Dear Sister, Dear Elder…

A couple years back, one of my nephews was serving a mission. He’d served—like he lived life, generally—with gusto. He was now a Zone Leader or some such, and his letters home had grown shorter and a little less frequent. We’ve all been there. But I saw this as a chance to help him not only be a better missionary… but to forge those habits which could make him a better human.

My letter to him, below (edited for clarity)…


The transfer board.

Good morning!

I’m enjoying your letters home and think of you often. The whole family misses you—though I must admit that I’ve loved watching as [the second child] has grown into the role of big brother. You trained him well.

Something in your last letter, though, prompted me to write…

You said something along the lines of “not having time to write because the workload has been so heavy, lately”. And while this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing, I want to push back—kind of hard, really.

You have 6.5 days to labor in the field… and less than half a day to regroup, refresh, and restock. You need that downtime. Your companion needs that downtime. Those who look to you as a leader need that downtime.

That’s not to say that you owe us a letter every week (you don’t owe us any letters at all—though I think your parents would disagree). If something has to go, let it be the letter… but something tells me that you’re likely pushing a lot of other things out of the way, ahead of the letter. And that’s not good.

You Need the Downtime

God set aside one day in seven for his children—out of love and concern. The Sabbath, we are told, was made for us. How we see fit to give our full-time missionaries only half a Sabbath (and your P-day really is a sabbath) is beyond me (don’t get me started). Anyway… you need it. You might think that you can get by on less than a “whole” P-day… but you’re wrong. Rest time is essential for the mind, body, and soul.

Your Companion Needs the Downtime

If I’m reading your e-mails correctly, I’m guessing you’re the senior companion—which means decisions you make about your time trickles down to him. He shouldn’t be penalized for your lack of planning. He will resent you if you rob him of the little bit of time he has to recharge… and the work will suffer. Even if the work isn’t suffering, he is. Remember what I said in my first letter:

the first soul you save on your mission is your own. The second is your companion’s. The rest are just icing on the cake.

Your Flock Need You to Have Downtime

As a leader in your mission, you are held up as an example. So if you’re cutting corners on your P-day, chances are that others who look to you for cues are, too. And that’s wrong.

You should be modeling behaviors that lead people to use their proselyting time effectively and to count their prep time as sacred. This is important in the mission field, when it can feel as if you’re entire soul is consumed by the work. We say “lose yourself in the work”, but that assumes a sabbath—it assumes that the work ebbs and flows. I much prefer the admonition to “be present”. When it’s proselyting time, focus on proselyting time. When it’s P-day, focus on regrouping, refreshing, and restocking.

It’s even more important to learn this now—because it’s not any easier when you get home.

Visiting ward members.


We live in a world where we’re never done with work, church, and family responsibilities. Never. And since we’re never done, it’s easy to squander what little personal and family time we have pursuing goals we’ll never achieve—“I have so much work to do” is never solved by stealing time away from yourself and your family to give to your employer—no matter who your employer is.

If I’m coming across as a little… strident, it’s because this important.

Be the missionary who works hard and plays hard. Be the missionary who shows how much he loves his companion by honoring the little bit of personal time his companion gets. Be the leader who knows that a refreshed team is a happier, healthier, more productive team.

Remember a couple phrases:

  • This can wait for proselyting time.
  • This can wait for P-day.
  • This can wait until we get home.

Each of these phrases is critical to your success as a missionary.

I love you and am so proud of you… I want you to be happy, healthy, and successful—and while success is defined a number of ways, I don’t know a definition that doesn’t include “happy and healthy”.

Godspeed and all my love…

Uncle Harry

Missionaries pose under a sign that reads 'Bon Voyage'. It's one last photo in the mission home before they head to the airport.


  1. This feels like an appropriate time to share some advice I received on my mission regarding downtime. Here is the full email I received, from an older friend who at the time of his writing this had just graduated from an officer candidate school in one of the branches of the military. Edited by me for language:


    i was talking to ____ ____ the other day and hear that you were getting a little truncky. this comes with no surprise, seeing that you are getting close to the end of the mission. you may also feel entitled to that feeling due to the fact that you have been out for so long and done so many good things. here is where most people would say ‘hang in there’, ‘just a little longer’ and ‘just pray and ask for help’. well i dont believe in any of that crap. how about acting like a man, cut that bulls**t out and get back to work. you have a job to do and you are not done with yours yet. no one gives a d**n that you want to come home, especially the Lord. He wants his work done by you, that is why he called you and placed you in your exact position. so stop feeling sorry for your self, repent and get your a** back to work. realize that you will never have this chance again to do what you are doing. you still have people to find and teach and you would be a son of a bi**h if you pi**ed away your time because you were tired, sleepy, hungry or just plain lazy. how selfish are you to deny the blessings that we take for granted every day, by virtue of being members of the church, because you want to come home. dishonorable. _______, the intent of this letter was to motivate you to get back to work. i hope that it was not to harsh. there will be many hard things to do in life, this one happens not to be one of them. get back to work and you will never regret your mission and what you did. _______ and i are praying for you and look forward to hearing about your mission. i look forward to hearing from you.

