I was in high school when President Thomas S. Monson declared:
Embarrassingly, that fateful Saturday morning, my parents were on a bike ride or something together, and I was alone with my younger brothers. Even though I was the first to wake up and scrambled to get my brothers to come watch general conference, I slept in and missed the first talk and a half (including the prophet’s announcement).
Between the following talks and my Facebook feed, I quickly figured out what had happened and was very excited.
I had always really wanted to serve a mission, but I had known that waiting until I was 21 was a potential hurdle. The idea of becoming a missionary at 19 made it a pretty done-deal!
I still had to do my own searching and asking, however. I didn’t get a strong, specific answer from God about serving a mission until I was 18. I left on my mission a couple weeks after my 19th birthday, and I had an absolutely amazing, hard, fun, and holy 18 months in Fort Worth, Texas.
I appreciate everybody who encouraged me to prepare to serve a mission, to seguir adelante, to press forward to finish my mission, and to take those lessons I learned into the rest of my life. Your kind words and service, while they were not the reason I served, helped me feel extra courage and confidence.
However, ever since President Monson’s initial talk, I have heard some troubling words as well.
These are my two main responses to those who make such claims:
A) Please stop that nonsense. In a 2016 Face-to-Face devotional with young adults, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said:
“President Monson never intended for all of the young women in the Church to go on missions by dropping [the] age [to 19]. We’re very grateful for those who goo. It’s changed the face of the Church. … But we do not want anyone feeling inadequate or left out or undignified or tarnished because she did not choose to serve a mission. And we’re a little irritated with young men who say, ‘Well, I’m not going to date you because you didn’t serve a mission.’ … We do not want that kind of climate over dating or marriages. … It isn’t our place to pass a judgment.”Jeffrey R. Holland, Mar 2016
B) Here’s the thing: some guys may think that, just because girls put “RM” on their list of requirements for a future spouse that they wrote in a Young Women class when they were 16, they can likewise make the same requirement for girls, too. After all, the women have no excuse now, because they can serve at 19!
It’s a bad thing when girls do it, too.
There are many reasons why:
The truth about missionaries
First, we have to admit it:
Missionaries are just not that great.
Don’t get me wrong; I love missionaries. I loved being a missionary. I believe missionaries have a special calling and are given special spiritual gifts and abilities to serve, bless, and reach people who need help. They are close to the Lord, and they do a great job with sharing that light with others.
But this obsession with marrying an RM is a weird form of idol worship, and it has to stop.
Many people, especially those who have never served missions, have a very rose-tinted view of missionaries. We need to take off the colored-lens glasses—particularly when we’re looking for a spouse.
Being a returned missionary does not automatically make you a more worthy spouse. RM-status does not equate to spiritual immunity in the future. It doesn’t even necessarily mean spiritual strength in the present.
Plenty of people lose faith in Christ and His Gospel after serving missions, and other missionaries may not have even had much faith to begin with.
To set a good baseline of why this is true, let’s first break down why this is the case for boys, then we’ll talk about the girls.
For ladies: about guys serving missions
I cede some ground to you; sisters, you have more right to hope to marry a returned missionary than the brethren do. However, I still propose we stop saying we will only marry an RM.
Instead, we need to figure out their heart, priorities, and past.
Reasons why a man would serve
A mission can be a good indicator of where a man’s heart is. Since men are commanded to serve a mission (as they are able and worthy), it can be a sign of obedience and love of God.
However, checking the mission box does not automatically indicate good motivation.
Some men go on missions to have exotic, exciting experiences. Others go to please their parents, who may have saved money for their boy to go. Even worse, in wealthier areas, I hear of boys who leave on a mission because their parents or grandparents promised them a car or free tuition to college if they served.
Some boys may go on a mission to meet the expectations of women. (Ladies, they hear you when you say you will only marry an RM.)
I have already discussed good reasons to serve a mission, and I still stand by the article I wrote last year about it. None of these poorer reasons are bad to motivate a guy to start preparing to serve a mission or even to leave. Hopefully, though, they begin to level up those motivations little by little.
Reasons why a man wouldn’t serve
One major reason why women shouldn’t swear off non-RMs is that there are plenty of reasons to not serve a mission that we would call “good reasons.”
For instance, someone may have only been introduced to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ too late in life to qualify for or plan on serving a mission. They may have needed to serve in the military, care for family members, or take caution because of their health.
There are many such “good reasons.” Remember, our last two prophets didn’t serve missions!
Of course, there are “not-so-good” reasons to not serve a mission, like unworthiness or unwillingness to serve at the time.
But! We would do well to remember that we are not defined by our sins. We all have an opportunity to allow Christ to remove our shortcomings, strengthen our faith, and change our hearts.
