Option A or Option B: Coming Home Early from an LDS Mission

[part 6 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionary work]

photo source

A few months ago, when it seemed that you were the most unhappy and when you first started considering coming home, our branch president asked how you were doing. 

I know that disappointing our branch president and your little sisters were two of your main reasons for staying on your mission. So I thought you’d be interested in the conversation we had about you:

Me:

“He doesn’t seem very happy. He’s considering coming home.” 

Branch President:

“I get it. A mission wouldn’t have been for me. I didn’t go. My brother did, and he did well. But I wouldn’t have done well on a mission. I didn’t go.”

Me:

“I’m not sure what advice to give him, whether to encourage him to stay or not, or what would be better for him spiritually.” 

Branch President:

“I would say that you don’t encourage him to come home, but if that’s what he chooses, then we give him Love and Support. That’s all it will be from me and you and everybody. Love and Support. Love and Support.”

I want you to know that we’ll send you Love and Support in the mission field and Love and Support when you come home. 

I’m not very concerned about the stigma of coming home ‘early.’ Most local friends won’t know there is a stigma unless we tell them. For another thing, Covid has changed and truncated many missionaries’ plans. 

My concern is how you understand your choice – Do you feel that you are finishing early for you? Or do you feel that you are finishing at the right time for you? In which direction do you lean more often?

To turn to the issue of disappointing your sisters…

I’m not very concerned about you hurting your sisters or other family members. For one thing, you’ve contributed to the family in many wonderful ways by your openness about your faith journey and your continued desire for connection. In addition, your letters and phone calls have opened conversations that have been pending in our family for years, conversations between your dad and me, and between our parents and us. 

Family members have shared experiences from their missions that I’ve never heard before. I’ve shared things with you that I haven’t often tried putting into words.

About your little sisters… Here’s the conversation I had with one of them while we were hiking. I thought this conversation showed S. (12 years old) to be quite wise without any coaching from me:

Me:

“What do you think of your brother coming home from his mission at the end of the month?”

She:

“I haven’t talked with him about this specifically, but…. (pause) … I think the mission hasn’t been what he was hoping it would be … (pause) … I think he feels he can do more good when he’s not a missionary.”

Me:

“Do you still want to go on a mission?”

She:

“Yes! I’ve heard a lot of other people talk about the good things that can happen in a mission, and I hope it would be more like that for me. Besides, now I know that I can come home if it’s not.”

Then she moved easily on to another conversation topic, even though I would have spent longer on this one.

Option A and Option B

Since you’ve been open with me, I will give you the respect of being transparent in return. 

In my mind, triumphing over your challenges and finishing a 2-year mission is Option A. From my perspective, Option B is for you to find it impossible or hurtful to reconcile yourself with missionary life and to finish your mission now. 

Suppose Option A (finishing a 2-year mission) is taken off the table. In that case, you’d better believe I’ll be all-in with Option B. I’ll do everything in my power to make your homecoming a thriving, extraordinary situation in its own right. 

I’ll start telling all my local friends you are coming home and how excited I am to see you sooner than expected. I’ll plan a welcome-home family trip and some special family time. I’ll schedule times with our branch president and the extended family to report on your mission to tell us about some of the things you learned on your mission (if you are willing). 

I’ll help you find a job and make plans for school. I’ll get excited about the movies I want to watch with you (I have a list!). I’ll plan to do Thomas McConkie’s online course with you that you suggested, and we can talk about books and podcasts. 

I’ll be a mama bear and be ready to tear anyone apart who shames you for spending a year of your life and your own money to learn more about God and help people.  

Full disclosure: at the moment, that’s my Option B. 

In my mind, and from my perspective, Option A would be…

-that you stick with the script, so to speak, 

-that you finish the entire 2 years of your mission, 

-that you overcome the mission challenges that have been set before you, 

-that you don’t just survive, but that you discover how to thrive, and become an informal leader in your mission, 

-that you use your mission time to learn how you and God work together, 

-that you learn to teach with power and authority that come from prayer and fasting, even if your teaching style and methods are unprecedented in your mission. 

My Option A is NOT for you to endure your mission in your current state. Instead, my Option A is…

-that you keep becoming new on your mission, 

-that God changes your heart (it’s a gift),  

-that you could be an outlier in your mission, using your glorious and quirky self even if you don’t fit in with the other missionaries,

-that you realize life is messy and beautiful on a mission, and that life is messy and beautiful off a mission, 

-that you choose to stay on the mission because you feel hope in that direction. 

That’s my Option A. It’s what I think I want. If my Option A isn’t your Option A, I’ll grieve its loss for a while, at the same time that I turn toward Option B with fresh eyes.

When I talk about Option A being “impossible,” I don’t mean to say that it would not be possible for you to make it through another year as a missionary without going mad. You’ve made it clear that you could. However, Option A might become impossible because 1) you’ve chosen something else, and it’s your decision to make, and 2) Option A, as I described it, as a sort-of triumphant option, isn’t an honest option.

Maybe my Option B is your Option A. If you choose it, I’ll make it my Option A, too.

