Monday, June 8, 2009

On MY mission ...

I run the risk of sounding like an arrogant punk, I know. I only ask that during the short slice of time when your eyes are perusing this column, you suspend any judgment of me and instead evaluate what I have to say.

As my mission drew to a close, I harbored the impression that once I got back, I would be honey to all the beautiful flies out there, to use a completely unflattering metaphor for girls.

I thought that using my newfound powers of spirituality, I would be able to woo any girl I wanted.

Now I wonder what alien parasite burrowed into my brain, forcing upon me such naivety.

Here at BYU–I, everyone is a returned missionary. Sometimes I swear I can hear the Manwaring Center vending machines reminiscing among themselves about the good old days when they baptized a village in the Amazon.

Hardly an FHE goes past without those weary words “When I was on my mission …” RMs are full of stories. If they’re not telling about the time they had to spend a night in an active volcano, they’re describing the incident where they followed a hunch and converted half the country’s mafia.

The details may vary from RM to RM, but the premises, unless we’re cautious in the sharing of spiritual experiences, can be a dime a dozen.

However, it’s not my intention to sound cynical.

The mission experience was a microcosm of life, all the hopes and sorrows of life compressed into two years. The Spirit abounded. It’s only natural for RMs to let flow the rivers of memory. It’s another idiosyncrasy typical of those quirky communes of righteousness we call wards and stakes.

And another thing — there were a lot of missionaries out there who were mediocre at best. My mission, during the two years I resided within its borders, contained a significant number of those who considered themselves outside the realms governed by petty things like rules. My mission even had a few real bad apples, the ones who got into trouble I can’t even mention.

Anyone who has served a mission should know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you were one of them. And not to sound narcissistic, but it might irk missionaries who tried their best that such former elders are also claiming the title of RM.

And what is a returned missionary, exactly?

Before I came home, my mission president told me that there are two kinds of returned missionaries.

First, there are those who come home after two years or eighteen months of dodging rules and enduring the admonitions of priesthood leaders confident that at long last they have earned the exalted title of returned missionary and can take their place in LDS society. These missionaries went on a mission and returned to life as it was.

Then there are the ones who return home, but don’t return to the way things were. They can’t. The people they were before the mission are forever buried beneath a polished sheen born of hard-learned lessons. For them, the RM title isn’t an honorific, like a cold medal pinned on a uniform. It’s an invitation to continue the growth that so accelerated during the course of their service.

Listen to me. I sound like John Bytheway. Again, I’m not trying to vaunt myself above anyone else. I won’t tell you what kind of missionary I was. I’ll let those who know me now and who knew me on my mission be the judge of that, one way or the other.

But, girls — remember those two kinds of returned missionaries? Which one do you want to marry?

Give everyone a chance; the principle of repentance is real. My only request, really, is that every returned missionary act like one.

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