The question I have is this: what are we really looking for? In all of our searching for a potential spouse, is there something else we need to be focusing on? In my opinion, the answer to that second question is yes.
Truth be told, we’ve gotten ourselves into a seriously nasty predicament and a very un-Christlike attitude, I’ll add, without noticing because we’re so focused on the current mission status of the young men in the church. I’m not saying we should completely throw out the idea of dating an RM, but that we shouldn’t let that define who we date. We are so consumed with returned missionary status or the lack thereof that we completely disregard what I feel are the most important qualities to seek in a potential spouse: outstanding character and temple worthiness. In doing so, we are marginalizing dozens of worthy young men and sometimes justifying the less-than-honorable actions of the young men considered honorable for serving.I have had a taste of their pain as they have explained why dating is so hard for them, how they were willing to serve a mission and wanted to, but all girls and all anyone, for that matter, ever sees is how they didn’t serve or didn’t make it through the two years before being sent home. Some of these young men don’t even bother dating to avoid the pain of rejection. In the church as a whole, some go completely inactive and don’t even bother to try anything. They are consistently hurt by girls like me, and that hurt isn’t a mere cut, but a deep wound. Though valiant and temple-worthy and doing all they can to become like the Savior, they are tossed aside because of how they spent or did not spend two years of their lives. The pain of that is something I can only imagine.
To the young women my age, I plead, as President Uchtdorf did, stop it. We are quite literally isolating and emotionally abandoning a group of young men who are worthy of and have the desire to be sealed to a spouse, but haven’t yet reached that point in their progression because “medical leave” and “wasn’t able to serve” have been made into leprous stigmas in LDS dating culture. Dating, though the main focus of this post, isn’t even the only sphere where this happens; as communities and wards, we sometimes turn blind eyes toward these young men (and young women, too) who come home early or stay home, as if it burdens us to associate with them or as if we’re ashamed to know them. In their moment of dire need, we abandon them merely because we don’t want to look bad. The honorable, two-year RM is an image, an idol, if you will, that we cling to and seek in our loved ones and neighbors because we don’t want to be judged. This is not only wrong, but incredibly cruel and horribly judgmental itself. It is the exact opposite of Christlike behavior.
The reality of missions is that we maybe set them on too high a pedestal. We know how amazing and life-changing they can be — that’s why we encourage everybody who can to serve. Missions are incredible things, and if you’re willing and able, they can only make you better than you are. But I think we all sometimes forget about other critically important things.“The temple has become nothing more than an item on a checklist for some of these missionaries getting ready to serve,” President Barrington of the Logan, Utah temple presidency said, brow furrowed. “But the temple should really be the whole focus.” Don’t get me wrong, he later said, serving a mission is a great and important thing, but the temple takes priority.Too often, I think we misuse the scripture “by their fruits ye shall know them” in the context of missions. We assume that the mission is the fruit, that obviously a young man is good and upstanding and worthy of being married in the temple because he’s served two full years. In reality, the mission is more like the climate the fruit has to grow in and fight in, just as the military or life or work or the critical culture of a hometown are the climates that other young men get to fight through. Half the Quorum of the Twelve are perfect examples of fruit flourishing without the aid of a mission. The fruit is simply what a person makes of themselves during and after their experiences.Truth be told, I have seen what could have been “good fruit” decompose far too rapidly after some missions. I have seen some returned missionaries, men called “honorable” by their fathers and mothers, come home after two years, only to lose themselves in self-gratification, pride, self-righteous judgment, and reckless habits. I have watched RMs willingly distance themselves from the spirit. I have also heard stories of young girls being taken advantage of at the hands of someone they thought was trustworthy simply because he was a returned missionary. RM status has become just that: a status, one that seems to entitle certain wearers to certain perks that are in complete violation of everything they promised to stand for out in the field and the covenants they have made. These young men, the ones not living up to their covenants, are celebrated and respected, when others who try harder and, frankly, deserve better get nothing in return for it. That is wrong. Serving a mission is far more than serving the Lord for two years — it’s devoting yourself to Him for life, and some have managed to do that on their own while others fail almost immediately upon coming home.
I feel that we need to stop using “RM” as a status, as a justification, and as a qualification. It is certainly an accomplishment, and in most cases, returned missionaries are outstanding individuals. Lest I be misunderstood, I’m also of the opinion that serving the Lord on a mission is one of the most rewarding things you could do, and you should do it if you get the chance. But let’s not forget about those who aren’t RMs and let’s not judge them. We cannot stigmatize young men (and these days, young women, because trust me — it happens) who did not serve or only served for a short amount of time. Sometimes that’s due to medical, spiritual, physical, or mental reasons that we can’t see. For us to assume that they are less than or unworthy is for us to become Pharisees. Would Christ do that? Would he refuse to befriend and support and build a relationship with someone simply because they didn’t serve a mission? If you think so, you do not know Christ.
To those young men, who I know are struggling: the Lord knows you. You are so critical to His plan, and He loves you. He never stops loving you. Don’t give up.
For me, the phrase “returned missionary” has been replaced by the phrase “someone who is doing his best to become like the Savior,” and there are lots of young men doing just that. Temple worthiness and dedication to the Gospel have taken complete priority, as they should. I have had remarkable examples of young men in my life who, though they were unable to give their lives to the Lord on a two year mission, have given their lives to Him anyway and never stopped trying.
We owe them much more than we are giving them.
The Lord, through His prophets, has asked all worthy young men to serve. That is what He has asked. A mission is rewarding and beautiful, and it is one way to give back to the Lord, who has given us so much. We are told to serve because His children need us and we need to serve, not because it will make our neighbors think highly of us. I did not write this post to advise young men to break commandments of the Lord, nor did I write it to marginalize what He has asked of us. I wrote this post to advise everyone to keep His most basic commandment:love thy neighbor as thyself.
Andy Proctor has a few reminders for those missionaries who have went on a mission and returned home early. 1. You Actually Went You chose to…