    LT. ____________”

  2. I’m curious as to if he ever responded, and if so, how? Was your counsel (very wise, by the way) received well?

  3. @anon: Oh man…that guy took OTS waaayyy too seriously. Who signs a letter to a friend “V/r” … and then with his rank? You didn’t say the branch, but “LT” is only a grade in the Navy. At any rate, someone went to boot camp and came away thinking he’s Captain America. I assume after a few years of life experience he learned when to switch Commando Mode on and off. The advice (work hard) is fine; the advice in the main article shows more balance. Both make me wonder whether everyone writing missionaries is a little too eager to offer half-informed assessments of the missionary’s perceived deficiencies.

  4. Happy Hubby says:

    I had a son that went on a mission and emotionally it really hurt him due to the “go go go go” (the more you GO the more righteous you are) mentality. He visited a foreign country with some interesting history and culture. He never once had a day to visit any cultural sites the entire 2 years. In fact when his district didn’t meet their numbers, they had to take a 1+ hour bus ride on their P-day to the mission office so they could be “taught” how to do better. By the time they got back they didn’t have time to send emails, do laundry, buy food. And they had this “punishment” for at least a month (more if they continued to miss their number of baptisms). The bus trip was expensive enough to make them broke by week 3 of the month and have to live off the charity of the very poor members. That just isn’t right.

  5. D Christian Harrison says:

    LauraJP… As far as I recall, my nephew never responded. I should ask him.

  6. Christian, good letter. Should be general advice (if it isn’t, or isn’t made so by this posting).

    I’ve probably shared this before, but recall learning (second/third hand, back in my mission days) that there was a pattern of psychological counseling for returned missionaries who had skipped p-days (whether by their own choice or by the direction of a gung-ho zone leader or even mission president). It is apparently a mentally destructive practice.

  7. I think this is really excellent. It brings back memories of my own mission. My second companion was one of these extreme go-getters. She saw working through our P-days as evidence of our willingness to sacrifice for the Lord. Sometimes we would go several weeks without a P-day at all, other than perhaps taking two hours in the morning to do laundry and grocery shop. The same companion also saw getting up an hour early and staying up an hour late (to do things like bake cookies for our investigators or attempt to learn Cambodian to talk to a family we’d met–we were in an English speaking mission) in the same vein. All I gained from these “sacrifices” was complete physical exhaustion and a bout of depression that took me the bulk of my mission to recuperate from. I look at P-day as almost a commandment, a mission rule just as important as any other. It is there for a reason!

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    “It is there for a reason!”
    Yep. The Missionary Handbook (2006 version) is quite explicit about it too.
    “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order” (Mosiah 4:27).
    Use preparation day to take care of personal needs, such as writing to your family, washing clothes, getting a haircut, cleaning your apartment, shopping, and washing the car, if you have been assigned one to use. Also use this day to prepare so that you can give full attention to proselyting during the rest of the week.
    Arise at 6:30 a.m., and follow the regular study sched- ule. Preparation day ends by 6:00 p.m. Proselyte from 6:00 p.m. to the end of the evening.”

    The first sentence fragment is there for a reason. Personal needs include mental and physical recovery.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    Good post, Christian. I think that culturally, Mormons (especially American Mormons) aren’t so good at managing a healthy work-life balance. I firmly believe that’s the whole point of having a sabbath day in the first place–balancing work and rest is an eternal principle that God has been trying to teach us by example (Genesis 2), by commandment (Exodus 20), and further clarified by Christ (Mark 2:27)–and we still can’t seem to get it right.

  10. Adam Fennimore says:

    Christian, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your post on Russell M. Nelson that is no longer visible on this site (as of 1/18). It was so helpful to me and just what I needed to read. As someone who feels that Pres. Nelson misrepresented the origin and status of the POX and put his fellow apostles in a difficult situation I have found it difficult to know how I could raise my hand in consent to his ordination. Your thoughts separating consent from sustaining, what it means to sustain, and how for the office of President we are never asked to consent to the calling were a great strength to me. Your piece was the balm in Gilead that I had been hoping to find on BCC. I’m sorry it is gone and hope it can return. Kind of ironic that a piece that deals directly with what “by common consent” means should disappear from a blog of the same name.

    Oh, and I also loved this post. I’m a longtime lurker on BCC, but very rarely participate in the conversation.

  11. Christian, Your comments on sustaining in the post that disappeared as of today are valuable to a good number of my acquaintances. I hope that post comes back, even if in modified form. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  12. D Christian Harrison says:

    Adam, JR… thank you! That is so kind. Hopefully you’ve seen that the updated post is up. :-)