SALT LAKE CITY — With young missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unexpectedly returning home, and to strange conditions dealt us by the COVID-19 pandemic, it's a tough situation.
As parents, and especially mothers, we want to take the trouble away. But with specific tools, we can help these bright young adults to use this situation to learn pivotal life skills. We, as the moms, are key to this transition. They're young adults, they need to own this, and they are looking to us as the mom.
My daughter is serving in France and, for now, is staying. But we've had conversations weekly running the gamut on changes, possibilities and solutions. When stress comes to a family, especially a missionary, they instinctively look to the moms because moms just seem to know what to do.
1. Give them assurance
We can think of this experience like a railroad track: They were going along on a missionary track expecting a certain destination. Then comes a switch point — this unexpected shift. Now, they need to just switch the track. If we can help them nail the transition, they can ease into their happy new way.
Validate that while the location has changed, they are still called to the work until they are officially released. Elder David A. Bednar, of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has said, “A missionary is not called to a place; rather, he or she is called to serve.” It's not about the where. It's that they're willing and worthy to serve.
In that comforting truth will be deep emotions. Returning missionaries have shared expressions such as, “This experience got cut too short” or “I didn't get to finish it like I wanted to.” That can create feelings of frustration, grief or guilt. But Elder Bednar adds, “Not a single member of this Church should carry an unnecessary burden of misunderstanding, uncertainty, anguish, or guilt about an assignment to labor.”
As mothers, we can reassure our missionaries God knows them individually, their path, and it's all as it should be.
2. Shift the mindset
On this missionary track, mothers can make the point that this is not a derailment, just a switch point. In missionary terms, it's simply a transfer; and to make that smooth, we can help them own it.
While we want to make it better, this is the missionary’s life and path. Ultimately, the decisions need to be made by the missionary, with guidance and love from parents. As the son of one missionary mom pointed out: "He has successfully lived on his own for several month. He’s got this."
Making that transfer transition also teaches our kids vital lessons. Learning to adapt, find creative solutions, and adjust expectations are key life skills. In the book "Grit," author Angela Duckworth shared, “I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”
That grit will serve them well. With the significant changes, my daughter who is serving a mission in France is now focused on how to more effectively “Facebook Find” people through art, social media and making online connections with people already seeking what she is teaching. Learning how to find a workaround and move forward in faith is giving her resiliency — just what she needs for everyday life.
3. Define your purpose
For those missionaries officially released, it’s helpful to switch the track for a new purpose-driven life as soon as possible. Coming home to no jobs, stalled school admissions, and society just coming back from an almost standstill can make it easy to retreat to binge-watching Netflix. As mothers, we can share resources and invite missionaries to brainstorm specific ways to move forward.
A simple step is to create a purpose statement: a brief exercise to discover where you are now and where you desire to go. That reveals clear steps to take next. They can access a free mini-course and workbook to create a purpose statement on my website.
We can help our missionary sons and daughters successfully transition to the new reality. As we reassure and help them own this unexpected change, guide them to shift their mindset, and focus them on discovering their next step and purpose, they can smoothly switch the life track for a happier experience.
Author's note: For the full Moms and Missionaries webinar with Connie Sokol and guest Dr. Trish Barrus, visit conniesokol.activehosted.com/f/3.