I served a mission because it was expected.
As I served with various companions, I learned that each had come out to serve in the mission field for different reasons. Honestly, the reasons were as varied as the missionaries themselves. So, when you ask a missionary, “Why did you serve a mission?” You will get a lot of different answers.
But that is the wrong question. Instead, ask, “What made you stay on your mission?”
This will give you a much more perceptive answer. For myself, about 8 months into my mission, I was contemplating going home. You see, I really did go out because everyone expected it. My seminary teacher, my youth teachers, my bishop, and even my parents … who were in the process of a divorce, still expected me to serve. It had been an expectation for me my entire life.
So I went.
And I did everything that was asked of me, followed every rule. I thought I was doing okay, until my companion sat me down for a frank conversation. (*This did not happen during companionship inventory, when I might have expected it. Instead, I was ambushed right after lunch!) The conversation was kind, yet very, very blunt.
My apathetic, going-through-the-motions missionary service affected my companion’s ability to serve. Yes, I’d always go along with whatever was proposed and I never complained … but I never brought any ideas to the table. I never really contributed to discussions.
My blasé attitude upset my companion.
After this discussion, I was frustrated. What more was expected? I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, where I was supposed to be … what more was wanted?
I made it a matter of prayer and I continued to do all the daily missionary things that are expected. But I wanted out. I should just go home and get on with my life. Obviously, a mission just wasn’t for me.
I was no longer even bothered by what someone else might think. After all, another young man in my home ward had recently come home early and everyone treated him with open arms, no questions, and no repercussions. So, why not me too?
Still, I continued to go through the motions, waiting for something, anything.
Then something changed within my heart. I was no longer just going along with my companion to our teaching appointments. Suddenly I paid attention to the changes I saw happening in our investigators lives. Not all of the investigators, just the ones who were really emotionally committed. The ones who did all that was asked of them and came back with more questions. The changes in their lives were remarkable!
I discovered a joy in teaching. I discovered a joy in praying for each of them. I was no longer showing up to a service project, ready to work … I was LOOKING for opportunities to serve wherever I went!
It was a turning point.
Every missionary might leave for a mission for a uniquely personal reason. Every missionary who stays, I think, stays because they discover the reason: the power the gospel has to actually change lives. Once I really recognized that the gospel wasn’t just a set of rules for me to follow, but instead, a way of living with joy and peace … I wanted to share that with everyone I met!
That is when my mission started to fly by and there were just not enough hours in the day to do all the good I wanted to do.
As this recently returned missionary shared his experiences and thoughts with me this last week, the General Conference talk by Elder Wilford W. Andersen came to mind. “The dance steps of the gospel are the things we do; the music of the gospel is the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost. It brings a change of heart and is the source of all righteous desires. The dance steps require discipline, but the joy of the dance will only be experienced when we come to hear the music.”
Sometimes, in my own journey of discipleship, I have just gone through the motions. I haven’t felt the music, the joys, of the gospel. I keep doing what is right because I know that, eventually, I will again feel the peace and happiness and strength of the gospel.
These times of discipleship are like the desert paths between the oasis of paradise. Difficult, dry, and sometimes painfully lonely. Yet, we only reach the oasis by moving ourselves forward, one step at a time.
If you find yourself feeling apathetic and disengaged, keep going through the motions, keep learning the steps of the dance. As you do so, you will come to be filled with the music and joy of the gospel.
Growing up all over the world gave Emlee Taylor an opportunity to see the incredible differences the Lord created in humanity; and even better, the passions we all share as members of the human race: love for family, faith, & a desire to make a difference. Emlee lives life with passion—focusing her time now on raising four children and teaching them to recognize truth and to live true to that truth, regardless of others’ expectations. Emlee is passionately in love with her bestest friend and husband of more than 20 years.