Early

*Original post found here*

I have four sons. Ever since my boys were little, I tried to prepare them for serving a mission for our church. Its what we do. It’s in our culture. This is something our church asks from each worthy young man at age 18. (Young women are also able to serve but they are not under the same mandate as our young men.) So, our boys, as they grow into men, plan to serve. Missionaries (usually) earn the money for their mission themselves, they spend night and day serving God, they leave behind girlfriends, scholarships and cars. And they are always so excited to finally get to be a full time missionary.

But nobody talks about what to do when things go differently than planned. It’s actually not a very comfortable topic. Maybe its just because not everyone knows how to handle it. So, lets lay it out there. Sometimes, missions end much earlier than anyone ever planned. Both of my sons who have served came home early; each with an honorable release, but each, at least partially, feeling like they failed.

Cognitively, they understand what supportive family, friends and ward members tell them. “You did your best.”  “God loves you anyway.”  “Your mission just looks different than everyone else’s.” Etcetera.

It’s a struggle. Its something that, I believe, they will ache over for some time. However, even in this trial – and it IS a trial for those who go through it – God did not leave us without an example.

Remember Alma the Younger? You can find his story in the Book of Mormon beginning in Mosiah chapter 27. His father, having been converted by the words of Abinidi, became the leader of Christ’s church. It must have been so hard for Alma Sr. to watch his son and four of his buddies do everything they could to destroy the very church he had helped build. These young men worked tirelessly to hinder the growth of the church… until an angel of God stopped them. Alma the Younger and his friends all had a miraculous change of heart and, consequently, wanted to repair the damage they had done. So, with more zeal than they had before, they went about to repair the harm they had wrought upon the church.

These were men who, with a changed heart, wanted to preach the gospel. The four friends of Alma the Younger were sons of the righteous King Mosiah. They wanted to serve a mission to the Lamanites – who, at that time were violent, wicked and hostile. After much pleading with their father, he finally agreed that they could serve that mission. The Sons of Mosiah, as they are often called, were incredible missionaries. They baptized multitudes of people. Often, converting whole kingdoms. Entire cities would believe in their words. What they accomplished was nothing short of miraculous.

When you hear people recount this story, they always assume Alma the Younger was with them in the mission field. But guess what? He stayed behind. He stayed with his father and accepted the appointment of Chief Judge from the people. So, even though he went on, after his conversion, to be a great leader, he did not serve a mission at the same time, or even in the same way as his buddies.

And yet, when we think of Alma the Younger, not one person would think of him less than his peers. He is counted as a great missionary, a great leader. Now, I don’t know why he stayed behind while his friends went to serve. But I imagine, it was a little difficult to hear of the amazing experiences his friends were having without wishing he were there too.

Alma the Younger went on to have incredible experiences of his own. He served a mission later with his own sons but his path did not look like his friends. I am convinced, however, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some people are called to serve a mission like the Sons of Mosiah and some are called to serve like Alma the Younger. Thank goodness Heavenly Father looks on our hearts and knows our desires. Thank goodness He knows what we need most.

The Lord has an individual road map for each of us. Sometimes it doesn’t look like we expected it would look. Often it is different than what we planned. And, it almost never is the same as a friend’s road map. But always, His path for us will be the best. It will bring us to the greatest possible happiness.

So, for my two beautiful boys, who had to end their mission early and to every missionary who’s heart still longs to be in the mission field, I urge you to remember success is not measured by what you have planned. It is measured by how you respond to what the Lord has planned.

*find me at www.deliberatediscipleship.com.
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About Kathy P.

Kathy is a mother to five beautiful children. She is married to her highschool sweetheart and living in beautiful Colorado. Kathy graduated with a BS in Family Sciences from Brigham Young University. In her free time, Kathy loves to write, sew and dabble in photography. Kathy can also be found blogging at www.DeliberateDiscipleship.com.

7 thoughts on “Early

  1. Years ago when I was a young mother I attended a sacrament meeting that had the theme of asking several of the young, active father’s in the ward to report on how their mission had influenced their path later in life, with the implication that their missions had laid the foundation for successful fatherhood and marriage. I was surprised when the Bishop announced the theme because I had attended high school with one of the young men and knew that he had married his girl friend while both of them were high school students and a full term baby had been born about 6 months later. Now he was the Elders Quorum president. As each young father stood to speak it turned out that none of them served a mission. One had been inactive until he met a girl who would only be married in the temple. Another had chosen to serve in Viet Nam instead of claiming a religious exception.
    My three sons served missions and one returned early. Two of my 6 daughters found that their eternal companion was ready to be married and their plans for a mission were set aside.
    I love that serving a mission is the goal of Mormon youth, just as is eternal marriage, and even though all three of my returned missionary daughters saw their first marriage end in divorce, they value the ideal and continue to work toward it.

  2. “I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age [eighteen]. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.”—President Monson, Oct. 2012

  3. We have four sons also, only one has gone on a mission; the other three are either completely inactive, or partially so. It breaks my heart, but I think of them as “Alma the Youngers” who still have to be touched by an angel, so to speak. They are good young men and we have good relationships with them but we can’t pray away their agency.

  4. I enjoy the story of a brother-in-law, who when he prayed about serving a mission got a variation on “No.”

    That was hard for him, to remain “home” when the norm for his peers was to serve.

    I similarly have a daughter who married before reaching the age to serve, a daughter who is eager to serve starting this year, and a third who is disabled and will not be able to serve a traditional mission. And a son, whose mission started when he was 8 days old. Talk about early.

    We are each children of God, and He has enough mercy for all of us to make our way to Him, no matter how our path leads us. May we each have enough compassion for those around us that we need not wince at our unmeaning cruelty (or willing codependency) in the day of final judgment.

  5. John, your comment here is so, so important. I suspect much of the recent spike in “early” returns is due to the ill-advised cultural pressure to serve at age 18. I had a great experience at 19 after a year of college, but I suspect I would have had a very poor (and brief) experience had I left at age 18 right out of high school.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the church moved to an age 19 policy for men and women in the near future.

  6. There’s a lot to be said for mission preparation. And by that I mean real prep–serious consideration for and about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I was a few months shy of 20 when I went into the MTC, and I don’t think I’d have survived if I’d done the papers-in-on-the-19th-birthday thing. Not to be snide, but I’m also not from Utah, and sadly I think that’s important.

  7. I was 2 months shy of 21 when I finally decided to serve a mission 22 years ago. There was a lot of family/social pressure for me to serve and that was the main reason I delayed my decision. It actually took me moving out on my own for a year and leaving the family/social pressure behind before I could get my bearings and decide for myself what I wanted to do.

    It felt odd leaving just as many of my friends were coming home. It sometimes felt odd being the “old” Elder out in the field but I don’t know if I would have lasted 2 years if I had gone at 19 like my friends. Everyone has their own path and their own decisions to make. As my sons start approaching mission age, I want them to fully understand that serving a full-time mission is their decision and I’ll love them no matter what they choose.

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