I can’t believe how long I obsessed over what shoes to bring before I left on my mission.
Especially since I ended up getting rid of all of them and buying them from street markets because turns out, I don’t like to wear chunky durable shoes.
This was one of the ways I thought I would magically turn into “missionary Mallory”, I would turn into a new version of myself who didn’t mind not looking cute.
That totally didn’t happen.
I also thought I would turn into this girl who loved to work hard, who never got tired, got upset, missed her family, felt lonely.
But that didn’t happen either.
I stepped off the plane and looked down and saw myself, and that’s it.
I saw the girl who was a little cocky with no idea what she was getting herself into.
A girl who had no idea the emotional pain that could come along with this calling, and the mental strain and discomfort that I was about to create for myself through impossible expectations, toxic perfectionism, and a disdain for general distress and discomfort.
These are the things that I wish missionaries worked on and obsessed over, rather than shoes.
I wish they would make sure they are ready to feel some emotions that they haven’t felt before, especially those who have lived a pretty pain-free life up until that point.
Don’t get me wrong, the mission is amazing.
But it’s also really hard.
Kind of like life, right?
So I’m going to talk about what I wish I would have known, in hopes that some future missionary will be saved a little bit of the suffering I experienced so they can better enjoy their time as a missionary.
I want you to think about the last time you had to do something hard. Maybe, you had a really difficult test. Or, someone in your family was going through a hard time.
What happened at that time? Did you do everything perfectly and accomplish all your goals with a smile on your face?
Or was it really hard sometimes?
Did you drop the ball? Did you cry? Did you drop everything and just go to sleep because you couldn’t take it anymore?
You will still have these times as a missionary. I wish you turned into a magic robot who didn’t have emotions, bad days, or make mistakes.
But you are still a human, a person.
To get more specific, you are still you.
The things you struggle with now, you will still struggle with.
A lot of this pain comes from a lot of the rules and outlines that have been set out for us. A lot of times a set schedule doesn’t seem conducive to humans who make mistakes.
There are missionaries who are great at this, and others struggle more. And sometimes you are companions with someone who struggles with it, or who is way better at it than you.
Because you are two different humans with different flaws.
These impossible expectations can also be placed on our companions who are also humans with human emotions.
So what do we do?
We forgive ourselves.
We forgive others.
We take care of ourselves.
We repent, we grow, we learn.
What do we don’t do?
Beat up on ourselves. This will always slow down your progress, even if you think it will speed it up.
Beat up on our companions, in our heads or out loud. They are a human just like you.
Blessings Hinged on our Obedience
“Exact obedience” are two words that always sent anxiety shooting through me.
You know why? I thought it meant “perfection”.
And I won’t lie, it is often portrayed that way.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to be a part of my friends’ sealing. The sealer said something that really struck me. He said, “please make sure you are always repenting as quickly as you are sinning.”
Now please don’t take this to mean to sin and do whatever you want because you can “always repent”.
But you will mess up. I can promise you that.
So what does that mean about the blessings that come from our obedience to the commandements?
Well, Dieter F. Uchtdorf does a much better job at explaining this than I could, so please watch this video.
One of the craziest thing about being a missionary is there are so many people around you doing the same thing, and if your brain is anything like mine, it will constantly compare how you are doing to how they are doing.
“Wow, she’s so disobedient. At least I’m better than that.”
“She’s incredible, she’s so happy all the time. Why can’t I be like her?”
Neither of these is healthy. It’s truly like comparing an apple to an orange.
1 Corinthians 12:
14 For the body is not one member, but many.
15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
When you try to pretend you are someone you aren’t, or compare your skills to the skills of another missionary, it is like comparing the abilities of a hand to the abilities of a foot, which is completely absurd.
The body of Christ can only function if we all use the skills and talents we were blessed with to move the work of the church forward, and not sit there coveting the talents of one another.
For example, you may really struggle in lessons. You get nervous, and you don’t know how to teach as well as your companions. But when it comes to recognizing an investigators needs- you are observant and able to see how to best help them.
I encourage you to pray to know how you can best be you and utilize your own talents in the mission field, and pray for help to see your strengths as readily as you see your weaknesses.
I will never forget these words. When I learned I was going home, my therapist told me, “please seek help, specifically regarding distress intolerance.”
Distress intolerance is basically an inability to handle things being uncomfortable, painful, sad, or a myriad of other negative things.
The mission is full of ups and downs, and honestly, I think many would tell you it’s filled with quite a few more downs than ups.
A lot about a mission is very uncomfortable. You are living somewhere you have never lived, with someone you have never lived with, with a calling you have never had, maybe speaking a brand new language, possibly the first real test on your testimony, in a brand-new routine.
It’s going to be uncomfortable.
This is where distress tolerance comes in.
Don’t use the stories of how wonderful a mission can be to tell yourself you shouldn’t be struggling.
I want you to practice saying, “it makes sense that I’m having a hard time.”
“Difficult days and weeks are really normal considering the circumstances.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me, it would be really weird if I wasn’t having a hard time.”
Also realize that hard times generally don’t last forever, you may start out feeling great, then have a hard transfer or two, then it starts to get better, just like life.
There will be days where everything feels like it won’t get better.
And that’s okay.
This is considered a sacrifice for a reason.
As we learn to accept pain and suffering as part of the journey, we stop having pain about our pain, leaving us to feel our emotions, pick ourselves up, and move forward.
Advocate for Yourself
Because of the newness and craziness of a mission, many run into mental health or emotional health struggles they have never before seen.
Like I said, it’s normal, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up. You need to speak up. It is unlikely anyone will be able to do that for you.
If you feel the pain you are feeling is abnormal and has been lasting for longer than 1-2 weeks, it’s time to speak up to someone who will listen to you.
Sister Training Leaders, District Leaders, and Zone Leaders are a great contact after consulting with your companion.
The phrase “forget yourself and go to work” is often misinterpreted to mean your needs don’t matter.
Perhaps you forget the comforts you left behind, the social life, the technology, and anything of that sort and focus on your calling, but you do not ignore your emotions.
Notice them and decide how you are going to deal with them, especially when they reach a point when you feel out of control. The four levels of stress in Adjusting to Missionary Life are a good way to gauge if you or your companion should be seeking more help.
There is no shame in making sure you are okay.
Last of all – Have Fun!
I realize a lot of what I share in this article is a bit heavy, but I promise there will be moments of fun.
And the more you look for them, the more you will find.
Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the craziness of situations.
Don’t take anything too seriously, making things too heavy makes things sad and not fun.
Please share this blog post with your future missionaries and any other resources to help prepare them mentally and emotionally.
I promise – the shoes will work out. Your emotional well-being? That is much more important.
No matter what happens, you will leave your mission a changed person. I am grateful I was blessed with a mission tailored specifically to where I needed to grow.
Now I can help all of you learn the lessons that were very painful for me to learn.
And for that I am eternally grateful.
I love you guys, stay calm.
If you want to read more about my mission, click here.
*I do not speak directly for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or any of their leadership*