Finding Meaning

Part 8 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’

We all want meaning and purpose in our life. Never more so than on the return from a mission. Finding meaning, as the returned missionary shifts from a highly structured life of selfless service to a lifestyle that is often seen as selfish, could prove problematic.

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From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Finding meaning. It is often difficult for returning missionaries to find work or activities with anything close to the meaning and purpose that being a missionary had. Driving a pizza truck or struggling through chemistry just may not feel as eternally significant as preaching the gospel and saving souls. Also, it may feel selfish and unnatural to spend so much time thinking about their own life and goals when they are used to spending most of their time thinking about others. Help them find ways to keep their work, school, social, and personal goals connected to their larger spiritual goals and purposes. Encourage them to remember the big picture, find new ways to serve, and make time to nurture themselves in the good word of God through scripture study, good books, church classes, and prayer. But also help them conceptualize spirituality as less defined by strict obedience to a set of outward rules (appropriate in the mission field) and more defined by balance, prioritizing, building a community, and infusing spirituality into the messy business of work, school, dating, roommates, families, and singles wards.

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What do I think?

From a temporal point of view this is one of the things I worry the most about for my returning missionary. In a country that is still trying to get back on its feet economically after the GFC, I worry that my returning missionary will not be able to find employment before she starts school next March. Without some kind of meaningful activity for her to absorb her time, it could cause her to question her value, or at least, lose sight of the bigger picture. Add to the mix her possible reluctance to be in the world again, I think this is going to be something she may struggle with…but I could be wrong.

Of course, as Dave and Wendy point out, this is a time for the returning missionary to define their new life by balance, prioritizing, building community and infusing spirituality. As the scriptures state,

“Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.” D&C 29:34

I think it is very wise advice from Dave and Wendy, that as parents we need to be able to continually encourage them to view their life in the bigger picture, giving them a vision of the spiritual nature of those temporal things they will now be involved in.

Questions:

1. What are some ways that we as parents can help our returned missionary see the spiritual nature of their temporal lives?

2. Do you agree with Dave and Wendy that the returned missionary should avoid living their life according to the strict guidelines of a mission?

Next week, this series will conclude with a discussion on ‘Getting Help’.

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Singles Wards and Church Callings

Part 7 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series.

We’ve all probably seen The Singles Ward DVD at some stage–personally I enjoyed Singles Ward II better–and perhaps even cringed at the thought of our precious returned missionary being exposed to such a culture. But of course in reality singles wards are perhaps one of the few places that could actually assist them to effectively transition back into mainstream life and find the spiritual and social path they need to take.

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From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Singles wards. We have found that attending a singles ward or branch (if available) is almost always a good idea, even though almost nobody likes singles wards at first. Staying in a family ward with no one their age is just not in their developmental interests, even if it feels easier to them and delights their parents. If the singles ward just doesn’t work at all, encourage Institute participation and singles activities.

Church callings. Encourage your missionary to approach the bishop or branch president directly about serving in the Church. If they do not have a calling in the Church within a month, consider talking to Church leaders yourself. Be bold! Serving in the Church helps returned missionaries use their skills, build relationships, strengthen faith, and continue to develop. Many returned missionaries find attending and serving in the temple very rewarding, especially if there are others their age also serving there. Encourage serving and developing spirituality even without a formal calling.

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What do I think?

Singles Wards. I am probably the wrong person to ask about singles wards, as my one and only personal experience with one was not positive. The singles ward I did attend (over 30 years ago) for a few weeks was very large and I felt isolated and lost in it. However, as Dave and Wendy point out, most people don’t like them at first.  The mistake I made was to give up on it too soon. I’m sure if I had stuck it out then it would have been a very good move for me. If patience is exercised then in actual fact they are the perfect place for a young person to find good fellowship with other YSA, as well as offering a multitude of opportunities to serve.

Why do I say that?

Well, I’m afraid this attitude did rub off on to my eldest daughter when she moved away from home and had the choice to attend the local singles ward. It took her 12 months before she was able to venture into this new culture; reluctant to participate in something that was so stigmatised. Instead, she chose to attend a local family ward. As good as this was, once she made that final step to overcome her prejudice, she never looked back.

There were so many more opportunities for her to serve in callings than she had ever had in the family ward. She found herself called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher within the first few months of shifting, which allowed her to grow immeasurably. Probably a calling she would never have had if she attended a family ward. Additionally, her dating options increased 10 fold, as she participated in the many ward social activities.

But for a lot of our young people throughout the world there is no option to attend a singles ward. That’s why it is critical for our YSA to connect in other ways. Programs such as Institute and YSA activities are key to maintaining the spiritual and social welfare of the young person. I have a strong belief in this as my husband and I have had years of experience with the both the Institute program and similar social activities involving the YSA in the Church.

