Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Feelings of Inadequacy: How to Help Your Missionary Child Through Them

We all have feelings of inadequacy from time to time, and our missionary children are no different. When my husband served as Mission President in Boston, it was one of the things we learned was inevitable with a new missionary--he was going to feel inadequate. No doubt about it. Brand new missionaries would arrive in our mission, look at the Assistants and how capable they were and say to themselves, "I'll never be as good of a missionary as they are." Many of them would prepare for failure by telling themselves all the ways they could fail. It was definitely, in their minds, a way to protect themselves in case things didn't go the way they hoped. But, in truth, those negative feelings weighed them down and held them back and it took even longer for them to get in the groove and start to progress as a missionary.

It is important to mention that learning a new language adds to the tendency missionaries have to feel inferior and makes it even more important that they are receiving encouragement. We recognized a pattern that emerged among our missionaries: when missionaries felt inadequate, they almost always got discouraged. When they got discouraged, they almost always got depressed. And when they got depressed, they were headed on a downward course that needed immediate attention. My husband and I began to brainstorm about ways we could help our new missionaries avoid feeling inferior, because this seemed to be the time of their missions when they were most susceptible to discouragement. It made us sad when we sensed that some missionaries felt less than people around them. We wanted to build them up, help them appreciate the good in themselves, and encourage them to be patient as they grew into their role as a missionary. That became our primary focus when new missionaries walked in the door of the mission home that very first night. It was much easier to deal with this at the beginning--when they were facing the "inadequacy" stage rather than the "depressed" stage--so we would sit our missionaries down the day they arrived and tell them the following things:

1. "You are YOU. Don't try to be anyone else. We love you just the way you are!" As a Mission President, you hope all your missionaries will come to you with good self-esteem and an understanding of who they are. But, unfortunately, this is not the case. So many come from difficult situations and bring with them a lifetime of experiences that have made them feel less than valued. Many have struggled with feelings of inadequacy their whole lives. Some have never really felt loved and appreciated for who the person they are. Make sure your missionary child is not one of those. Be sure he knows he is loved unconditionally for who he is, exactly the way he is--warts and all!

2. "Every single Assistant in our mission was once a new missionary too! They once felt inadequate. They once felt like they would never really arrive as a missionary. But look at them now. It will be the same for you!" Eventually, your son or daughter will look back on the first months of their mission and be so surprised at how much they have grown since then. Remind them that it will happen a little bit every day and, although their growth may seem at times almost imperceptible to them, it will accumulate as time goes by. It may be hard for them to believe, but, before long, THEY will be the experienced missionary that all the new ones are admiring!

3."Don't look too far ahead. Just take one day at a time. And every day, take one step forward to becoming the missionary you want to be." I try to imagine how my missionary sons felt the first night at the MTC. I try to imagine how they feel that first week...that first month...even the first six months. I'm sure the question crossed their minds: where will I be a year from today (and to a young adult boy or girl, a year feels like ETERNITY!) And then the answer: oh wow, I will STILL BE ON MY MISSION! That realization can be (and most certainly is) so overwhelming to them. It can push them into a depressing and discouraging place if they dwell on it. It is so important that they don't look too far ahead because, well, it is just too hard. Encourage them to look at tomorrow, and only tomorrow! Some missionaries who are in the beginning stages of their adjustment can't even look past today without feeling hopeless. Help them focus on the NOW and remind them that all they need worry about is just getting through that small, do-able period of time. Help them see how to eat an elephant...one bite at a time!

4. "Be patient with yourself. Good things take time and being able to teach with confidence, speak the language well, and become a strong missionary is no different. It will take time!" We all need to remember this fact:growth never happens overnight. It takes a constant effort and day after day of righteous choices to become the person (or missionary) we want to become. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy (or quickly, for that matter!) Teach this to your missionary child. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “Personal, spiritual symmetry emerges only from the shaping of prolonged obedience. Twigs are bent, not snapped into shape.” And speaking of Elder Maxwell, we would always give our missionaries a condensed version of a talk he gave called: "Notwithstanding My Weakness." It is amazing and says it all, just the way Elder Maxwell alone can. You can find it on lds.org and I will also put a link to it in the comments on this post.

As mothers, we can constantly remind our missionary children of their worth. We can remind them that they are so very loved. And we can fill them with positive thoughts that will help them overcome feelings of inadequacy. In this, and so many other ways, we can truly make a difference.


  1. Thank you for your insight as a missionary mom and mission president's wife. I'm a first time missionary mom. Our oldest son has been out about 8 months now. He has definitely experienced the inadequate feelings you write about.
    I appreciate advice from those who have already been there. First born children probably appreciate that their parents seek advice. Anything that can make less painful their role as "guinea pig" of the family!
    BTW, my younger brother served in Boston while you and Pres. Murphy were there. Elder Comaduran from Arizona. Loved it! Oh! And Elder Wiltbank who was from my home ward, too.

  2. I appreciate advice from those who have already been there. First born children probably appreciate that their parents seek advice. Anything that can make less painful their role as "guinea pig" of the family!
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