I’ve spent the last 78 days redefining “full-time mission” and “returned missionary,” building up the courage to decide to not go back out, and learning to be happy about being home, and it has been the weirdest, most humbling journey. I think every returned missionary goes through some sort of grieving period after they come home. We miss the people, the food (maybe), the work, and the Spirit we felt constantly. Randomly we’ll drive past Walmart and feel out of place, because that’s something we didn’t see in our missions. Or we’ll say words with weird accents and realize that our weird accents that were normal in the field are actually weird. But it’s a little different when you come home unexpectedly. I hate putting myself into the category of “early returned missionary,” because I think that God doesn’t see me any differently than a normal returned missionary. But there are a few differences down here on Earth that have made my first 78 days home different than the standard readjustment period, and I feel like we—as members of the church—need to learn how to support and treat an “early returned missionary.” I know that I’m no expert and have literally no church calling to back me up, but I’ve lived through this and know what it’s like. It’s hard. It makes you question your testimony. It’s sad. It hurts (literally for some of us who come home for health reasons). It’s confusing. It’s a lot of crap all mixed together. That’s what it’s like, and I feel super protective of others in my situation and just want to help them out. Sooooo I’ve thought of some of the main things “early returned missionaries” struggle with ON TOP OF healing spiritually, physically, and emotionally, and now I’m sharing it with you—their loved ones.
WE ARE RETURNED MISSIONARIES.
Whether we served for two days, twenty-three months, or half a year, we served for that amount of time as FULL-TIME missionaries, and now that we are home, we are RETURNED MISSIONARIES. Alright all you “early returned missionaries,” say it with me, “I AM A RETURNED MISSIONARY.” For me this was something that I struggled with, referring to myself as a returned missionary instead of always adding the caveat that I only served for 9 months. I’ve been lucky to have such great friends and family members who haven’t put me in the “early returned” category and have just treated me like a returned missionary. Here’s my advice to help your loved one feel like they are RETURNED MISSIONARIES:
- Don’t dwell on the fact they only served for as long as they did. Don’t bring it up in every conversation you have with them about their mission. They served for the amount of time God needed them to serve, and then He called them home (Doctrine and Covenants 42:5).
- Help us to be happy about being home by being happy that we are home! I felt super guilty about being happy in my first few months home (I’ve only been home for a few months. Whoops.). But just like you’re happy that Brother Billy Bob came home after two years, be happy that we are home! And be extra happy that we can receive the help that we need back here at home.
- Talk to them about their missions. We love talking about our missions, just as all returned missionaries do. Ask us about the funny stories and the miracles we saw. But don’t be offended if we don’t want to answer. Sometimes we feel like our missions weren’t as good, because we came home early. Give us time to process that we are home and not still in the field.
- Thank them for their service. We also need to hear that people are proud of us and recognize that we served our Heavenly Father and the people we were around.
- Include them in your “returned missionary” activities. I have a great group of friends who are all returned missionaries, and they constantly are inviting me to hang out with them and share my mission stories. I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t feel “worthy” of hanging out with them or sharing my stories, but it honestly helps me a lot to feel like a real returned missionary. Again, don’t be offended if we turn down the offer: just keep trying. We love you for it.
WE ARE WORTH NO LESS THAN THOSE WHO SERVE FOR 2 YEARS OR 18 MONTHS.
Today I stumbled across this post from a girl who was worried about dating a guy who served for six months and then came home for “personal reasons,” and as I read what she wrote my blood boiled, my heart broke, and my inner-Hulk started coming out. “THAT BOY IS A RETURNED MISSIONARY,” I wanted to yell through my poor phone screen, but I didn’t, because that would be rude. I just hate thinking that people think we are any less worthy of love, blessings, or happiness, because we didn’t return home on the date printed on our missionary plaques or ministerial certificates signed by the Prophet. That is the biggest lie that Satan will tell “early” returned missionaries—and their loved ones. FREAKING SATAN. I’ve fallen into this trap so many times lol, and it’s not fun. Here’s how you can help avoid this stupid lie that makes me want to throw very large objects at the rats outside my apartment:
- TELL YOUR RETURNED MISSIONARY THAT YOU LOVE THEM. It’s so simple. Just send us a text or even an email saying that you love us and are proud of who we are becoming. Better yet, give us a hug and tell us you love us in person.
