I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Two years later, I thought the same thing about coming home. I was wrong both times.
I followed the advice my mission president gave me before flying home. I continued reading the scriptures, praying every morning and night and attending church. However, nothing held up to the standard of life on the mission.
Three days after coming home, I started work at a Mexican restaurant. After two weeks, I started school at BYU-Idaho. I was home and back to the “good ole grind,” but I felt homesick and out of place.
I compared everything to the mission, and that was wrong. Application of the things I learned on the mission was great and all, but I couldn’t hold life at home to the same standard. For me, I struggled because I felt it lacked the fulfilling purpose of giving people hope through faith in God and finding opportunities to serve the needy in the community.
Months later, a roommate told me, “You’re not a missionary anymore,” and I fought against it. But he was right — I wasn’t a full-time missionary anymore. For you returned missionaries, coming home opens a new realm of things to do that you couldn’t do on the mission. Here are a few tips for a new RM:
1. It’s OK to talk about your mission, but don’t let it dominate the conversation. Talking about my mission is up there with drinking pina coladas and walking on the beach, but there’s more to the world than the mission. Feel free to talk about sports, political issues, movies, music, etc. You may not feel like it’s important, but it might be important to the people around you.
2. Worry about yourself. As a returned missionary, you can probably quote a passage from a letter President Gordon B. Hinckley received from his father while on his mission: “Forget yourself and go to work.” You put school, work and relationships aside for 18 months to two years, but after the mission, it’s time to pick those things back up and focus on you.
3. Stop comparing and looking back. Home life will never be like the mission. Enjoy it for what it is. Home life has a different purpose than mission life, but both can bring happiness if you let them.
As much as it is the responsibility of returned missionaries to adjust to life at home, family and friends of returned missionaries can help too. Consider trying these tips:
1. You don’t have to understand everything. It’s good to be aware that a returned missionary is struggling with the adjustment, but you don’t have to find a solution for them. It helps them to know their friends and family are there supporting them with the transition.
2. Let them talk about their mission, but help them change the subject. It’s inevitable. Returned missionaries will take every chance to talk about their mission, even if it’s not “Throwback Thursday.” You can listen to them share an experience or two, but don’t be afraid to redirect the conversation.
3. Take them to a movie. This is initiation at its finest when they return from the mission. Most of the time they are willing to watch a movie, and taking them to social or recreational events will help them relax.
To the returned missionary struggling with the transition home, it’s normal. To the family and friends questioning the strange behavior of returned missionaries, don’t ignore it, but be aware that it’s normal. It might have taken me some time, but I learned adjustment is normal and you can, too.