?
- Are there ways that you would like us to treat you differently now that you are back from your mission
- What can we do as parents to help make this transition easier?
- How can we change our home environment to support the changes you’ve experienced on your mission?
► You'll also like: Especially for LDS Missionaries: How to Transition to Post-Mission Life
Preach My Gospel is a rich resource for understanding how to communicate effectively as guided by the Spirit. In Chapter 10, you will find suggestions on how to begin your discussion, how to ask meaningful and inspired questions, how to really listen, and how to help your returned missionaries resolve their concerns about being home. Becoming more familiar with this book will also provide a common ground of understanding between you, since they have been studying this book every day along with their scriptures. If you combine your scripture study with Preach My Gospel study, you will not only communicate more effectively with them, you will also find the answers you seek about how to help them with their transition home.
3. Use the Spirit as your guide to encourage your returned missionary.
Dealing positively with your returned missionary requires a delicate balancing act between
- Encouraging and pressuring
- Treating them as an adult and treating them as your child
- Offering advice and telling them what they should do
A father of a returned missionary observed, “All young men and young women are different and receive criticism differently. I think you just need to be prayerful as a parent to know how much pressure is the right pressure. We are learning to become parents just like they are learning to become adults. We make mistakes. We just need to be prayerful. Be careful and do it with the Spirit.”
Regularly praying for your returned missionary and regularly attending the temple (with your missionary if you can) will help you gain the insights necessary for maintaining that perfect balance. If you have more than one returned missionary, you may find that balance to be different for each individual son or daughter.
Again, Preach My Gospel is a great resource to help you to recognize and understand the Spirit. In Chapter 4, you will find a beautiful description of the process you should follow when dealing with your returned missionaries: “God loves you and all His children. He is anxious to support you in your practical and specific challenges. You have been promised inspiration to know what to do and have been given the power to do it… He will shower His blessings upon you through the gift of the Holy Ghost. He asks that you remain worthy of this gift and that you ask, seek, and knock…” (p. 89). This is the way your missionaries received and followed the Spirit while helping their investigators, and this is the way you, as their parent, can receive and follow the Spirit while helping them during their transition home.
What a great blessing a returned missionary is in your home! Your missionary will bring a glow and a spirit that will inspire your entire family. You want them to keep that glow and to feel that same powerful spirit they felt on their mission and more! The best two years of their life will not be their mission. That was only their spiritual beginning. They should look forward to greater spiritual growth and accomplishment as they view their future life. And you, as their parents, can help them gain that vision.
Lead picture from lds.org
For more great insights, check out The Returned Missionary Handbook: Helping Missionaries and Parent Through the Post-Mission Transition. Available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.