Originally published May 15, 2016.
When you get home from your mission, the transition may be difficult. Friends and family may pressure you to adjust to “normal” life; you may feel out of place, without purpose or direction, even lonely. One day a few weeks after I returned home I considered submitting my papers to go back on a mission––life was so much simpler and more meaningful as a missionary! That only lasted for about 10 seconds but I think overall I could have handled my transition a little better.
Here are a few ideas to help you find your post-mission groove.
1. What you learn on a mission should change how you live your life forever after. Everything you learn on a mission, even the way you live while on a mission, is meant to change you and prepare you for the rest of your life. Many mission standards and “rules” can and should be adapted to everyday life. You will find weekly and daily planning indispensable in post-mission life, especially as you begin a family and try to balance spouse, child, personal, church, and other responsibilities and desires. Use the principles of companionship inventory with roommates and your future spouse on a weekly basis. Keep up your mission language if you learned one, volunteer with the (S)MTC online tutoring program, give your best to any calling you hold in the Church.
Think of your mission as an insight into the kind of Latter-day Saint you could be for the rest of your life. Vaughn J. Featherstone said in 1978, “One of the great purposes of a full-time mission is to prepare the missionary for his or her future role in the Church” (qtd. in “When ‘The Best Two Years’ Are Over,” Ensign [December 1978]). Do not be in a rush to re-assimilate to the world. You just spent 18-24 months getting away from “the world“; consider all the good you can do and what you could become if you keep the world out. (See also: “I Found Purpose After My Mission By…,” Ensign [September 2014].)
2. Maintain your spirituality. Keep studying the Gospel and reading your scriptures every day. Pray as frequently as you can. Teach with the missionaries. Share the Gospel at every opportunity. While you may not have the official missionary mantle anymore and you won’t be wearing your name tag, you are still a representative of the Church “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9, BoM). As you maintain your spirituality in daily life, you will find greater strength, purpose, and direction. You will lead a Christ-centered life. The inspiration you received for teaching investigators will easily transition to home or visiting teaching, as well as to other people for whom you have a stewardship in your calling and in your home. I cannot count the number of times I have received impressions to reach out to sisters I visit teach only to find that they desperately needed what I was miraculously calling to offer. If you maintain your spirituality, you will be able to build a personal ministry and continue serving the Lord in His way. (See Bonnie D. Parkin’s BYU speech “Personal Ministry: Sacred and Precious,” [February 2007].)
3. Go to the temple every month. During branch conference today our stake president shared some advice he received as a missionary: go to the temple once a month for the first year after your mission. When he returned from his mission, the nearest temple was an eight hour drive away. He attended the temple every month in spite of the distance. If you live close enough to a temple, go more often. Your regular temple attendance during the first year after your mission will create habits of temple worship that will bless your life. Ask your bishop about becoming a temple worker. Elder David A. Bednar promised these blessings to young people who participate in temple work: “Your testimony of and conversion to the Savior will become deep and abiding. And I promise you will be protected against the intensifying influence of the adversary. As you participate in and love this holy work, you will be safeguarded in your youth and throughout your lives” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign [November 2011]). Need I say more? (See also Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship,” Ensign [November 1995].)
3. Use the Church’s soon-to-be released program “My Plan.” I did not have this tool on my mission so I do not know much about it. The little information I have seen looks very promising. The Lord had told me not to worry about planning for my post-mission life, that everything would work out. So, uncharacteristically, I didn’t plan anything. When I returned from my mission, I moved back in with my grandma, found a part time job with my previous employer, and settled onto my sinking raft, adrift in a vast ocean of possibilities and, seemingly, no prospects. Luckily, the Lord had provided for me just as He had promised; but it still took what felt like eons (two months) to get those plans ironed out. As long as you plan with the Spirit, you can’t go wrong. Use the Church’s program––I feel confident that it is divinely inspired––and remember to be patient.
4. Read articles about LDS culture and returning home after a mission. You and your family should read the LDS Living article by Danielle Beckstrom entitled, “Psychologist Explains the RM ‘Awkward Phase.'” Also ask your parents to read “For the Parents of Returned Missionaries” from the blog The Returned Missionary. Read this article from LDS Living suggesting five questions people should ask a returning missionary. Reflect on your answers for each of them. This will help you focus on the most positive, faith-promoting, and formative experiences of your mission and help shape your memories as well as the impressions others form about your mission. I am not saying that you should ignore the bad, but if you focus on and talk mostly about the bad things, you will most likely negatively color the memory of your mission experience as a whole. Read “Home From a Mission,” published in the June 1991 Ensign.
5. Go on lots of dates. Young men––ask out lots of women. Young women––ask out lots of men. Gain experience. If dating opportunities are few and far between, consider signing up for an online LDS dating service. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you get LOTS of dating experience with LOTS of different people. Go dutch if a standard date situation is too high pressure or you don’t feel like you can afford to pay for lots of dates. There are plenty of free things to do on a date. A few ideas: get museum passes from your local public library, find a free outdoor concert series, play board games, make small boats out of popsicle sticks and race them in a nearby stream, dress up as pirates and play at a park, share your favorite children’s books with each other, play croquet, go hiking, take a picnic lunch somewhere. The idea is only lame if you think of it that way. Any date activity can be fun if all parties buy in.
I reflected once while on my mission that things would be so much better if I could choose my companion. As you date, look for the qualities your ideal mission companion would have had. Date lots of different people so you get a better idea for the type of person with whom you would be most compatible. Look for someone with whom you can enjoy a lifetime of spiritual growth and service in the Church.