Recently, a friend reached out to me for some advice. Her daughter has received a mission call, but the guessing and celebrating long passed, excitement has given way to worry for this dear mom. And she’s not alone. Her missionary is also struggling with anxieties and doubts—feelings that seem to affect all newly called missionaries.
Each missionary’s story is unique. Some have battled anxiety and depression in the past. Others have worked hard to face addictions and overcome health obstacles so they can open that white envelope from Salt Lake City. No matter the journey leading up to receiving a call, there is another long trek before one finally reaches the mission field. And that trek can be one of unexpected anxiety, stress, and uncertainty amid the highly anticipated joy.
Of course, there are the obvious things that have to be addressed after receiving a call, including questions about luggage, clothing, and visas. But underneath all of your planning and packing, other reservations and difficulties can start to surface during the time between receiving a call and leaving for the MTC. What is a normal amount of doubt? Why does it feel like the minute a call is opened, Satan starts kicking down the door? Those are very real issues—ones no one seems to talk about. We freely ask, “When are you submitting your papers?” “Where are going to be serving?” or “When do you leave?” But we tend to gloss over the emotional, mental, and spiritual opposition that hits missionaries before they leave, leaving many future sisters and elders feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.
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Parents aren’t exempt from the struggles that this waiting time creates. I remember after our son opened his call to Zimbabwe, we were overcome with joy—grateful the day had finally arrived! But on that August evening, in the midst of our joy, came the sudden realization that Cameron wasn’t leaving until December! What were we going to do to help keep the Spirit in our home, support our son, and protect him from the fiery darts the adversary loves to shoot at future warriors?
I don’t have all the answers, but after teaching mission prep for many years and saying goodbye to a lot of amazing young people, I have learned a few things that may help.
1. Identify and Address Feelings
Remind your missionary (and yourself!) to take a deep breath! No one ever feels “ready” for the big, important things in life, like marriage, parenthood, and, yes, missions. They aren’t the only missionary who has had to repent of past sins. They are not the only missionary who has had questions of faith or wondered if they know enough (or believe enough) to teach the Joseph Smith story. Yes, they are nervous and so are you. That is okay.
Parents, understand that you’re definitely not the only missionary parent who has felt uncertainty and anxiety in the face of the unknown, wondering and hoping that your child will succeed. Instead of worrying about that, focus on what you know. Worrying about something usually won’t allow you to control the outcome; that’s a serious trap the adversary would like you to believe. Be gentle with yourself and your missionary. Even though we know it is a blessing to serve, sending a child out into the world for 18 months or two years knowing we will have very limited contact with them during that time is a BIG DEAL. It is okay for everyone to be a little on edge. Realize that every missionary family experiences a certain degree of uncertainty and stress and there is nothing innately wrong with you if you are a bit worried. Just keep moving forward.
2. Don’t Wait to Learn
As soon as I knew Cameron would be serving in Zimbabwe, I found a flag to hang in his room. Each morning and night it was a reminder of what was coming and where he would be serving. But we didn’t stop there. We connected to other missionaries who had served in the area, we tried the food, looked at pictures, and surfed the web. We tried to make the unknown known—something that in and of itself can reduce uncertainty and anxiety.
Help your missionary start to feel a part of the place they will be serving. This is particularly important if your son or daughter is serving in another country, since there is not a lot of cultural or regional education in the MTC. Make your home a place where you can all learn about your missionary’s field of service.
3. Create a Pre-MTC
I think one of the biggest gifts you can give your missionary is a pre-MTC zone in which to prepare. I am not saying Netflix is off limits or music has to be restricted to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What I am suggesting is that you create some routines that will help invite the Spirit into your home. Not only will your missionary feel supported by these efforts, but your family will be blessed by this mission focus.
- Start studying Preach My Gospel as a family. It can be a great tool for morning devotionals, FHE, or Sunday family councils. Preach My Gospel is not only the perfect mission prep manual it is the ideal life prep manual. Elder Richard G. Scott said, “Preach My Gospel contains chapters that give extremely valuable information on how to recognize and understand the guidance of the Holy Spirit. . . . One chapter explains why the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, how it can answer profound questions of the soul, how it can build faith and help others draw closer to God. . . . A missionary is taught how to seek Christlike attributes such as hope, charity, and love, for love is the foundation of all meaningful missionary service” (“The Power of Preach My Gospel,” Conference Report, April 2005). So find ways to dive into this great book that work for your family schedule.
