Monday, October 27, 2014

Oh, so this is what a bad day feels like!

Emotional Health
We have had many missionaries who have gone home on medical releases in our years here.  I have gained a greater understanding of pain as I have watched these good young people want to serve, struggle to feel well, reach out for help and understanding, but just feel physically and emotionally sick with different kinds of anxiety.
Missionary anxiety comes in many forms:
Social anxiety at having to actually talk to people, extend themselves outward to start conversations with complete strangers, and worrying about what people are going to think.  Situational anxiety at having to be with a companion 24/7 and they can’t escape them.  And Performance anxiety; they feel so much pressure to find well, teach well, plan well, work with members, know scriptures and-- love everyone while you’re doing it!  Think about it.  This generation is wonderful, but have their own specific challenges unlike any other generation has ever had.  Our councilors describe it like this:  This generation has access to computer, TV, and phone constantly so they can escape whenever they feel the need. The demands placed on them are geared to their own achievements instead of serving or doing for someone else.  In many cases they aren’t use to getting outside their comfort zones so they don’t know they are coping when they are spending hours in the gym or all day in their bedrooms on the computer or watching TV.  They are able to escape easily, so instead of facing feelings of boredom, sadness, fear or disappointment, and dealing with those feelings, they turn to distraction and entertainment without even realizing that that is what they are doing.  It can be a total shock to get on a mission and have a bad day and have to live with it and figure out what to do with it. 
Missions are quite demanding.  Missionaries are in an unfamiliar environment; learning new skills, being with new people, eating weird food, learning new languages all while very high expectations are being placed on them.  Those are a lot of stressors to be going through.
There can be a lot of anxiety wondering constantly, “Am I obeying every rule exactly”, “Have I filled up my planner so every second is being used”,  “Did I talk to everyone so that someone’s eternal salvation wasn’t ruined because of me”, “What did I do wrong that my investigator didn’t come to church, keep their commitment or dropped us”, “Did I teach to needs”, “Did I establish my purpose”, “Did I ask inspired questions”, and “Why haven’t I progressed anyone to baptism”. 
When a missionary is thrust into a situation that causes anxiety over and over again they develop physical symptoms: headaches, back aches, stomach aches, joint pain, etc.  They feel so sick.  We have found we can help missionaries get over homesickness and depression, but those who suffer from acute anxiety tend to get sicker and sicker until it’s just pain for them, everyday all day long.  We try to help them but many of them get to the point that they are in so much pain they become non-functioning.  I feel like they have fought a war and are coming home with post traumatic stress disorder.  I’m not a professional; that is just how I feel. 
If there is any message I could send it would be to put your arms around any missionary who comes home for any reason early.  They are struggling.  They need people to not ask, “When are you going back out?”  You really have no idea what they’ve gone through, how they have felt, or the situation they have been in. They need everyone to smile, laugh with them, love and support them in their recovery, no matter what the reason is.  Those who are suffering from anxiety are probably going to associate church with pain for awhile.  They need to have time to heal. 
My son Jordan came home from his mission on a medical release a few weeks ago.  What a hard experience his mission was.  He had horrible back pain the entire year from an old gymnastics injury. He had physical therapy and injections in field but finally came home for a nerve oblation.  He had allergies and asthma we could never get under control in his particular mission.  And to top it all off he couldn’t sleep at all and became horribly sleep deprived.  He seemed to get it from all sides and there were no breaks in site.  We are so sad at his experience.  We don’t really have any answers as to why this turned out the way it did.  But we are glad to have him home and hope to take care of him the best we can. 
I don’t have all the answers of why missionaries struggle. But, this is what I know:
They want to serve the Lord, but life, (and missions) aren’t perfect, and people aren’t perfect.  Why couldn’t we just know everything at the beginning, have everything fall into place and be skilled and talented right from the get go.  I guess it’s because that wasn’t our Heavenly Fathers plan.  We were meant to not be perfect missionaries, children, spouses, parents and providers.  We were actually meant to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.  We would have to learn to love and forgive, even when things would be done that were hurtful and damaging.  We would have a savior who would be able to make us clean and free if we would stay soft, open and humble.  He could make us worthy of the spirit and that spirit would make everything be turned to our good because we would progress and grow from our new found knowledge. 
I know we can recover from every pain in life if we will repent of hardness, doubt, fear and pride. If we will be open to the Lord and the spirit He will get us there.  If we will hold on to Him He will show us the way.  If we will stay humble, clean and worthy of the spirit He will work all things together for our good and it will come out ok.  That is His promise to us, and I have felt it’s truthfulness over and over. 

I really can’t express my love well enough for these good young people and their good hearts and desires.  Their desire to work and sacrifice for the Lord is a testimony to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Very few young people in this world would give this much.  And for those who struggle it is not in vain.  There is a plan and purpose for all God’s children, the trick is to accept and love His individual plan. 
PS  This blog doesn't deal with the therapy and medication side of emotional issues but let me just say that I believe it's good to fix problems and counseling and medication can really help when applicable.


  1. You just described Elder Mayberry's brother's mission. His anxiety became so bad, he couldn't function. Thank you for addressing this huge problem for missionaries. You are a blessing me.

  2. Perfect! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Thank you. You are a blessing to the missionaries.

  4. Wonderful thoughts and insights. God bless you and your missionaries, dear sister!

  5. What an angel missionary mom you are. Thank you for your insights and wonderful testimony. I pray I will know the right things to say and the way to show love fir those who return....many early....and wounded.
    May the Lord bless your son, Jordan. With hope and healing. Arlene

  6. What a great message. The emotional state of our missionaries has changed over the years as they have been taken from a very technology based world into a world devoid of those distractions. I think the church seems to be adding some of that technology back into their lives as they use email, social media and cell phones to preach the gospel and stay in touch with their family investigators and even mission president. I know the Lord is aware of each of His missionaries. Sometimes he helps them grow by healing them on their mission and sometimes by allowing them to return home early. Each experience adds empathy that they may never have learned any other way than through the struggles found on a mission. We have had our share of early return missionaries in our stake and I am so pleased to see the love that those missionaries feel from the members when they return. Our own son came home for awhile and then returned later. It was the love of the members that helped make his experience a growing experience. What a blessing. You and Don are doing a great work. Shiree and I were talking the other night and we are so impressed with your service. Just know that you have two friends who are praying for you. I am sure you have more than two friends praying for you but I can only speak of Shiree and I. :) Have a wonderful day.

    1. Thanks for your love and support. I appreciate all of your kind words! Deborah I am so glad things turned out for your son. That is wonderful to see a young man returning to the field. Not many missionary's journey's take them on that path, but it's great when it does. Love you. Hope all is well.