So yesterday I took my sister-in-law and daughter to see Venus at the art house theater in Highland Park. Afterwards, my daughter convinced her soft touch dad to stop at Anthropologie so I could buy her a dress. While I was standing around waiting for her, I noticed a book, entitled something like Letters to My Former Self. The idea was to try to convey what you wished you had known then but have since learned by dint of experience, education and maturity. I didn’t even browse the book, but I thought it was an intriguiging idea. (Sort of like future Hiro conveying a message for current Hiro on Heroes.) So I would like to write a letter to myself as a missionary. (My hope is that others in the comments will similarly write notes to some version of their former selves.)
Dear Elder Barney,
You don’t know me, but I am you, a little more than 25 years from now. I just thought I would drop you a few lines. Thanks for doing this, by the way. I know it’s hard, and you miss school and girls and all. Especially the girls–even if you are a terrible flirt with the locals. And having to be with another guy 24/7 is no picnic. Ugh. I understand completely. But trust me, this is going to be really good for you over the long haul. It will be over with before you know it. So suck it up and stick with it; one day soon enough you’ll be glad you did.
I know you’re not much of a stickler for the rules, and that’s ok. I think you were such a goody-two-shoes in high school that your subconscious sort of sees this as your chance to rebel, albeit in a safe way where you don’t do anything that is really wrong or destructive or dangerous. So don’t worry too much about that secret stash of Heart, Boston, Styx and Supertramp tapes–but also please continue to listen to plenty of Handel’s Messiah, as that is what is really going to get you through this thing. You’re never going to be made an ape, anyway, so I don’t begrudge you a few creature comforts. I won’t mention all of the other rules you broke, such as that time you and the other elders went skinny dipping in your apartment pool after hours, because, well, I’m copying this to some friends on something called a “blog,” and I wouldn’t want to shock anyone.
So let me get to the point. There are three things I would like for you to understand better than you do right now. First, please try not to worry so much about the numbers. I know you’ve been socialized–hard–to care only about the statistics, and in particular the almighty baptism statistic. I know it seems as though nothing else matters. But the stats are only important in that they represent real, actual people. You’ve got to keep your focus on the people themselves, all the time. Don’t just see them as a potential notch on your scripture case. You need to talk to them, listen to them, do what you can to help them. Some of them are going to choose not to be baptized, and that’s ok. Don’t take it personally. Don’t sweat it at all. You will reach people because of your laid back personality that the more aggressive elders could never reach (and vice versa). It’s ok to be yourself; you don’t have to try to mimic others or turn yourself into a high pressure tactics salesman to help people. Just be yourself, and you’ll do fine.
Second: The day will come when missionaries will be allowed to spend part of their time doing community service. So I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you just go ahead and start to do this on your own? It’s not like you’re overly concerned about breaking the rules, anyway (see above). And I know you have a lot of influence with your companions, and you could talk them into it. You know how you enjoy giving blessings at the hospitals in your area? Well, you can extend that. Find some good volunteer organizations and help out. A soup kitchen for the homeless would be nice. You’ll still have tons of time to proselyte, and you’ll feel better about yourself and what you’re doing.
Third. When you have some good investigators and are leading them to baptism, you really need to focus a lot more than you do on their social transition into the Church. You don’t really grasp this yet, but even if someone has a fledgling testimony in the Gospel of the Restoration, if they don’t know anybody at Church and don’t have friends who will survive the next transfers, there isn’t much chance that they will last as active, contributing members. So you really need to involve members at every step of the way. And besides, this will be fun for you, too. Figure out some members who you think will mesh well with your investigators/new members, and ask them to host a little dinner party, with several other couples and your peeps. You can go, too, at least for awhile. No lesson or anything, just good food (maybe barbecue) and conversation. Then next Sunday when your peeps come to Church, these other families are going to come up to them and engage them in a conversation, and really care about them and welcome them. This is way more important than you understand, right now, and you really ought to work a lot harder to make sure these kinds of interactions happen. Because they will make all the difference.
Well, sorry for taking so much of your time. Don’t worry about your future; it’s a good one, and you’ll be happy. I’d try to explain this whole “blog” business to you, but you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.