by Kathy Penrod
I have four sons. Ever since my boys were little, I tried to prepare them for serving a mission for our church. Its what we do. It’s in our culture. This is something our church asks from each worthy young man at age 18. (Young women are also able to serve but they are not under the same mandate as our young men.) So, our boys, as they grow into men, plan to serve. Missionaries (usually) earn the money for their mission themselves, they spend night and day serving God, they leave behind girlfriends, scholarships and cars. And they are always so excited to finally get to be a full time missionary.
But nobody talks about what to do when things go differently than planned. It’s actually not a very comfortable topic. Maybe its just because not everyone knows how to handle it. So, lets lay it out there. Sometimes, missions end much earlier than anyone ever planned. Both of my sons who have served came home early; each with an honorable release, but each, at least partially, feeling like they failed.
Cognitively, they understand what supportive family, friends and ward members tell them. “You did your best.” “God loves you anyway.” “Your mission just looks different than everyone else’s.” Etcetera.
It’s a struggle. Its something that, I believe, they will ache over for some time. However, even in this trial – and it IS a trial for those who go through it – God did not leave us without an example.
Remember Alma the Younger? You can find his story in the Book of Mormon beginning in Mosiah chapter 27. His father, having been converted by the words of Abinidi, became the leader of Christ’s church. It must have been so hard for Alma Sr. to watch his son and four of his buddies do everything they could to destroy the very church he had helped build. These young men worked tirelessly to hinder the growth of the church… until an angel of God stopped them. Alma the Younger and his friends all had a miraculous change of heart and, consequently, wanted to repair the damage they had done. So, with more zeal than they had before, they went about to repair the harm they had wrought upon the church.
These were men who, with a changed heart, wanted to preach the gospel. The four friends of Alma the Younger were sons of the righteous King Mosiah. They wanted to serve a mission to the Lamanites – who, at that time were violent, wicked and hostile. After much pleading with their father, he finally agreed that they could serve that mission. The Sons of Mosiah, as they are often called, were incredible missionaries. They baptized multitudes of people. Often, converting whole kingdoms. Entire cities would believe in their words. What they accomplished was nothing short of miraculous.
When you hear people recount this story, they always assume Alma the Younger was with them in the mission field. But guess what? He stayed behind. He stayed with his father and accepted the appointment of Chief Judge from the people. So, even though he went on, after his conversion, to be a great leader, he did not serve a mission at the same time, or even in the same way as his buddies.
And yet, when we think of Alma the Younger, not one person would think of him less than his peers. He is counted as a great missionary, a great leader. Now, I don’t know why he stayed behind while his friends went to serve. But I imagine, it was a little difficult to hear of the amazing experiences his friends were having without wishing he were there too.
Alma the Younger went on to have incredible experiences of his own. He served a mission later with his own sons but his path did not look like his friends. I am convinced, however, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Some people are called to serve a mission like the Sons of Mosiah and some are called to serve like Alma the Younger. Thank goodness Heavenly Father looks on our hearts and knows our desires. Thank goodness He knows what we need most.
The Lord has an individual road map for each of us. Sometimes it doesn’t look like we expected it would look. Often it is different than what we planned. And, it almost never is the same as a friend’s road map. But always, His path for us will be the best. It will bring us to the greatest possible happiness.
So, for my two beautiful boys, who had to end their mission early and to every missionary who’s heart still longs to be in the mission field, I urge you to remember success is not measured by what you have planned. It is measured by how you respond to what the Lord has planned.