Overcoming the awkward RM phase

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Missionaries return home and find that home is different than it was before the missions, be it their family, their friends or themselves. Many returned missionaries go through an awkward phase as they attempt to shift from missionary life to home life.

There are currently 88,000 LDS missionaries serving, and 2,800 return home every month.

Devan Page served in the Utah Provo Mission from August 2012 to August 2014. Page felt out of place after coming home.

“People didn’t connect with my mission life,” Page said. “It was hard because I wanted to share these things that are so personal to me with the people I care about. But a lot of the time they just didn’t get it.”

BYU psychology professor Ed Gannt shared some insights into the psychological and spiritual adjustments returned missionaries face and offered advice for how missionaries can find purpose, as well as how family and friends can help.

Gannt said the children in the Church see missionaries idolized by everyone and view them as heroes. Once in the mission field, Gannt said, these missionaries get used to feeling the Spirit with them all the time and don’t question the importance of the work they are doing, or their purpose.

When missionaries return home, they are no longer acknowledged as missionaries but as members of the Church. Gannt said that too often, returned missionaries feel they have lost their importance.

“There is nothing ordinary about coming home off a mission,” Gannt said. “There are no ordinary members of the Church.”

He explained that members do things like home teaching and Sunday school lessons instead of knocking on doors, but, “Just because a lot of folks are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s not very important in building up the kingdom of the Lord.”

Returned missionaries will have feelings of homesickness for the mission field, Gannt said. That is normal. Families should not try to immerse returned missionaries into the “real world” too quickly. Gannt advised family and friends to give missionaries time.

“When you return home you are going to get a new calling and you have to approach it with that same mindset (as you did your mission),” Gannt said. He said any calling in the Church is a calling from the Lord, and every member is needed.

Erika Buckholz returned from the Argentina Salta Mission in August 2014. She said one of the hardest things about coming home was people not understanding that she was a new person. She was not going to be her old self. Things were easier when others helped her keep mission standards.

“They supported me as I tried to keep up with all the habits I had made as a missionary, because I knew I was still a missionary at heart,” Buckholz said.

Some families watch their missionaries struggle and wish they could fix everything for them, Gannt said. He reminded families that it is OK for newly returned missionaries to go through an awkward period. 

“Realize that they want some structure in their life,” Gannt said. “They need something they’re working toward. They need to know they are valued.”

One of the most important things Gannt stressed to families was that they “encourage (returned missionaries) to continually seek the Lord to deal with their discombobulation the same way they did as a missionary.”

Church leaders also play a large role in helping returned missionaries adapt to their new way of life. Returned missionaries meet with their stake presidents to be released and report about their missions to the high council. Gannt suggested having church leaders meet with these returned missionaries a few times after they return home.

Gannt said he thinks church leaders should extend the invitation for these freshly returned missionaries to serve as temple workers. That kind of environment can take them back to the mission field a few times a week.

There are worthwhile things in life — school, dating, vacations, working — but Gannt pointed out that it is still easy for missionaries to question how they can find anything as important and fulfilling as sharing the gospel. How can a returned missionary find value and purpose while doing everyday things?

The answer is quite simple: “Look at if from the eternal perspective,” Gannt said. Missionary work is most definitely looked at from an eternal perspective. Every day must be looked at the same way because, “all things have eternal consequences,” Gannt said. 

Brent Kimbler, a BYU student who served in the Brazil Belo Horizonte Mission from August 2011 to August 2013, said he would not have progressed to where he is today without the Lord. The Lord helped him develop an attitude of looking forward and having faith in what is to come.

“The Lord puts in my path certain obstacles and blessings that help me not only get where I want to be but also develop characteristics that will help me face the future trials I will be having,” Kimbler said.

Gannt said any kind of challenge in life is a good thing if it helps “to drive us to our knees; to drive us to the temple; to drive us to some humility and seeking a deeper relationship with the Lord.”

It is better to be prepared for the challenges of coming home so missionaries can use their experiences to know “how best to face such challenges and can navigate through them effectively and not lose heart or focus,” Gannt said.

“Onward, ever onward … forward, pressing forward.” The familiar hymn “Called to Serve” is often associated with missionaries, but Gannt stressed that all of the members of the Church are called to serve the Lord at all times in life.

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