Even if we think we know the reason a man did not serve a mission, do not immediately disqualify them for marriage!
For men: about girls serving missions
Remember, unlike men, women are under no automatic obligation to serve a mission. Guys, it is much less acceptable for you to require your future spouse to be a returned missionary! This said, you can still factor the history or lack of a mission into how you determine if a girl is right for you by looking at her heart, priorities, and past as well.
Reasons why a woman would serve
A mission can indicate where a girl’s heart lies, too. It may indicate that she loves and wishes to serve the Lord and others. This is wonderful!
Just like men, however, a woman can be motivated by “not-so-good” reasons. A lot of girls feel pressure to be the overachiever. (See “Women Can’t Do Everything”) They may hear many well-meaning mentors and friends tell them, “You seem like someone who would like to serve a mission,” so they think they need to do it.
Or worse—they might be trying to meet men’s expectations for a returned-missionary wife.
Reasons why a woman wouldn’t serve
There are many other great paths a girl might take with her young adult life.
She might want to get married young and even start having children. (Yes, this is a valid reason to not serve a mission.) Remember, marrying in the temple is a commandment, a saving ordinance, and a requirement for exaltation. A mission is none of those things.
Other reasons to not serve a mission include being called to serve in the local singles ward and getting involved at Institute. A woman may feel a duty to share the gospel with her family and her friends at home or to support missionaries in the field. She may be prompted to progress in college or perhaps jump straight into a career.
Or, like so many young women I know, she might begin to prepare to serve a mission, but, to her disappointment, receive personal revelation from the Lord that she is needed at home.
Unfortunately, a woman might also feel prompted to serve a mission but does not go for reasons of unworthiness or unwillingness. But again, even if this is the case, this woman has equal access to Christ’s atonement and can repent and be better.
Deciding whether to date or marry somebody
I suggest that many looking-to-marries in the Church should be less picky when going on first dates. Both boys and girls often have unrealistically high expectations for beauty, wealth, or other qualifications for people they will go on one date with.
An aside: Try to give people plenty of grace, but you don’t need to say yes to every person who asks you on a date. (Some people, especially girls, should increase their cautiousness when going on a date with someone; you should not go on a date with someone who makes you feel spiritually or physically unsafe.)
I reject nearly every “absolute” requirement on any person’s list of what they’re looking for in a spouse, even if each item is a good thing. Instead, as you date, look for patterns of behavior, listen to their testimony and their heart, and get to know who they are as a person. All of this will take getting to know them personally.
Get to know the people you date. Plan dates that involve plenty of opportunity to talk and see how your date behaves in various situations.
Deciding to serve a mission
“Your Heavenly Father has known you for a very long time. You, as His son or daughter, were chosen by Him to come to earth at this precise time, to be a leader in His great work on earth.”Russell M. Nelson, Oct 2013 general conference
My two cents: every person should prepare to serve a mission because God has a mission for every person.
This does not mean every person will serve a 18- or 24-month mission for the Lord, however!
Both men and women should ask and work for a personal answer from the Lord when deciding if and when to serve a mission. If you keep Him involved in the whole decision-making process, He will not let you make a wrong choice.
If you feel the Holy Spirit tell you to not serve a mission, this does not mean you don’t have a mission—quite the opposite.
Long before you were born, all members of the House of Israel (which includes all members of Christ’s Church) were set apart and given a unique mission and destiny.
You have been called to fulfill a divine, personal mission just for you.
This unique mission may or may not involve serving a standard 18- or 24-month mission, but that does not make it any less or more important. God wants you and your critical service to bring about His Plan for you and all of His children on the Earth.
Whether you are 12, 19, 35, or 80, you must still be preparing for and fulfilling your mission.
If you cannot now see the vision of what God wants for you and your mission, ask Him in prayer and listen to what He says. Study the scriptures and receive/study your patriarchal blessing.
A summary for singles
When it comes to choosing whom to marry, no matter who you are, don’t rule out those who didn’t serve missions. There is a good chance they are busy fulfilling more personalized and effective missions than they ever could in a formal mission field.
If “returned missionary” is an item on your list of requirements for a future spouse, you’re doing it wrong.
A summary for everyone
If your mission is the “glory days” of your life, you’re doing it wrong.
If you take your relationship with God lightly because you figure you will marry an RM who is more “spiritual” than you, you’re endangering your personal progression and any possible marriage you are blessed with.
Stop idolizing formal missions. Yes, they are wonderful and even a duty for (worthy and able) priesthood holders, but as long as we hold an improperly high view of missions, we run the risk of failing to see the mission God has placed right in front of us.
What do you think?
For those who didn’t serve missions, what do you wish others knew about you? For everybody, how are you fulfilling your life’s mission?