- Be sensitive to the music and entertainment you invite into your home. You don’t have to restrict your family to Disney movies, but understand that whatever you can do to invite the Spirit into your home will bless your missionary. Satan’s last-ditch effort before your missionary is set apart is to keep all of you far from the Spirit, so fight fire with bigger fires.
- If your family has had a hard time having prayer and scripture study together, make this a priority. It will really bug the adversary to see your whole family praying and studying more often, and it will really help your missionary maintain those habits once they leave.
- Make time for playtime and rest. It is easier to feel the Spirit when we are rested and relaxed. Plan fun family activities and make a few more memories before your missionary leaves. This is a great way to support your missionary during the waiting time. Help your missionary get exercise and try to develop a sleep schedule that more closely follows the mission plan. Exercise, laughter, and rest bring light, which always beats dark.
4. Utilize Temple Power
When the missionary age was lowered, a flood of men and women younger than before joined the ranks of the mission force. What a powerful impact that has had on the building of the kingdom of God. The missionaries of today have grown up with the internet and all the good and bad that brings. Their phones have been the doorway to both the words of prophets and the filth of society. They have learned to navigate distraction and doubts. So it is no surprise that God knew that more temples would be needed when more missionaries would be serving at a younger age.
Elder Kent F. Richards invited newly called missionaries to go to the temple when he said, “In many temples, temple presidents are welcoming newly called and endowed missionaries, young men and women, to serve for just a short time as ordinance workers before going to the MTC. These young people are not only blessed to serve, but 'they enhance the beauty and spirit for all serving in the temple’” (“The Power of Godliness,” Conference Report, April 2016). In many temples, a newly called missionary can literally take their call to the office and ask to serve. Even if a missionary has only a few weeks before leaving for the field, time learning the temple ordinances brings an understanding and power of protection that can come in no other way.
If you live close enough to attend the temple regularly, make a weekly temple date with your missionary as part of the pre-MTC plan. I know from personal experience what temple work did for our son. Now as he serves in a country where he is far from a temple, Cameron can recall and rely on his time as a temple worker to help him with things are tough in the field. If you aren’t near a temple, set aside family indexing time each week and claim the blessings of doing family history for your missionary. The spirit and power of the temple will overcome the temptations of living in the world.
5. Ask for Priesthood Blessings
Each time a missionary parent asks what they can do to maneuver the waiting game, I ask when they or their missionary last had a priesthood blessing. Satan will try to wiggle his way into any crack, and parents need strengthening as much as their missionary children do. Don’t hesitate to ask for frequent blessings and invite your child to seek for and claim blessings as well.
As President Russell M. Nelson has promised and counseled, “Priesthood power can calm the seas and heal fractures in the earth. Priesthood power can also calm the minds and heal fractures in the hearts of those we love” (“The Price of Priesthood Power,” Conference Report, April 2016). Take notes and record the blessings given. I have come to realize that promises given in a blessing are too easily forgotten. But when I record them and then recall them, I am claiming them—the blessings of peace, health, discernment, and direction. Repeat and remind your missionary what they have been promised in patriarchal blessings and father’s blessings. God keeps His promises, and there is no greater power on earth to carry our missionaries into the field safely.
6. Remember You’re Not Alone
Remember you are not in this alone. There are great Facebook groups for missionary families and professional counselors to help you if the stress is taking a toll. Ask for a special fast; the power of fasting is real. Inviting close friends and family to join you in praying and fasting for your new missionary is a great way to call on the powers of heaven.
Never forget that there are more for you than against you. Just ask for the help you or your missionary need. The waiting game can be tough. Your missionary may still be dating someone, struggling with questions, or wondering how to fill their time until they leave. Every situation is different—but what is the same is the fact that this can be a wonderful yet stressful time for every missionary family.
God has called, and will qualify, your missionary. Missions are some of the hardest and greatest times of a person’s life. And Satan knows that once a missionary is endowed and then also set apart, he loses power. Let’s join forces in making it even harder for the adversary to win. Newly called missionaries need our reassurance. They need to know it is okay to feel afraid and that they will have what they need when they need it.
I hope some of these suggestions provide at least a starting point for your pre-MTC waiting plan. I have great hope for the future as I meet young single adults all over the world. I cry as I watch missionaries open their calls, pull their luggage into the MTC, and say goodbye to all they once knew so they can go and serve God. It isn’t easy, but they need to know they have been prepared for such a time as this and that angels surround them.
Lead image from lds.org
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