- Don’t base ANYONE’S worth on the amount of time they served a mission. Look at people for who they are. A person’s worth doesn’t come from their accomplishments. I promise you that God loves all His children, even those who didn’t serve the anticipated 2 years/18 months, and I’m sure He loves those who didn’t serve a mission at all because of health reasons or whatever the reason is. It’s soooooo common for “early returned missionaries” to feel like we will be worse spouses/parents/leaders in the church just because we came home early. There are some of us who come home for personal worthiness issues (they are the bravest souls), and they need to know more than anything that their worth is INFINITE. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the side of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). There’s no exception there. We are worth more than we know to God, regardless of our mistakes, so PLEASE don’t judge us as we heal emotionally, physically, or spiritually.
- Remind us that we are great. Sometimes we just need a nice compliment to help us as we struggle through the life we didn’t think we’d be living.
WE ARE MAKING LIFE DECISIONS THAT CAN FREAK US OUT.
Now that we are unexpectedly home we need to make some decisions that seem REALLY BIG in our eyes, and the biggest decision—which for some of us, has already been made—is whether to go back out on a mission or stay home and move on. This is a very personal decision. It’s solely between us and God, really. Since coming home I have a newfound love and testimony of God’s plan for me. It’s so individual and so perfect for me. And I love how God’s plan for Lisi Hong is different from everyone else’s God-designed plans! I decided that I am going to stay home. I prayed, fasted, and studied it out for loads of time, and I feel confident that this is my next part of the plan. But like I said everyone’s different, so let us be different. Here’s my two-cents when it comes to being supportive but not too controlling in our decision making process:
- Realize that we are not the same. Just because John Smith from down the street is headed back out, doesn’t mean we should. What is best for us is not necessarily what someone else is doing. God knows why He needs us to stay or go back out, and honestly we don’t.
- Give us time and help us know that there is time. When I came home I felt like I needed to decide like right then whether to stay or to go back, but in reality I’ve got timeeeeeeee. Don’t push us to make any decisions. Let us figure things out when the time is right. Personal revelation can’t be rushed (hahahahaha I’ve learned that the hard way *insert stories about being mad at God for not receiving something RIGHT NOW.*)
- Support us in receiving our own revelation. God’s not gonna tell you what is right for me, you feel? We need to receive our own answers. When your loved one does receive an answer, support them in that. Don’t judge them if they decide not to go back out. It’s not a sin to follow the Spirit. If you are struggling with the decisions of your loved ones, I’d invite you to pray about it. Ask God for peace. It will come. I’ll also admit that sometimes we don’t make the best decisions, and we also can be selfish, scared young adults who don’t want to do hard things. That being said, we all have our agency, and maybe someday we’ll figure it all out. (That wasn’t comforting at all. I know. Sorry.) I do know though that God’s got your back, and He’s watching over your loved ones. Don’t be mad or distance yourself from someone if you feel they decided wrong. Even if you think we are being dumb. We probably are dumb, but we need you in our lives.
Coming home early is weird. It’s just a weird circumstance. Like only “early” returned Mormon missionaries feel like crap for seeing their family and friends after being away for long periods of time, and I don’t think God wants us to feel that way when we come home. And maybe you—the concerned loved one—will follow my advice and want to sue me afterwards, because your “early returned missionary” is still sad. BUT BEFORE YOU DO THAT, let me say that coming to terms with being home is hard for us. We deal with a lot of internal stuff that you won’t ever know about. And we’ll push you away and get mad and sit in our rooms for hours and basically turn into potatoes, BUT WE NEED YOU. WE NEED YOUR LOVE. Maybe what I say will help, but maybe not. I just hope you will love us and be here for us, your lovely, returned missionaries.