Love,

Mom

Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this series. This one really hit home as my oldest child is returning home today, at nearly the 1 year point. He struggled to find happiness when onerous Covid related restrictions kept him largely in his apartment with far too little missionary work to do. And he struggled to find his footing as he worked with companions who were unprepared for or unable or unwilling to fully engage. We watched anxiously as his mental and emotional health declined into depression and anxiety, things we never before had seen in him. Roughly 10 weeks ago he told us he wanted to come home. We encouraged him from the outset to weigh various factors, to speak frankly with his mission president, and to fast and pray. Above all, we encouraged him to make the decision that felt right to him. And we let go of our own conceptions about what it might mean to come home ‘early’ and focused instead on the fact that he had chosen to serve, that God knew his heart, his intent, and his purpose, and that everything works out in the end. In a few hours we will drive to the airport and celebrate the completion of his mission and his homecoming. It will be a glorious reunion.

  2. Wondering says:

    My how things have changed if it is even possible for a missionary to decide when to come home. Decades ago (when parents sent funds directly to missionaries and the Church paid for transportation to and from European mission fields) we had a missionary who desperately wanted to come home. He couldn’t afford transportation and the mission president refused the Church’s assistance — until ETB (at a mission conference where he interviewed each missionary) told the mission president to send him home. He went home for a few months and then completed his 2-year mission elsewhere.
    Another drank himself into the hospital and was sent home with a medical release. I wondered if he did that to persuade the mission president to send him home.

    I really appreciate this series and this post, but might be concerned about a suggestion that a missionary should “become a leader.” In my mission, that meant get “promoted” to DL or ZL by consistently turning in reports of high numbers of proselyting hours, whether they were real or not. One of my senior companions managed to get promoted (to please his parents) by really working — and working a couple junior companions to exhaustion. Same one told me the prior mission president had sent so many home early that when he threatened to send home anyone who didn’t turn in weekly reports showing 65+ proselyting hours, they all started lying on their reports. I once worked for a full week with a DL who had consistently turned in reports of extraordinary numbers of proselyting hours. At the end of the week he had counted 70 and I had counted 50. He didn’t do any proselyting that I didn’t do with him. Maybe I just didn’t know how to count.
    Of course, there are other ways to be a “leader” without an ecclesiastical promotion, but I think I’d want to make that clear.

  3. lastlemming says:

    Wondering,
    I actually got a laugh out of one companion when I quoted the first half of Mosiah 14:1 to him:

    “Yea, even doth not Isaiah say: Who hath believed our report…?”

  4. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Awesome Excellent post! This attitude is how the entire ward should react for all early return missionaries! I think the church has been pushing for this kind of change of attitude with people who don’t/ can’t go, or who choose to come home early, but the church’s language on this is not as forceful and direct as this post.
    I struggled on my mission with the mind-numbing unending hours of tracting, the facade of happy DLs and ZLs. In the end, I finished my two years, and was proud of the fact that I was never a DL or ZL.

  5. Chadwick says:

    In my neck of the woods, it’s not uncommon for teenagers to serve missions for their churches. These seem to last from a few days to a few months, and include serving locally or serving in developing nations. The projects mostly seem to revolve around spreading the good news of Christ through service. These kids may or may not pay for the experience.

    When these kids return, they are absolutely honored for their service.

    It’s about time our church culture recognize that what we ask of missionaries is very tough, regardless of how long they serve. To shame someone for serving, at their own cost, for an entire year in a part of the world foreign to them (including potentially learning a language), sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, facing a lot of rejection that truly impacts your mental state, is just not Christlike. I’m elated to see our slow improvement in this regard.

    To the OP: Thank you for your son’s example to our community of someone who is thoughtfully considering his best way to serve.

  6. Holly Miller says:

    Scott, I feel solidarity with you and your family – thanks for taking the time to write your experience. I hope it’s a special, memorable, relieving, and happy reunion. Your son must have had a sincere desire to serve or he wouldn’t have stayed as long as he did. Happy homecoming to you all.

  7. Holly Miller says:

    Wondering, you are completely right about the “become a leader” phrase. Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt about what I meant by this phrase in the first place. I very much appreciate your goodwill in this regard. I agree that I should clarify this phrase, though. In my mind, I had a vision of the missionary who is a leader by doing things his own way rather than following the style or expectations of the other missionaries. I was not thinking of the missionary who aims for mission hierarchy. As a former SISTER missionary, with no access to mission hierarchy, I sometimes forget how close to the surface this aspect of missionary service can be for male missionaries.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    This whole series has been fantastic, and this post is no different. Exemplary in many ways.

  9. Holly Miller says:

    Thank you

  10. p, Jonathan Green alienated everyone. Real thinkers don’t want to post on T&S anymore. Sam Brunson was wise to make the move over here to BCC.

  11. Samurai6 says:

    My son had a medical interlude of 6 weeks (shorter than many of his friends’ mission vacations due to Covid) but because it was medical the clock did not run so the time was added to the end of his mission (whereas a Covid return continues to run the clock). This then created a problem for his military academy entrance date so after deliberation and consultation by the mission president with an area authority they were going to permit him to return 10 days before his entrance date to the military academy. This would have been > 24 months elapsed time after his departure date (which incidentally was 5 days after HS graduation) but shorter than 24 months in the field. He loved his mission but wanted more than 10 days at home to prepare and send time with family before the military academy, basic training and the rest. However, there was apparently no way to get any official concession on a release date any earlier. To my initial shock and subsequent respect, he simply “quit” and asked to be sent home a month earlier than his release date. Although I think this was a shock to the mission president and that element was a little uncomfortable, he came home happy, our stake and leadership were fantastic and he feels good about his service.

    I think a little JRR Tolkien is relevant to this topic:

    “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens”, said Gimli.
    “Maybe”, said Elrond, “but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”
    “Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart”, said Gimli.
    “Or break it”, said Elrond.

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