Key to maintaining their spiritual wellbeing is the consistent spiritual nourishment of the good word of Christ. Key to their social wellbeing is being able to make connections with other like-minded young people in meaningful ways. They will not get this anywhere else except in their Institute classes, Sunday lessons or through larger social activities with other YSA.

Where we currently live there are no singles wards for the YSA to attend, so when my daughter returns from her mission in a few weeks, we will be strongly encouraging her to participate in all the YSA social activities within the area we live, as well as placing full emphasis on her attendance of weekly Institute classes and regular attendance of the Temple.

Church Callings. Many wards and stakes in the church have programs where returned missionaries are given the highest priority when it comes to filling callings. I would hope that all wards and stakes (branches and districts) place emphasis on this and ensure these hardworking young people are given the opportunity to continue their service once home.

A calling is critical to the spiritual welfare of a returned missionary. Many a young person has lost focus on their return because, after months of not receiving any kind of calling,  they feel worthless and purposeless in their religious lives. I cannot stress more the importance of each returned missionary obtaining a meaningful calling within the first month of their return. If this has not happened with your missionary then I would agree with Dave and Wendy – be bold and approach church leaders yourself.

If callings are not immediately available, then the additional encouragement to participate in regular Temple attendance, and in many cases, becoming a Temple worker, can help maintain their worth and purpose. Again, my eldest daughter, who had not served a mission nor was she Temple endowed, would regularly attend the Temple with various other young people, to perform proxy baptisms and confirmations – often attending as a group date. What better way for our young people to put the world aside and see each other as the Lord would want them to.

I maintain that there is nothing more attractive to a young LDS women than to see a young man performing his priesthood duties righteously. The Temple is the perfect place for this to happen.

Questions:

1. What does everyone feel about singles wards? Does the term have a negative connotation, or is is something that is viewed generally as a good thing?

2. Is it inappropriate for a parent to approach the Bishop about issuing a calling to their son/daughter?

3. Do you have a son or daughter who has become a Temple worker upon their return?

**For Part 8 we’ll be talking about ‘Finding Meaning’.

‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

How exciting! Your missionary has been gone for up to 2 years and will soon be home. You have followed them each week in their progress; felt joy at their successes and sorrowed in their disappointments. You have missed them more than you can describe, but felt the blessings of the service they have rendered in the time they have been gone.

Now it is time to prepare for their return…

You may ask, “What is there to prepare for?” The only preparation they needed was to get themselves out in the field, not to come home. They will step off that plane, step into their former life, find the love of their life and move smoothly into the next chapter. Right?

This is where I am at the moment. Our daughter will be home in less than 8 weeks and already the family is talking like she is back in our daily lives. Just this week we have been discussing our plans for the upcoming summer holidays and Christmas break (remember I am living in the southern hemisphere). Everything we discuss includes the presence of our missionary daughter just as if she had never left.

But as I talk to many of the mums and dads who have already experienced this ‘return’ I am fast understanding that it may not be that simple. While many returning missionaries will do just what I described above – fall right back into a routine as if they had never left – there are still some things that as parents of missionaries we can do to make sure that transition is as smooth and painless as possible – for both the missionary and the family.

Recently a friend (who has also just welcomed home her first missionary son) shared with me an article titled ‘For Parents of Returning Missionaries’ written by Dave and Wendy Ulrich*.

The article was part of an outline for a seminar that Dave and Wendy held for recently returned missionaries, and families of missionaries who were soon to return. Along with a long list of personal and business credentials (Dave in business and education, Wendy in psychology and business, and together as authors) both had the wonderful opportunity to presided over the Montreal, Canada  Mission in 2002-2005.

As a couple Dave and Wendy recognise that coming home for many missionaries can be a difficult experience. In their words…

Returning missionaries may feel like actors in a play that has run out of script. They face decisions about school, career, lifestyle, relationships, and Church, but don’t have all the information they need to proceed with confidence. They need loving support while they find their script, and patience with themselves as they go from being seasoned veterans at missionary work to being “greenies” at adult life.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be sharing some of the important insights that this amazing couple have to offer. Things such as:

  1. To Pick Them Up Or Not
  2. Excitement and Disorientation
  3. The Need for Structure
  4. Big Goals, Little Steps
  5. Renegotiating Family Relationships
  6. Friends and Dating
  7. Singles Wards and Church Callings
  8. Finding Meaning
  9. Getting Help
  10. 13 Guidelines to a Softer Transition

…and plenty of other information that can help you and your missionary as they move back as ‘greenies’ into adult life.

For those who have already experienced this transition period, please contribute as we go along and share some of the challenges and solutions you have faced. For those, like me, who are yet to go through it, I hope that this series will offer you some helpful ideas on how to best support your returning missionary.

>> Part 1 – To Pick Them Up or Not >>

*For more information on who Dave and Wendy Ulrich are then the following links may assist: