I've had this saved as a draft for a long time, trying to figure out when/if I wanted to send it. This week in district meeting a recent-ish convert came and we got to ask her all kinds of questions about her experience joining the church. At one point she talked about how she always felt like the missionaries had perfect lives and just always had perfect testimonies and how intimidating it was to her. Then she said that we need to "tell the truth." We've gone through the same process of trying to figure this all out for ourselves, and we need to be more real with people about that. I thought about this...blog post I guess you could call it...and knew now was the time.
It's time for some straight, face to face (well, screen to screen), cold-hard truth talkin'.
Overall, I think I'd say I'm a pretty positive person. I like to be happy, so I try to do happy things. Hence, missions are happy and I talk about all the happy things going on (cause there are TONS). I don't mean to disillusion anyone though. Sometimes it's hard.
Sometimes you get home at the end of the day and think to yourself, "What am I even doing here?" Sometimes there are a few too many people who say no in one day. Sometimes you just want to sleep all day. Sometimes you feel like you've done all you possibly can but nothing happens. Sometimes it seems like there are more questions than answers. Sometimes you miss your family so hard it hurts. Sometimes you just feel absolutely helpless.
Missionaries are still just people. We're living a pretty unique lifestyle and we're set apart and all that jazz, but we're still just a bunch of kids. We go through the same feelings of not being good enough, of not being able to do enough, of not trying hard enough. We all want to feel "successful."
If a successful missionary is measured in numbers (which it's not, but we'll get to that), the truth is that there were about 6 months of my mission that I probably wouldn't have qualified. So for a few more "sometimes:" Sometimes it's hard to watch other people get to see the difference they're making in people's lives. Sometimes it's discouraging to come home at the end of the day and not have taught a single person. Sometimes when people talk about how great their work is going, it's hard to feel happy for them.
It hasn't really bothered me much. I don't mean to make anyone think mission life is terrible and I haven't seen any miracles. It's the greatest thing ever and I've seen a whole whack of miracles. I seriously love it so much. It's just sometimes, it's hard.
A few months ago though, there was a Sunday that all those "sometimes" sunk in a little deeper. President Pattison unexpectedly came to one of our wards for church and my first thought was "Man, I wish we had an investigator at church today." Then I tried to remember the last time I had an investigator at church. Then I thought about the last time I even taught an investigator progressing towards anything. Then I had a whirlwind of all those "You're not good enough" thoughts for the next couple hours:
"Other missionaries have tons of people they're working with at church, you can't even get one? Other missionaries are teaching and finding people all the time, what's your problem? If other missionaries were in this area, the work would be going way better. You must just be a crappy missionary."
I tried to convince myself that I was fine. I thought about everything it says in Preach My Gospel about what it means to be a successful missionary. I reminded myself about the concept Elder Holland spoke on in April, that we get credit for trying. I tried to convince myself that I loved the people so that counts for something. It wasn't working. I sat through church coming to the conclusion that I had obviously failed as a missionary.
I had a couple fleeting thoughts of, "Maybe someone's going to talk about this during the lesson and it'll make me feel better." I brushed them aside pretty quickly. I wouldn't let myself feel any sense of hope or relief; it seemed like I didn't deserve to.
In Relief Society, the lesson started and it the discussion on "good works" began. I was still lost in my thoughts the whole time, not paying any particular attention to anything. When the teacher was finishing her thoughts she said something that changed everything: "It's not about how many (insert whatever it was, I can't even remember) or how many people you baptize; it's about how many people you love."
Exact. The exact words I was trying to convince myself of earlier and that I had silently half-heartedly plead to hear, delivered straight to me. Of all the people in that class that day, only two were full-time missionaries who had the call to find and teach those the Lord had prepared for baptism. Only two people in that class of thirty would even be thinking about "how many people you baptize." And it just so happens I was one of them.
I got an answer to a prayer I didn't really let myself say. I wish I could describe the sense of relief I felt as I let those words marinate. I went from being thoroughly convinced I was a pathetic excuse of a missionary to feeling like I'd done something. I love the people I share the gospel with so dang much and that DOES count for something.
Reflecting on it now, the answer of "it's about how many people you love" is so much more profound than just making me feel better about who I am as a missionary. If you've ever been around me while I study anything gospel-y you'll know how obsessed I am with the concept of love. Someone literally asked Jesus what the most important commandment is and he said love God and love your neighbor.
So if you want to be successful in life, it's not about how much money you earn, or about how many likes get on a post, or about how many push-ups you can do, or about the cleanliness (or lack there of) of your house, or about how much you love ice cream, or about when you get married, or about who wants to play with you at recess, or about whether or not you can read music, or about about how many people you baptize.
It's about how many people you love.