Without realizing it, I had tears streaming down my face. I’d been online looking at what my friends were up to, scrolling through their lives with amusement and curiosity. Many of them had recently returned from serving missions, and I found myself clicking through their pictures. With each new click came a new, quiet heartache. They were beautiful, these returned sisters. Their hair fell in curls around their black nametags, their arms were around their companions, and wide smiles were on their faces. Their pictures were filled with comments in all sorts of languages, discussions held by members and converts who loved them and missed them. “My mission was the best experience of my life,” they posted, “and I wish I could go back. I miss the people so much.”
When I turned my computer off and went to bed that February night, I wept, acutely aware that I had no name tag, no companions, and no mission.
I hadn’t always wanted to serve. It was one of those “maybes” in my life that I’d figure out when I got to it. When general conference rolled around in October of 2012 — it was the year I turned 20 — I had just begun to consider it. The mission age announcement changed everything. It was all I could think about every day and every night for months. It was all I was ever asked about: “So you gonna serve? You really should. Have you even thought about it?” “Some people say that serving a mission is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. For me, the exact opposite is true” Girls all around me were submitting their papers, and there I was in the middle of it, particular about the fact that I did not want to serve just because everyone else was going. I was afraid of having the wrong motives, and I wanted to go when it was right. I must have prayed so many times that year, telling my Heavenly Father that I thought I had real desire to serve. Should I serve a mission now? I asked Him. The quiet and discomforting answer I received was, No. Not now.
Not now, He told me when all of the girls in my Institute class expressed their excitement to serve, and I sunk lower in my chair. Not now, He said as I eagerly watched members of my ward open their calls and leave. Not now, He asserted when I heard another talk in Sacrament Meeting about how a mission changed someone’s life and I ached for that. Not now, He said during my senior year of college when I found a deeply rooted love for the gospel and the true desire I had wanted.
Not now, He continues to tell me.
Some people say that serving a mission is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. For me, the exact opposite is true — staying home is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I’ve spent many heartbreaking nights wondering why it can’t be me in those pictures, me opening a call in front of family, me out serving, me saying how much I miss my mission. People tell me that the Lord has something else in mind for me, and as I’ve seen myself grow, serve, and progress in incredible ways these past few years, I’ve come to know that. But it doesn’t entirely alleviate the pain of being “the only one” not serving a mission.
As I’ve asked my Heavenly Father about it, I’ve come to realize a very important thing: being a missionary has nothing to do with what I want. In aching for the personal perks and blessings of being a missionary, I missed the critical fact that a mission is not for me or any one of us at all: it’s for the Lord and His work. The truth is that our desire to serve, separated from our desire to open a call, can be met right here and right now. We might not have a name tag, but we take Christ’s name upon us every week, and if we live correctly, people will see that. We might not have companions or investigators, but we do have friends and neighbors. “We don’t need a letter from the First Presidency to serve a mission” The people in our communities and in our college classes are just as desperate to feel the peace the gospel brings as people in South America or Russia. We don’t need a letter from the First Presidency to serve a mission, but, as D&C 4:3 states, we need only have the desire to serve to be called to the work. The field is white, already to harvest, and that field isn’t 5,000 miles away. We’re standing in it right now. And while we pine away for our neighbors’ fields, we completely forget to harvest the one right beneath us.
I’ve learned that we can all do more as members to truly serve. If you, like me, want to be a missionary, pray more often and more fervently for missionary experiences and make time for them. Don’t be afraid of running into them in an everyday setting! Study Preach My Gospel as a member and use it. Share your testimony often by actively using your social media accounts for good, and work hand in hand with the sisters and elders in your stake to find people who don’t have the gospel in their lives. You can always meet people, talk with them, and share the gospel with them, call or no call.
Being a missionary is not about getting the tag, the travel, the friends, or the photographs. It’s about serving the Lord and His children. If we don’t have the opportunity to do that in a formal setting, there is no need for us to feel left out. We can do that every single day. What I never realized in my attempt to discern or change the Lord’s mind about a mission is that “not now” doesn’t mean “not ever.” The Lord always wants us to share the gospel with his children, whether we do so straight out of the MTC or straight out of our homes. I’d suspect that if I asked the Lord, “Should I be a member missionary?”, the answer would be a resounding, Yes! Now. Always.
You and I might not have a zone leader, and we might not have a formal call, but we are missionaries. We can be one every day. And that’s something each one of us can look forward to if we truly desire it.