I guess this isn’t really a spiritual message, more of a personal journal post, but that’s what I feel like I need most at the moment.
Back in October of 2012, I was sitting in my apartment with my roommates watching General Conference when the age eligibility for sister missionaries changed. I could see (and, to be honest, hear quite clearly) how much this seemed to affect them. One of my roommates had wanted to serve at 21, but it would have conflicted with her entrance into a prestigious program and was worried she would have to choose, but being able to serve earlier would allow her to do both. She’s now serving in Houston, Texas, and I’m currently waiting for her to write me back. Three of my other roommates are turning in their papers by the end of this year, and the fifth one has been more seriously contemplating serving as well. There was a flurry of action and paperwork in not just my ward, but all over campus. My bishop aptly noted that the age change was a bomb dropped by the First Presidency, and BYU was ground zero. Even back home, friends I had in high school are circumventing the globe, eager to spread the gospel.
And then there’s me.
The announcement did shock me, but it didn’t seem to affect me like everyone else. I didn’t have this sudden bolt of inspiration or rush of desire to serve a mission. I didn’t see my future magically clear-cut in front of me. I hadn’t ever really thought of going on a mission, preferring to wait until I was 21 to decide. I suddenly, however, had the opportunity to go on one. I could feel everyone’s enthusiasm, and I wanted so badly to join in. But, admittedly, and I still feel a little awkward in saying this, I didn’t really have a desire to go on a mission. It sounded difficult, the constant rejection and dealing with people. Even selling tickets to guests through a glass window has me worn out by the end of the week. It would even be harder to be so dedicated to the gospel, and to feel so strongly about it, and not have people treat it the way they should. Not to mention the possibility of a foreign mission, while perhaps preferable, would have me praying for the gift of tongues that I probably wouldn’t have. Honestly, I’d prefer serving in a different manner, but I focused on my desire to serve, and started praying. If the Lord wanted me to go on a mission, I would go, not because I wanted to, but because He did. And I was almost ready for the “yes”.
But it never came. I was praying, trying to read my scriptures more diligently, and living worthily of receiving my revelation, but no real answer came. And day by day, more people would be announcing their decisions, and asking me if I’d be going on a mission, and I’d have to answer them, “I’m not sure yet,” which made me feel wishy-washy. I read my patriarchal blessing, looking for some sort of combination of words that would indicate a more specific answer. I remember thinking about missions when I first got my blessing, a couple years back, and wondering if it would indicate whether or not I’d be going. At the time I was wryly amused when there was a sentence along the lines of, “In regards to serving a mission, the decision is up to you. Only you decide when and if you’ll serve.” But now, I was even more frustrated.
I was conflicted. Here I was, waiting, working for an answer, and I wasn’t getting a definite anything. I made pro/con lists, but ultimately I was waiting for an answer. And then I wondered whether this was all a stupor of thought. I pondered for a few days, then got on my knees. For some reason, it was really hard for me to pray, asking whether it was okay to not serve a mission, that my answer was “no”. Even now it’s difficult to admit. It almost feels like saying no to the Lord, saying no to missions or sharing the gospel. I see examples and results of the great work these missionaries are doing, and how they bless the lives of others, and I would love nothing more than to be a part of that. But the answer was “no”. I felt a sense of peace that seemed at odds with my own conflicted feelings, a beacon of light cutting through the fog and haze of my thoughts.
But that didn’t make the “no” any easier. I smile and clap and listen eagerly to the mission calls and farewells and write letters when I have the time. I love missionary letters and the Spirit they give to my day. But it’s still difficult to watch your friends travel and learn languages and partake in something you love. And sometimes it’s hard to deal with the implications of the “no”.
I’ve never felt outrightly judged on my religious righteousness for deciding not to go on a mission, but the age-change has definitely resulted in a culture-change. Suddenly men are claiming they only want to marry a returned missionary, perhaps a joking reciprocation of the much repeated mantra from young women, but it makes me personally feel less worthy than other sisters, like I am not able to serve because of my choices. Or people, often joking, I acknowledge, assume that, because I’m not serving a mission, I’m going to be married off in the next two years. I’m not exactly sure why this makes me uncomfortable, but it does. Firstly, I don’t know how to respond. I’m honestly not into dating at the moment, and to me, nineteen seems a bit young to be married. Besides, there are things I want to do, and I want to be able to enjoy being single and learn to love myself before getting involved like that (but that’s almost a whole other rant). Secondly, it almost seems like I place marriage over mission, or boyfriend over God, which is far from true. Even non-members have picked up the habit of asking me, “Are you going on a mission?” It seems harder to say no to them, because it feels like my religion isn’t as important to me as college/marriage/any other reason I would stay instead of go.
Sometimes I just want to shout, “If He wanted me to go, I would! Without hesitation!” Maybe I will be married within the next year and a half (that would be an interesting development), maybe I will have the opportunity to serve Him in some other capacity, or maybe my decision was exactly that: mine. Perhaps it would be easier if I knew exactly what was ahead of me; maybe an ill family member requires my presence at home, or maybe I’ll be sick myself. Maybe I’ll have another great opportunity to serve some other way (this is another story, in itself). Maybe this is just to strengthen me and my faith. Maybe nothing spectacular happens in my life (which is definitely hardest to admit).
But the point is, I don’t know. I don’t know what exactly is going to happen. I don’t know why my answer is “no”. I don’t know what would have happened if I still decided to serve. I don’t know if it’ll change within the next year. I don’t know whether I’ll serve later in my life. I just don’t really know. What I do know is that my faith is well-placed. I wonder if I would have changed my answer if it hadn’t been divine revelation. What I do know is that it is hard to say “no”. But there are good reasons for it, even if others don’t immediately see them. And I have to recognize that when I say “no,” I’m not rejecting the truthfulness of the gospel, but that I’m reaffirming it, placing my faith in God and trying my best to align my will with His, and not the expectation of others.