When I received my call to serve as a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I knew it was what I needed to be doing. I knew it was just what my Father, my God, needed me to do. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt because of how reading those few sentences made me feel: happier than I can describe and anchored by a peace that cannot be put into words. I promised myself, as I moved forward from that day, that I would not get distracted. I promised that I wouldn’t waste a moment on the road of preparation that I found myself sprinting down. But that sprint turned into a run, and then a skip, and then a jog, and then a quick walk, until I found myself strolling.
I’m happy to say I never idled. Not really.
And speaking as someone who drives a car with standard transmission, I never stalled. Thank goodness.
But I’m looking at things now, as I approach my very last week of preparation, and I’m kicking myself a little. How did I lose momentum? How did I lose focus? How did I come to a point where my promise to myself crumbled, faded, and was ultimately broken?
Well, I’m not saying that all is lost. Hardly. I’m still going, and I’m going to be fine. Mostly because: Philippians 4:13. And because I’m choosing to forgive myself, brush off the dust that I let settle on my determination, and move on.
What I am saying is that these weeks, right before I leave, have been the toughest. Nothing tragic has happened to me (for which I am counting my blessings, I promise). No one in my family or circle of friends has gotten seriously ill, seriously in trouble, or been any kind of unkind, discouraging, or hurtful. These are all things that I have read or heard accounts of from other women my age preparing to leave. However, my eleventh hour balls and chains have been of my own making.
When I first spoke to my Bishop about wanting to serve a mission, the interview was, of course, filled with lots of smiling, nervous laughter (on my part) and encouragement (on his part as well as His part). But it was also filled with some important counsel. I took it seriously, but I don’t think I understood it. My Bishop told me, essentially, that this decision to serve made me a target. Lucifer/Satan/the devil/the adversary/whatever did not want me doing this great thing. No, sir. And he was going to do whatever he could to stop me. He was going to distract me. As I listened to my Bishop warn me of that, I thought: Sure, of course. He’ll probably try and get me with media choices and whatnot, right?
But what I never expected was how tailored to me the distractions were. How most of the time it was direct distraction. Just distraction, plain and simple, that was the worst. It was just me spending my time in ways that weren’t particularly bad. Certainly not evil in any respect. But only good, and definitely not the best. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talked about this in his October 2007 General Conference address. He said:
“We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.”
I read a blog post from a sister missionary who had to return home early from her mission for medical reasons. She gave a plethora of advice to women who are considering serving or preparing to serve. One particular piece of advice was about preparation. She said, “Spiritual preparation is SO much more important than physical preparation.” She went on to describe how she spent way too much time concerned about the physical things she needed to take with her: clothing, personal items, etc. And that she wished that she had spent more time in the scriptures, on her knees, with her family, and with her mind on missionary work in general. I read that and realized I was guilty of the same thing.
Now, I’m not saying that the physical stuff isn’t important. It’s essential to make sure you are going to have what you need on your mission. But it is also good to focus on the best preparation: spiritual preparation. Amongst all of the good things we could do in the months and weeks before a mission, there are undeniably better things and some of the best things that we should be focusing on most. It is good to want to make sure you have the skirts and shirts and what-have-you items that you need on your mission. It is marginally good to see to it that you make a trip to your favorite handful of restaurants at home before you leave them for a year and a half. It is good, no argument, to spend as much time with friends as possible before you are also without them for a year and half (or two years, if you’re an elder). The list could go on. But suffice it to say, that while these are good things and shouldn’t necessarily be cut out of the mission preparation diet, the most important things—scripture study, studying mission materials, temple attendance, service, etc.—should be attended to first. What’s that quote that everybody mentions when they’re too busy or something? That quote about priorities? Oh, you know, that quote from a PROPHET.
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” – Ezra Taft Benson, The Great Commandment–Love the Lord
And there you have it.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Overall, I have to say this: I dropped the ball. But the ball didn’t roll very far and I have two hands at the end of two arms attached to two shoulders that sprout from a frame containing a heart that I intend to “seal… for the courts above.” Those hands can pick up that ball and carry it as far as it needs to be carried. Because these past few weeks have been hard, hard in that I have had to fight for focus. But things are hardest when they are worth the most. I believe that. And I know that serving a mission is absolutely what I need to do. It is what the Lord needs me doing, and He knows better than I, inexplicably, what I need. I’m trusting in Him and I know that… well, Philippians 4:13. He’s going to help me carry the ball.
So for anyone reading this who is preparing for a mission, preparing for anything, really, or who just needed a call to better prioritizing, I implore you: Put God first. Let the spiritual things in your life take precedence, priority. Choose to fill your life and your days with the things that are best first and then fill in the gaps (which probably won’t exist, honestly) with the things that are good. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. In this next week as I continue my preparation, I’m going to strive to practice what I preach and mold my priorities accordingly. There are great blessings in sacrifice, and I believe that a sacrifice of time absolutely counts. I also believe that, in the end, more often than not you find that what felt like a sacrifice at the time, really wasn’t one after all.
“I promise you that what appears today to be a sacrifice will prove instead to be the greatest investment that you will ever make.” – President Gordon B. Hinckley, Words of the Prophet: Forget Yourself and Go
I love you all. I love this gospel. And I love my Savior.