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How to React When Your Missionary Returns Home Early

His son was called to serve full time in the Madagascar mission. Three days before the son was to leave the Missionary Training Center and fly to Madagascar, David and his wife got a phone call to come immediately to pick their son up–he was having a nervous breakdown and was being sent home.

What would their friends and family think? What could they possibly say to help others understand what was happening? Even more importantly, what resources are available to help both themselves and their son understand this challenging experience?

This story is not much different from a myriad of other missionary stories that have come to light in recent years. However, for David T. Morgan, PhD, and his wife, the greatest challenge was that this happened to their son 10 years ago, a time when not a lot of missionaries were actually coming home early. An early release was practically unheard of…and even less talked about. 

Six years later, David got a phone call from his fourth son’s mission president in Mexico. He, too, was experiencing some mental health struggles and was being sent home. This time David and his wife were prepared to help support their son and many others through what would be a pivotal point in their son’s life.

What had they learned that made the difference?

Emotional Resilience

Emotional resiliency is the ability to cope with life’s ups and downs, to adapt to stressful situations, to adapt to uncertainty, challenges, and adversity.  “At the heart of emotional resilience,” David states, “is learning how to improve because of our trials and not just endure them or get worse because of them.”

In a nutshell, becoming emotionally resilient means you learn to engage with trials, take them head on, and make your way through them. It means learning through your trial, becoming even stronger through your challenge and using that experience in a way that others can learn from you. 

An emotionally resilient person learns to discern whether the situations are simply undesirable (meaning they’re just not what you wanted to happen) or whether they’re completely unacceptable (meaning they are morally and ethically wrong). In learning to discern between these two outcomes, you become willing to learn through the challenge or process and put yourself in a place to teach those around you. The more situations we can categorize as undesirable, the better we will be able to cope with life’s difficulties when they come.

Emotional resilience helps us learn how to deal with things as they happen so instead of running and screaming, we say “I can do this, we can make it through this and how can I get stronger as a result of it.”

David and his wife were able to look at the good that this trial could bring to themselves and to their son and use that to teach other people going through similar situations.

Return With Honor

Some young adults can live their entire childhood without having any symptoms of a mental health concern. It is not something they are typically prepared to manage on their own. Many of the youth are called to preach the gospel in foreign countries or new parts of their own country. Surrounded by new cultures and customs, many are easily blindsided when a situation suddenly triggers anxiety, depression, panic attacks compulsive behaviors, or any other disorder.

While many are able to adapt and work their way through the situation, perhaps you’re one of the many who return home to receive some additional support. Whichever scenario you are now in, please note that all faithful missionaries are equally as noble and valiant in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.

So, as a returned missionary, what can emotional resilience look like for you? It certainly depends on the individual, their experiences and their own personal needs, but here are some suggestions you might consider:

  1. Acknowledging that you did the best you could and that there is no shame for coming home to take care of a mental health need.
  2. Knowing that perhaps the best thing for you was to come home and receive additional help.
  3. Being proud of the time you served and that you served both valiantly and nobly.
  4. Accepting that what you’ve done and how you served is good enough.
  5. Embracing that whether you are out for two years or two months, the Lord accepts your effort and considers that your mission and you have returned with honor.
  6. Learning to interpret whether your situation is undesirable (just not something you wanted to happen) or absolutely unacceptable.
  7. Remembering that it’s all about becoming who you need to become, not about getting what you want to get.
  8. Stop saying “Why me?” or “My life is over!” Instead, try an affirmation such as “Maybe this really is for my good.” or “This is another opportunity for growth. How can I engage with this?”
  9. Above all, trusting that perhaps the reason Heavenly Father allowed you to be called to the place you were was because He, in all His infinite wisdom, knew that it wasn’t all about the mission; it was more about the fact that someone (maybe even you) had something to learn through the process.

When David’s oldest son came home, he spent a year getting the help he needed and then was reassigned a year later to Chicago. It was here that he met a sister missionary and, after they both completed their missions and returned home, they got married for time and all eternity.

David’s son has become emotionally resilient enough to see now that, even though the events were challenging to go through at the time, he now recognizes that the process led him to an area where he meet his future bride.

God Has a Plan

Whether it’s coming home early from a mission or going through a divorce, losing a loved one or getting your first bad grade on a test, we can all become more emotionally resilient in any difficulty. By applying the suggestions mentioned above, our hearts will be softened and we will create a stronger bond with our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Remember that God has orchestrated [this situation] just like a good coach on a sports team,” David states. “Perhaps He’s saying, ‘I have a plan for you. I have a way for you to go from where you are now to becoming much, much better by doing this. As long as you follow what I tell you then you’re going to get really good at doing this.’ “

When you are willing to put your faith in God, you will allow a path for the healing power of the Atonement to enter into your life.

And with the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His power to save us, you’ll find that there really aren’t any unacceptable outcomes.

With the Savior’s power, what can break but can’t be fixed?

Nothing. Because, with Him everything can and will be fixed.

▶ Taken from a recent Doing Good Podcast with Carmen Herbert. Listen to the full episode here: Building Emotional Resilience for Life by Dr. David Morgan.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Sandee

    I think we as members need to step up and give equal respect to the option of Church Service missions for young missionaries. This option makes serving a mission a great option for many that can’t serve a proselyting mission.

    1. Vicki Godfrey

      Church service missions are just as real and needed as proselyting missions. We serve along side some amazing young missionaries as Church Service Missionaries. They are blessings so many lives. They are called by Our Prophet just as any other missionary. They are amazing.

    2. marketingadmin

      Such a great point, Sandee! For those who can continue to serve, service missions are wonderful opportunities!

  2. Debbie

    I would hope that early returning teaching missionaries would definitely consider transferring to a being a service missionary. They are both 100% missionaries and both important. Service is so needed wherever you are. 24/7 service heals the person being served and more importantly the one giving service.

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