This week Pres Mullen and I spoke in the Spokane Valley Stake Conference. Usually we speak on missionary work, but this conference they asked us to speak on-- If we were starting our family new, what are some of the things we would apply after being mission presidents.
We have seen hundreds of missionaries come and go. Every one of them has had a different journey. I have great respect for each one of them, and each individual journey. I have seen them work hard when they are tired, I’ve seen them coast when they lack confidence, I’ve seen them struggle with great family difficulties, I’ve seen them love and long for changes to be made in people’s lives that don’t happen, I’ve seen them so excited as they see the Lord work through them to change people’s lives, I’ve seen them burn with testimony as they realize the Lord really knows them and answers prayers, I’ve seen them higher than high coming out of a lesson that was full of the spirit and then lower than low as a beloved investigator rejects their message. (We call that the bi-polar effect of missionary work and can happen within an hour of each other.)
I have seen missionaries come to the mission field with an expectation that their mission is going to be perfect. They can’t help it. They are young and full of the stuff dreams are made of. They think they know the way the Lord thinks; they think He thinks like they do. Haven’t we all been there? I think I’m still there when I go through some new curve ball that doesn’t make any sense. I’m thinking, “Lord what are you thinking, this was the way it should have been, it would have been so perfect.” For them it goes something like, “I am on a mission so the Lord will bless me and my family!” For most of us we just have that expectation that, “I’ll work hard, do the right things, and things will go as I expect.” Then the opposition of life continues to happen and it kind of rocks our world a little. Missionaries see parents’ divorce, death of loved ones, sickness and injury, sadness, anxiety, hurt feelings, rejection, unbelief, and lots of peoples pain.
God’s plan was that we would experience opposition in this life. But it’s still hard to accept that sometimes. We are suppose to see and experience good and evil, right and wrong, sickness and pain, heartache and regret, but also joy, happiness and peace. Yet we can still be so surprised when things don’t go perfectly. I have to laugh at myself as I say that because I’m so there. It’s no different as a missionary. We don’t know anything until we have experienced it for ourselves. But God’s plan still exists no matter who we are, or how we are serving.
I have seen missionaries go through the hard stuff and come out on the other side full of love and hope as they finish their mission; on fire for the gospel. At the end they say, “My mission changed me so much.” But the reality is, it was living the gospel that changed them. Romans 8:28--We know that all things work together for good to them that love God… We can live the gospel before the mission, during the mission, and our whole lives after the mission. We can have that beautiful, sacred feeling our whole life. That means you can come out of any hardship or pain a better person than when you went into it. You can receive clarity of mind, understanding, peace, comfort, knowledge, happiness, and confidence when you live the gospel.
What is the gospel of Jesus Christ? It’s Faith, Repentance, Covenanting to be His through baptism, living by the Spirit, then repeating that over and over.
Here is what I would try to be more careful about teaching my children:
Living by Faith means you believe God. You will see and experience things in this life that you just don’t understand; things that don’t make sense to you and you will think your way was much better. Faith means you believe God knows you, knows your life, sees you and has a plan for you. You trust that even though you can’t see, He can. You trust that His way is best. He sees things perfectly; the big picture. You trust Him enough to hold on, that He will get you to a better place. I would ask, “Have you asked God about that.” “Do you know what God is trying to do to help you.” And, “What do you think God is trying to tell you.” Spiritual Independence between children and their Heavenly Father is one of the greatest gifts we can lead them too as parents.
Having real experiences with repentance and the atonement would be invaluable. Not just saying sorry to their brother or sister, but really understanding what it means for their life. Repentance means you stay clean and worthy of the spirit. Repentance means to change. It’s a beautiful thing, not to be dreaded. We have a natural man inside of us that constantly pulls at us to be angry, bitter, confused, hard, and to live life doing the easy thing; the natural thing. Repentance means to turn away from this natural path and change. It means when life isn’t fair I’ll turn from bitterness and choose peace, when things are hard I’ll still be grateful, when I see pain and misery I’ll choose to stay soft and open and trust God, when people don’t do what I want I’ll still love. This change is difficult but can be done through the atonement of Christ. As we repent our heart is changed, we stay soft and open allowing the spirit to be able to dwell there. The feelings of love, peace, trust, gratitude, when this imperfect life happens, are the result of changing from the natural man to the son/daughter of God inside of us. We let go of the natural man’s way and choose the son/daughter of God’s way. Repentance is the most beautiful gift our savior has given to us. Understanding how to use the atonement and that it can be used all day long to keep us moving towards God would be such an amazing foundation for our lives.
Living by the spirit is the most beautiful thing we can do for our lives. Being soft and open; free to receive the spirit, creates a place in our heart for the Lord to put clarity, understanding, knowledge, love, peace, and comfort. Living by the spirit means we strive all day long to keep the world away using our savior’s atonement; making a place for God to live in our heart. We don’t need to re-live and talk about injustices and pain again and again; we don’t think of the unfair thing over and over, we don’t dwell on the loss, hurt or angry feelings. Instead we strive to let Christ hold, carry, worry and make fair whatever is driving the spirit away, allowing Him to fill our heart with His love, knowledge, peace and understanding. Living by the spirit means we do a heart check all day long to use Christ all day long.
Then we repeat these things over and over, letting God make us into the kind of person that can live with Him again.
I love to see our missionaries leave the field on fire. They cry because they are so grateful to have served the Lord and changed so much. What really changed them was actually living the gospel. Live the Gospel; get it into your heart. Teach the Gospel carefully to those in your influence. It’s the greatest gift we could give.