Sunday, April 10, 2011

Can We Really Make A Difference?

Sometimes people ask me this question. Does what we do as mothers really make a difference in the success of our children as they serve? The answer is simple: More than you may EVER know.

Unlike so many things in their lives that must be done completely on their own, a mission is one time when others' help is CRITCAL...one time that what we do has a direct and long-lasting effect on the outcome. In the past 12 years that I've been sending missionary sons nonstop into the MTC/Mission Field, as well as 3 years as a Mission President's wife watching the experiences of over 700 total missionaries who served in Boston while we were there, I have gained new insight into what it is that makes a missionary stay on his mission and what causes him to change his mind and decide not to serve after all. I have come to the conclusion that there are 2 things that are especially dangerous to them...2 things that take them from feeling excited about serving a mission to feeling depressed and sad and maybe even wanting to come home. The first one is: feeling alone. Some people might wonder how anyone could ever feel alone in the MTC with hundreds of missionaries everywhere you look--or in the mission field when he is always around people. It's important to know...I'm not talking about feeling alone in the physical sense. I'm talking about feeling alone emotionally. Feeling like there is no one to talk to. No one around who really cares how they feel or what they are going through or the good and bad things that happened to them that day. As mothers, we can make sure this does not happen. We can show them we are interested in the details of their mission. We can write them letters about how much we are thinking of them. We can validate their feelings by telling them we know how hard it is and how proud of them we are and how certain we are that they can push through the difficulties and face the challenges. We can make sure they know they are NEVER alone by reminding them the Lord is always there and that He loves him. We can build his faith which, in turn, helps him understand his relationship with his Father in Heaven and feel the comfort that comes from knowing He truly is aware of him--in every way.

The second danger that we need to be aware of is the tendency for our sons to feel forgotten. Think about it: they leave on their missions...we pack up their rooms, cancel their cell phones, and sell their cars (This is what we do at least! ALL necessary things!) Their life as they knew it is gone--and they know it. When our boys leave on their missions, they know this is what will happen. Most missionaries do. But that feeling (almost like there is no sign left of their former life!) is intensely magnified when it seems as if everyone has forgotten them. Feeling forgotten a very tough place for ANY of us to be. And, when you add this one element to all the other challenges and adjustments of a mission, it can really weigh them down. Feeling forgotten--feeling as though you don't matter--is emotionally crippling in so many ways. It deepens feelings of homesickness. It makes a normal longing for home turn into an obsessive desire to BE home...a feeling that sometimes is just too strong to resist.

Fortunately for us (and them!) there are things we can do to make sure they never have to feel alone or forgotten. Sit down and think about it. Make a list. The most immediate and obvious one is to write them letters/emails (do not EVER miss a week--and get as many other family members as you can to do the same), sending them packages (they don't have to cost alot.. in the case of missionaries, the cliche "It's the thought that counts" is absolutely true!), reminding them every chance we get--by our words and our actions--that they are still very much a part of our lives. That they are missed. That nothing is the same without them. That you are sad too (always pair this one with something like, "...but I can do it because I know you are serving the Lord...and YOU CAN TOO!) Pray for inspiration concerning your child...what you can specifically do to keep him from feeling isolated in these ways. You can make a difference. More than you may EVER know.

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