When Your Missionary Is Not Fitting the Mormon Mold: Insights from a Mom Who Has Been There

Sending my son on a mission was an irrational, emotional rollercoaster for me. One minute I was bursting with love and gratitude for his choices, and the next I was in a full panic over possibly not having taught him enough. I stressed myself out preparing him: copies of all important documents, extra batteries, and stocking a first aid/medicine supply that would put the Red Cross to shame!

At one point in my frantic preparations, my husband gently told me that my son would probably never need all of the things that I thought he did. But he finally realized that I was packing these things for my own peace of mind, and let me just carry on. I had to do what I needed to do to feel okay about booting a chick out of the nest.

Even with all my planning, I still envisioned my son crying himself to sleep in the MTC. Sending a child on a mission is an experience that can't be explained until you go through it. That day when you drop them off to begin their journey . . . that day is a brutal one. There is nothing that makes it easier. Once you join this club, you know how hard it will be for other moms, but there is no magic phrase or type of cookie that makes it less hard on the heart. You just have to hang in there and wait for the e-mails to start rolling in from your missionary.

When the Frustrations Began

I know that some missionaries write real e-mails. I have seen them. I have read on other moms' blogs about experiences their missionaries have had with investigators, tender mercies, struggles, and successes. Having never served a mission myself, I was really excited to live vicariously through my son and experience his mission with him. I was armed with encouraging quotes! Inspiring conference talks! (Mostly) appropriate jokes!

However, when p-day rolled around, I found myself continually disappointed. The e-mails from my son were short and literally contained nothing missionary-ish. I have better luck attempting to get a decent parking spot at Costco on a Saturday than extracting information from my boy.

I don't ever know what to say when people ask, "How is your missionary doing?"

"Well, thank you for asking. I DON'T KNOW."

Exhibit A:

hey this week was pretty cool we had interviews that was good
ummmmmmm i went on an exchange with the zone leaders that was fun
other than that not much has happened.

For real. That is it. A whole p-day e-mail.

Usually, I have time while my son is online to try and do some data mining. Here are some examples of the questions I ask to try and inspire a train of thought: Tell me about your investigators? What was the best thing you ate this week? Have you witnessed any miracles or tender mercies this week? Have you learned anything interesting in your studies?

All I get back? One-word responses. It is always an exercise in frustration for me.

Trying to Find a Deeper Connection

I do get occasional photos, and I think I learn more about what is going on from the photos. I can tell if my boy is truly happy if I can see his smile go all the way up into his eyes.

Recently, my son was going through a period where he was struggling. I knew it from his photos. I didn’t know how to support him or help him with the very limited information that I had. I knew, from reading between the lines, that part of his unhappiness was because he was not being obedient.

The purpose of mission rules is twofold—to keep these missionaries safe (from physical harm and from the adversary), and to invite the Spirit to be with them always. I felt frustrated and angry that his choice to be disobedient negated all my prayers for him.

During this same week, my friend's husband, who travels for work a lot, just happened to be in my son's area.

Jokingly I said to her, "You know that is where my naughty boy is serving, right? We should have your husband go over and pop him up the side of the head while he is there."

Well, we looked, you know, just for fun, and her husband's hotel was 17 minutes away from my elder's apartment.

So her husband went over there that evening. Bless him.

I thought this surprise visit was going to teach my son a lesson.

Something along the lines of, "My mom has eyes everywhere!"

Instead, it was me who needed to learn.

The Lesson God Taught Me

Here’s a message my friend's husband: "I knocked on the door and your elder's companion answered the door. They weren't expecting anyone to come over. Your elder was just chilling on the couch. . . . I told him I was there to deliver a message to him from his mom. I asked him if he knew what it was, and he said. 'Um, I can guess.' Honestly, your boy is so happy! You can just see it in his face. He is a great kid."'

I don't know why it surprises me every time the Lord works a miracle in my life.

For whatever reason, when I heard that account from my friend's husband, it struck me.

I need to butt out of this experience.

It is my son's.

And God's.

Through this message, I realized that my son's mission is not a saving ordinance. It is an experience. He is a really great kid! But, he is still an 18-year-old kid. He is going to mess up, learn from the consequences,  and probably never know what to write about each week.

When I try to force my will on my son, it just frustrates and disappoints us both.

He has free agency.

It is up to him to utilize it in his own way, not my way.

I feel like a huge burden is lifted.

I don't stress about him anymore.

I have stopped trying to make him be a cookie-cutter missionary that writes flowery accounts of conversion.

I can't make him be who he isn't, and I've realized that I don't want to do that anyway.

I am sure that God gets frustrated with me when I squander experiences. He probably regrets how I use my agency at times. He probably wishes I would communicate with Him more than I do.

The Lord knows each of us. He loves us perfectly.  He knows our weaknesses and strengths and He never asks us to be anyone else.

Every mission experience is different. Every experience in life is different. Each is customized by the One who knows exactly what we need to teach us the things that will refine us.

He loved my son before I did.

My prayers now are simply that the Lord will give him what he needs, and I trust that.

Lead image from Getty Images
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