Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mormon Culture: Pressure on When to Serve an LDS Mission

Back in October 2012 I was going about a fairly normal Saturday morning routine for the fall Marching Band season. My band had a competition that day and I was gathering my equipment and instrument. That particular Saturday also happened to be the first day of LDS General Conference, which I had gotten in the habit of missing due to competitions and football games, so missing another morning session didn't seem like a big deal. However; before I left that morning, I decided to sit down and watch the opening address from the Prophet: President Thomas S. Monson. It was that fateful morning that President Monson announced that missionaries would be allowed to serve beginning at age 18 rather than 19 for young men, and 19 rather than 21 for young women. As I pulled into my school parking lot to meet up with the rest of my band, everyone was abuzz with excitement. Many of my friends had already decided that they would leave at the new, earlier age. One of the former drum majors helping with the competition that day had already called her Bishop and asked for an interview to begin her papers. I, however, was less certain of my future plans.

Over the next year and a half I went back and forth between serving at 18 or a year or so of college before my mission. After a lot of personal thought and prayer I came to the conclusion that I would attend at least a year of college before I served a mission. Thankfully, my family and leaders accepted this as a decision that only I could make, and they didn't put any pressure on me to reconsider or to serve earlier. However, as more and more of my friends' calls came in, I was asked with increasing frequency what my plans were, and many people were surprised by my decision. After asking me my plans and receiving my response many people replied that they thought that my decision was smart, and that it would be good to develop more maturity before I serve. However, there were a few people who I felt like they were trying to figure out if something was wrong with my testimony or worthiness. I felt as if I was being judged because I had decided that I wasn't ready to serve a mission right out of high school.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling. I have talked to many other young men who felt the same way. This brings me to the topic of my post today. 18 is not the mandatory age for mission service for young men, nor is 19 the mandatory age for young women. When the mission age was changed it was phrased as "will have the option to serve" rather than "should serve" at 18. I believe that the brethren made this change to not only increase the number of missionaries out in the field, but to also make the time frame for mission service more flexible, both in policy and in practice. To achieve this last goal, however, the LDS culture around mission service must change. Many people are still in the mindset of "everyone should serve at the specific age set aside by the church" rather than the mindset of "serve a mission when you are ready and worthy." Another important thing to understand is that ready and worthy are two separate ideas. 

This is picture of a few of the guys from my freshman ward at BYU. All of us had decided to attend college before we served a mission. However, despite what some may view as a bit of a misfit group who aren't as spiritually strong as those who leave right after high school, we were part of an awesome elders quorum in an awesome ward. I grew more in this ward than I have in any other, and I am now more prepared to serve a mission because of this ward and these guys. Many of these young men were worthy, however, they felt that they were not yet ready to serve a mission. 

I would like to remind everyone that the timing of mission service is a personal decision that should be made with lots of thought and prayer. When you serve a mission should not be dependent on LDS social norms, but rather on personal readiness and personal worthiness

To any pre-mission young men who are reading this, I urge you to make your decision on when to serve your mission based on personal revelation, not what you feel is expected of you. College can be a great place to grow and mature, as well as gain a greater appreciation of the gospel and the priesthood. However, don't delay service unnecessarily.

To any young women who are trying to decide whether or not to serve, the same goes for you. This decision is a personal decision between you and the Lord, and do not take into account what everyone else seems to be doing.

To any parents of prospective missionaries who are reading this, do not put pressure on your children to serve on any specific timeline. It will only add stress to your child's life as they approach the missionary age range, and they may even feel like they have to serve at that time or not at all. There is no magic age for missionary service, and for many it may be better to serve at an older age rather than a younger one.

Remember, just like the Lord does not care about your age when you come unto him, he does not care about your age when you serve a mission. He only cares that you do serve a mission.