This post is part of “My Story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”
We are never grateful for our trials until we start to learn from them—until we start using them to build strength in spite of fear and pain. The memories of previous trials and triumphs give us the courage to face current ones. When we learn from our experiences, even the failures, the truth we’ve gained gives us power throughout the rest of our lives, come what may.
For me, the turning point in Michigan came late one night when I couldn’t go to sleep even though I so desperately needed to. Filled with various levels of rage, frustration, self-loathing, and weariness, the most shocking thing was how familiar it felt. Lying in bed with my thoughts swirling around, I remembered that I had felt this way before.
It had happened in the Missionary Training Center, in an auditorium full of missionaries. I just panicked. I felt like a fraud. What have I done? I asked myself. I’m not strong enough to serve a mission. This is the stupidest mistake of my life.
Then I looked down and read from the Joseph Smith History, open on my lap.
For I had seen a vision, I knew it and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God
As I read these words, memories returned of the things that I knew from personal revelation, those things that God had taught me Himself through His Spirit such that I knew it, and God knew that I knew. My mission was an expression of gratitude to Him for all that had come before. Knowing that He wanted me to do this for Him, it seemed ungrateful to quit.
I was still terrified, but I served. I served with love, and I grew, and I found joy. Not only had I survived my mission, I had thrived as a missionary.
Lying in my bed, seven years later, I remembered being that missionary. Once again, I was scared, but I remembered the promises and the blessings. Did they still apply?
Before leaving my mission, I spoke with the Branch President in my last area. Sensing my sadness about going home, he told me not to worry. “Your title and job description change, but you are always serving,” he said. “In all important matters, nothing really changes. You just move from one calling to another.”
I tried at first to think of the missionary schedule—the measurable goals, the reporting methods. These didn’t work in my new life, no matter how hard I tried. I no longer had two full hours in which to study, or a 24-hour companion, or the luxury of focusing completely on the work of God. My responsibilities had expanded and become so varied, I felt pulled in too many directions.
But that Branch President was right. My covenants didn’t change. My study time may have decreased, but the scriptures are still a source of inspiration. I still serve many people in many ways. As a missionary, I learned how to serve. Those lessons were just as powerful as ever. I loved my mission because I had become a missionary.
In Preach My Gospel there is a quote from President Boyd K. Packer that I used constantly when planning lessons for others:
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than the study of behavior will improve behavior.
If someone was having a hard time with a particular commandment or aspect of the gospel, I would try to find the underlying doctrine that would help. I was there to help people build testimonies, not boss them around. I now needed to do the same thing for myself.
Just as memories had strengthened me in the MTC, memories of previous victories over depression and pain strengthened me again in Michigan. The circumstances were different, but the feelings were the same. I combed through my memories, reliving the experiences and paying particular attention to the lessons. I thought about the significance of those lessons and how they applied to me in my new roles. I discovered that eternal truths apply regardless of position or circumstance. And truth really does set you free.