For many returned missionaries, coming home can be one of the hardest parts of serving a mission. After 18 months or 2 years of finding, teaching, and serving others full-time, it can be disorienting to return to a life filled with school, work, and dating.
While all of those are great endeavors, sometimes the unintentional shift in focus from the Savior to the self leaves returned missionaries feeling like something vital is missing from their lives.
In his October 2012 general conference talk, Elder Holland spoke of the reaction of the Apostles following Christ's death, which we can compare to returned missionaries, in a way. While missionaries may not have literally been in the physical presence of Jesus Christ like the Apostles, they acted as representatives of Him and often felt His presence through the Spirit as they bore witness of Him.
Elder Holland expressed the life-altering moment when these Apostles no longer walked daily with Christ:
"As they surely must have wondered, 'What do we do now?' they turned for an answer to Peter, the senior Apostle.
"Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: 'Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. . . . But that is over. . . . So you ask, 'What do we do now?' I don't know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to 'go a fishing.''. . .
"But, alas, the fishing wasn't very good. Their first night back on the lake, they caught nothing—not a single fish."
These Apostles were called to serve, teach, and heal—and those responsibilities didn't end with Christ's death. However, they forgot for a moment what their purpose was, and they went back to the life they knew before. When they were no longer walking with Christ daily, learning from Him directly, and seeing miracles happen at His hands, they temporarily lost focus.
Like Peter and the other Apostles, many missionaries return from their 18 months or 2 years of service with vivid memories of miracles they saw or experienced all too quickly fading into dream-like memories. Similar to the Apostles, many missionaries think, "What do we do now?" and eventually return back to the life they knew before their missions.
No matter how much we needed the Savior's helping hand on our mission, we need Him just as much when we return home. When we think, "Okay, I've got this now—I'm on my own now," that's when we make a terrible mistake.
Returning home from a mission is definitely not the end of our spiritual progression, nor is it the end of our mission in this life. Similarly, the Savior's death didn't mark the end of the spiritual learning and ministry of the Apostles. Elder Holland continued:
"With the first rays of dawn, they disappointedly turned toward the shore, where they saw in the distance a figure who called out to them, 'Children, have you caught anything?' Glumly these Apostles-turned-again-fishermen gave the answer no fisherman wants to give. 'We have caught nothing,' they muttered, and to add insult to injury, they were being called 'children.'
"'Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,' the stranger calls out—and with those simple words, recognition begins to flood over them. Just three years earlier these very men had been fishing on this very sea. On that occasion too they had 'toiled all the night, and [had] taken nothing,' the scripture says. But a fellow Galilean on the shore had called out to them to let down their nets, and they drew 'a great multitude of fishes,' enough that their nets broke, the catch filling two boats so heavily they had begun to sink.
"Now it was happening again. These 'children,' as they were rightly called, eagerly lowered their net, and 'they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.' John said the obvious: 'It is the Lord.' And over the edge of the boat, the irrepressible Peter leaped."
Every missionary falls short of their expectations and goals for returning home at some point. However, like Peter, we can recognize the Lord in our post-mission life. He's eager to continue using us to build His kingdom, like he expressed to Peter:
"Peter said for the third time, 'Lord, . . . thou knowest that I love thee.'
"To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: 'Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn't it obvious then and isn't it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world.'"
Like the Apostles learned, we don't have to leave the experiences we had on our missions in the past. The Savior beckons to us still, inviting us to not only continue doing His work like we did on our missions, but to feel like we did on our missions. Of course we won't be knocking on strangers' doors or setting up appointments to teach discussions, but we can still share God's love with His children each and every day.
No matter whether missionaries experience a smooth transition home or experience great bumps in the road, there's comfort in Elder Holland's concluding testimony:
"'If ye love me, keep my commandments,' Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can't quit and we can't go back. After an encounter with the living Son of the living God, nothing is ever again to be as it was before. . . .
"The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, 'Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.' That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well."
Lead image from lds.org.
"If you need a burden lifted, I want you to imagine I am in a personal, private, closed-door chat with you. I want to help you if I can." With those words, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland invites every reader of his latest book to become a friend, to receive instruction and encouragement, counsel and comfort.