There is this cultural thing inside the church wherein other members think it’s their business as to whether your child is going to go on a mission or not. Generally, when a kid turns 18 in the church, a swarm of people rush in and start peppering the kid and the parents with questions such as “when is little Johnny going to serve a mission” or “why aren’t you out on a mission already?” Though probably not intended, the questions generally make the recipient feel uncomfortable and out of place.
I don’t think anyone sets out to maliciously embarrass anyone or put them on the spot, but truly, it’s really none of their business when and how someone decides to go on a mission. We’ve got to be more conscientious about how major life decisions might be affecting other people.
Deciding to serve a mission is not an easy decision. Take it from me. I didn’t serve a mission until I was 22 years old. I had people asking me for 3 years why I wasn’t on a mission, and every time someone asked me about it, it made me want to go less. I just wanted to yell out… STOP BUGGING ME ABOUT IT!!! So instead, I made myself scarce. For 3 years I made myself scarce. I’m not saying it was other people’s fault. I can’t blame others from my procrastination… but what I am saying is that it didn’t help.
When I eventually decided to go on a mission, it had nothing to do with random church members throwing guilt trips my way. It had everything to do with the spirit operating on me over time. It had everything to do with me observing members and returned missionaries who were happy, who shared their testimony of missionary work, and who let their actions speak for the efficacy and validity of the work they performed.
According to David O. McKay, “Man is a spiritual being, a soul, and at some period of his life everyone is possessed with an irresistible desire to know his relationship to the infinite. There is something within him which urges him to rise above himself, to control his environment, to master the body and all things physical and live in a higher and more beautiful world” (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Oct. 1928, 37). That took place inside of me.
Acts 17:27 said that God “is not far from any one of us,” regardless of where we’re at in our lives. I had to listen to those promptings, seek after God, and make a change. No one else could do it for me and no amount of questioning from random “concerned” people was going to help. A mom, a dad, a grandma, a bishop — it was within their right to give me a loving nudge or some positive encouragement. But others… no.
The only thing that might be worse than bugging a young man to go on a mission is bugging his mom or dad. Mom and Dad take the whole process much harder than the young man does. Because, for them, when other church members come up and ask them about why their son or daughter isn’t on a mission, they take it as a reflection on them as parents. As if they didn’t live righteously or raise their children well enough because their kid isn’t on a mission yet. People start assuming things that they don’t need to be assuming. They start gossip where gossip doesn’t need to be started.
My mission meant everything to me. I went when I was ready. When I was 19, I wasn’t ready. My bishop knew that. My parents knew that. And I knew that. No one else knew that because they didn’t know my situation. There were thousands of young men that were able to leave on their mission when they were 19 because they were more prepared than I was. I applaud those young men for getting to that point before I was able to. But… no amount of speculation, questioning, or coaxing will ever make an unprepared young man into a great missionary. And I didn’t want to be a mediocre missionary or even just a good missionary. I wanted to be a great missionary. So I prepared to catch up with all of the other studs out there in the field. And then I went.
So, quit bugging concerned parents and their kids about their mission status. We can be sure that it is weighing on their minds enough already. If you truly want to help, find ways to exemplify the spirit of a missionary and magnify the blessings that flow from such a sacrificial and selfless two-year act of service.