I can still remember that day, over 33 years ago, when I got the transfer letter informing me that I was going to be a Zone Leader. This calling truly frightened me. How could I be a Zone Leader?
My doubts came from me constantly fighting against feelings of inadequacies I felt as a District Leader. I thought for sure that when I was made District Leader a magic wand would be waved and all self-doubt and personal struggles would instantly disappear. Well, they didn’t.
There was no magic wand. All the temptations and shortcomings I had as a senior companion, and those I brought with me from before my mission, simply followed me when I became a District Leader. I didn’t expect that. I thought for sure I would be magically transformed into a better person.
But now, being called as Zone Leader, surely God would wave His wand this time. There was no way He could use someone as flawed as I was in such a position.
My guess is that you know how this story ends.
There was no magic wand and once again my flaws followed me to my next calling. In fact, these flaws kept following me until I had the courage to face them head on and was finally willing to do the hard work necessary to allow God to change my heart.
I retell this story to drive home an important point. Too often we think that after having been a missionary we are entitled to be free from all weaknesses that haunted us before and during our missions. This false notion frustrates many returned missionaries when they come home.
They errantly think that all flaxen cords that once bound them were forever removed from their lives only to painfully discover that most of these annoying cords were sitting there on the bed right where they left them.
What we fail to realize is that a mission is an existence apart from reality. It is a time God grants us to live in a laboratory where challenges and temptations are tightly controlled. Then, when released from that laboratory, those controls are gone and we are inundated with hard dose of reality.
For example, many missionaries who, before their missions, struggled with the plague of pornography, felt confident that they were cured of this curse because they had no problems while serving as a missionary. So they come home feeling sure that those struggles are behind them.
Not so. While abstinence from pornography will strengthen one, it is not a cure. The cure will only come when that person can fight those strong temptations where access is abundant and not curtailed.
As we learned from Elder Lund at our last stake conference, the key to being a successful returned missionary comes from understanding that a mission is the beginning of the great journey of life and not the destination.
So what does that mean?
- Never assume you are immune to temptations.The sweet siren songs of past successes can easily lull you towards the rocky waters of sin.
- Never create obstacles to learning. Video games, hobbies, media, and too much leisure time create such obstacles.
- Never try to recapture the days of your youth. Put your hand to the plow and don’t look back.
- Never face the turbulence of life alone. If you find yourself facing former temptations, reach out and get help.
There is no magic wand. Coming closer to Christ is a journey not an event.